The Almost Snow Monkey Experience

When Yasuko and Aya visited Hawaii they asked us what we were most looking forward to seeing and doing in Japan.  At that point we hadn’t really done any research or had had time to think about all we wanted to do.  We did know we wanted to see the snow monkeys.  We got out our translators and told them “snow monkeys”.  Well… Chris grabbed the translator… I puffed our my cheeks and pulled on my ears.  (Come on, everyone knows that’s a monkey)  They first looked confused then laughed that we had just said that the snow monkeys are on our to-do list in Japan.  We soon realized that probably sounded funny and it became a running joke.  Whenever someone asked us what we were doing in Japan we told them we were going to see snow monkeys.  So on February 4th Edgar, Apryl, Chris and I headed to Matsumoto to stay in a traditional Japanese hotel, see a famous castle and of course, see some snow monkeys.

On the road again... it was a four hour trip by car. All the highways have toll roads which makes travelling quite expensive if you are going long distances. It is usually cheaper to take the train.

Beautiful mountains as we head north.

When we got to our hotel we took off our shoes and put on the slippers provided by the hotel.  You never wear your shoes in anyone’s home and slippers are always provided.  We were given a tag with a number that matched the number they attached to our shoes.  We then checked into the hotel and the sweetest woman who spoke English showed us to our room. She lived in Seattle for several years and now works at this tiny hotel in a non-tourist area.  Pretty cool we got to meet her!  On our way to our room she showed us the bathing and showering rooms for men and women.  In this room was a small onsen, several shower heads, stools, shampoo, body wash, etc. just like the onsen I visited before.  Our room only had a sink and toilet and it was very normal to use the communal bathing area.

This is facing the bedroom door. To the right was a sink (and a toothbrush! Japanese hotels always supply a toothbrush). And to the left was the toilet. When you entered the room you left your slippers outside.

Come on in!

The floor is a tatami mat and the tea was set up in the middle of the room. Just like Japanese home there was a heater in the top corner of the room that kept the room warm. The area with the sink and toilet are not heated.

There was a small tv in the corner. Later that evening Chris and I watched Japanese game shows which were hilarious.

We are not exactly experts at the art of serving tea but tried our best!

Washing my hands with a warm, wet cloth. At every restaurant you are given either a wet-nap or cloth like this to wash your hands before eating. One night when Chris was down at his favorite bar, Lotus, him and one of his new Japanese friends discussed major differences between Japan and US culture. His friend couldn't believe that we aren't given something to wash our hands before eating.

Steadily pouring my tea.

When we came back from dinner the hotel had moved our tea to the corner and made our beds for us in the middle of the floor. The bed took up the majority of the floor. The futon-like mats were extremely hard and I would be lying if I said we slept well. Poor Apyrl who is 6 months pregnant with twins had a rough night trying to get comfortable. But we enjoyed the experience nonetheless!

They also put these bed warmers under the covers. I LOVED it. It stayed hot most of the night!

This was a small room you could relax in that was near the bathing area.

Around 7am we heard a woman’s voice coming from a loud speaker outside.  Apparently this small town had it’s own wake up call at 7am.  I had no idea what it was until Apryl told us.  If someone drove around my neighborhood at 7am waking everyone up I don’t think I would be too happy. Ha!  But we  took her advice and woke up and put on our kimonos.  If you inside the hotel you are to wear the kimonos they provide.  All four of us put on our kimonos (which I struggled with making it look correct, I am not the best at being precise) then headed to breakfast.  Now this breakfast wasn’t the continental I thought it would be.  Japanese breakfast is quite the course.  They had fish, all sorts of vegetables, fruit, meats and… fermented soy beans.  Yep.  That’s right.  The soy beans were in a little cup and it looked like these were in a syrup like cheese.  Gross.  I am usually adventurous with food but I just couldn’t do those.  We were surrounded by people with heaping plates of fish and vegetables while Chris and I stuck to fruit, scrambled eggs and coffee.  Just wasn’t feeling the fish that early… especially because it had eyeballs looking at me.

Another thing I noticed was how well behaved the children were.  There was a brother and sister probably 4 & 6 years old quietly eating and getting excited about their vegetable and fermented soy beans.  They used their chopsticks properly and were just so well behaved.  Apryl also told us that children are expected to ride the trains to school by themselves at age 5.  It makes me think… I wonder how self-sufficient children would be if it was expected of them.  I haven’t seen any misbehaving children since we got here.  Although there was a little boy in McDonalds that was sitting next to us.  He couldn’t stop staring at us and pointing.  His parents were so embarrassed but we just kept waving and play peek-a-boo.

After breakfast, Apryl and I decided we need to take a shower.  The two of us in our kimonos headed into the shower room.  I took off my kimono in the open room and placed all the pieces into the basket provided.  I then took my small towel into the shower room.  When I opened the door the onsen was to my left and about the size of a large hot tub.  I grabbed my stool and showered Japanese style.  Apryl and I were the only ones in there and talked as if we weren’t completely naked showering together.  After my first onsen experience I felt like a veteran and wasn’t really phased by it.  We then got dressed and sat at a counter with a large mirror and blow-dried our hair.  After I went back to my room I realized I had left my shower key in the basket.  I went back down and there was an older woman in a beautiful kimono getting her hair done by a man.  She was sitting at the counter Apryl and I were at just minutes before.  Neither of them spoke any English but after a bit of hand gestures they knew I was looking for my key.  They stopped everything they were doing to help me look.  Japanese are so friendly and helpful even if it is an inconvenience to them.  The man finally directed me to the English speaking woman we met when we arrived and she told me someone turned it in for me.  I then took the key back into the shower room to show my new friends and thank them for their help.  🙂

Our first destination was Matsumoto castle. Which was so cool!

Chris and I

Apryl and Edgar

The bird man. He walked along the water and birds would follow him and land on his arms.

Beautiful swan outside the castle.

Walking in the main entrance.

Stamped my tickets! I am not sure the exact purpose of this. Possibly a souvenir?

A samurai!!!! I wanted my picture with him really bad. But we went into the gift shop first to warm up and I was assured he would still be out there... and he wasn't. This is the best photo I have of him. Dang!

About to head inside the castle!

Inside the castle they had preserved a lot of weapons, utensils and more. Very cool to see such ancient things. There is nothing that old in the US.

Where the samurai stayed in the castle.

Guns. Obviously these aren't ancient but very interesting to see how they evolved.

Samurai armor.

The view from inside the castle. Breathtaking. Wish you could have seen it in person.

Inside the castle. It was colder inside than outside.

Leaving the castle and there were beautiful and mysterious clouds in the distance. The photo doesn't do it justice.

We then headed across the street to grab lunch.  While at lunch Apryl pulled out her phone to GPS us to see the snow monkeys.  Only it said it was over 2 hours away from where we were.  That can’t be right… so we asked the restaurant owner who confirmed it was another 2 hours north.  So we finished lunch and headed north.  We got all the way there when the road closed saying we couldn’t drive up during winter months.  Probably because of the snow and steep roads.  We then stopped at a gas station to ask for help to get to the snow monkeys.  They directed us to the train station where there were tour buses that took you up.   We arrived 15 minutes too late.  That’s right… we drove an additional 2 hours to be 15 minutes late.  Dang it!  So we were realllllly close to the snow monkeys but didn’t actually get to see them.  Kinda funny actually.

The sign telling us we couldn't drive up to see the monkeys.

Stopped on the road not able to go any further to see the monkeys. So I made a comment that this memorial and grave yard looked pretty cool! No one thought that was funny.

There was a LOT of snow here. There were men on all the roof tops brushing the snow off.

The town sign welcoming us to Yamanouchi. It was a very cute town with a stream running down the middle.

We decided to get back in the van and head back home to Kamiooka. We wanted to get through the icy roads before the sun went down. We had quite the adventure!

So we didn’t get to see snow monkeys BUT we experienced a traditional Japanese hotel and saw an amazing castle.  I think it was a perfect weekend trip.  Now if I had only tried the fermented soybeans I would really feel cultured.  Maybe next time. 😉


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