Thursday, March 31, 2011

Kanaguya Onsen

Kanaguya Onsen

As radiation continues to not be threatening to most of Japan, we decided not to postpone our spring vacation plans. We headed into the mountains of Nagano (you know, that snowy place with the Olympics) to enjoy a couple of relaxing days in the hot water of Shibu Onsen. We splurged on a fancy ryokan called Kanaguya. It's said that it was one of the inspirations for the animated film Spirited Away. The atmosphere of the place was lovely, mixing large, clean rooms with really old and semi-decaying private hot spring baths. You can wander the labyrinthian hallways and jump in to any tub you like the entire duration of your stay. I especially liked a cave tub that was built into the side of the mountain.

Kanaguya Onsen - dark path

Kanaguya Onsen - foodThey provided us with excessive amounts of food at both dinner and breakfast. What you see in the picture was just the beginning - they brought out several more courses after that.

We took a bus to Jigokudani Park and then hiked along a snow covered path for about a half an hour to visit the famous snow monkeys. These Japanese Macaques are the only non-human primates to live in such a cold environment. They've learned to take advantage of the local hot springs and enjoy a good soak in the tub as much as their human counterparts.

Jigokudani Snow Monkey - scooping water with hand

While taking pictures there a news team showed up and the reporter started chatting up Greg. They were trying to shoot a story about foreign tourists being scared of traveling to Japan because of radiation fears. Greg declined to appear on camera, but that didn't stop the reporter from attempting to jam a mic in Greg's face and point a camera at him anyway. We did only see one other foreigner during our entire trip, so they probably had to wait a while to find another person to talk to.

Jigokudani Snow Monkey - profileThe town of Shibu Onsen was pretty empty and most shops didn't bother to open. We entered one shop so I could buy the requisite souvenirs for my coworkers and the old lady working there was bored enough to give us a personal demonstration of every item in her shop. She added up our total on an abacus despite having a register at hand. She was adorable!

That night we did have a little 4.5 earthquake but it was of the "did a giant truck just drive by?" variety rather than the slow rolling dread of the big quake.

On our final morning we hopped in a tub for one last soak. We opened the windows to watch the snow fall. I saw some mysterious shadows and thought a person was approaching. I stuck my head out to find that a monkey was traversing the pipes feeding water to the building. We declined to let him join us.

Kanaguya Onsen - Snow fall

Friday, March 18, 2011

Unchi ja nai yo

Alright, so Andrea and I have been inundated with requests to come home because of the nuclear "crisis" in Fukushima. I want to stress that even in the worst case scenario, we are in absolutely no danger, given that we are separated from Fukushima by 500 miles and several mountain ranges, and thus are not "down-wind" from the affected area.

Japanese officials have produced a helpful instructional video to explain the incident and its potential aftereffects, which I highly recommend:

So, if you see the map, Ishikawa isn't in the relevant blue "diarrhea" area. I think we'll be okay.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Whole lotta shakin' going on

Hi there. This seems as good a time as any to finally update this thing. By now, you all have heard about the crazy-catastrophic earthquake that hit northeastern Japan. I'm happy to report that Andrea and I are completely safe, and haven't experienced even the slightest physical or property damage.

In fact, we barely felt anything down here in Kanazawa. I was at work when it happened, and I wasn't even sure it was an earthquake that I was experiencing. My co-worker seemed to think the defective ceiling air conditioner was causing the shaking. I didn't even realize the extent of the damage elsewhere until I got home... but again, most of that damage is hundreds of miles away, akin to feeling a strong LA earthquake while in San Francisco.

So, much as I would like to have an excuse to skip work tomorrow, the big earthquake was pretty much a non-event in Ishikawa prefecture. It's pretty horrfying up in Miyagi prefecture, though, with the crazy tsunami flooding and everything. There's some excellent coverage at the BBC if you want to find out more.