Snow monkeys taking a bath, Jigokudani Park, Japan — January 30, 2023

2023 Japan Journal Entries

Monday, Jan 23 — Flight on JAL 1

Great flight!

Tuesday, Jan 24 — Tokyo

A very bumpy final 45 minutes and then we land in Haneda. I take the airport train and transfer to the Yamanote Line, where I get off at the Gotanda Station and walk to the Mitsui Garden Hotel, where I check into room 809.

Wednesday, Jan 25 — Tokyo

Day in Tokyo. In the late afternoon, we meet Toshihiro, and head over to the Kitazawa district and walk around all the vintage clothing, music and art stores. Then we catch the subway and head over to Genpin for a fugu dinner. Japan, 〒150-0042 Tokyo, Shibuya City, Udagawacho, 23−3 渋谷第一勧銀共同ビル グルメタウン8F. Afterward Tosh and I head to the Yoyogí bar district and have some beer and pizza. It is quite cold outside.

Thursday, Jan 26 — Hakuba

Shinkansen to Nagano; bus to Hakuba; hotel pick up at the bus station. Check into The Shakespeare シェイクスピアホテル.

Dinner at the oden bar

Friday, Jan 27 — Hakuba

Dinner at Korean place.

Saturday, Jan 28 — Hakuba

Excellent dinner at Izakaya Hie Hakuba. We ordered horse sashimi (a local specialty), fried tofu with leeks and miso (leeks are also a local specialty), seaweed vinegar (quite interesting and good), leek tempura (epic), smoked radish, salmon sashimi, yellow tail sashimi, fried mochi broth, bonjiri and avo tuna. It is here that we meet a couple who recommend the snow monkeys tour via Ski Japan Holidays. They said this tour was better than the others.

Sunday, Jan 29 — Hakuba

Excellent dinner at Izakaya Hie Hakuba

Monday, Jan 30 — Matsumoto

Today I signed up for Ski Japan Holidays Snow Monkey Tour. I was picked up at the Echoland Hakuba Base Camp bus station on a nice bus and took the front row seats on the left side with a great view through the front and side windows. At one point, we pull over at a highway pitstop and I purchase some Sun Fuji apples. While driving, our wonderful tour guide John told us about the history of the region, which once grew hemp as its cash crop but then replaced it with growing buckwheat for soba noodles, when hemp fell out of vogue in the early twentieth century. We drive by Miasa village and its famous hemp house, from 1698. John also mentions about the migration of young people to the cities, and explains that both partents commute to bigger cities for jobs, and children commute to bigger cities as well, as they get higher in education, so eventually families just simply move to the bigger cities because all members go there anyway. It’s a sad fact. As we pass the baren fields covered in snow, John explains that in summer, these are rice paddies, and that he even has a rice paddy where he grows rice! I would have never guessed the white barren landscape would become a green paradise in the summer, I make a note to return in the summer, or even early September when the colors are beautiful. We also see many trees and bushes with their branches tied up. Apparently the heavy snow will break the branches in the winter, so the branches are tied up to protect them. The bushes are mostly blueberry and the trees are Sun Fuji Apples. The apples will last all winter if kept cold, and they taste so crisp, sweet and wonderful. Some of the prized apples are actually twisted on the trees, and moved from other branches, to protect from blemishes. This is called tomiaowa, or the art of apple twisting. These apples go to the gift-giving markets, and can fetch over $100 USD or more per apple, and up to $300 UDS for a mellon! You can visit the B1 floor of some department stores for grade AAA gift giving fruit, such as Hokkaido mellonw, white strawberry, Sun Fuji apples. As for the rest of us, we’ll settle for B grade (or lower) fruit, which is still wonderful, but will have a minor flaw. We first stop near the bizzare Shigakogen Roman Museum, near the outskirts Yamanouchi town, located in Shimotakai District in Nagano Prefecture. From the parking lot we walk to the Jigokudani Monkey Park. The walk along the snowy path is cold but beautiful with the Japanese trees covered in snow. There are several monkies in the bath, with some coming and going. It is hard not to take 100 photos! There are some adorable babies. The monkeys have no interest in us humans. Our tour then continues to the historic town of Obuse, where I have a fish sukiyaki at a private restaurant. Afterward, I shop for some rice crakcers and smaple sake at the Masuichi-Ichimura Sake Brewery. Sadly, I miss the museum of the famous Japanese artist Hokusai, who created the famous tsunami image that one sees in Japantowns and elsewhere the world over. We then venture over to Nagano City to visit the Zenkoji Buddhist Temple, which is quite grand. I pay extra to walk under the temple and rub my hand along the left wall, which grants me good luck. After the tour, I am dropped at the Nagano Train station where I board the train to Matsumoto.

In Matsumoto, I check into room 304 of the Tabino Hotel Matsumoto. We find a sushi restaruant run be a chef also namded Matsumoto. Afrer dinner, we wander around town. We eventually make it over to Matsumoto Castle 松本城 afround midnight. It is well below freezing, and even though the castle and surrounding park are serene, I am really not enjoying the cold, so we head back to the hotel.

Tuesday, Jan 31 — Hirafu

We wake up early, check out, and have the hotel hail us a taxi to MMJ Shinshu-Matsumoto Airport. It is a tiny airport, and after a quick check in, we visit the outside observation lounge. The views of the surrounding Japanese alps, covered in snow, are gorgeous. We soon board Fuji Dream Airlines flight FDA211, and our Embraer E170 (JA13FJ) takes off, on time, at 09:15am.

We land in CTS New Chitose Airport in Sapporo, which also conveniently has an adjoining train station. While we are waiting for our train, we eat some counter sushi, including Hokkaido scallop, uni, tuna, etc. It is so good. We catch JR Airport line to Sapporo, where we switch to the JR Niseko-Liner. After some hours we arrive to Otaru, and after that, the tracks are covered in snow. We finally arrive in Kutchan, where EJ grabs our rental from Toyota rental. We load up and drive to the Q Fox Black Diamond Hotel, where we check in.

Wednesday, Feb 1 — Hirafu

Ski day at Niseko Mt. Resort Grand Hirafu

Thursday, Feb 2 — Hirafu

Ski day at Niseko Mt. Resort Grand Hirafu

Friday, Feb 3 — Hirafu

Ski day at Rusutsu Resort ルスツリゾート. I think this is the night we have dinner at Rin, with the frozen salmon.

Saturday, Feb 4 — Hirafu

Ski day at Rusutsu Resort ルスツリゾート.

Sunday, Feb 5 — Sapporo

We check out, drive to Kutchan, drop off the rental, and take the train to Sapporo. In Otaru, we switch to the Airport 172. Being rush hour, it is quite busy, but luckily we have a reser have a reserved seat in Car 4, seat 12-A. I sit next to an ANA employee, and we chat for a bit. He gets to fly all over Japan for free. Lucky chap. We walk to Washington Hotel Plaza, and check in.

Monday, Feb 6 — Flight to Phils

I check out and wander around freezing Sapporo all day. I take the Airport train to New Chitose Airport, and to my dismay, the sushi counter is closed. Ugh. I board Japan Airlines flight JL 530, and our Boeing 737-800 (JA328J) takes off, on time, at 21:15.

We arrive to HND Haneda Airport at 23:00. I try to find some sushi here, to no avail. Ugh. I board Japan Airlines flight JL 77, and our Boeing 767-300 (JA620J) takes off, on time, at 01:30. We land around five hours later at 05:30 in Manila at MNL Ninoy Aquino International Airport. I am tired.