December 16th – December 28th
And so we were off again!
After a short stay in Kyoto, we had plans to go work for a hostel in Yamanouchi, a small town in central Japan near Nagano. It’s reknowned for two thing; having hosted the Winter Olympics of 1998, but also for its “Monkey Onsen”! An onsen is a japanese traditional bath, that usually heats up water straight from a source for people to bathe in. The water is kept at around 40-45 degrees celsius, and people of all ages bathe (naked obviously) together in large baths seperated by gender. Yamanouchi however is known throughout all of Japan for being home to an onsen where wild monkeys come to bathe.
We took a night bus from Kyoto to Nagano, and waited inside the train station several hours for the first morning train to Yamanouchi. Every station we stopped at felt colder than the previous one, but our hundreds of layers kept us warm.
Yamanouchi is divided into two halves, split by the river Kakuma in the center that starts up from Mt. Iwasuge and slithers all the way down the valley. We reached our hostel by bus and had to look quite hard to find it. We asked several times around but no one knew of “Nozaru Hostel”. We even asked the person who we later found out lived just two houses down from the hostel. But no worries, we found it in the end and identified ourselves to the staff as the workawayers supposed to arrive.
We were given a warm welcome by the staff, who it turns out were all workawayers, and told the boss was away in Osaka. After a quick nap and some tea we made proper introductions to everyone and discovered everyone was from a different place. There was Sam from Australia, Ki from Japan, Clement from France, Vladi from the Czech Republic and John from Sweden. Unfortunately we didn’t get the name of one of the other girls who left the next day. But they did show us a really nice Izakaya (Japanese traditional small bar that can fit around 5 people).
What’s great about Izakayas is that you get to know the bartender personally and usually pay little for great service and conversations. Our bartender was Toru-san, a man in his 50s who had travelled around in the US and Japan in his youth and was now kicking back in Yamanouchi. He prepared food and drinks for us, and all for a really small price (10 euros each for full meal and unlimited drinks). We tried to talk using our broken Japanese and his basic English and somewhat succeeded. This is where we tried cooked Daikon (a sort of raddish) for the first time and fell in love with it. It’s so good.
The next two weeks were quite relaxed, our jobs consisted in cleaning the rooms guests slept in, and washing the hotel’s onsens: an arduous task that takes times, patience, elbow grease and an ability to pick people’s pubic hairs out of the drains
The boss arrived and things died down a bit, she was like a coin; she’d be super friendly one minute and straight-up ruthless the next. Vladi couldn’ quite take it so he left, so did Sam, and we ended up leaving too after our two weeks had passed as it wasn’t a very nice atmosphere and our family was in Yamanouchi for Chistmas.
During our time there though we had fun going back with Sam and Clement to Toru-san’s place, relaxing in the onsens, walking around Yamanouchi on the snowy paths, and cozying up in the evening with a cup of tea. (I’ll also be putting some more slideshows in the posts it saves up space and looks nicer sometimes)
So two days before Christmas, my lovely family in Japan (Uncle, Aunt and cousins) arrives in Yamanouchi. So we said goodbye to everyone at Nozaru Hostel and then moved in with them to a nearby hotel and stayed there until the 28th.
During that time at the hotel we, again, went to onsens (It’s honestly amazing!) and to the famous monkey baths 😀
The monkeys are adorable as hell and even more so when they bathe. It’s all a bit pervy though…
Fast-forward to Christmas!
Thankfully I got to spend Chirstmas with some family, and although Priya didn’t, I hope she felt a little bit at home with us during the festivities. Yamanouchi wasn’t very festive but hey we tried and I think we did pretty well with our canned fois-gras, decorations and Buche. All credit goes to Jihane, Mathieu and my mum though, I certainly didn’t do anything.
Once we were all ready, and the presents were being opened, I gave mine to Priya.
Agreed, it was a bit rushed; Mickey looks like he just snorted a line of coke and Pluto seems to be on acid. But! It’s the thought that counts right? Anyways, I give her this, not having bought the actual ticket yet, and the three other adults go silent. They look at each other worriedly. You can feel stares of disbelief going around the room and the sound of jaws dropping. Priya hugs me, thanks me for the present and my mum grabs me by the arm asking wildly how I knew. Okay maybe exaggerating a little but they truly were shocked, because it turns out they had gotten us both DisneyLand tickets too!
So yeah, that was my little Xmas anecdote.
Anyways, after some morning toast, the girls stayed in and went for a walk during the day while the guys decided they were too cool for that and went skiing. Mathieu, Maxence and I then drove to the ski slopes to try our luck. I have to admit I used to be great at skiing but it’s been 4 years… So I might have almost crashed several times. Also my feet were too big they barely had shoes that fit me.
At the top of the mountain, the lift lines look like they come out of the clouds, it’s surreal. Really feel like you’re on top of the world.
All in all, we had a pretty good time in Yamanouchi; Met some nice guests and staff at the hotel, had good times in a small bar, warmed up in the onsens, skiied in the alps and got DisneyLand tickets!
We left on the 28th, ready for some new adventures in Tokyo, preceded by a short stop in Matsumoto!
~ Skander and Priya