So I’ve talked about the onsen, the snow monkeys and their park, the food… What about the town of Yudanaka itself?

For some reason, we took a taxi out each time we went anywhere. The only exception to this was when Craig picked us up for what would be The Greatest Birthday Ever, but as per the Ted Mosbyism the blog is slowly sinking into, that’s a story for another day. What this usually meant in turn was that we then had to figure out how to get back, since the ryokan would call a taxi for us to go out, but we had no means of contacting one once we were out in the sticks…

It may not be obvious in the above photo, but I am at that stage, and every other time I got in a car in this town, bloody terrified. Every road is ice: not the pleasant sort that melts quickly and or is gritted by an efficient county council, but a thick block of frozen doom. No one brakes their car in this town, they just ride the momentum and swerve as needs.

You may need a change of underwear when they bring you over corners suspended by gaping chasms.

Yudanaka looks a lot like you imagine Japan did of times long since past. Where Tokyo has hermetic bubbles of history dotted throughout itself and Kyoto preserved enclosures, Yudanaka is not so heavily developed or built around. The modern conveniences are there, unhidden, but fully integrated into what was already present, rather than the classic form adapted to the modern day. Where the cities instsit on standing tall and talking about the impressive things they did at work today, Yudanaka relaxes back into the couch with a nice cup of tea and its feet in a warm bath.

Monster Hunter Tri was everywhere when we were in Japan, but it took us by surprise not to see it advertised so far out from the major urban areas, but to see how heavily integrated the advertisement was with the area as a whole – both in overt ways like the ads above, and more subtle fashions, subtly integrated into the edifices and bath houses. There was an entire tour of the town with check-in points, stamp cards, and treasure hunting was in full swing when we got there. Had we more time and or the ability to figure out how to get in on the action, we would have gladly done so. Instead, we had to make do with buying swag for chest and desk.

This is the sort of thing I wish we did back here, or that we at least had a working honour system. Though it’s not really obvious to look at immediately, there are eggs being boiled in the water. You’re allowed to take them in exchange for a donation which will go back into developing and maintaining the town.

Yudanaka is an old town, so instead of the wide berths and walkways of designed cities, it’s instead made up of hundreds of nooks and crannies and secret shortcuts that will never be on a map. If you look hard enough, you’ll find quests and goblins and magic riddles.

We found this in one, and only one, of the endless swag shops that make up so much of the area. Given the nature of the thing, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. But yeah: Russian Roulette for kids. Next up is presumably Muppet Kamikaze Girl.

We were sad to leave – it’s a beautiful area, and while far less trampled by international tourism they are more prepared and happy to receive it than say Osaka, which is determinedly staunch in its view that you adapt to it rather than vice versa. If it has a flaw, it’s the high expense you’ll probably incur. The ryokans can head towards €250 per person per night unless you book cannily or in the off-season. But man, it’s such a great place to relax. It was weird to go from somewhere so laid back to a city as loud and OTT as Osaka. But such is the way… of the adventurer.