VIII. Onsens & Snow Monkeys

After saying goodbye to Osaka in the morning we prepared our souls for a long day of travelling across the countryside on various Shinkansen trains. First we travelled from Osaka to Tokyo, and then continued on to Nagano, eventually we arrived at Shimaya where we were staying the night at the lovely Yudanaka Onsen that Saya's mum had booked for us.

It was a beautiful traditional room nestled amongst the stunning snow capped mountains. I have only been to the snow once and as I said before I haven't ever really seen 'real' snow, so this came as a pretty welcome shock to the system.

I really could not get over how all of the little houses looked like open books. I felt like I was in an old fashioned fairytale. 

This snap has a back story that doesn't need to be included. Lets just say at this point in our trip Saya and I had little meaning of 'boundaries'. After a rough day of ugly travelling we were so happy to just be relaxing with some green tea in our room.

This is the cupboard where our beds for the night were stored. Featuring the most impossible slippers to walk in ever!

In my happy place. I love winter.

That afternoon before dinner we went to the onsen for a dip. For those who do not know what an onsen is, it is basically a traditional Japanese bathhouse. There is a women's section and a men's section, and basically it is just a place you go to relax alone or with friends. 

When you go in after taking off all your clothes you then sit on one of these little chairs and wash yourself at these little shower bays. Soap and body was is provided. It was a pretty surreal experience. At this point in time there were no other people in the onsen which is the only reason I have photos otherwise I would not have taken these. 

There is an inside onsen and an outside onsen. This was outside. I still can't get over what an incredible experience sitting naked in a hot spring surrounded by snow in Japan. Would highly recommend trying to fit a trip to an onsen in to your itinerary if you are travelling to Japan.  

After our first bath we dried off and headed down for dinner in our cute little kimonos. We were served an extremely traditional degustation of foods that we still have no idea what they were because we couldn't read the menu.

It started off with some sake, in the black plate are three miscellaneous starters including a fried little fish. Wrapped in the leaf I believe was some sort of traditional sushi. And heating up over the flame is a mushroom soup. 

This was the sashimi board. The two pieces of fish were ok but whatever that mushy thing was on the end felt like it had already been eaten. I am pretty keen to try new foods, it's half the fun of travelling. This is probably the most traditional meal I have ever eaten in my life, and both my grandparents are Polish!

This part was a equal parts disturbing and hilarious. The animal activist in me says no but the travel enthusiast in me will always try something twice. I won't lie, the fish tasted pretty good when I covered it's face. Next to it is a soup that is heating up which you put the meat, mushrooms and noodles in to cook. That part was really fun. I remember one part of this meal tasting a bit like bad breath but I can't remember if it was that soup or something different. But I do love cooking food at restaurants. It just makes the whole meal so much more fun and interactive. 

I think this was some sort of deconstructed miso soup.

Actually maybe that soup with the balls floating in it was the miso soup. There was a lot of different soup, I apologise. I am still trying to wrap my head around this meal.

The meal eventually ended with a lovely scoop of sorbet and some green tea.

After dinner we went back and had another spa. The onsen at night was even more surreal and fantastic! It also started snowing at one point. It was a moment of pure bliss that I will never forget.

Halfway through the onsens switched. The female onsen became the male onsen and vice versa. The outdoor area in the male section was smaller and not as picturesque but it was still pretty incredible. 

It was pretty cute seeing the little old ladies there in groups just sitting around naked in the bath together having a chat. Such a beautiful aspect of Japanese culture that I feel very blessed and grateful to have experienced. 

This was my breakfast the next morning. It was a buffet, just not your regular kind. There was definetly no cereal at this breakfast buffet. I mostly just ate the yoghurt and apples but I did make sure to try a piece of everything. 

Getting in to my snow bunny attire.

That morning we caught the bus to the Jigokudani Monkey Park, home of the infamous snow monkeys.

Yes I am obsessed with this crumbly white goodness. I wish so badly that it snowed in Sydney. Winter just seems so pointless without it.

Love the vending machine buried in snow in the background. I really need to go travelling more often to snow countries.

Just a casual stroll through the snow forest.

The snow really does create the nicest lighting for photos.

That whole 1.6km of walking was pretty much me freaking out about snow. Saya realising that her shoes provide no warmth in the snow. Lots of attempts at singing songs from Frozen even though neither of us knew the words. And a whole lot of kicking that fresh powdery goodness.

Cliche tourist photo in snow buried car.

Sadly this was the one place we couldn't get our customary squad photo because we couldn't put the camera down anywhere to self timer it. Here is half the squad.

Look at those layers of snow!! I am so ridiculously intrigued by snow.

Spot the monkey.

There it is!

That is the most famous monkey spa. To be honest it would have been a lot better without all those photographers. They were such an eyesore. I am not even kidding when I say this, about 15% of people in this photo are tourists, the rest were national geographic photographers and whatever other nature publications they are. Oh the irony in capturing the beauty of nature when you yourself are the thing that is ruining that.

Eventually one of them actually let me penetrate the tight circle these photographers had formed around the hot spring so I could get a couple of tourist snaps.

The monkeys really did seem quite distressed. They were barking a lot and I think the noise of the cameras was freaking them out.

But can you really blame the monkeys for being scared. Look at this! It's a bloody spectacle.

We were only at this place for about an hour and a half tops. The photographers around the hot spring were there when we got there and there when we left. I just can't get over how ridiculous this all was.

The monkeys are literally running in front of him and he is looking through his photos!!!

So many photographers.

These little guys ran past while Saya was taking a photo of me.

Baby monkey in the background.

One the walk back it snowed a little bit, but was also quite sunny and warm.

I really was so upset to be parting with the snow. I was basically a little kid who didn't want to leave the fun park even though we had a time limit. Thanks again Saya for the photos of me playing in the snow and being a child. I had such a fun day with you.

Back on the train and bound for Tokyo. Such a breathtaking landscape. (Saya's photo)

Kicking off Tokyo in style. 


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