Snow Monkey Park

 I am back in Texas for a little over a week before Pancho and I roadtrip to California.
 I have 4,000 things to do but I also hope to catch up on blog posts.
This one is long-overdue and long-winded, so settle in because...

                                                        IT'S MONKEY TIME!

Boz and I took a shinkansen (bullet train) out to Yudanaka a few weekends ago to see the Jigokudani Monkey Park ( ). The shinkansen trip went smoothly until we arrived at our first stop. B and I got off the train and, in classic form, assumed we knew what we were doing and marched right out the door of the station and into the worst blizzard I have ever encountered. We hiked about 10 feet and I mumbled "I don't know where we are, babe. This is all you now." Boz, without answering, did an about-face and marched back into the station. 

(note: I say 'in classic form' because this is how we handle our arrival at a vast majority of destinations. Our finely-tuned strategy is simple: Act now! Think later!) 

We got back into the warm station, regrouped, and approached the information desk. We located a map with english descriptions and began to make our way to the next train. However, while packing for this adventure the previous evening, we did not, at any point, consult the interwebs to inquire about the weather, so Boz was without appropriate blizzard attire. (I am always freezing, so I would bring a snow cap and mittens to Jamaica. I was good to go.) We only had about 5 minutes to get to the next train, so we darted into a department store in the station and bought the first pair of gloves we saw...which turned out to be a women's pair. I commented on how pretty Boz looked all weekend so that he wouldn't feel self-conscious. we made it to the next train and were deposited in Yudanaka. At this point, things got a little fuzzy as Yudanaka is quite remote and therefore absolutely none of the signs have english translations. By the grace of God, we acquired bus tickets and a friendly volunteer gave us a useless map, said the name of our destination aloud a few times, and pointed at the bus. Boz and I boarded, rode for MAYBE 2 minutes before hearing our destination announced, and got

                                   And this is a shot of what's up ahead of us at this point:

Absolutely every one of those signs is written in Japanese characters (=kanji), so while we do have a reservation at a ryokan (=traditional Japanese hotel. I'll explain later), we have no way of locating it. In almost every situation but one, this would be the point where I would say "who cares, babe!? This is awesome! Let's just see what happens!" However, this was that one which I think I'm going to see animals and then I suddenly worry that the opportunity might fall through. So, in this picture, B is all excited and trying to be optimistic, and I am behind him, sad and uncommunicative. This is just how we roll.

To sum up the next 30 minutes: we hike around aimlessly, I try not to cry, B somehow finds the ryokan and makes me promise to thank him in ways that I have long since forgotten. That is also how we roll.

now for a bit of cultural information for those that don't feel like googling: Ryokans are traditional Japanese inns that are prevalent in rural areas. They are usually built around onsens (hot springs) and they offer traditional Japanese breakfasts and dinners in-house. The individual rooms use tatami mats as flooring and futon mats as bedding. Ok, seriously...just google it. There's too much to say.  It's worth the read.

This is the beautiful owner of the ryokan. She was kind and patient and entirely amused by us. Apparently a duo of super-enthusiastic (but completely uninformed) American backpackers is not an everyday site
 around this joint.

We had to wait a few minutes for the owner to fill out our paperwork. Boz was amazed (or, more accurately, horrified) by my ability to seize the opportunity to shop in this situation. Pft. I clearly still have things to teach this man.

Cool. They provide slippers. 

We left our backpacks in our room and headed out to see the monkeys immediately. This was one of the most indescribably beautiful experiences of my I'm just going to post pictures. Some things don't need words.

I am like 1 foot away from the monkey. I am BURSTING with happiness and B is taking the picture while yelling "Ab, do NOT get any closer! DO NOT TOUCH THAT MONKEY." Pure greatness.

We eventually headed back down the mountain (approx. a 30-minute hike) and stopped at a little shack to have a bite to eat. Boz ordered some sort of pizza roll type thing...and I ordered sake...which, as it turns out, I still B (who also hates sake) had to drink it for me. This relationship is one for the ages.

We made our way back to the ryokan and decided to try the onsen. For the record, I was adamant that I would never do this. Onsens are segregated by gender but require visitors to strip nude in a little entryway, rinse off at a communal shower area, and then just sit in the hot spring (yes, bare *ss naked, all together). I am a proud and prude American and the thought of this nearly killed me. Until I did it. And then it was awesome. Onsens are SO UNBELIEVABLY STEAMING HOT. It's like doing a 10-day detox without actually having to detox. Sign me up.

After the onsen, we decided to explore the 'town' (I use that term so, so, incredibly loosely) for dinner. We only reserved the 'onsen + breakfast' option because we like to leave our dinner options open. We hiked around a bit until we found a cool little dive for dinner. Bottoms up.

We awoke bright and early the next morning as the ryokan breakfast hours span from 7-8:30 am. I made our ryokan reservations in my name since I wanted them to be able to contact us at any time with questions (and I'm always available whereas B actually works for a living) this is what welcomed us to breakfast:

Oh hell yes. Mr & Mrs Abbigil Frster. Close enough.


Delightful presentation and delicious food.

                                    We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the town.


And now, to wrap things up, let's all watch a flipagram of Boz trying to gracefully lower himself onto the zabuton: