I’m a planner, a writer of lists, a researcher, I don’t like surprises.  Our round the world trip was my biggest feat of planning to date.  For three years, I read guide books, followed blogs, watched TV programmes, and together, as a family, we drew up a long list of things we’d like to do, places we’d like to go.  As we moved slowly around the world, we tried to include as many of our wished for things in our itineraries.

From the earliest days of the can-we-do-this discussions, we wanted to see the snow monkeys in Japan.  We looked at photos, watched a documentary and took regular peeks at the monkey web cam, watching the shaggy primates in their snowy wilderness.  They captured our imagination.

In the whirl of elephants, jungles and volcanoes, we sort of forgot about the snow monkeys.  It wasn’t until we arrived in Japan, and were planning where to go to provide the maximum Japaneseness in the minimum time that we remembered, and decided to visit Yudanaka.  Yudanaka is a ski resort, with natural hot springs and is home to the famous snow monkeys. We were visiting in the steamy height of summer, so no skiing, but you can still bathe in the springs and see the monkeys.

Yudanaka is ugly.  Without the softening, white blanket of snow it’s a concrete scar on the mosquito infested mountains.  Our ryokan smelt overpoweringly of dog, and the loo seat was covered in shaggy fur that was no doubt meant to be cosy in winter, but just screamed germs. The monkeys, when we’d trekked up through the beautiful, buggy, forest to find them, were looking bored in a small, unattractive, concrete pool, surrounded by over excited tourists.  We’d seen prettier monkeys in prettier settings in lots of places by the time we reached Yukanaka.  After three years of planning, the whole thing was a bit of a disappointment.

Travel, and life, can be a bit like that.  I find at these moments it’s a good idea to take the Japanese approach, and see the beauty in the details.  The soaring straightness of a cedar trunk in the forest, the trickle of steaming hot water over smooth rocks in the outdoor bathing pool, the single blue hydrangea flower in a vase on the counter of a bar, the hand-drawn sumo posters in the booth of a cosy neighbourhood restaurant.  Yudanaka wasn’t a bad place, it actually had a lot to offer if you like pet stag beetles and sumo wrestlers stew.  I just needed to adjust my expectations.


I am taking part in Photo Friday at Delicious Baby. Head on over for lots of lovely travel pictures.

  1. Love your post and really get what you mean. Look around, look up, look down and there will be something remarkable. Love the Monkey’s thoughful expression. If only they could take pictures too!

    • itsasmallworldafterallfamily said:


  2. I always said that I went into motherhood with unrealistic exceptions, which is why I think I developed PND or at least I think it added to it. I have really changed the way I look at things since I was ill, I grab every rainbow, every bit of sunshine and try to live my life in a positive way

    • itsasmallworldafterallfamily said:

      You have one of the best attitudes of anyone I know.

  3. Sonja said:

    Your monkey photo isn’t disappointing! I would love to see that mother and baby in the flesh. However, a fur-covered toilet seat would definitely send me high-tailing it from there.

    • itsasmallworldafterallfamily said:

      Thank you. It was a mixed experience.

  4. I can remember one incredibly long bus journey across the arse end of Costa Rica to see this volcano. Our room was a shit tip, bugs the size of gigantor bugs and we woke in the morning to see the awesome volcano at the end of the road entirely covered in rain cloud. Not one bit of that sodding volcano was poking through, nothing, nada, zip.

    But still got the memories of the trip, snapshots in my head that make me smile.

    Fur covered seat. I just can’t shake that image.

    nice new blog btw, didn’t know till now that you had a new one 🙂

    • itsasmallworldafterallfamily said:

      I only started it a week ago! I’ve been to that volcano in Costa Rica and got a great view, I guess it’s just the luck of the draw.

  5. Kelly said:

    It’s a fabulous photo, Piran keeps shouting Monkey, Monkey! I can imagine after traveling so far and seeing so much that some things were bound to be a little disappointing. I love reading about this side of things, really interesting.

    • itsasmallworldafterallfamily said:

      Yes, and I think we were ready to come home at that point, which made us much more critical/discerning. Luckily Japan mostly lived up to our expectations.

  6. Stuart said:

    Great post. Imagination is a powerful force and those pics in the guidebooks and on the web can be so inspiring, making you just want to go there… it’s a must do, but the reality can often be so different. It’s a challenge to manage expectations, and even more to travel with no expectations but it’s often when we’ve expected nothing that we’ve been most bowled over. I like the idea of noticing the beauty in the detail. It’s always there if you can look hard enough.

    • itsasmallworldafterallfamily said:

      I have a bit of thing about people telling me I ‘must’ visit somewhere. Immediately I want to not go there. Coral Bay in Western Australia was one of those places, everyone told us we’d love it, it was perfect for families. We almost didn’t go, but I’m glad we did, as we DID love it.

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