Finding the key to salvation

Returning to Japan after what can only be described as the best Christmas ever – I found myself feeling a bit glum. But in my experience there is no better way to cheer yourself up than to go on a new adventure. So the weekend after payday I packed up my boyfriend’s rucksack and set off for the Japanese mountains.

To be honest, I would love to have been able to afford a round trip to Sapporo for the Snow Festival but after the expense of going home for Christmas I simply couldn’t afford it. Racking my brain for something else that could only be done this time of the year, I decided to make a trip to the Nagano Prefecture to see the Japanese Macaques or as they are better known the Snow Monkeys.

On my way to Jigokudani Yaen-koen, I stopped off in Matsumoto for a look at the Castle. I’m a big fan of castles, but I’ve recently had terrible luck finding a real one. So you can imagine my delight that this is not only a real castle, but it is the oldest five-story tenshu in Japan built predominantly in the the early 1500s. I’m sure this thrills you. Anywho, after pretending to be a Samurai whilst charging along the running warrior passage I set off for Yudanaka.

Staying in a traditional Japanese Ryokan and indulging in a bit of Onsen time, I fully understood the reasoning behind the monkeys lapping up the luxury of the open baths in the mountains. Hell if I was a monkey, that’s where I’d be hanging out. All warm and feeling fuzzy-like with the rest of your dysfunctional, yet loving family. And believe me are they dysfunctional – one minute they’re bickering and biting next they’re lovingly grooming each other. It reminded me of Christmas.

Finally I stopped off in Nagano and took a trip to Zenkō-ji to search for the key to heaven. Walking down into the dark depths of the temple, was not as fearsome as first imagined. Yes, it’s pitch black. Yes, I’m afraid of the dark. But there was also a sense of safety and calm that takes hold of you. Must be a temple thing. Finding and grabbing hold of the handle was quite exhilarating, for now I can be welcomed into heaven or at least that’s how the story goes.

Feeling as chilled as a Snow Monkey I return to the daily grind by Shinkansen and bid farewell to the mountains. Until the next adventure…

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