Our breakfast this morning is Japanese: W was wanting to try it out in Tokyo, but I figured we would experience it soon enough, and stuck to croissants and coffee there. Here is a different story – we are in a Ryokan, surrounded by people in Kimonos, and as they say: “When in Rome”… I stop short at wearing my hotel-provided kimono to breakfast. And outside for that matter, because unless I am dashing from one hot tub to the next, sipping hot sake in between, I am likely to freeze off some vital part of my anatomy.
Anyway, back to breakfast. We are ushered into our own tatami-screened room, where a series of porcelain dishes are arrayed elegantly on the table with various items in each. Thank goodness it’s a regular height table with chairs, because I’m not sure my knees would last through the meal.
I recognise a piece of salmon, miso soup, and the rest is a taste mystery. Rice is served, and it occurs to me that it’s like bread here – we have toast for breakfast, they have rice. Green tea is also served, which makes me yearn for coffee. (I manage to get some for the next breakfast – hooray). Well, we certainly got a culinary experience.
We’ve booked our hotel minivan for 10 am to the Snow Monkey Park. We will need to catch a public bus back from there.
Off we trot rugged up in our cold weather gear with sensible shoes. Good thing too – we saw some very un-sensible shoes on a Japanese couple; she in ballet shoes with no grip, wet stockings emerging above the shoes, and him in a very trendy pair of brown leather leather shoes that are looking much the worse for the wet snow and salt. A short walk up a hill is a cafe that sells COFFEE! Must stop for that. They also serve fries with ketchup, in case I get the urge to diverge from rice.
A 1.6 km walk further along the trail takes us to the entrance to the park. The trail is relatively flat for the most part with only a couple of steep bits. The snow is mostly gone from the path, though in places there is still a residue of slush or ice, so one has to be careful of the footing. Where the snow is gone, it’s muddy and wet, and soon enough W has mud splatter up one side of his jeans where it’s flipped up from the back of his shoe: a bit like the mud trails one finds on bicyclists who don’t have a rear mudguard. Funny it’s only on one side….
A dear friend did this walk in the middle of winter a few years ago – I don’t want to imagine what it would be like trudging through a meter of snow on the ground. But right now it’s easy, and we have a relatively sunny day for it. At the trail head they rent crampons, a clever gadget to be strapped over your shoes with spikes so you don’t slip, we didn’t avail ourselves of those, but managed to avoid going a over t. At the end of the trail is the ticket office – we are admonished not to touch, feed or otherwise aggravate the monkeys. On the other side of the entrance, we emerge into a small valley, the centre-point of which is a large hot spring.
There are monkeys everywhere – in the spring as well as on the snowy slopes surrounding us. They are happily going about their business, completely ignoring their tall cousins – a couple of young ones play-fighting on the bridge we cross. They run between our legs and around us within touching distance. It’s a surprise that one of us isn’t used as “Uncle” when the little ones are chasing each other – I wonder if any of their cousins have ever acted as a post to climb to safety. The urge to pet them is strong – their long fur looks so soft and enticing. But they also have very long canine teeth, and we want them to feel safe. There is much scolding and carrying on, as one or another decides they want to occupy a particular space.
One in particular has caught my eye; she is sitting up to her elbows in the water, holding her feet, in a pose that looks particularly Zen. After a while an infant runs along the edge and takes a flying leap to get to her, they cuddle for a while and then little one takes off and climbs back out, dripping water from its long fur. Reminds me a bit of afghan hounds – all fluffy and big until they get wet and then they look skinny and bedraggled. How they don’t emulate the proverbial brass monkeys, I have no idea…
One of the guys working here is moving around with a bucket, throwing food onto the snow. Suddenly all the monkeys have left the water and busily help themselves fastidiously picking the pellets out of the snow with both hands and stuffing it in their mouths.
When W has had enough (I could stay for ever), we head back down: in the small entry building, there is a monkey pelt which we are encouraged to stroke – it really does feel fine and soft. I want one – monkey that is, not pelt.