Emily and I flew from LAX to Haneda Airport on a direct flight. If you've been to Tokyo, you know that Narita Airport is quite far from the city. Haneda is much closer and has a beautiful new international terminal. A big improvement.
|My bed in Yudanaka|
After taking 4 trains, we arrived in Yudanaka in anticipation of visiting the snow monkeys the next day. Yudanaka was a lovely, peaceful town, and we stayed in a traditional Japanese hotel, Hotel Tsubakino. The rooms were nice, the food was great and the people were so very nice to us, apologizing that their English was not so good, when we should have been apologizing that our Japanese was so much worse. The wifi didn't work there but that was my only complaint, and it actually was nice to be unplugged.
Jigokudani Monkey Park is quite something. The monkeys are so used to people that they totally ignore humans or often appear to be posing for photos. You can get within inches of the monkeys, and they're fine with this. They are busy monkeys and seem happy in their surroundings, which are beautiful.
|Icy path to snow monkeys|
Back at the hotel, I enjoyed a private dip in the hot springs at sunset. Lovely. Of course, there are numerous public baths to enjoy the hot springs in this area of Japan, but I just couldn't picture bathing with a bunch of naked Japanese women. Maybe it's just me. Our hotel had some private baths (outside but covered from view), and that was perfect.
We had a wonderful traditional Japanese dinner and breakfast at the hotel in a private room. We weren't sure if they were trying to hide the Americans from view or if this was standard.
|Exhibit called "Made in Japan"|
|Wedding in Higashi Chaya District|
Although we've both been to Japan a number of times (Emily far more times than me), we agreed that we had the best Japanese food ever on this trip. We were willing to eat whatever was put in front of us, and this definitely was not tourist fare - it was the real deal, delicious and always beautifully presented. Most of the time, we didn't know what we were eating but were happy to do so.
As always, Japan is fascinating in its modernity on one hand and its traditionalism on the other. While it might not be the most politically correct metaphor to use, the Japanese bathrooms are a perfect example of this dichotomy.
|The Toto Toilet|
|The more rugged approach|
At the modern extreme is the Toto toilet, which, since my first visit to Japan about 20 years ago, has been a source of amazement to me. Why these have not become standard fare in all U.S. households is beyond me. It has a heated seat, will rinse off your derriere as well as your front and blow you dry down there. I almost expect it to provide a pat of baby powder to complete the experience. Yet, often, in public restrooms, there are old style toilets that are really no more than a hole in the ground where you have to balance and squat to do your business.
This post is way too long already, so I need to wrap it up. A very interesting trip - I'm glad I went and I'm glad I'm home.