14 Oct 2015

Back to Japan - Day 6: A Rainy Travel Day

Some days travelling are just plain dull, and this was one of them. Day six in Japan involved a number of train rides to get to Yudanaka, the starting point for visiting the famous snow monkeys. We'd left the decision of where to spend the next two nights until the last minute (everything else was booked), as we wanted to see what the weather-forecast was. As it turned out it was pretty dreadful everywhere, with rain or drizzle, and so we decided that monkeys in the rain would be more fun than another town in the rain. I booked a cheap-ish ryokan online (they're never really cheap) and we headed off on our journey. There were various routes possible, all involving at least 2 changes of train. We decided to take the northern route on the Shinkansen, which went north and north-east from Kyoto to Kanazawa then along the coast for a while before heading south down to Nagano, from where we then had to take a local line to Yudanaka.

We had to wait a short while at Kyoto station, which is quite striking architecturally. Quite good people-watching too.

Once on the train I was rather disappointed with the view. The train seemed to be passing through some great scenery, but we kept disappearing into tunnels, obscuring most of the view. I tried to take some photos, but invariably a pylon would get in the way. I was surprised at how built up it was, but there were plenty of rice paddies everywhere too. 

Eventually we pulled into Kanazawa where we changed trains. We had a little time so hubby went in search of an ATM. I took some photos of a huge arch just outside the station, which is quite something. Nearby was a fountain that spelt "welcome".

The next train was the newly extended Hokuriku Shinkansen (previously the line had run from Tokyo as far as Nagano, but in March 2015 it was extended to Kanazawa). Again, the scenery was disappointing - with some cloud-covered hills inland, but no view of the coastline along which we were travelling (not even a glimpse of the sea). We also passed some ugly factories, which reminded me of the dreadful nuclear disaster from 2011 on the opposite coast. 

Soon the train turned inland heading south towards Nagano. Again, most of the journey was inside tunnels; not what I was expecting at all when I was planning the route (had I gone the other way, via Nagoya, I think there might have been more to see, given the train is called "Wide View" - the one we were on was certainly not!). We ate some fried chicken that I'd bought in the station earlier - not our finest meal in Japan - washed down with some green tea, which was growing on me.
We pulled into Nagano and went downstairs to get the penultimate train (it turns out there were 3 changes, as the local train had another change, just outside of Yudanaka). I managed to snap a classic Shinkansen on my way.
The train up to Yudanaka was a slow commuter train, with endless stops. It took longer than the Shinkansen from Kanazawa, which was considerably further (about 8 times the distance!) passing more rice paddies and lots of orchards. On a clear day it would have been a rather picturesque journey.

We had to wait for another train to take us the last couple of stops, and finally we arrived at Yudanaka. It had been a rather slow journey, taking over 5 hours in total. Fortunately I'd booked us a ryokan close to the station, so we didn't have to prolong the journey much further. The place was nice enough, but pretty sparse, with the usual hard, thin futon on the floor, and a little low table with a pot of hot green tea to welcome us. It had a private onsen downstairs, so we were able to enjoy the onsen experience together, without having to do it separately.

The town was pretty deserted, and we struggled to find any of the restaurants open, but eventually found one place that was quite lively, where we ate some ramen noodles. We had an early night as I wanted us to be up in time for the first bus up to the monkey park at Jigokudani, a couple of miles up the road.

Click here for blog on Day 5 - The Wonderful Torii of Fushimi-Inari
Click here for blog on Day 7 - The Snow Monkeys of Jigokudani

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