Today I left Tokyo for Nagano, the home of the 1998 Olympics and the gateway for the Japanese Alps. However, I like Nagano for entirely different reasons. I like how the city can feel like a small town. I like the pedestrian street and the large temple area. I like sleeping in hundred year old buildings and watching the clouds move over the mountains. How you can still discover new things there, even on your third visit. It’s hard to explain, really, but Nagano has a special feel and I just adore it. I will go as far to say that Nagano is my favourite Japanese city.
Nagano is also the main reason for my visit to Japan, the ultimate destination on my pilgrimage. But that post is for tomorrow.
Today I am focusing on everything else that I did in Nagano, that did not involve either food (well, some food) or my pilgrimage.
And so we start in Tokyo, at the Tokyo station, where I managed to find the exact store where I bought an amazing bento box back in 2010, and won the bento box challenge against Travis. Today, even though he was not there, I declared myself the repeating winner of the bento box challenge. Why? Because I just know that he would have lost again. I think supplementing my bento box with some yakitori was a good call. The yakitori even came with a little packet of sauce and a packet of togarashi! (This is fitting, because Nagano is home of togarashi. Today I saw an $18 box of togarashi-flavoured Kit Kat bars for sale in Nagano. Had it not been $18 and ridiculously large, I would have totally gone for it.)
Off on the train it was, past rice fields, cities, and roads. I left rainy Tokyo, and arrived to a sunny Nagano. Somehow though on my way to my hotel I got turned around, twice, and did a lot of extra walking. I thought it was a bit odd that I’d get confused somewhere I had already been, but things happen. I made it to my hotel, where I was told that I was too early (I was really hoping they’d bend the rules…) and off I went after dropping off my bags.
By this point, I have to say, my back and legs were hurting. My right foot kept not cooperating, cramping up and causing me to limp. For some reason, somehow, I keep feeling and thinking and acting as though if I just keep going, eventually, I’ll walk this whole back pain thing off. I am probably wrong, but time will tell.
So in the spirit of walking (and killing time before I could get into my room) I headed up to the temples, and sat for a long time doing what I came here to do. Afterwards, and once feeling a little bit better, I explored the little “treasure museum” and the adjoining zen garden found at Daihongan Temple (located just before the first gate of Zenko-ji). The museum part is very small and uninteresting, but every other part of the temple you get to access is quite nice and peaceful.
I then walked around a bit more in the touristic temple area, which is a few street wide and contains so many beautiful, old buildings. I also did some more walking, hitting all of the other temples in the area, and simply walking the city streets. I love walking the residential streets in Japan, their tiny lanes revealing so many unexpected, interesting things. Here are some of the nice things I found.
I also found a Canadian maple tree in a cemetery, a little piece of home! It had a sign with the Canadian flag and everything. See, you never know what you’ll find!
Speaking of cemeteries, I found a lovely one right across the street to Zenko-ji. It had no English name, and was on no map I had. It was beautiful inside though, with numerous zen gardens with the gravel raked into intricate patterns. I always like walking cemeteries, and this one was no exception. Old tombstones, Buddha statues, what’s not to like? I often find myself feeling like an intruder though in Japan, because so often family members are there, visiting and cleaning their relative’s tomb.
Finally, once everything started closing down for the evening, I headed back to my room for some relaxation and much needed stretching before heading off to dinner. Here is my room here at the ryokan – as you can see, much bigger than my Tokyo room! It is, in fact, twice as big.
PS. Look at all those windows! The sun comes up early in Japan, and this makes for every bright mornings. Good thing someone invented eye masks!