Back in 2005 when I was backpacking solo through Japan, Nagano had been my favourite city. I loved how picturesque it was, and enjoyed the mix of the temples with the cool, hip downtown of the city. I couldn’t wait to show Travis around, so we decided to head there first after Tokyo.
We activated our Japanese Rail Pass and took our first train together. Nagano isn’t that far, and with the Japanese rains being so fast, it wasn’t such a long ride. Before hopping on our train we had both purchased a bento box lunch – you can see bellow the difference between mine (left) and Travis’ (right). Clearly one of us had gotten it right!
After settling down in our room, we headed right back out to check out the sights. We headed straight to the Zenko-Ji temple, the main temple of Nagano and one of the most famous temples of Japan. Well over 1300 years old, it holds the first image of Buddha on Japanese soil (and no, no one can go and see it).
We had shown up at the temple a little late, right for sunset. With the temple (and surrounding temples) closed, we just took in the sights and garden around Zenko-Ji. Once it became too dark, we walked in the old neighbourhood, checking out old homes and tiny shrines. We even stumbled upon a sake factory, and had ourselves a little tasting.
Finally it was time to eat. We headed towards downtown but just couldn’t find the right spot to eat at. We looked for quite some time for somewhere cute, traditional filled with locals, and just when we were about to give up we found the place. It was packed solid, with only two seats left at the bar. Inside was full of tasty smoke from meats grilling on sticks. It did not have a menu (not that we could have read it) but we managed to understand that the restaurant only served pork. Not knowing what to order, we said omakase (literally: chef I’m in your hands) and indicated that we each wanted 5 skewers. Over cold beers and the smile of friendly Japanese we ate some delicious grilled meat, and some organ meat I would have preferred not to eat (colon). It was all really tasty though, and we left the restaurant pleased with ourselves and happy with our day.