Remember when I mentioned how Adam and I did almost zero planning for this trip? Well, another great example of that mistake was assuming we wouldn’t have any trouble finding a tattoo friendly onsen (spa) in Japan. LOL. I mean, yeahhhh, I read a little bit about it beforehand, but I couldn’t really find any useful information about it online and just figured it wouldn’t be an issue because come onnnnn, it’s 2016! (Stupid American mentality…) So, not only do most public onsens not accept tattooed people, but if you haven’t done your research beforehand and try searching for one while you’re in Japan… It’s basically impossible because every website is in Japanese and you’re rarely able to translate it. *D’OH!*
Adam and I spent a few nights in Tokyo before heading to Nagano for the Snow Monkey Tour and I was already denied access to the onsen at our hotel in Tokyo because of my tattoos which was unfortunate because we paid a bit more for the hotel because it had a spa… I went up to the front desk our first night there and asked about it. I started pulling up my sleeve to show her the large tattoo on my arm and she gasped and said, “OH! No no, sorry, sorry.” We even got together with one of Adam’s friends a day or so later who lives in Japan and she was walking around with us, speaking Japanese to the people working at the tourist centers, trying to help us find somewhere, and even they seemed surprised that I had tattoos and didn’t really have many recommendations for spas it’d be okay to visit.
I started to hate myself a bit for having tattoos at all after that. I was worried I’d leave Japan without getting the chance to experience a traditional onsen. Being denied for the way I looked was a strange feeling and really bummed me out. Maybe it’s because I really respect Japanese people and their culture, so being judged by them hurt my feelings, haha. (I hoped it was obvious I wasn’t associated with the Yakuza gang, but you never know…) I get it, though. And I respect that. So, after searching and searching, I reluctantly gave up on it and figured it wouldn’t happen.
Buuuuut of course since Adam is the greatest and works miracles all the time, he was able to find one for us! The only downfall was that it was back in the same town we had just come from the day before where we saw the snow monkeys. (I didn’t mind one bit, though!) So instead of heading back to Toyko like we had planned, we packed our things, left our hotel in Nagano the following morning, and traveled back to the Yamanouchi area.
The train ride back was lovely. Nagano was super cold and it was snowing pretty heavily that morning. The views on the way back to Yamanouchi were so pretty.
I really loved that little town. There’s a single old-fashioned train station, and winding roads leading to onsens that are scattered all over. There were big hills, small streets, buildings stacked on top of each other, and lots of abandoned homes. The traditional ryokan we stayed in was called Shimaya, and it’s run by a guy named Ichiro and his wife. Ichiro was a funny guy and made us feel right at home. (He really liked that we were from Seattle. I learned that pretty much all Japanese people know Seattle because of Ichiro Suzuki who played for the Mariners before switching to the Marlins.) Anyway, like in most Japanese homes, you take your street shoes off at the door. The ryokan had rows of house slippers for you to wear to your room.
They had yukatas in the cabinet for us, complete with instructions for how to wear them. I didn’t realize men and women wore them differently. We loved sleeping on the ground on futons (what they call them) and decided we’re definitely going to change the theme of our room at home to incorporate one. (Someday we will anyway…)
The view from our room was incredible! We’d usually sit to eat out on the patio area since they had a cute little table out there. We lived off of sweet cakes, crepes, and these rice and seaweed triangles. You can find them at 7/11 and Lawson, which are convenient stores all over Japan.
After derping around a bit, we finally had the chance to soak in the onsen! Adam paid a bit extra so we could have it to ourselves. You get 50 minutes. The onsen at Shimaya is up the street, so our walk was chilly, but it was worth it once we got there. The sun was just starting to set and the water felt so wonderful. (I snagged a few photos from the Shimaya website.) Ichiro tried really hard to get a photo with the sunset behind us but it didn’t really work, haha. I should have brought my big camera, but we weren’t sure what it would be like once we got there, so since Adam’s cell phone is in a waterproof case, we settled on bringing that which is why the photos are grainy.
Tattoos out! The spa is surrounded by other buildings and homes, so if someone happened to be looking out of their window, I’m sure they saw us. Oh, well. :) The water was super hot, but with the cold winter air, it was perfect. Afterward, we changed and then walked to a popular dinner spot down the street. It was quiet except for a few other couples chatting, smoking cigarettes, and sitting cross-legged on pillows on the floor. I ordered some sort of milky noodle and veggie dish with saki, and Adam ordered a beer and soba noodles; his favorite.
At the hotel, there were drawings and paintings all over the walls that guests had hung over the years, and there was a little corner to write notes, leave gifts, etc. So, you know, obviously, I had to leave my card… :)
In the morning, we said goodbye to Ichiro and he gave us some breakfast recommendations near the train station. We ordered an egg sandwich and toast with jam, but barely had enough cash to pay for it! We were able to scrounge up enough coins, though, thankfully.
After reaching the main train station in Nagano, we ordered hot cocoa and a cherry blossom latte before leaving for Tokyo. Yum! I always had lots of snacks on hand, too. Crackers, cookies, peanuts… I’m pretty sure we gained some weight in Japan. It’s impossible to resist all of the adorable sweets!
I can’t believe how many Japan photos I still have to sort through. School is over in a few weeks, and then I’ll have all summer to play, so I hope to be a bit quicker this time around and get those photos posted. As always, thanks for reading!