Next up is a one night flying visit to Nagano, all because I want to see the Japanese snow monkeys (macaques). However, looking forward to getting on my first bullet train!
I jumped on my direct bullet train to Nagano and though the carriages feel wide and spacious and bigger, comfortable seats; it felt no faster than the Pendelino service from London to Manchester. I'm sure, in fact, it's probably twice as fast but you just don't feel it. The views of the rural Japan was amazing, it went from towns to farmland to snow-capped mountains. Now snow was something I had not seen since Christmas 2013 time. It really is a breathtaking country! I arrive at Nagano, and in stark contrast I can't believe how quiet the main road is, there are barely even any cars. I walked up to the hostel, 1166 Backpackers, a quaint little house and quintessentially Japanese in style. The staff were beyond friendly, instantly chatting to me and trying me to some Japanese words and correctly my pronunciation on the words I already knew. They advised how to get to the snow monkeys and told me to help myself to coffee, even though I couldn't yet check in. So, several coffees later I said goodbye to them and headed to the train station. At the station, I asked the ticket man for the Snow Monkey Pass, which includes return train travel, entrance to the Jigokudani Monkey Park and the return bus from station to the park.
On the train to Yudanaka, I was like a kid before entering a candy shop; nose pressed against the window, eyes not sure which part of the scenery to look at first (ok, so this is a slight exaggeration). You would think I hadn't seen snowed capped mountains before! It's moments like that when I realise just how lucky I am with this trip. Or maybe it was the second strong coffee making me giddy and that I had wanted to see these monkeys since seeing them on David Attenborough's Frozen doco. I got to the station and realising I had 40 minutes to wait for the bus, I decided to walk to the park instead being only 5/6km away. Walking through this sleepy town was exactly how I pictured rural Japan with its Japanese styled house, snowy mountains and friendly locals. It was a steep old walk and all the locals being intrigued that a blonde western girl was wandering through the streets. At the monkey park, you have to walk through a lovely pine forest and even though there was snow on the ground, it was surprisingly warm. Once at the entrance, to protect your stuff from these chaps, I dumped all my stuff in a locker and went to chill out with these furry guys. It was brilliant getting up to them so closely and them not being bothered by people at all. They were swimming about in the hot springs, scrapping with each other, sunbathing and the little ones being pests (in a nice way). I had a great couple of hours watching them and a couple of them are photogenic especially when they have been half submerged in the water and jump out, half drenched and half fur ball. Definitely worth the trip up, but I'm a fan of monkeys. Having enjoyed the walk up to the park and knowing that it was predominately downhill, I walked back to the station with a quick hot sweet potato on the way back down and jumped on the train back to Nagano.
I checked into the hostel and the room was sooo Japanese with tatami (woven-straw) floor and traditional futon bedding. I love this culture. I met an Australian in my room and after a chill out and a chat; we headed out for, well, a vending machine meal and beer. Wanting a few sake's before we headed back, we found a proper local business man's tiny sake bar. Think they were more shocked and loved it that we went in. Several sakes later and after the guys chatted to us in Japanese, who knows what they were saying, we headed back to the hostel for a couple of locally brewed beers before hitting my traditional Japanese futon bed.
The next day I was to leave Nagano to head to Nagoya. After some breakfast, the Australian and I went for a walk up to and around the nearby Zengoji temple, we also tried to find the cat café but didn't have any luck. On the way to the station, I passed an Army recruitment shop that had just open and again was very Japanese, using people dressed up in huge anime style costumes dancing and waving outside the shop with Japanese families getting their photos taken using the peace sign.
Time to get my next bullet train to Nagoya.