Thursday, February 26, 2015

Snow Monkeys

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So here they are! The Japanese snow monkeys! It was a magical day- we hiked on a beautiful mountain trail through the woods with big fat snowflakes falling all around us.. About three quarters of the way through, monkeys started appearing from out of the woods and other trails and joined us, running up alongside all the other people on the way to the hot springs. We thought for sure there would be tons of monkeys in the water to keep warm in the blizzard- but surprisingly, none of them were actually getting in. The water was deserted pretty much the whole time. I was a little disappointed to not get any shots of monkeys chilling in the water, but luckily enough of them hung around the waterfall and perimeter enough to get some of the sorts of images I was hoping for.



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When we checked the weather report before leaving, it was supposed to be 45F and sunny, so we weren't quite prepared for this crazy weather. I had forgotten gloves, and after a while, my hands were red and raw and aching from the cold, especially when the wind started to pick up later in the morning. Ryan's coat soaked through after being covered in so many layers of falling snow, so he was pretty miserable once his coat and sweater had gotten wet, and then the weather became more windy. So our patience and stamina for photos and video waned fairly quickly.

I sacrificed my hands a little longer to get some good videos and closeups of some babies that appeared near the waterfall toward the end of our stay, and then we figured we'd better get ourselves somewhere dry and warm, especially Ryan, since hypothermia was not exactly part of the ideal Valentines getaway. We ended up having to walk the whole way back actually, because the bus didn't show up and our hotel shuttle was only one way. I have never been more excited to jump in an onsen than when we got back to our Ryokan- every article of clothing soaked and half frozen. Adventure Mode was certainly enabled this vacation...

Monday, February 23, 2015

Scenes from Yudanaka

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Here are some simple snapshots from our stay in Yudanaka over Valentine's weekend while I wait to finish up and process my rolls of film. It
was such a charming little mountain town, and total sugarcoated eye candy after a heavy snowfall. So lovely. We stayed at a Ryokan, a traditional
style Japanese Inn/ Bed and Breakfast, and it was everything we could have hoped for and more. it really exceeded our expectations in a lot
of ways. I left really sad we couldn't stay just one more night to take in the peaceful cozy atmosphere, enjoy amazing food, and explore more of the
town. Out first greeting at Yudanaka station was an adorable giant snowman Funassyi, a creepycute Japanese character.



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I researched a ton online before booking this particular Ryokan, Yudanaka Onsen Seifuso. It had great reviews, and I loved the photos on their website,
and the fact that they provided snow boots and free rides to the monkey park entrance (since it's up in the mountains, and kind of a hike from the
town.) As soon as we arrived, everything was better than I had imagined. The hospitality, the quality of the food, the little details in decoration- the
gorgeous garden courtyard covered in snow- they even had three different onsens (hot baths) to choose from. Our room was huge and lovely, and kept plenty
warm despite the blizzard.



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I was very eager to get out and explore our surroundings in this glorious snow. Our inkeepers told us that they only get snow like this once a year-
it snowed for 2 days straight. Looking out the window the first morning of our stay felt so exciting- big fat flakes coming down thick and fast, making
everything look like a postcard. Such good stuff. Our journey to the monkey park took us through a gorgeous forest path, and our walk home took us through
some other snowclad neighborhoods and towns as well.



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The bus we had planned on taking home just never showed, so we just ended up walking back through this blizzard. It was beautiful, but by the time
we got back to the inn we were frozen stiff. My hair had frozen into actual icicles and our faces and hands were red and raw. Poor Ryan's coat had soaked
through, and most of our stuff was quite wet. Luckily I guess it was a slow day, because the inkeepers took pity on us and let us use the outdoor onsen
right away, and privately, which isn't usually the policy. They had a schedule up of women's hours and men's hours, and we had just resigned ourselves to
go separately. It was the best surprise to be able to go in together, have it all to ourselves, right after being out in the snow all day.



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So many 'pinch me' moments this day. Sitting in serene piping hot water with snow falling down around me was like being in a waking dream, or in the middle of one of my daydreams. Oh japan.

love,
from Japan,
Kathryn

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Yudanaka Onsen

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Over Valentine's Day Weekend, Ryan and I took a trip up north to Nagano. The main objective was to see the snow
monkeys, which I have been dying to do since I was little, so we looked for an Inn closeby the monkey park. We took
a little shaky local train out to the end of the line, Yudanaka station: the closest civilized area near the monkeys.
These photos are from our first late afternoon and evening after arriving in Yudanaka. We dropped our bags off at our
Ryokan and headed out to explore the cute little town and beautiful mountain surroundings. It started snowing as the sun
sank lower, and turned into a steady blizzard that lasted all night and the whole next day.

I was so so excited to see so much snow- it doesn't really snow in Tokyo at all, and if it does it hardly sticks, so
winter, as I'm used to, coming from mountainous Utah, and most recently crazy snowpocalypse New York, has been kinda
lame. It was so charming to see all the snow covered trees and little old buildings and shrines with several inches
of snow lining every surface. When winter is snowy and pretty I can't get enough of it. I kind of wish we could move
to Nagano now...



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I've been wanting to photograph this sweater for a while, and I kept waiting for some outdoorsy, piney, mountainy
scenery to go with the vibes. Nagano was a perfect place. I first saw this sweater waaaaay back in October or
November and fell in love with the mountains and trees print and the quality of the fabric and the color scheme.
It was, of course, way out of my budget....well I mean I could have gotten it if I didn't want to buy another single
thing for the next month or two....and I don't like making commitments like that so I didn't...

I kept coming back to check on it....gaze at it....hold it in my hands, sigh, and put it back. Like maybe 5 or 6 times.
(This is the story of my life here in Japan...)Then the crazy January sales came and I waited and waited, and even
checked out three different locations selling it. And one serendipitous evening in Parco, at the end of January, right
after enjoying the Pikachu cafe with Ashley and Siobhan, I checked for the sweater and there it was- 70% off- angels
singing, and light beams shining down. It was the only one left, and in my size. And so I snatched it up and have been
wearing it a ton. The light faded so fast that evening and we had entered a forest path that became much darker with all
the surrounding trees, so there unfortunately was hardly enough light left to get decent photos of the sweater and good details
etc., but really I was just happy to be wearing it in the mountains, like I feel like it was meant to be.



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Stay tuned for more photos of the monkeys and our hike through the most beautiful snowy forest. I've got a mix of phone photos, film photos that still need to be developed, and dslr photos, so the posts might be a little all over the place. I need to finish my film roll before I can even process the nagano shots, for one thing! Follow my adventures on instagram to a get a little closer to real-time peek into life in Japan. Sometimes I feel like blogging takes too long these days, and why even bother? Instagram is so much more streamlined, and more people seem to be involved on that platform. hm.

Love,
From Japan,
Kathryn