Monday, December 31, 2012

New Years 2013 in Tokyo

Tokyo Tower.
We spent New Years on the 33rd floor of the Prince Park Tower Tokyo Hotel.  Surprisingly enough we were able to get a great table with no reservation.  They tried to seat us at a table with no view but all we had to do was ask and we were moved to an ideal location with a view of Tokyo Tower.
Yes, the martinis were 25$ and the beers were 13$, but it was a great place to ring in the new year.

Rainbow Bridge.

There were no fireworks in the entire city of Tokyo that we could see but the Tower displayed '2013' and a few people in the bar counted down in Japanese. 
What more could we ask for... we were in Tokyo on New Years. 
Happy New Year!!

Meiji and Sensoji

I have never stayed at a hotel and had a package waiting for me when I arrived, let alone have I had this happen in another country.  Megumu surprised me with a bottle of sake.  She is so sweet.
In the morning we headed to Meiji shrine.  It is a Shinto shrine dedicated to the spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife, built just a hundred years ago.

After the shrine we wondered around. 
You really never know what you are going to find in Tokyo.

After Meiji, Sensoji was on the list of temples to find.
But first, a beer break!

Sensoji temple was preparing for the New Year, when everybody in Japan will visit their first temple of the year.  Sensoji is one of Japan's most popular temples, and Tokyo's oldest temple.

In case you did not know, Tokyo wants to host the Olympics in 2020, but they are really discrete about it.   
Japan is so safe and clean, I couldn't imagine why they wouldn't get it.

We tried to go up the Skytree (the tallest structure in Japan) but the wait was about four hours.  You can see the Skytree from all over Tokyo but at 634 meters you cannot tell how tall it is until it is towering over you.

On the fourth floor (where the tickets for Skytree are sold) is the best soft serve ice cream I have ever had.  Traveling to Skytree is worth it just for the ice cream.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Nozawa Snowboarding

Nozawa Onsen was used for the biathlon competitions in the 1998 winter Olympics.  It is incredible to go snowboarding where the Olympics were held. 

What a beautiful view! 
(I love the panoramic function on our new Lumix TS4.)

Ski calisthenics.
Fred took me on a black diamond run that he insisted was at my level.  It was not.  I have never been so scared snowboarding.  Right over this ledge the slope was practically vertical. Even when I sat on my butt I started sliding down the hill. 

Nothing comes close to snowboarding in Japan.  It was amazing, and very decently priced (about 50 dollars for the day and 25 dollars to rent equipment). 
Fred is now totally in love with Japan.  He understands why this is my favorite developed nation. 
He really wants to come back next year.  We will see!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Nozawa Onsen

Nozawa Onsen is a ski village just an hour northeast of Nagano.  Although it is just a little north of Yudanaka we had to take a train all the way back to Nagano and then head almost in the same direction we came from to Tagorinozawaonsen station.  From there is was a 15 minute bus ride on a cramped bus full of ski equipment, luggage and people (almost no foreigners like us) to the town and then we walked up hill for about ten minutes.
My cousin was ready to kill me.
Kawahiro ryokan is right on the slope.  It is ski in/ski out and totally amazing.
The rental gear shop is right next door so we got our board and boots and were all set for tomorrow.
Before dinner we wanted to get a drink and found the coolest spot, The Craft Room.  Fred gave the bar his powder blue Chargers hat.  They said when we come back (which Fred wants to do next winter) it will be there.

Dinner at the ryokan was delicious.  Fred even tried the horse meat!  I think it was horse meat at least.  It is common in this area and it looked like the picture I saw of it.  It is raw like sashimi but brighter red in color.
I should have tried it!

Snow monkeys. Wow.

We were dropped off at the entrance to the monkey park.  Luckily the ryokan insisted that we borrow snow boots (free of charge) because I did not realize that the path was so snowy.  It was a 30 minute walk uphill through the most beautiful scenery.  The park opened at 8, and we were dropped off around 9.  We totally missed the crowds.  The tour groups started arriving as we were leaving.
The entrance to the park was 500 yen.  What a deal!  I did not know we would be so close to the snow monkeys, or that they would want to be so "personable" with us.  There were five babies playing with each other that ran up to us as we walked down the path.

They look so soft and furry (like real life ewoks) but what ever you do, do not try to pet them.  They can squeal really loud.  What?  It was Fred, not me!

When you picture snow monkeys this is the image that comes to mind.  Snow monkeys relaxing in an onsen without a care in the world.

They are cute, but also kind of look like they are plotting an attack on mankind. 
The snow monkeys were the reason we came to the mountains (them and snow boarding). 
It was better than I could have expected. 
What an experience.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Yudanaka, Japan

When we checked into Shimaya ryokan (a japanese style inn) I learned that we would have to wait until tomorrow to see the snow monkeys.  Booo!
Ichiro Yumoto and his wife were so accommodating.  They dropped us off and picked us up where ever we needed to be, as part of the price of the room.
They offered to take us to an outdoor onsen up the hill.  Onsens are natural hot springs and are very popular in Japan.  Usually they are separated by gender because you are supposed to go in naked.  I am sure they thought it was weird that we wanted to go in one together, with bathing suits of course.

Ichiro dropped us off at a noodle restaurant.  I had been craving udon all day.  It was so good.
When we were done eating Vinny tried to tip the waitress.  She looked like she wanted to slap him.  But when I tipped with candy, she was so thrilled.  Tipping with candy has been fun because they excitedly, and graciously accept.  I brought See's peppermint twists and mini Disney candy canes. 
We walked back to the ryokan, in the snow. 
Tomorrow... snow monkeys!