Helen and Randall on the road

A bit about our adventures 2011-2012

Tuesday 7th – Thursday 9th May 2013: Bessho Onsen and Nagano Snow Monkeys

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We loitered in Matsumoto on Tuesday longer than planned as we had to wait for our luggage to arrive from Sumiyoshi – luckily we were able to track its progress online, so as soon as it arrived in town we had the hotel call the post office and summon our luggage thenceforth. Once we had rather relievedly received our luggage (despite reassurances from the guidebook and t’interwebs we were somewhat nervous about signing it over to some guy in a convenience store on Sunday) we headed across the road to the Nissan car rental where we had a reservation as they were the only rental place in town that dealt in Engrish.

Our pink chariot - Nissan March (we think it was a Micra)

Our pink chariot – Nissan March (we think it was a Micra)

Our plan was to visit the Snow Monkeys in Yudanaka, but by the time we arrived it was raining and almost time for the park to close, so instead we headed back to our ‘experience’ for the night, a stay in a Ryokan in Bessho Onsen , an ancient spa town mentioned in The Pillow Book .

Our ryokan for the night was Uematsuya Ryokan – not especially traditional or historical but reviewed as being friendly to non-Japanese with some English spoken. As the Onsen /Ryokan experience was billed as being very typical Japanese and not ‘touristy’ ie non-Japanese tourists, we thought this would be a gentler experience. We were right, as when we were just getting a bit concerned about finding the place and had pulled up to consult a map, we had a knock on the car window to find the lovely Wan-chen out to look for us in her car as we were late! She spoke great English and checked us in and explained how everything worked – a good thing as it was all rather complicated and we would have been exceptionally confused otherwise!


Me in my ‘Yukata’ cotton kimono/dressing gown.

We had a traditional Japanese room with tatami mats, so all footwear to be removed before entering. They provided slippers as well as the yukata for moving around the ryokan, and even managed to find a biggish pair that weren’t too tiny for Randall.

As we’d arrived late-ish, dinner of traditional Japanese ‘haute-cuisine’ was served almost immediately in our room.


Randall marvelling at what turned out to be just the starters!


Helen getting into the spirit of things.


Local wine, sashimi, and all sorts of goodies!

Really, it was the kind of meal where we couldn’t identify half the items, and very possibly ate the garnish in more than one case, but it was mostly very tasty – the sashimi was fantastic and the roast fish was pretty good too.

After dinner it was time to bathe – separate baths for men and women that get swapped over each evening so everyone gets a go in each of the indoor and outdoor baths.


Changing room for baths #1


Changing rooms for baths #1 (women’s in the evening, men’s the next morning)

The onsen are *not* for washing – you have to clean yourself thoroughly (so everyone can see you have!!) before getting in for a soak.


Ablutions area for baths #1 (women’s in the evening, men’s the next morning)


Indoor bath #1 (women’s in the evening, men’s the next morning)


Outdoor bath #1 (women’s in the evening, men’s the next morning)

I had a beautiful solo bath in the outdoor bath, reading my book. It was dark at the time (these photos were taken the next morning) so there were lovely views of twinkling lights over the ceramic-tiled rooves of the houses in the town.

I am sooooo going to buy some yukata – they are so comfortable!


Outdoor bath


Wooden octagonal bath.

This reminded me of THAT Ewan McGregor scene in The Pillow Book (the 1996 Peter Greenaway film, not the original!)


Outdoor bath on the other side (men’s that evening, women’s the following morning)


View from our balcony down the valley the next morning.

Breakfast was served communally but very Japanese-style, on the floor on tatami mats – fish, seaweed, rice and pickles.

On check-out we had a photo with Wan-chen for their blog pages as they don’t have many western guests:


The delightful Wan-chen and us in reception.

She also very kindly drove us to the next ryokan we were going to stay in (even though it was technically ‘the competition’) as she was concerned that no-one there spoke English and she wanted to ensure that everything was set up for our arrival, including leaving our bags there while we went off for the day. What a star – we highly recommend Uematsuya Ryokan to anyone.

So, now it was time for take 2 of the snow monkeys experience. This time we managed to get onto the highway instead of the local road, and Randall decided to be outrageous and ignore the 80km/h speed limit (usually I would object, but I could see it was doing bad things to his blood pressure) so we arrived in just over an hour with a stop for second breakfast (pickles and fish hadn’t really hit the spot).

On arrival at the monkey park (TERRIBLY signposted, in case you are ever considering it!) we paid 500 yen for parking and started the walk to the  Snow Monkeys , duly warned:


Do not feed the monkeys!


Randall and some geyser.




Hot pool, with the river running alongside.


Monkey contemplating his reflection in the hot water pool.


Biggie and littlie drinking hot sulphurous water from the pools.




Bathing monkeys

Snow Monkeys!


Bathing monkeys.



Post-monkeys, we went for a short drive and hike around the Shiga-Kogen area (1998 Winter Olympics site).


Cryptic map.


We were a little concerned in case this sign – at the start of our walk – said ‘beware of the bears’.

Then it was time to head back to Bessho Onsen fo some more hot water action:


Hanaya Ryokan

The beautiful, historical and traditional Hanaya Ryokan has been serving travellers since the 17th century. It was a wonderful experience although we were glad we had warmed up at Uematsuya Ryokan the night before, as very little English was spoken and it would have been completely baffling otherwise!


Hanaya Ryokan


Carp pond, Hanaya Ryokan


Gardens, Hanaya Ryokan


Unfortunately they didn’t have Randall-sized slippers…


But they did have rather marvellous toe-socks!


and splendid yukata!


Love that one is expected to walk around the hotel in your dressing gown and slippers.

Our lovely little house, with private onsen:

Hanaya Ryokan


Our little house / suite


Snug, view over the gardens


Super-retro phone


Our private hot-spring bath in our suite.

The gardens were stunning – all fantastic levels of trees and shrubs, koi carp pools, little wooden bridges and walkways – just gorgeous:


Beautiful gardens of Hanaya Ryokan


Beautiful gardens of Hanaya Ryokan – and Helen


Lost in the woods…


Prease reave shoes.


Outdoor baths – red curtain for girls, blue for boys.


Changing rooms for one of the two indoor baths (the ‘Marble baths)


One of the two marble baths.

We didn’t manage to photograph the outdoor baths or the ‘Observation bath’ as they were populated but both were absolutely lovely, however we didn’t use them as we had the luxury of our own private one in our suite!

Dinner was served in our room as is traditional:


Uh oh…so much unidentifiable food!


While we were out having a post-prandial stroll. the magic elves laid out our futons.


Love the gargoyles!


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