Japan trip, day 7 – monkeyin’ around

After a peaceful night’s rest at the Geihanro, it was time for more trains. Today’s journey would take me back to Nagoya, on a three hour train ride to Nagano, and then another 45 minute train ride to Yudanaka.

I stared the day with a Japanese style breakfast at the ryokan before starting that sweaty walk back to the train station in Inuyama. To be honest I’ve been on so many trains the last couple of days I’m beginning to get confused as to what train was when, but I can remember sleeping on the three hour journey between Nagoya and Nagano.

Once I got to Yudanaka station, I was chased after by a friendly Japanese man who thrust a whole load of photocopied A4 sheets in my hand and seemed to be making sure everyone knew where they were going and when. I looked at the printouts, and it said they had been made by – and I’d been met by – a volunteer from the Yudanaka conversational English class. I thought that was really nice of them, and the guy’s English was very good as I told him!

To get to Kanbayashi Onsen, and my reason for being in the middle of nowhere, I had to take a 15 minute bus ride and then start a 45 minute walk through forest. In the winter, the ground would have been covered in thick snow, but today it was hot and sunny, with no snow on the ground.

I was heading for Jigokudani Monkey Park, an area where you could see monkeys just hanging out in the wild. Better than that, you could see them enjoying a hot spring bath. And even better than that I was staying at a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) that was right beside the park, with its own bath which you could sit in, and which monkeys would sometimes join you in!

Along the twisting path in the forest were some brilliant signs – like this….

And this….

Brilliant!

I arrived at the ryokan first. The guide book had described it as “ramshackle”, which is a fair appraisal. I knew not to expect luxury, but in this ryokan, again there was no shower to be seen, no private toilet, no TV in my room, no Internet, and the whole place looked like it was filled with centuries of junk. I dumped my bag and headed to the park, as by now it was about 3.15 in the afternoon and the park was only open until five.

I climbed the stairs to a small hut and paid my entrance fee. I looked up and sitting on the roof was monkey. “Oh my God, I’ve actually seen one!” I thought and pulled out my camera. Heading around the corner from the hut I was surrounded by monkeys. Big monkeys, three-month old monkeys, walking around, sitting around, cleaning each other, playing, and sitting in their hot spring bath. It was amazing!

The area itself was quite small, but I stayed for about an hour and a half just gaping at these wild monkeys. Apparently every morning they come down from higher up in the mountains to chill out. They weren’t bothered by me or the other tourists in the slightest, although one did make a grab for someone’s camera when they got too close.

I then headed back to my ryokan, not particularly looking forward to it (I do like my luxury sometimes!). Dinner was at six, and it was 5.15. So I lay on the floor of my room, thinking – not much else to do really!

Kneeling down for dinner, I saw there were two elderly Japanese couples also staying at the inn. A banquet was spread out for us (it seems ryokans take the reputation of their dinners seriously). The owner came and everything. There was wild raw duck, noodles and mushrooms which I cooked myself in hot water over a heater. There was a mushroom salad made with mushrooms the owner had picked himself (I hoped he knew his stuff, I didn’t want to be on any other kind of trip), fried fish and two fried grasshoppers.

Fried grasshoppers? I thought why not, and popped one in my mouth, trying not to think about it. It was crispy, salty, and tasted kind of nutty. So I ate the other one too. If I could still make out their heads I don’t think I would have been able to do it, but I couldn’t, so there you go.

After dinner, I wanted to go and explore the hot bath a monkey would maybe join me in. I walked down creaking stairs into the bath area and immediately a big black insect scurrying about caught my eye. Then it jumped. I’m afraid that was enough for me. I turned around, headed to my room and slept on top of my futon fully clothed 🙁