Winging it in Japan

By Jim Delmonte
This item appears on page 12 of the May 2020 issue.

On a trip to Japan, my daughter Stacy and I stayed in a virtual ghost town when we lodged at Ryokan Sakaya - Nozawa Onsen (9329 Toyosato, Nozawa onsen, Nagano 389-2502, Japan;, April 17-19, 2019. We arrived at the end of the ski season and all of the ski hotels in the resort were practically empty. The week before, the hotels were full!

We had found the ryokan online and called ahead. We asked for a traditional room with tatami mats on the floor as opposed to Western-style beds. Our room cost $253 per night.

We had a wonderful view of the ski slopes. The runs, mainly intermediate level, were very steep, similar to those in the Lake Tahoe area of California and Nevada. It’s a nice hotel if you’re a good skier.

The hotel itself was nice and clean... but empty. There might have been five other rooms with guests; we know because shoes had to be left at the door. It was an interesting experience.

A lovely lady named Yuki did her best to keep Stacy and me entertained. On one day, we took a bus to the snow monkeys, which are interesting but overrated. One monkey jumped on a girl and took her ice cream.

We visited Japan April 10-20, the first night taking a bus to a hotel and the next morning activating our 7-day, Green 1st Class Japan Rail Passes ($361 each).

Each morning, we would look for places to go, then go to the rail station ticket office, show our passes and get that day’s train tickets. The Green passes put us in the Green Car; it was nice to have comfortable seats.

After we were on the train and watching Japan unfold, Stacy, with her computer brain, would find places for us to stay either at or near the station at our destination, then book one online.

When we got off the train, we would always go to the Tourist Info Center in or near the station, where there would be English-speaking people who could answer questions about sights to see and how to get there (i.e., bus, private car or taxi).

After checking into our hotel, we would hop cabs or whatever and see it all.

The next day, we would start over. Always a fun adventure!

Honolulu, HI