Travelling home from our “holiday”/adventure to the snow, we looked at each other and I asked, ‘do you think it was a success?’ to which Bede responded, ‘yes, I already only remember the good bits’. And there you have it, the essence of travelling, or perhaps travelling with kids; for all the challenges and obstacles one might encounter on the way, at the end of it all, we most often look back with fondness. Even the bad things, when reflecting back, are usually just moments to laugh at. Or at their worst, they make great dinner stories, even if it does take 10 years.
Flashback four days, the day of our arrival. We successfully got the train from Shimokitazawa to Shinjuku, from Shinjuku to Tokyo, from Tokyo to Nagano and then the bus from Nagano to Hakuba. #winning. Arriving at 1pm, our transfer was waiting for us. Our hotel room was satisfactory and so we put the kids down for a nap. One hour later, Bede and Coby lay snoring on the bed (not really, they are both dead quiet sleepers), Aria, who was yet to sleep, sat chatting away in her cot and I sat on the bed in the darkened room attempting to knit. Not quite the ‘champagne and strawberries on arrival’ hotel life we dreamed of, but our new reality.
Getting out the door the next day was reminiscent of newborn days, where, try as you might, actually leaving the house is near impossible. Between Coby reverting to actual newborn hours overnight and Aria deciding that midnight was a fun time to be awake and scream for cuddles, there was more than one of us with toothpicks keeping our eyes open that morning. Add to that the fun that is layering up to play in the snow. Oh. My. Word. Is there any discomfort greater than piling layer after chunky layer of warm, waterproof clothing when you are still indoors enjoying (hating) the temperate hotel air conditioning?? With a squealing baby and whining toddler to boot, my blood was literally boiling. Stepping outside into the refreshingly -1°C air, brought instant relief and what was left of the morning became one to remember as we took Aria sledding and built a snowman in fresh, powdery snow.
Day two venturing out was one step more successful as we managed to make it onto the bus to a neighbouring ski field. Goryu had a special kiddies’ play area roped off at the bottom of the ski run. So we could feel even worse about the fact that we were at the snow and couldn’t ski. As if to rub it in, one super cool Japanese guy cruised past on his skis with his toddler in his arms. She actually looked more comfortable in his arms like that than my children ever look in my arms, even if I’m spread out on the lounge like a sloth. This guy screamed cool, while I slid down the kiddie slope on a spinning circular toboggan reaching breakneck speeds of up to 10km/hour. #mumlife My favourite memory from that morning was Bede sliding down the hill in a tiny sled with both children attached. Closely followed by the moment I took Aria to the toilet to do her business and she managed to drop the leg of her onesie in the toilet. This was the bottom of the aforementioned many layers which of course meant a full strip down in the public toilets. Highs and lows I tell you.
Day three was by far our most daring. After much debate and consultation with outside parties, we decided that it was worth the 5 hour return bus trip to see the famous snow monkeys. After a relatively successful trip out to Jigokudani Park (we only lost one of Coby’s mittens and had one poonami) we began the trek in to see the monkeys. We had heard various reports of how long this walk would take. One guy had sworn it was an easy 15 minutes while the website suggests it is a 30 minute walk. The path was icy and one man’s ominous warning about how he and many others had slipped over coupled with various comments from strangers about how brave we were made me nervous. I felt my feet slide a couple of times but as we trekked deeper into the forest I knew we had made the right decision. The scenery was magical, as though we had somehow stepped through the wardrobe and into the world of Narnia. Rays of sunshine broke through snow-frosted trees as tall as the eye could see. Now and then, snow would fall to the ground, the only movement in a scene so peaceful it was hard to believe it was real. The spell was broken when I took a fall, awkwardly spinning around to land hard on my backside, thankfully avoiding injuring Coby, but certainly shaking my nerves and bruising my pride (along with my bottom).
The rest of our walk was slower, treading carefully to avoid another fall. As we entered the actual monkey park it took my eyes a while to adjust and realise I was not seeing rocks on the snowy hillside, but in fact lots and lots of snow monkeys. Snow monkeys foraging in the snow, snow monkeys running across the snow, snow monkeys standing on their heads in the snow (not really, but I would not have been all that surprised). And then, the sight we had all (truthfully) trekked out here to see – snow monkeys bathing in the onsen. There were three of them in the onsen; a mother, her baby and a third wheel. It was strange really, these three monkeys having a bath in what looked to be a delightfully hot and relaxing natural onsen, while a bunch of tourists surrounded them trying to take the perfect photograph, something akin to what we’ve all seen a thousand times. You know the shot I mean? The one your mind automatically jumps to when I say the words “snow monkeys”? It’s funny how most of us do that, try to take the photo that already exists, so we can post it on our Instagram page and say, “look where I’ve been. And look at the amazing (unoriginal) photo I took to prove it”. And all the while the monkeys do their thing. You have to ask yourself, who’s really watching who?
Anyway, cynicism and social commentary aside, the most memorable part of our experience came when the monkeys were fed. Yes, you read that right, there is feeding time for these monkeys living in the snow and bathing in the onsen. At the hands of humans. Perhaps not as natural and wild as we first thought. Ah, there I go again. So, there we were, watching the monkeys having a lovely bath while they watched us taking their photo, when all of a sudden the baby monkey swam quickly across the water, jumped out and joined the masses of other monkeys racing to get to the food. We might have been warned not to touch or feed the monkeys, but that did not mean the monkeys would avoid us. Indeed, one of the monkeys suddenly became very interested in Bede, almost climbing up his leg. Naturally, I photographed this up close and personal moment, before I realised that the monkey was actually stealing our food. I guess
humans monkeys really are the same the world over. No more onigiri to save us from our hanger (hunger induced anger) on the long trip back to the hotel.
I won’t bore you with the details of that trip home, except to say it’s probably best forgotten. Especially the 1 hour and 20 minute bus leg where we were almost last on the bus and so got to sit on the special fold out middle seats, each with a kid on our lap. Also, Coby squealed and screamed and cried for the majority of the trip. And not in a cute baby way either. And remember how the monkey stole our food? Yeah. That.
Even the guy working at the hotel applauded our efforts when we came down for breakfast on the last day, saying he was impressed that we had gotten out a bit earlier every morning. He followed this with a comment about how amazing it was that we could fit all our stuff into one large backpack given the state of our hotel room when he and his colleague had cleaned it. Um. Ok. I think that’s the kind of thing you are supposed to think and not say. He actually told us it looked like a bomb had gone off. Awkward. True but awkward.
And so we reached the end of our “holiday”/adventure to the snow. I’m hoping some of you can relate to why I’ve called it a “holiday” instead of just a holiday. And although travelling with kids is often hard work, it is a joy and privilege to get to travel this beautiful country with our kids. So in summary, on the one hand we had the highlights; witnessing Aria’s first play in the snow, the thrill that is sledding (don’t knock it til you’ve tried it), seeing the snow monkeys, doing bath time in an onsen and having dinner every night in our hotel restaurant with yummy yakitori, many delicious beers on tap and toys to entertain Aria. The challenges, or as I like to call them, the bits to laugh at later; getting way too hot trying to get out the door in all our layers, the children not sleeping (even though we gave Aria her favourite bed – the futon cupboard), many hours spent on trains and buses, crying children on trains and buses, stacking it on the ice with Coby in the carrier and the monkeys stealing our food. Did we have fun? Yes. Did we want to kill each other or the kids at some point? Yes. Was it worth it? Definitely.