Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!

I suppose it was bound to hit me eventually.  Christmastime brought on the first case of homesickness I've had since arriving in Japan.  Christmas is certainly not non-existant here, but it just isn't the same.  Of course I miss my family and friends back home, and I've even been missing the cold and snow a bit.  Bear declares that Christmas just isn't Christmas without snow.  I pointed out to him that we didn't always have white Christmases in Illinois, but he doesn't believe me.  Mike had a perfect plan to rid me of missing the snow.  If snow wouldn't come to us in Kobe, we would just have to go to the snow.  And so we headed for Nagano.



Mr. Mike and Beaver

Mrs. Mike

A very sad thing happened.  The memory card on our camera went corrupt.  Mike managed to salvage some of the pictures and videos, but we lost a lot.
Somehow the many pictures of the kids being silly survived just fine.

Beaver calls his ski boots "robot boots."

We had a good time.  I admit was a bit skeptical about how a ski trip with a three-year-old would turn out, but it went much better than I expected.  There wasn't much snow, so we were limited to just one run at one resort, but it was still fun.  Bear liked skiing through the powder off to the side of the groomed run best.  I would go with him and it was pretty fun.  Mike mostly skied with Beaver because I'm not so confident in my skiing abilities.  Although when Mike was helping Bear, and Beaver announced that he needed to use the bathroom, I skied with him to the lodge as fast as I could.  In times of desperation my abilities can, in fact, exceed my expectations.  Mike went by himself for a half day on Friday, so he got some real skiing in.

We skied Tuesday and Wednesday.  By Wednesday afternoon the kids were pretty much done.  We had reserved a room through Friday, but on Thursday I was ready to pack up and go home.  There just wasn't much to do in Hakuba besides ski.  After some deliberation (and, admittedly, some frustration), we decided not to leave, but to drive to Nagano City to see the snow monkeys.  It's about a two hour drive from Hakuba to Nagano, and it was beautiful.  Once we got to the mountain where the monkey park is located, we had to hike for about 1.5 kilometers to get to the monkey onsen.  Nothing like a walk in the woods to restore one's spirits.  I was really glad we decided to go.

A little background on the monkeys:  Most monkeys live in tropical climates.  The Japanese macaque is the most northerly-living monkey in the world.  There are natural hot springs in the mountains around Nagano, and the monkeys that live around the hot springs will go in the water when it is cold out.  A pool was built just for the monkeys and in 1964 Jigokudani Yaen-koen (wild monkey park) opened.  Visiting these monkeys was quite a unique experience.

We spotted a Japanese serow (goat-antelope) on the trail as we hiked.  Very cool!

Walking with our monkey friend.

There are no barriers or anything.  The monkeys just go about their monkey lives while we humans gawk at them.  They aren't aggressive, although there are signs warning not to take food because the monkeys will steal it from you.  At one point, Bear crouched down face-to-face with a monkey.  That monkey did open its mouth at him, and I yanked him back up again as quick as I could.  That was the only instance I saw of the monkeys taking any notice of the humans.  I'm particularly disappointed at losing so many monkey pictures.  We will go skiing again (if fact, Mike is campaigning for another trip this week!), but I doubt we'll ever visit the snow monkeys again.  And just think of the great Christmas card potential of a picture of my kids with snow monkeys!

We got home Friday evening.  We had a lovely Christmas Eve dinner with friends last night, and had a nice Christmas morning and Sacrament meeting at church.  Not many pictures since our camera is on the fritz and the phones don't take great photos.

Merry Christmas!