We took a ride from Tokyo to Nagano via Willer Bus and it doesn’t disappoint. The bus ride is quite comfortable and lot of features to block the light, reclining the chair and charging the phone. Also provides blankets for cold nights or watching a horror movie.
Train from Nagano
Lots to see in Nagano and we saw the train schedule for Yudanaka. It appears we have to wait for a solid 3 hours so we settled to relax in a Cafe that offers expensive coffee and lunch snacks but it has a really good WiFi. After our lengthy research downloading music, applications and maps. We bolted to the train platforms to get to Yudanaka.
The train ride to the North was breathtaking. We didn’t take the shinkasen (bullet train), but opt for the local train. The views are amazing which you can see the mountain-side and farmers working away.
Once we alighted from the Train station, we met other fellow travellers going in the same direction as us heading towards our Ryoken (Japanese Inn). It was a rainy day but luckily for all of us, it wasn’t far from the station. Their Ryoken looks really cool and includes a special tradional eatery called Kaiseki that serves multiple dishes. They paid their inn quite substantial but seems worth it considering the price for Kaiseki. Rather, we opt for Soba Noodles in a local restaurant. Hopefully one day we get to try this wonderful cuisine.
The place in Yudanaka is quite magical in a day and evening, there’s plenty of Sakura showing their beauty and we all realised that no-one was around. We thought we entered in a Ghost town but apparently during the day it’s not as busy or maybe it’s a Sunday…
As we parted ways, we went to our Ryoken and no-one seems to be around. So we went in. We had the luxury playing dress ups in the lobby, until we met volunteers in the workplace and gave us free snacks to nibble on. The place wasn’t too bad and its quite an experience to enjoy the feeling of using the traditional Japanese clothing.
Our Ryoken has it’s own onsen (hot spring spa) but not ready for use. It also has a little kitchenette for microwave and making tea and coffee. Oh yeh, I forgot to mention. Japanese likes to organise stuff so keep note on what rubbish to throw as there are rules what to throw into which bin (i.e. Recycling, Electronics, Organic, Burnable, etc…)
Apart from seeing the monkeys, we were here to use the 9 public onsens by using a special key to enter. Usually, the Ryokens will provide this special key, but Alas they don’t have it. Nooo! Checking in other Blogs and suggestion from the Host, we could try and visiting the Local eateries.
Venturing out through the streets, we went to a local coffee place which looks like a residential area, but it has a Coffee sign. As we went in, a gentleman greeted us and ask in Japanese about ……. Sorry, our comprehension of the Japanese language is not up to par, so we used hand gestures of eating and drinking. Thankfully we knew words like Soba, Ramen, Sake pretty much food and drinks. But he seems to get the gist and plus he knew a bit of english as well. We asked for Soba and quickly he’s gone. He left us with his old Mum staring at us smiling trying to communicate whilst me and my wife were staring back at her on what to say.
She started of saying Kinochiwa and then suddenly our smiles and eyes grew wider as we’re trying every inch of our brain to understand. However, in using the power of interpretative sign language as we told her our names and where we come from. The old lovely lady even asks us if we are fit. Hesitantly, we said yes but it was a segue for her to show a picture on the wall that she was a skiier and her son was a renowned chef in France. ( I have an imagery that he may be one of the challengers in Iron Chef TV show). The conversation lasted quite a bit until the chef arrives with ingredients.
He served a bowl of soba noodles in front of us and we were slurping our way as the Mother and Son duo smiling patiently whilst we feast on their food. We’ve conversed, we laughed and exchanged pleasanteries between us. The place is quite like home where you expect awkward silences but at the same time you feel a sense of being safe and love in the air.
As we finished our meal, we continued our conversation which lead to the purpose in being here in using the public on-sens and seeing the snow monkeys. We told our unfortunate incident of not having the key and as we depart he told us he’ll open the doors for us. We smiled, we hugged and excited for the experience. (Although he did mention quite a lot during our conversation for using the onsens until we picked it up what he was saying in the end)
On-sen (Hot Spring Spa)
The son showed us the best onsen in Yudanaka and we’re on our way to experience it. Emily was on the other side as the onsens are seperate for Men and Women because you go completely nude on the spa. He opened the door for Em and the other for Me. I waved goodbye thinking he’s only letting me in but wanted to come in as well. After few awkward moments, I joined in the hot spring spa nothing but my towel. I copied him by putting the towel on the head so it won’t get wet. The spa was really hot, and I mean too hot for use. He said to try to relax and use the Cold water bucket to balance the temperature. It was such an experience and felt really refreshed and not pruny. Usually when I spend a lot of time in the Pool or Shower my fingers feel pruny but not for Hot Spring.
At nightfall, we’ve come across the same travelers from our bus ride from the station. They’ve offered us to try on the other on-sens with their key and we were super excited. After dinner we went on-sen hopping. Getting nude and trying out the on-sens was the life back then. Being clean is important to the Japanese culture and I can understand why. I think when we go back home, we will incorporate the skills that we’ve learnt, observed and utilise it in our humble abode.
The experience is quite good but I was feeling On-Sen out and I feel there’s lot of steam coming off from my head. We then decided to have a last nights drink at Yudanaka at one of the bars and were escorted by Japanese tourists to check out one of the residential area that serves Sake around late in the evening. The drink tasted beautiful where it felt quite warm for the cold nights and feels the day ended really quickly. We had a lot of fond memories here at this beautiful place and meeting friendly and funny people.
Until then I highly recommend doing an overnight stay at Yudanaka if you’re heading to see the Snow Monkeys and enjoy the beautiful town which they say inspire the sceneries in one of the popular animated films named Spirited Away.