Last night I decided I was going to head from Tokyo as long as I got accommodation booked which I did, so off it was at the last minute to get the shinkansen to Nagano.
Like every other transport I’ve done so far (I stress so far!) it was pretty plain sailing. I never required a ticket for this train (as marked on the JR timetable) but I went along a few minutes before the train just to check as it was the first time I used my pass. Due to the location of my accommodation I never even had to pay for a metro today, and I decided to catch it from Ueno station rather than trudging through the main Tokyo station.
As soon as I was on my way from the hostel it felt great to be leaving the city. As exciting as Tokyo is, it can be a bit of a pain in the arse even finding a building sometimes (e.g. main Tourist Information office tucked away on the 10th floor)
The train signs can be a bit daunting at first though……..
….but if you wait around a minute or so they’ll get a bit easier :
Just incase you are reading this and about to head to Japan, the train name is also shown for Shinkansen lines (and maybe others) as well as the destination, so take a note of both of them although if you know the time of departure that should be enough to. And yes, you could set your watch by them. Some trains have reserved and unreserved carriages, but you even know where to stand for your carriage in Tokyo – yes that’s the number on the right above!
About forty minutes into the journey I saw snow on the distant peaks and passed my first ski slope, although there was no snow there of course. A great feeling to be out and about. I popped my overweight rucksack into the coin lockers in Nagano then headed to the superb helpful information office in the station. I decided to get a later train to Yudanaka and headed to the Zenkoji shrine in town.
They apparently have the first Buddhist image to arrive in Japan (in 552!) here. You can also get the closest you’ll ever get to the image by paying 500 Yen, and walk through a pitch black wooden tunnel for 20 metres or so, groping the wall on the right until you feel something metal -the ‘key to paradise’.
I never go the spiritual awakening as mentioned in the leaflet, however (no disrespect intended) feel a bit entertained by walking through a pitch black tunnel groping along the wall and not being able to laugh about it to anyone, or at least not in an understandable way, as I was definitely the only gaijin (foreigner) around.
Off it was to Yudanaka, luckily realising I had a train change on the way. I got there knowing I would pretty much be the only visitor in town. It’s midweek. It’s off season. I’m the only person staying in the ryokan. Luckily the extremely helpful English speaking owner gave me plenty pointers to go with the information and bus / train timetables from the tourist office. I guess I better milk this English help while I can!
Off for my dinner it was, unfortunately missing the hand made soba (noodle) restaurant as he had obviously finished his lot for the day. These noodles are a speciality of the area, and I may try my hand at making them if I spend a while around the area. It was amazing seeing them hand cut them in a Nagano restaurant window today. Again I was the only person in the restaurant.
Seeing Yudanaka like this, it’s hard to imagine it as the centrepoint for the 1998 Winter Olympics. The snowboard park is just along the road (despite the winter trail map saying it is still full of skiing only areas!), and the downhill ski route about 30 minutes away.
I was out of the city into more of the ‘real’ Japan, however it may get more ‘real’ as I go on depending what route I take.
As if to cement my decision to get to the countryside I was treated by one of the reddest sunset skies I’ve ever seen, although the pictures don’t show it justice. I look out to a mountain view (through the electricity cables of course). I headed back and donned my ‘yukata’ (light kimono) laid out for me in my private room (private hostel tonight!) and headed down to soak in the onsen in my birthday suit.
Anyway, I should stop writing such large blog entries – I should be reading guidebooks and leaflets and planning my route a bit.