Sunday, April 6, 2014

Nagano: Skiing, Craft Beer, Monkeys in Onsens (part 2)

Music and Beer

On Friday night in Nagano, we went to a music & craft brewing festival called Snow Monkey Beer Live, which was held at a concert space tucked behind some of the hotels. The genre-less lineup of bands gave us a diverse first taste of popular Japanese music, including The KeysNabowa, and Kaji Hideki (definitely check out the Kaji Hideki video).

Dozens of Japanese craft breweries lined the walls of the venue, and included in the price of admission were five drink tickets per person redeemable at any of the stalls. So, we tried a lot of beer (and as the night waned, we found two additional tickets dropped on the ground, and with no obvious owner in sight, we had two more beers). The beers we tried came from all over the country and we walked away thinking we found some big winners, and at least one loser.


Yoho Brewing Company- Yona Yona IPA
These beers are among the most well-distributed in Japan. The brewery is based in Nagano prefecture.
The Yona Yona IPA, Yoho's flagship beer, hit all the right notes and was Vince's favorite of the night.

North Island Beer
This brewery (which seems to be owned by a Canadian company?) scored big with two of the three beers it offered. Our agreed-upon favorite was the Imperial Stout. The company also offered a coriander black beer, that was as dark as Guinness with a similar taste but was considerably less thick, which made it more drinkable by my standards.


Johana Beer
This brewery offered an amazing Earl Grey beer, which was light, refreshing and tasted like earl grey tea. For those who like tea, this beer was awesome.

The rest of the beers varied from horrible (one only) to pleasant (most of the rest), but they didn't leave the same impression.

- Yona Yona - Indo no Ao-oni

- North Island Beer - Smonkey Lager
   This beer was smoky, very smoky. While it was interesting to taste, neither of us imagined drinking it by the pint.

- Ise Kadoya - Serachi IPA

- Minoh Beer - Pale Ale

- Minami shinsu Beer  - IPA
   I would have ranked this beer higher, but my lesser half was not impressed, and I try to run a democracy here.

- Coedo - Kyara

- Sanktgallen - IPA
  This was the only beer we both tried and decidedly disliked.

 Snow Monkeys

On Sunday, it was finally time to see the Japanese snow monkeys (Japanese macaques)! They were awesome, although I found it a bit terrifying to realize just how similar they are to humans, both in appearance and in behavior.

I was surprised and somewhat disappointed to discover that the habitat was artificially enhanced in ways that took much of the "wild" out of the wildlife experience. There was a viewing deck and  a rope swing of sorts that had been installed for the monkeys to play on. More troubling, the human attendants fed the monkeys! The monkey pictured with Vince below has learned that if he sits on that fence post, he (or she) will get fed, creating an easy photo-op for visitors.

The financial motive behind all the human intervention is undeniable. However, we spotted dozens of monkeys in the natural course throughout the weekend. My first morning skiing, two macaques jetted out across the slope just 15 meters in front of me. On our way back to Tokyo, we spotted well over a dozen in the trees just off the side of the road. It seemed entirely possible to see macaques in the wild outside of the park, and seeing them in the park felt more like seeing an animal at a zoo than an exhilarating chance encounter. That said, it was an amazing photo opportunity, and I was happy to pull out my camera and refresh the basic skills I learned in the photography class Vince gifted to me back in NYC.

All in all, it was the best weekend away... so far.  =)

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