This is a travel blog for desktop travelers and other ramblers who want to know the world just a little bit better.

Right now I am living in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala where I'll be settled for a while. Thanks for reading!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Twenty-Nine Hours in Nagano

We arrive in Nagano around 11 AM. My wife’s aunt is waiting for us where the bus drops us off across from the train station. Her aunt has kindly gotten us a hotel next to the station. We leave our bag with the concierge and go to lunch at a soba restaurant. Soba is a buckwheat noodle found all over Japan, but is famous in Nagano Prefecture.

Making soba by hand in Nagano

Mika's aunt speaks English because her family lived in New York for four years. It definitely makes the visit more comfortable and Mika gets a much needed break from translating. After lunch, they go shopping, and I tag along behind as umbrella and bag porter. We have a nice day just hanging out with Mika’s aunt.

This evening Mika’s uncle invites us to a very nice restaurant. He is a retired banker who now spends his days golfing and studying painting and computers. We all get the seasonal menu, a seven course meal of delicious food and beautiful presentation. Next to the restaurant is a Japanese saké brewery. We order Ginjoshu, a type of Japanese rice wine. It is incredibly smooth. Much different from the watered-down paint thinner saké I usually get.
We return to the hotel around 9 PM. After having spent the last two weeks sleeping on the floor and bathing in a public place, we are both very excited about the concept of a bed and shower. The hotel is an upscale business hotel. There is a nice, very large lobby. The room is fairly typical for Japan, (slippers, night shirt, individually packed q-tips and razors) just this has nicer details than a normal hotel (ex. the section of the bathroom wall mirror over the sink is heated so it will not fog up). Our double room has space for only two single beds, not queen. In the corner is a small sofa and table. Everything seems smaller in Japan compared to America's super-sized standards. I get in bed and flip on the tube. I have two English options, CNN International or Steven Seagal’s Under Siege. I fall asleep to the sound of Ryback kicking ass.

Breakfast is not over-the-top extravagant, but it has a very large assortment of Japanese foods with some fruit and a few western favorites. Everything is tasty. From our table we have a good view of the people exiting the train station. I ask Mika if she feels guilty about having a long, relaxing breakfast while people outside are scurrying to work. She does not. I don’t really either.

My breakfast is West meets East: scrambled eggs, hash browns, and bread with a side of Japanese grilled fish and stewed vegetables. Mika's is East meets West: Rice, seaweed, Japanese curry, and fish with a side of sausage and bacon.
We go back to the room. Not wanting to leave luxury, we lounge around until ten minutes before checkout. We then walk the 1.8 Kilometers through central Nagano to Zenkōji Temple. Nagano is actually quite a nice city. Our walk takes us past modern department stores, the 1998 Olympic torch and rusting podium stage set far behind a parking lot, some lovely pre-WWII brick buildings, a rarity in Japan and traditional Japanese architecture.
After touring the temple, we meet Mika’s aunt again for lunch. We go to a cliché filled Vietnamese restaurant. There are lots of black bamboo accessories and the Japanese waitresses are wearing some type of Northern hill tribe outfit. The food is not so authentic, but good. Minus a bowl of cereal, it is the first non-Japanese meal I have eaten in seventeen days. After already being treated to a nice hotel, lunch, dinner and present, we try to pay the bill for lunch and put up a good fight. But Mika's aunt refuses with a ferocity maybe only matched by my own grandmother when I have attempted to pay at one of her regular eateries in Miami.

After twenty-nine hours in Nagano, we hop on the bus and head back to Ina.

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  1. Nice Jeff. Tell Mika, "Howdy". Jet lag goofing with y'all? News here? BP still sucks...

  2. Thanks. Not jetlag, but trying to break our 9PM - 5AM sleep schedule. I'm looking forward to seeing your posts about the east coast/Dave Matthews excursion.