We’re on the way to Yudanaka, an onsen town not that far from Nagano. Nagano was the venue for the 1998 Winter Olympics, so we know the snow will be nice at this time of year. Yudanaka is also famous for its snow monkeys, which love to hang around and bath in the natural onsen pools. We arrive a bit before it starts getting dark, and settle in to our room at the ryokan.
Adrian and I went out to see what the nightlife is like after dinner. It’s a small town but we heard there’s a couple of izakaya nearby that serve people. We’re used to eating dinner a bit later, so we were still hungry before it was time to go to sleep.
We couldn’t be bothered to rug up so we went for the closer option, a little place just down the hill. I think there was only one or two other people there, but it was cosy and we could get a beer, so that was enough for us. For all the times I’ve been to Japan before, I don’t think I’ve had this “proper” izakaya experience before. It’s not so much that you run up a bill while you’re there buying food and drinks, it’s more that you’re paying for your time there.
We stayed there for maybe an hour or an hour and a half, had a couple drinks, and some chips that the oba-san prepared from scratch for us. We made small talk and it was nice, I forget how much it was but I think we paid a couple thousand yen each or something.
Which is a lot, objectively speaking, but that’s not really the point. I think you’re meant to go there with a bunch of friends, have a good time, and while away the hours eating and drinking. At the end of the night you all pay some amount that vaguely represents how much you consumed, and everyone’s happy. You can think of it as rewarding a big night, because you know they can afford to give you a volume-discount on liquor…