The main reason why I decided to come to Japan was ‘100 stories’ project I was taking part in, organized by Hoshino Resort. In addition to the accommodation Hoshino provided participants with a five days JR East Pass (pass that is used for riding JR trains). I planned to use it to travel in Nikko area mainly, but I decided that one day I can go a little further. I decided to go to Yudanaka.
I went to Tokyo station early in the morning. Too early as it turned out because I had a lot of time. I decided to wait on the platform. I was excited because I was actually waiting for my first Shinkansen ride. A pair of elderly Japanese saw it and they started to talk with me. When my train arrived they made sure that I got on. The problem with Japanese trains is that you can easily fall asleep. No one is talking, the train glides quickly, it is warm and my problem with sleeping disappears. When the passenger sitting next to me started eating his bento, I did the same. I had onigiri prepared just for this occasion.
The trip to Nagano took a little over 1.5 hours. To get to the Yudanaka I had to change to the local train, which to my surprise was not JR company and I had to buy a ticket. It costed about 1000 yen. Trip to Yudanaka took another hour but what a trip it was! I could not get over that the very same day I was in a quite warm Tokyo and now going by train through snowdrifts. Snow, beautiful mountains, and village life.
I was afraid that I could not find my ryokan but there was tourist information on the Yudanaka station. They explained me how to go there, and one guy even took me to the street, from where I had an easy way, I just walked straight ahead. After 15 minutes, I came to the Maruka Ryokan. The day before, my friend called there to say that I would arrive 2 hours before check-in. I thought I would just sit and wait somewhere but the owners took me to the room right away. They did not speak English, but we had no problems with communication. They were so nice! One of the owners took my suitcase, the second showed me the way, and one lady put slippers on my feet;) That ryokan reminded me of the ryokan I worked in. Long corridors and very cold.
I asked them how to get to the Monkey Park and they said they could take me there. I asked if they could take me there in an hour, and they agreed. I could relax during that time. There are many things and places that I love in Japan, and I have special feelings for Ryokan. Their atmosphere relaxes me, and the smell of the tatami floor makes me feel good 😉 I made myself a green tea that was waiting for me in the room along with a snack and watched the snow outside the window.
At the set time I went downstairs. Ryokan owner drove me to the place from which there was 1.8 km to the park. He asked at what time he should come after me. I didn’t know how long I would be walking there and how much time I was going to spend there, but I told him to come after 2.5 hours. I started walking and I regretted that I didn’t set different hour because the road wasn’t easy. It wasn’t steep, but it was covered with snow and it was quite slippery. The road led through the forest, which is a part of the Jōshin’etsu-Kogen National Park.
I tried to go as fast as I could, but sometimes I stopped to take a picture. There was a small temple and a beautiful Korakukan Ryokan with hot springs along the way. I had to climb the stairs to enter the park and from there you can see ryokan from above. I recommend bringing binoculars so you can look more closely at men relaxing in onsen. I had to enjoy the views with the help of my poor zoom;)
It took me 30 minutes to get to the park, so I had 1.5 hours to spent there (because for coming back I needed another 30 minute). As it turned out half an hour is enough time in the park, because it is not big. It consists of a one onsen, where many Japanese macaques sit. You can go down to the river, sometimes there are monkeys there as well. Some of them are climbing mountains, some sitting on the stairs, and some on the trees. I had never seen monkeys in the wild so it was an interesting experience for me. When you buy a ticket, which cost 500 yen you read the rules prohibiting feeding monkeys and touching them. I also learned that Jigokudani means Hell’s Valley. Residents named it like that because the steep cliffs and hot steam gushing from the ground reminded them hell.
My overall impression was positive. Visitors were rather quiet. Nobody teased the monkeys, they looked relaxed and they didn’t care that people were watching them. I spent most of the time there on taking pictures, I sat for a while with two sleeping monkeys and I was getting back. I arrived 10 minutes late to a meeting place with the owner of ryokan. When he heard that I really enjoyed the park “Tanoshii katta” he was very pleased.
I ate sushi bought in advance and went to take a walk. Yudanaka is full with ryokans. You can see gushing steam from stewage, and air smells of soap. In the evening I went to the onsen in my ryokan but the water was so hot that I could not be there for long. I went back to warm room (I turned the space heater on before leaving, that was a good decision!), and jumped to the futon. The next day another trip awaited me, so I went to sleep early dreaming of Japanese macaques.