Did you see the Mountain Dew commercial with the "puppy monkey baby"? Well, we had a punky snow monkey weekend in Yudanaka Onsen!
From Yokosuka, it was a bit of a haul up there...it required either a 6 hours trip on semi-express trains or a 4 hours trip on the Tokyo-Nagano Hokuriku Shinkansen! We picked th long weekend over Presidents' Day for our trip and off we went!
Logan was so excited to ride the bullet train. He was bouncing all around and led us to the green Shinkansen signs in Tokyo station.
The train ride to Nagano was unexceptional. We opted for reserved seats, so we had specific places to sit in an ordinary car. There are green cars and gran class cars that have added amenities, but also cost a fair amount more. We settled in and zoomed up to Nagano in about 1.5 hours.
We had a little time to kill, so wandered around away from the train station. We sadly picked the boring side of the station to exit. We saw a taiko drumming group and then walked to a lark. A muddy, puddle filled park that resulted in a meltdown because we refused to end up with a muddy preschooler...
Next time, we would go to the city side of the station and wander around more that way. There is a shrine, shopping and more to see.
We did find some Olympic Rings...this was Logan's third winter Olympic city that he's visited.
I had a new snack for the very neat train ride from Nagano to Yudanaka. These are shrimp flavored crackers...covered in matcha flavored chocolate. I wouldn't get them again, but they are definitely interesting.
We arrived in Yudanaka, navigated to our ryokan and start d exploring. There are a lot of natural hot springs near Yudanaka, which means onsen are abundant in town. There are several public baths, including foot onsen, like the one Logan was checking out below. Our ryokan (Japanese style inn) had a private onsen that we used....holy smokes was it hot. We ended up not even being able to sit in it at all...just got poured water from the pool over us....but, sure enough, it was one of Logan's favorite things from the whole weekend. Go figure.
There were a couple if temples in town also....
And our triple room. Japanese style means sleeping on futons on top of tatami mats, with a separate small sitting area. The futons were definitely comfortable and the buckwheat pillow felt great in my tired back and neck.
We ventured out in town and explored a little bit for dinner. They are really playing up the snow monkey park...lights line the Main Street. Other than a few small restaurants, it's a pretty sleepy place. If we were to ever do this again, we would definitely stay in Nagano and just take one of the first trains in the morning.
Crazy hair here was definitely hungry for his plate of gyoza...and one of the restaurant owners was very kind to Logan. He got a paper crane, a small eraser and two a piece of Valentine's Day chocolate.
The next morning, we got ourselves packed out of our hotel and got moving pretty early. Based on the owners recommendation, we were out of there by 0830, with the park opening at 0900. It was about 2 km up to the snow monkeys and with the snow from the night before and was was coming down, we took it slow and steady. Logan had rented snow boots from the MWR place in base...a definite must. Joe and I borrowed rain galoshes from the ryokan. A little more insulation would have been more ideal, since the temps were below freezing, but oh well.
Finally, we arrived! It was a pretty easy walk...nice and even for the whole way through a nice cedar forest.
We managed to see our first monkeys before we made the final climb and paid our entrance fee!
The whole experience was good...and a little weird. The snow monkeys are native to Japan and get more chill than usual when they are in these hot springs. The ones at this park are all man made...and they keep the monkeys fed by the staff. But it's not a zoo and they really are still wild animals. You are able to be within inches of them and definitely have to keep a lookout for them running around at your feet.
There was only one monkey in the main hot spring when we were there and its paparazzi was impressive.
We spent about an hour up there and made our way back into town. The inn gave us a rice to and from the monkey park, which was pretty sweet. We were definitely on the cold side.
The express train to and from Yudanaka was pretty slick. We targeted getting to the station early enough to snag one of the panoramic seats in the front of the train. We timed it perfectly! The conductor sits in the compartment above us (with the windshield wipers). We settled in for the ride, had an amazing view and off we went!
Strawberry sandwich? Sure..why not?!
We finally made it home and our quick weekend adventure was over. It was a long, long trip to see the monkeys but I'm glad we were able to make it work. Between the Shinkansen ride, our first ryokan stay and some wild animals, it was a most memorable weekend!