I was only in Nagano for that night as I was heading up to Shibu Onsen and the snow monkeys the next day. Sadly I had already got the cash out I needed for my Ryoken stay so my Onsen experience didn't start too well initially. Luckily it all got massively better.
I got the train up from Nagano and then caught the bus from the closest train station to Shibu village. Once you are in the village, it can be a little tricky to find your accommodation if its not on the main street, however thankfully as usual in Japan, everyone is VERY keen to help you.
I stayed at Hishiya Torazo Onsen which is one of the oldest in the village. It's run by a charming gentleman and his elderly mother. She is an absolute treat. She is tiny and bent over and doesn't speak a lick of English but makes your stay incredible. She showed me around explaining everything in Japanese and I easily understood everything she was telling me.
This was my big splurge for Japan so I had paid for the full experience for both days I was there. The Ryokans can be just accommodation and onsens, but if you pay the full fee you get the traditional Japanese dinner and breakfast which is a real treat. The first day of my stay there was another Japanese couple staying but the second day it was just me which was actually amazing. I had the hot spring all to myself and wallowed around in there like a hippo for most of the day on and off. So fortunate!
I can't recommend Torazo Onsen enough - they were amazing, its small and personal and when I said that I was going to go out for dinner on the second night, they gave me a discount on my room fee because I didn't have the full Japanese dinner. Treat yourself - but take cash - they don't accept cards.
So I slip and slide my way up to the pools where the monkeys hang out. I go really early so its not too busy and am rewarded with few people and lots of monkeys! Every time I think about the snow monkeys I always remember that old phrase about Chinese food in China just being food. It always makes me wonder if you go to the snow monkeys in summer are they still snow monkeys or just monkeys??
Anyway - I digress...
So I'm at the snow monkeys and there are all these guys with camera's so I'm chatting away to them and the woman with them (who was very nice and very chatty) when this English girl screams and insists on having her photo taken with the woman. It's at this point that I realise its Joanna Lumley.