Hell Valley and Monkey Park

February 12, 2007 - Nagano, Japan

From Tokyo we continued to Kofu city in Yamanashi prefecture. Kofu is where I lived for three years while working in Japan. Just taking the train to Kofu brought back many memories. It was fun to see the things that had changed in a year. We met my friend Miki for dinner at a yakitori restaurant. The next day we went snow boarding with Miki and her husband Shintaro. Terry and Miki skied and Shintaro and I snow boarded. The snow park was right next to Mt. Fuji which is most visible in the winter months. Fuji was beautiful. After the four of us visited Yurari onsen, one of my favorite hot springs, we then had houtou for dinner. Houtou is a noodle soup local to Yamanashi prefecture.

Our next stop was Jigokudani (‘Hell Valley’) Inn in Nagano prefecture. Miki and Shintaro joined us and we drove to the trail head about a 20-minute hike from the inn. The inn is located at the bottom of a valley and sits next to a small river. The inn is named Hell Valley because the steam constantly gushing out of the ground with the surrounding mountains is said to resemble hell. Seeing creatures crawling the valley walls in the distance could further the likeness I suppose. After an awesome dinner, a few beers, and a soak in the hot springs, we thought it more likely resembled heaven. The inn is located directly across from the entrance to the Monkey Park. Monkeys, previously mentioned creatures, come to soak in their own hot springs during the cold weather. The monkeys are very use to being gawked at by humans and don’t even seem to care we are there. After dinner we returned to the inn’s outdoor hot spring. The inn has 6 baths. One for men (indoors), an outdoor and an indoor women’s bath, two private family baths, and a co-ed outdoor bath. The outdoor bath has always been my favorite. It is somewhat rare these days to come across a mixed-gender bath. The four of us soaked awhile and had the bath to ourselves. It even started to snow which is an event that warrants its own word in Japanese, ‘yukimiburo’ (soaking while watching the snow fall). The next morning, before breakfast, Terry and I soaked a bit in the outdoor hot spring. Monkeys came to our bath and one even soaked with us. It snowed a little harder than the night before. We soaked until breakfast was ready, ate and then headed back to Kofu.

Shintaro is only 23 years old! 9 years younger than Miki and she likes to brag about it... it’s very cute. He is very accommodating and makes goofy faces in every picture. Miki and Shintaro have similar personalities and are very fun to be around. Miki speaks English well and Shintaro tries to improve his English and Mark gets very animated when he speaks Japanese. Very fun to observe. We stayed over at Shintaro’s parents’ house and his whole family was very generous with their hospitality. His mom made us full breakfast every morning! His grandmother gave me two beautiful purses she hand made and at night, we had beer and snacks with the whole family and chatted before sleeping. Well, Mark chatted... I mostly ate and politely smiled. Mark tolerates some of the food but I love Japanese food a little too much! I would crazily finish my plate only to look up to find that they are far from being finished. I think chatting slows them down... or at least that is what I am telling myself. Mark did an awesome job coordinating the Monkey Park stay. We had a great corner room with a view. I am really loving the tatami matt rooms and onsen (baths). I soak before and after meals and before sleep. Similar to soaking in the Jacuzzi tub but 20 times better. Being in Japan, Mark and I always end up talking about how we would love to live here, but may be having an onsen in the States will achieve the same effect. I doubt it... but I tell myself that a soaking tub surrounded by bamboo trees will mitigate our desires :)


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