We are in the mountains south of Tokyo in a place called Yudanaka. It’s all nature, climbing mountains thick with trees. A big stream runs through a small valley where about four old structures sit. One of them is where we’re staying.
To get here we took a train for an hour, then another train for an hour, then a 20 minute car ride up into the mountains, then a 20 minute hike to where we are now.
There are snow monkeys here. The first two things the owner said were “monkeys everywhere” and “don’t look monkey in the eye.”
We went out to the spring, a small rock pool above the stream. There were two old naked Japanese men but no monkeys. Then suddenly a monkey walked right by me from behind, startling me. And then we saw them everywhere. Most languidly walk but others gallop. There were babies. None paid us any attention. Most were about 100 yards away.
Dinner was a small burner in the middle of our table and a huge spread of dishes. A fried trout from the stream. Catfish sashimi. Duck to boil on the burner. Leaves from the forest in tempura. Grasshoppers sweet like syrup.
The two older Japanese men from earlier shared their sake with us. We toasted. Through the man who runs the inn they ask the same two questions everyone asks us: Have you been to Japan before? Do you like it? First time and yes, very much.
The inn is a maze of halls and doors. It’s not a large building by any means but it hooks and nestles in infinite ways. A cardboard sign sitting on the floor says “TV Room.” Another says “Ping Pong Room 3rd floor.”
There are snow monkey photos and paintings everywhere. It’s as if this is their home and we are their guests. I guess that’s right.
My room is very traditional. A small table and bed roll on a straw mat floor. In a glass case there is an enormous old hornet’s nest still attached to a tree branch. All rooms have a bucket with a long yellow rope for climbing out the window. We wonder why.
It’s the middle of the night, and the rain is tapping on the roof. There’s a warbling bird call that fills the air.
In the morning we’ll walk through the woods and sit in the springs once more. After, we’ll hike down the trail once again and begin winding our way back to Tokyo, gleaming in the light.