JIGOKUDANI MONKEY PARK - NAGANO, JAPAN

See snow monkeys soaking in an onsen in the middle of Japan.
...check that off the bucket list! 

My good friends Nathalie and Tony, their two kiddos and I decided to head for a weekend in Nagano to visit the famous snow monkeys that reside in Yamanouchi. We left Tokyo Saturday morning around 8am and got to Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park at around 12pm! 

Since Tony works at the embassy, they have access to the embassy store which has basically every necessary American imported food item AKA...MUENSTER CHEESE, SLICED TURKEY BREAST...AND WHEAT THINS! I was in heaven. 

We knew we arrived when we saw monkey logos at every possible place.

Quick shout out to my mom who sent me these boots for my birthday last year. I had no idea she was going to send them...so one day I came home to a huge rectangular box thinking, what could this possibly be?? And boom! new boots! Being a socal girl, I never knew the need for such legit boots...but my mom has a way of knowing what I need even before I know I need it haha...so thanks mom! These were perfect for treking in the snow. 

Once we parked...we roamed around the base of the mountain taking pics and seeing a few monkeys already! We had to walk up a little hill to the entrance. 

Once you reach the entrance to the trail, they make it clear that you have to walk 1.6km in to the actually monkey park entrance. 

Although the path is a little muddy, there was hardly any incline which made it a real breeze. Also, the mountain views were spectacular. 

So once you walk 25 min in or so, you reach this cute little valley right at the base of the monkey onsen. There were a few monkeys roaming around this area and even a dude taking a bath in one of the onsens. He was BUTT naked for all to see. HAHA...gotta love Japan. 

Up the stairs to the entrance...

Made it inside! Lots of snow and monkeys (and tourists) roaming all over. 

I was surprised how close we could get to the monkeys without them freaking out or anything. I've seen monkeys in Vietnam and Uganda before and they were much more aggressive (well, in Uganda they were straight up baboons) so we were joking that these were "Japanese monkeys" which made them naturally respectful and kind! haha. 

And the iconic onsen!! This was a mama monkey and her TEENNYYY TINYYY adorable baby. 

LOOK AT THAT BABY!! GAHHHH! 

Nathalie, Poiema, Khiro and I posing with our new monkey friends. 

hey buddy

Loved these dudes chillen in the sun. 

This mama was cuddling her baby and they looked so cozy. Pretty crazy being this close to nature! 

We spent a few hours in the park. It's not that big, and most people probably don't need to be there that long, but Nathalie and I are both photographers so we found plenty of things to occupy our time.

We headed back down the mountain and ate a quick afternoon snack at the cafe out front before driving to our next destination. 

From Jigokudani park we had a 40 minute drive further up the mountain to our hotel. The road was so windy and crazy but...nonetheless, very beautiful! (just look at the blue line on the GPS!)

Made it up the mountain just as the sun was setting down. What a good day!

 

FINAL THOUGHTS:
Seeing the snow monkeys in Nagano is DEFINITELY worth it. It's so epic seeing them bathing in the onsen like old Japanese Ojiisans. Especially if you're a photographer of any kind...you gotta go. The park itself isn't that big and theres not too much to do there besides take 1,000 photos for instagram (lol) so I would suggest booking a night at one of the hotels up the mountain and going skiing or snowboarding while you're up there. Nagano is pretty far from Tokyo so it's worth it to spend adequate time cruising around the mountainside. 

 

second day in Nagano coming next...!

 

WASTE

Just wanted to share a little recent doodle of lyrics from WASTE IT ALL by Christ McClarney (based on Mark 14:3-9 when Mary anoints Jesus with very costly perfume). These lyrics have met me many a times in life and have resurfaced recently to really encourage me in a season of doubt and uncertainty. To "waste" our work, our time, our effort, our desires, our priorities, our dreams and our future on the Lord is worth it every single time. Why? Because He is worthy. simple as that. 

i'm gonna waste it all on you.
I'm gonna pour my hearts perfume.
I don't care if i'm called a fool.
I'm wasting it all on you

 

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.
1 Peter 4; 12-16

A DAY OFF IN TOKYO

This past Monday, Steph and I took a day off work to get our annual (mandatory) health check done. We finished in the morning and decided to make the most of our day by heading in to the city. It was funny because we kept saying "okay it's Monday and everyone else is working so what can we do in Tokyo that we wouldn't usually be able to do on a crowded day?" But then we just ended up gravitating towards the normal (easily accessible) things aka...western food and coffee...haha

Oh but first...since we were restricted from eating breakfast before our health check, we immediately ran to 7-11 to grub on coffee and (my fav) chocolate bread.

We were both down for some fruit in our lives so we hit up Sambazon in Hiroo for some acai bowls! My prediction is that in a few years...acai bowls will BLOW up in Japan. Right now, they're only at a few places but I just know that they're gunna catch on like wildfire. no doubt. 

I got the Japan limited Matcha Acai bowl and it was amazing. I could eat this everyday no questions asked.

The first time I had Sambazon was in SD with my good friend Kimi and it's funny the same chain found its way to Tokyo! 

This is the #1 way moms get around in Tokyo. They stick one kid in the front and one in the back and cruise around the city like they're in a minivan. And some of them, like this one, are electrically powered so they moms can get up and down hills with ease. Modern motherhood. 

This store name had me laughing. I don't often see English puns in Japan, so I wonder if only foreigners will think this is funny?! hah! (homophones are very confusing to Japanese people and I don't blame them...bear bare, board bored, soul sole, maid made...English is ridiculous!) 

After stuffing our faces with acai, it was time for another coffee. Steph's coffee addiction is rubbing off on me. We hit up Canvas Tokyo which seems to be the most instagrammable coffee shop in the city! There were literally 15 college girls waiting out front of the shop (2pm on a Monday, mind you) and we took one look at that loooong line and were like..."nahhh. we pass" and then headed to a more low key, legit, coffee aficionado place in Azabu - NEM COFFEE!

ok but I have to admit, Canvas is very photogenic. Ok but on to the real deal...Nem...

This coffee shop was built in a house on this tiny street off the main road - very hipster from the get go!

Glorious wood furniture, strong pour over, perfectly made lattes, AESOP soap in the bathroom, the cutest married couple baristas, free wifi, chill music vibes...YEP. smells like pure Tokyo hipster to me!

IMG_8166.jpg

My fav situation = Black coffee + endless journaling time. Thank you LORD! 

You think we'd eaten/drunken enough by this point but then we walked past the fancy foreign grocery store (Azabujuban is home to a lot of foreigners) and saw T A C O S. We stopped dead in our tracks. Tacos in Tokyo are like the rarest food to come by so we had to try.

expensive. but worth EVERY PENNY (I MEAN YEN).

THE MOST LEGIT CARNITAS TACO WITH FRESH ONION, CILANTRO, AND LIME IN A WARM CORN TORTILLA...CUE TEARS OF JOY. 

This Aussie (coulda been NZ?) in front of us said we had to try the chips and salsa. The one man who runs the food truck cuts the tortilla right there and fries the chips fresh. Salty and amazing. 

Hawaiian sun in a vending machine. I want this in my house.

So we still had the afternoon free and decided to pick up a few things we needed in Ginza, aka the shopping mecca in Tokyo . They just opened a new mall (TOKYU) and I have got to admit, it might be the most well curated mall in the Tokyo area. The whole 6th and 7th floor are dedicated to JAPAN made items and although expensive, they're all spot on amazing.

Also, the TOKYU building has a sick view on the 6th floor. I used my new shoes as a model lol.

Too much to love about a city like Tokyo. 

quick shout out to my phone case which has stood the test of time (my entire time in Japan this far) It was given to me by one of my former students and I've gotten more compliments on it than any thing else I've ever owned. It's hand made in Japan and so legit. Check them out - OJAGA DESIGN.

I love the streets of Ginza and all the dope building designs around. 

OK...I know it seems like all we do is eat and eat (partially true) but Steph only ate one taco so she was down for shake shack at around dinner time. I was stuffed from my two tacos and chips so I opted for root beer and fries HAHA. Oh man, so not healthy. We laughed it off and called it our "American day" which was so true -- ACAI, COFFEE, TACOS, BURGERS, FRIES...HAHAHA. 

It's mask season now and you will literally walk the streets and see every other person (if not every person) wearing a mask. 

Walking back through the Tokyo International Forum to get to Tokyo station. 

and to end with this serious self portrait haha... I thought i'd include it to say I chopped my hair off last week. A student that graduated from Ichikashi is training to be a hairdresser and asked if any of us teachers wanted a free haircut! Free haircut!? SIGN ME UP! So I let her chop off a lot of it since I'm not super attached to my hair, and plus she could get more practice in. Win win! 

Being able to sit at a coffee shop and journal for hours, fuel my body with good food, and take my camera around the city was the perfect kind of day off for me!

NEW THINGS. GOOD THINGS

To me, one of the best perks of living in a big city is ALWAYS finding new things to fall in love with. This happens on a daily basis and is exponentially more true whenever I go to Tokyo to explore or check out a new area. Recently I have collected a few iphone snaps of new things that are all exceptionally amazing...

welcome to Japan people...

TONIKAKU RAMEN. Steph and I met up with our friend Yuki, who took us to his local spot called Tokikaku ramen. Funny story though, the ramen broth here is suuuuuper fishy so I was the weirdo that opted for two bowls of rice instead haha. But, I did have some of stephs abura soba (on the left) and it was bomb (but still fishy). The rice bowls were obviously amazing (I mean, look at all that negi!! (onion) ) and it was a true Japanese experience to be in a cozy ramen bar on a Friday night with ALL MEN. Yep. 

HOMECOOKED AMAZINGNESS. My friend Ayaka hosted a party at her house and her parents fed us some melt-in-your-mouth-deliciousness aka... cheese fondue. That cheese was so amazing and all the fresh veggies made you feel a little less bad for all the calories consumed haha.

FELLOWS BURGER. My friend Yuki and I have this crazy habit of always waiting in ridiculously long lines for things in Tokyo. And our recent LOOOOOOONG (2 hours -__-) wait was for burgers in Omotesando. Why did we wait 2 hours for burgers in the cold with a bunch of teenagers?! I am not really sure, other than the fact that waiting in long lines is kind of a thing to do in Japan and the burger was really bomb. Bacon-avocado-cheese...and I took the selfie to show the size. huge! 

THE BEST KINDA SNACK. Theres this tiny cozy coffee shop at the basement of one of the malls in Kashiwa and they have a good cup of joe with toast and red bean! A true Japanese treat. 

OOTOYA + SAMGYEOPSAL (def had to google how to spell that). OOTOYA is a chain here for classic Japanese food. I always go for the hot pot style Tonkatsu. Never fails. And just the other night Steph, Mina and I had Korean pork belly (aka samgyeopsal) and I just about had the best meal ever. I kept saying "WHY AM I NOT EATING THIS EVERY WEEK? WHAT HAVE WE BEEN DOING ALL THIS TIME??" yeah, with all the pickled veggies on the side...amazing. 

BANANA HOT COCOA. When in Japan, one must try the seasonal Japan-only drinks...this time that was in the form of banana hot cocoa which actually was really good. That yellow stuff on top is a kind of cookie crumble. Starbucks here in Japan feels similar to those back home, except they seem to be a lot cleaner and have better snacks! 

KYUSHOKU (SCHOOL LUNCH) ! In Feb and March I'll be going to a few Elementary and Jr High schools to help teach some classes and what that means is I also get to enjoy the standard lunch set in all of Japan - kyushoku! This was today's meal. Amazing veggie udon noodles, meat and veggie slaw, fried fish (I traded mine in), fruit with mochi, and milk. This meal only costs the kids about $2 and let me tell you...they eat SO MUCH. One boy next to me at 3 pieces of fish...and these kids were 10 years old! . Also, a rule in Japanese schools is you have to eat every single piece of food on your place. The girl next to me didn't like fish but sat there like a champ and downed it. Zero complaints. Just did it. Amazing.

CAFE DE ROPE - unbelievably hip coffee shop in the basement of a parking lot and train station. Tokyo never ceases to impress me. I got coffee with toast that came with butter and a boiled egg with parmesian cheese. SO. GOOD. 

 

And to end with two other random photos from this week that truly embody life in Japan for me...the pic on the left is me trying to get home on a Friday night back to Kashiwa station. So many people take the train...its nuts. I'm pretty much used to it now, but moments like this just make me laugh and feel like a tiny fish in the biggest ocean. And the pic on the right is a bunch of kindergarden kids walking to school. They all wear yellow hats for safety - very precious and very Japan.

Lots to love about this nation! Thank you Lord! 

YANESEN - PART II

*part II of a rad Saturday in Tokyo...*

After our bomb udon lunch...we walked just 2 minutes down the street to Nezu Shrine. 

How cute are the Lims?! They moved to Japan in August last year and will be here 3 years for Tony's job at the embassy. Hanging out with them is a lot like hanging out with my siblings and their kids back home ...and I think God knew I needed some hometown comforts while living here in Japan. Thank you Lord! 

Nezu Shrine is a definitely MUST-SEE in youre in Tokyo...especially if you're here visiting and don't have time to go down to Kyoto, which has the very famous (and crowded) Fushimi-inari Shrine with similar red torii gates. There were hardly any people at Nezu Shrine which made it nice and peaceful!

Okay these kids are THE CUTEST LITTLE THINGS EVER!! 

I love everything about slouchy Japanese fashion...and pottery :)

cool little book stop in the train station...after seeing the shrine, we headed on our way to Nogizaka station aka the National Art Center in Roppongi to check out an insane (FREE) art exhibit...

 

"FOREST OF NUMBERS" by French architect Emmanuelle Moureaux....WOW. This exhibit was to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the museum and thats why it was free!

UNREAL...RIGHT!??

This man had it all going...the white leather coat, the furry hat, the phone taking a photo of a camera...hahaha I love Tokyo. 

It was cool to walk through the numbers...but I think the view from the outside is the real stunner! 

I always love the light at the National Art Center. 

So after our museum tour, Steph and I headed to Omotesando for some time while the Lims ran some errands. We met up with them later at night for dinner at their house and that's why we stayed in Tokyo until 10pm!!

Omotesando is one of my favorite streets in all Tokyo. You are guaranteed to see some very stylish people here!

The buildings and stores in Omotesando are just incredibly cool and chic. I picked up the shoes I bought from Onitsuka Tiger (thanks to my dear friend Midori!) and then we headed to get some much needed coffee (p.s living in a city WILL make you a coffee person)

The Japanese coffee scene is sometimes TOO cool and hip. 

We decided to get some coffee at Mojo Coffee...an Australian chain with a few locations in Tokyo.

I got some fancy drink that's like a Latte with less milk + more expresso...SO GOOD. 

Also, the lemon tart with the marshmallow puff on top was out of this world. Would definitely get that again!

Omotesando bumps right into Harajuku area...so there are always a lot of teenagers and foreigners out. This day, the weather wasn't too cold so it felt nice walking around the streets as the sun set. 

Made a pit stop at the Tokyu Plaza building that has this epic mirror entrance. 

And a rare shot of Steph and I in the same photo ha!! 

We did some shopping, the went to the Lim's house for dinner and a game night. We were pooped when we got back to Kashiwa at 10:30 or 11pm...and I crashed so hard! I think we walked at least 10 miles or so that day...worth every second!

That closes out another Saturday in the city. I love living near Tokyo and feel more and more comfortable walking these streets every time I go. Who wants to come visit!??