Nagano City and Obuse – Lots of Snow
Happy New Year! Better late than never right?
I’m going to fragment the timeline a little here. Crammed in-between these destinations should be Yudanaka, where we spent the majority of this short holiday. However, because there are a lot more photos from our time there, I am going to give that one a separate post. Snow monkeys surely deserve a post to themselves.
In anticipation of our ‘not-very-Christmassy’ Christmas, we decided to travel to a place where we were guaranteed some snow. Don’t ask me why I associate Christmas with snow, living in England (Damn you Coca Cola and your bloody polar bears). ‘Nagano’ was the word on everyone’s lips when asked for a recommendation. Having now visited it, I can see why. It’s like stepping into a Christmas postcard. The snow in some areas was getting towards knee-deep.
There’s a little joke in England that when the snow falls, the country stops. We just can’t deal with it. Whereas down in Scandinavia, they’re handbrake turning their way to work. I think it’s all to do with appropriate tyres and footwear. Nagano’s secret seems to be having crews clear up all the roads before anyone wakes up. You will also see elderly gentlemen sweeping and shovelling the paths around the shrines and temples.
As we arrived into the station (you pass under a mountain, before which the towns are dry and sunny, and are presented with a vista of white in every direction) the cold was immediately noticeable. I was wearing four layers, one of which was ‘Heattech‘ and I was still cold. The station was a strange affair. Void of doors and very many walls, the place was as cold as a polar bear’s nose. The absence of people was soon explained upon the discovery of a small heated waiting room which was crammed full of people sat in silence. The sour mood was aided by the grim decoration and poor illumination.
There’s a dated feel about a lot of Nagano, but this is often transferred into a feeling of homeliness. A very different feel to Tokyo. Our broken Japanese was met with relief, rather than the mild surprised apathy that you sometimes get in the big cities. Although a checkout lady did laugh at me for my pronunciation of ‘Ko-hi’ (coffee). Maybe if you hadn’t stole and then bastardised the word, you’d understand me better!
One of the guide books advised us to get to the temple early to avoid the queues. At noon We were two of maybe ten people at the temple. Close one! The temple was very impressive and – as with most buildings – was made a hell of a lot prettier by the snow. Whilst waiting for the train to Yudanaka, we helped ourselves to lunch at an all-you-can-eat curry place. It was only 800yen per person, which would get you three foreign chocolate bars in Tokyo.
I could have subtitled this post – ‘The Dragons with Amusing Faces’. You’ll see what I mean.
On the way back to Nagano from Yudanaka, we stopped off at Obuse. This was mainly to see the Hokusai museum. Obuse is supposedly where Katsushika Hokusai painted the Great Wave off Kanagawa, a painting which even those with only a vague interest in Japan should recognise. The museum was pretty interesting, despite the fact that the wave painting is actually housed somewhere else. We also got some cool bookmarks.
I had seen a picture of a Jokoji temple in one of the tourist guides and thought it looked interesting. To get there we had to pass through a residential area and, after fifteen minutes, we were beginning to think we had gotten lost. The lack of people was staggering. Five minutes more of walking however, and we were at the entrance. The pathway to the temple was made from jagged rock, made slightly treacherous by the snow. When we reached the top, we realised that no-one else had risked the ascent. The solitude in this area was indescribable. The temple was a humble structure with a thatch roof, but there was a certain charm to it. I wondered around the surrounding graveyard a little, occasionally coming across animal prints, and felt like the last man alive.
On the way back to the station we stopped at a kitsch little cafe and had lunch. They played swing and jazz music and the cafe’s decoration was a mix of country cottage and beach-side hut. We also purchased some delicious little biscuits made out of chestnuts (the local speciality). On the trendy front – in Nagano we saw a noodle restaurant hosted in a red London bus, in which patrons order their food near where the conductor would sit, before taking it up to the top deck to eat.
In other news
I have now put in an application for an English language teaching job, and may put in a few more. As much as I enjoy staying home writing, and going to the gym when everyone else is working, my conscience won’t allow me to stay idle any longer.
The dog next door was barking intermittently from 6am yesterday. I’ve now downloaded a dog whistle app for my phone. If he acts up again I am going to try and train the little bugger through the wall.
Have a better one!