Sunday, March 29, 2009
My weekend in Nagano
Nagano - what a place.
Snow-capped mountains, volcanoes, thousands of tall green pine trees, rock formations, flowers, winding roads.. beauty.
I couldn't believe my eyes. We only drove two and a half hours from Tokyo and ended in this location. Unreal.
Friday morning, Kayo, Takuto, and I were picked up by Kayo's friend from college Hanako and her son Tomo. Hanako doesn't speak much English, so Kayo had the role of translating for us when we wanted to say something to each other. She did great. I was impressed.
We arrived at an old Japanese inn tucked away in the middle of the mountains, thousands of feet above sea level. It was just how I pictured it would be. We were greeted by the staff who were dressed in traditional kimonos and other attire. After enjoying some green tea and biscuits we were led to our room - tatami floors, a tea set, a table with pillows and wooden chairs, beautiful view - it was perfect. After some relaxing, it was time for the hot spring. We put on our kimonos and our sandals and walked under a bamboo canopy to the spring. Just looking at the steam coming off the water, the apples floating, and the hot water pouring out of a fountain, was enough to relax me. The fountain was retrieving water from hundreds of feet below us. The water was hot, just as hot as a hot tub, but it was natural. I left the spring feeling rejuvenated, fresh, and healthy. My skin felt so soft. We enjoyed the rest of our evening eating a traditional Japanese dinner consisting of about thirteen dishes (I thought I was going to lose weight while I'm here. I think the opposite may occur! haha), resting in the room drinking some green tea and chatting, taking another dip in the hot spring, then eating three desserts (Oishkata! -- they tasted good!). The next morning at 7 we went in the hot spring one last time (the perfect way to wake up and start the day), then went downstairs to the restaurant to have breakfast (many dishes here too..my favorite was the white fish). We left the inn after talking with the owner (a lovely older lady named Yoku dressed in a beautiful kimono), petting the goats, and taking in the scenery around us.
We spent the rest of our Saturday in Karuizawa, a very expensive area in Nagano surrounded by woods and mountains. This is where many wealthy Japanese people have vacation homes. The architecture of the homes were similar to homes in the U.S. We did some shopping at the biggest outlet mall in Japan, had lunch at a great restaurant where we had freshly hand-made soba noodles (Nagano is where Soba noodles were created), and drove around looking at the area. It was very very cold! I was not prepared for the frigid weather, wearing just a thin jacket and few layers.
It was a great little trip and I am so thankful that I already got to experience a place outside of Tokyo. I definitely deem Nagano as a must-see in Japan. Pictures can't capture the beauty.
There are hot springs all over Japan. There's one even fifteen minutes from where I live. I think I'll make it my new hobby!
The time with Kayo was wonderful ofcourse. She deserves time away from the busyness of motherhood, so I was glad I got to relax with her. We had many great conversations, lots of laughs too! We've both told each other that we feel like we've known each other a long time. I can't believe I met her only a week ago! We already have a close friendship. Her friend Hanako was so sweet as well. Even though we couldn't really talk to each other verbally, we communicated in other ways. She is so sweet!
I am doing very well. Like I said earlier, life here feels very normal already. I miss home, my family, my friends, everything being written and spoken in English, all that is familiar, but I am in Japan and I have to embrace the differences and the challenges. I am only here four more months and I'll be back to what's comfortable again. By far the biggest challenge is that I don't know the language well. It's really hard because I want to be able to talk to people around me and have conversations with them (more than just "Nice to meet you and how are you?"). It is such a motivation to learn Japanese!
Nice day planned for today. Lunch and socializing with family friends under the cherry blossom trees (sakura).
Bai bai for now! Hope you enjoy some of the pictures I have taken.