Yudanaka and Konbayashi Onsen

I did not have access to a computer yesterday, so I’m writing this a day late.  Yesterday, I had quite a stressful little day navigating the Japanese train system.  I woke up, had to scarf down my breakfast really quick, and then check out of my ryokan in Tokyo to reach the shinkansen from Ueno station by 9:30.  I was successful and arrived with ten minutes to spare.  I first took took the shinkansen to Nagano station in Nagano City, and then I needed to take the local train to Yudanaka Onsen.  Yudanaka is a up in the mountains and is famous for its hot springs and traditional Japanese baths.

The reason that Yudanaka was put in my itinerary was through a suggestion from my mother who really wanted me to see the snow monkey park in Konbayashi Onsen.  She told me several times that this would be the sole reason she would ever want to come to Japan.  So without much choice, this was one of my stops.  However, in the end, I’m glad I came.  Konbayashi Onsen was only a short bus ride away from Yudanaka and my ryokan, but the bus schedule was rather sparse.  The next bus to the park left at 3:30 and I had reached Yudanaka by noon.  So I asked the ryokan owner if there was another way to get there, and luckily enough, his son was just about to drive that way and he very graciously gave me a ride there.  Perfect luck!  He dropped me right at the enterence to the park and I had to hike about two miles to where the mokeys lived.  The hike was quite peaceful as there was a running stream in the valley below the trail.

I was very excited to get to the park as I had seen a lot of pictures of the snow monkeys and the look really cool hanging out in the hot springs.  On the trail there, I met a man from Winnepeg who was traveling with a family originally from Japan.  The grandfather is the one who flagged me down and told me later that he just really likes to practice his English.  He asked me all about myself and where I was from.  He was quite impressed with my tour itinerary and was amazed that I would come to such a remote place like Konbayashi, being from America.  I had to explain again that my mom just loves these monkeys.

I finally reached the park enterence and the literature at the gate informed me that this is the only place in the world where wild monkeys bath in natural hot springs.  While the guide said that the best time to come to the park is in the winter when the monkeys rarely leave the hot springs, I was excited to just to see them.  As soon as I walked passed the gate, there were monkeys everywhere, in the pathways, on the hills, on each other, and even in the river.  I was amazed.  I took probably the most pictures I’ve taken yet in any one location.

There were mokeys of all sizes.  There were large adults, medium size children, and little babies.  According to the guide, these monkeys develop very complex relationships with each other.  They form their own groups and families and the other monkeys are not allowed in.  Several fights broke out while I was there which concluded with one winner eventually chasing and intruder across the river.

The little one was curious about my camera.

The most amazing part of the park was that the monkeys are so used to humans that they are not scared at all.  Several walked within inches of my feet, ignoring me like I was just another rock.  This made observing them very enjoyable.  It was around lunch time though and the only thing any of them were really doing was eating the grain that the park workers spread around for them.

I stayed there for about two hours until I made the hike back to the bus stop.  However, since I had come so early, the next bus did not come for another four hours.  I decided waiting that long was a terrible idea and I started hiking.  Fortunately, I knew enough Japanese to ask and find another bus stop which had a more frequent route.  After waiting about 20 minutes, I caught a bus back to Yudanaka Onsen and crashed in my bed.

I woke up around six to the smell of food.  The ryokan was serving a kanseki-style meal.  The kanseki-style meal is like a seven course meal which is brought out in several bowls at a time.  My meal consisted of a steamed fish, tuna sashimi, cold cooked vegetables, tempura, miso soup, tofu, and, of course, rice.  By the time I finished my meal I was stuffed.  It was so much food and I waddled across the hall to my room and passed back out.  It was a great end to the day.

In my next post, I leave the mountains and make my way back to civilization in Matsumoto City to see Matsumoto Castle, the oldest castle that is still standing in Japan.  See you soon!

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