i. Nozawa Onsen:
We arrived on Christmas Eve in the dark; watched snow fall lightly outside our bus. By the time we alighted, it had all melted onto the streets.
We asked the hostel staff for places that are still open for dinner at 10pm. As we were about to leave, another staff member rushed out to offer one last suggestion: “Not many people know about it, keep it a secret!”
We woke up the next morning to find snow-dusted streets.
The artist Hokusai resided in this town in the last period of his life. After browsing through the Hokusai museum, we embarked on a half an hour walk to the temple, which ceiling he had adorned with a phoenix. Paying 300 yen to enter, we stayed for only 10 minutes.
iii. Jigokudani Monkey Park:
It was a forty-minute trek on a path halfway up a hill. A slip on the exposed side would plunge us down a good twenty metres. “Pose for a picture!” I urged lcy, but he trudged resolutely ahead and did not say a word until we reached the plateau.
We had originally planned to visit Matsumoto Castle, but it was pouring in the morning, so we changed our plans and headed to Karuizawa instead.
Bee-man’s shop was boarded up. For such a terrifying picture, one hopes that Bee-man is doing fine, despite his failed shop.
The icy slopes you see on the mountain are ski slopes. How does one go about building a ski resort anyway? Are there special ways of paving the slopes so that they are colder than the rest of the mountain? Or is that man-made snow?