Since we’re all stuck at home for an undetermined length of time, I thought it might be fun to revisit some cool travel memories from my past.
Back in 2014-2015, I lived and taught in Gifu, Japan (just outside of Nagoya)….
Japan was a fascinating place to explore and its punctual rail system made it easy and economical to get from place to place. During my first two weeks of training in Nagoya, Japan, I had the good fortune to meet a great group of girlfriends (Alison, Leslie, Sarah and Helen) who became travel companions throughout the year I lived in Japan.
One of those friends, Leslie, ended up being stationed up north in Nagano prefecture. On a long weekend in February (2015), Alison, Sarah, Helen and I took the train up to visit. We stayed in a delightful old-school ryokan called Muraka Ryokan.
*A ryokan (旅館) is a traditional Japanese inn that typically features tatami-matted rooms, onsen (communal baths), and other public areas where visitors may wear yukata and talk with the owner.
That night, we went out for to an izakaya, which is a sort of Japanese pub that serves beer and small plate, tapas-style food to share.
After dinner, we hopped in the on-site onsen. An onsen (温泉) is a Japanese hot spring. Onsen are typically separated by gender and you go in them naked! I know…good way to get really close to friends quickly! But it’s absolutely relaxing and freeing. In all my time in Japan, I never passed up going in the onsen.
The next morning, we took a train to Jigokudani Monkey Park in Yamanouchi, Nagano Prefecture. The front of the train was open glass so you could view where you were going.
The lovely host from our ryokan drove us to the park and then bent down in the snow to attach crampons to our boots. Total Japanese Cinderella moment! We walked a short way through the snow to the park.
Jigokudani Monkey Park is a park where Japanese Macaque monkeys gather to warm themselves in the natural hot springs (onsen). The monkeys are wild monkeys, not domesticated zoo animals. They live in groups or families and the same families return every year to the park. While the park feeds them, the provided food is not their primary diet and just a way of establishing the park as a place to get food and to soak.
These are a few photos I took at the park:
Visiting the monkey park was so magical. The natural setting was gorgeous and it was fun to watch the monkeys play and interact with each other. There are a few other animals that are native to the area and I was lucky enough to see a Japanese serow (a goat-antelope). I wasn’t able to get a picture, but for reference they look like this:
The prevailing feeling of the day was how lucky we were to experience this. I put down my camera several times and just enjoyed the moment and soaked things in.
The next morning, the owner of our Ryokan cooked us a beautiful traditional breakfast spread and we were off.
What are some of your favorite travel memories? Is Jigokudani Monkey Park on your travel bucket list?
Stay Safe and Healthy,