©Wolfgang Kaehler

Japan Day 12

By Michelle Alten

Last night we arrived in Tokyo. The city of around 12 million seems to spread endlessly in all directions. The glitzy skyscrapers, bustling workers and sleek fashion all are a sharp contrast with slow-paced Hokkaido. We stayed at the modern Hotel Villa Fontaine then headed this morning by bullet train to Nagano where we boarded a bus for the mountains. After walking for about an hour through the forest, we came to Korakukan ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn, built around 1854, at the Jigokudani Onsen. The ryokan has been run by the original family for seven generations.

Inside the front door, a frightening stuffed snow monkey sat on a bench presiding over a collection of plastic croc slippers, awaiting our arrival. An odd collection of statues and a jar with a snake in formaldehyde were packed into the entryway. Stairways and passageways leading through the rickety wooden building looked like something out of a Doctor Seuss book. Our room, chilly at first, had tatami mats, low lacquer tables and futons. The humble, rustic building reminded me of my dad’s experience in Japan as a medic during the Korean War. Was this what Japanese homes and buildings looked like when he was stationed here so shortly after World War II? I mustered up the courage to remove my winter clothes, step into a ukata, a cotton kimono, and go soak in the outdoor onsen.

In the evening we drank a glass of sake, a gift from our local agent, and then enjoyed a delicious hot pot with duck, vegetables, enoki mushrooms and udon noodles, all simmered in a tasty broth. I reluctantly tasted the crickets, crunchy and sweet, that accompanied tempura, sashimi and other side dishes. We looked forward to the morning – our chance to see and photograph the Japanese macaques or snow monkeys. In the inn hangs a photo clipped from a Dutch newspaper of a snow monkey sitting in the hot spring holding and looking at an iphone, apparently snatched from a tourist! We had better hang onto our cameras tomorrow!

The Korakukan ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn, built around 1854, at the Jigokudani Onsen.

The Korakukan ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn, built around 1854, at the Jigokudani Onsen.

Photos © Wolfgang Kaehler, phototours.us
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Posted February 6, 2016 | Categories: Blog, Photography, and Travel. Tags: bullet train, Japan, Japanese, Jigokudani Onsen, Nagano, photo tours, photography, snow monkeys, Tokyo, and travel.

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