Nagano and Matsumoto
One of the many (many many) great things about Tokyo is that it's only a few hours' train ride from so many places! A few weekends ago, I went on a weekend trip to Nagano and Matsumoto with my boyfriend who was visiting from America (lucky me!). It was an amazing trip! We headed to Nagano first by way of an early morning shinkansen. I didn't get us reserved seat tickets in an attempt to be a bit economical, but then we found out the hard way that they let people stand on the shinkansen if there aren't enough seats available -__-''. But, we were able to sit down after a few stops, so it wasn't too bad.
When we got to the station, we stored our overnight bags and began walking to Zenkoji, a famous Buddhist temple. You may remember that Nagano was the site of the 1998 Winter Olympics -- one of the first things we walked by was one of the platforms where they presented medals! It's condition has worsened a bit since then but it was still really cool to see -- I may or may not have taken advantage of my ignorant gaijin status and taken a picture or two on the medal podium :). We made sure to continue our walk quickly after that!
|On the medal podium ;)|
Despite the heat, we finally made it up the hill away from the station to Zenkoji -- the temple was amazing! There were tons of people walking around and the architecture was really beautiful. We were looking around in awe for a bit when a Japanese lady ran up to us and excitedly asked if she could show us around -- she was a volunteer tour guide! She gave us a lot of really cool information about the temple, and we were admiring one statue when she frantically tugged on my backpack and said something about "the governor the governor!". At first I thought she meant the statue, but then I realized that she was pointing to the stately Japanese man on the other side of the statue -- the governor of the Nagano prefecture was there with his family (this guy)! We were really lucky to bump into him and even more lucky that we were with someone who could tell us who he was!
After lots of bowing and konnichiwa-ing we continued exploring the temple. Our "volunteer" guide talked us into paying the (small) fee to go down into the "Kaidan Meguri," loosely translated as the path of Buddha. It's a dark tunnel that you walk through in search of the "Key to Paradise," which is the closest point to the main altar that the general public can access. Since we were following the voice of our guide she told us where to touch, so we took the easy way out to enlightenment. Still, it was a really cool experience as it was literally pitch black!
After we had our fill of temple scenery, we headed did some more exploring of the streets then made our way back to the train station to head to Matsumoto for the night. We had a relaxing train ride there and got to the station just in time for the shuttle to the ryokan we were staying in for the night. The place was REALLY nice -- we had great service and a delicious dinner before relaxing in the hot spring baths later at night. We were exhausted from our day of travel so we retired to our futon-style beds pretty early!
|The view from the top of a dam near the ryokan ~ breathtaking|
|Dressed in traditional yukata in the ryokan :)|
The next morning, we woke up and had a hearty breakfast in the ryokan dining room before heading out to explore the area. Our main destination was Matsumoto Castle, but we also checked out some shopping streets and local specialty foods. The castle itself was beautiful -- we decided not to go inside, but the scenery outside was amazing! We took a lot of pictures and relaxed with some snacks before heading back to the station to go back to Tokyo :(. I actually just remembered this now -- that same night we had dinner with my homestay mother and daughter! They were really excited to meet my boyfriend and we had a great time playing together despite the language barrier. They are such a great family. I also picked up the cups that I made the first time I stayed with them -- pictures below!
|Actually the cutest child alive|
|Our little family :)|
If you've made it this far in this ridiculously long post, congratulations! Stay tuned for posts about my last few weeks in Tokyo and our CIEE final party -- can't believe I go home in 2.5 weeks! It's been a great semester!