I spent the past three days in Nagano on a business trip. A popular destination for school trips, camping and skiing – Nagano was exactly what I needed for a couple of days. I slept well, ate well and overdosed on nature. Although I was working, I finally managed to get a much-needed break from the hustle and bustle of daily life in Tokyo.
Lord knows I needed it.
Nagano is around 4 hours away from Tokyo. At only 2 million: the population of Nagano is relatively small compared to other areas in Japan. Although accessible by shinkansen, it’s not someplace you want to roam around without a motor vehicle. I’ve sat on way too many trains since moving to the Tokyo Area, and this road trip felt like a bigger change than it actually was. Located in Chubu Prefecture, Nagano is landlocked and consists mostly of highlands and mountain ranges. There are some beautiful lakes, wetlands, apple trees and many of Mother Nature’s gifts. Nagano also boasts the spot that’s furtherest from the sea in Japan – which is why so much of it is largely uninhabited.
On the drive to the lodge, we stopped once at a rest point. I generally don’t like stopping in the middle of nowhere for smelly toilet breaks with overpriced food, but the Japanese make it work. There were over a hundred toilet stalls, omiyage souvenir shops, and even restaurants serving the speciality of the region at a reasonable price.
I ate some sort of claypot rice thingy with miso soup. It was delicious and aesthetically pleasing as always. There was chicken, mushrooms, bamboo, pickles, apricots, a quail egg and God knows what else. I approve.
And then it was off to our yamanoie lodge in Tateshina where we would spend the next couple of days. I’m not quite sure what the altitude was, but my ears popped as we went up. I also saw some wild deer. Bambi, bambi – everyone started saying. To think I was secretly thinking of venison. What can I say – I’m a part-time carnivore.
When we finally arrived at our lodge, it was in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t even see one of those ubiquitous convenience stores that are on every corner everywhere. Nagano was also kind of chilly compared to Tokyo where I’ve been melting in the hot and humid Japanese summer.
There were quite a few log houses around. Nagano is a good place to buy a country house if you like skiing and that type of thing. Personally, I’m not a fan of the cold so I’d rather get a beach house. Hey – different strokes for different folks. Having said that – the woods were just… magical, mystical and got me thinking. They always do.
I did an orienteering course on our second day. Whilst I do make it a point to go hiking around the Kanto Area – there was a silence in Nagano that’s so hard to find in the city. No loud planes, no cable wires, no nothing. Just me and Mother Nature. As I walked through the woods unbothered by the dragonflies, butterflies and bees – I realised I had formed a close bond with nature. This city girl has finally found something that feels like home in the countryside.
As I walked through the woods, I was steady on my feet. HOORAY. I loved every minute. I even found a swing hanging off a branch. I tried to have fun with it but the branch would move (and threaten to break) so I got off with my bum (and the tree) still intact.
For lunch that day, I had Nagashi-somen flowing noodles. It’s a speciality that some lodges offer in the summer. The noodles are placed in a long flume of bamboo that’s assembled like a mini-slide. The flume is flowing with cold water. As the sōmen funnels through, we have to catch it with our chopsticks before it hits the ground. If we manage to catch some, we pop it in tsuyu, quickly gobble it down and get read to attack again.
It’s far more difficult than it looks and requires a lot of dexterity that I just don’t have. It also deeply amused me to fight for my food. My competitive streak piqued whenever the lady sent down a quail egg, a sausage, a tomato or some other little goodie. Yippie. I wouldn’t describe somen as a delicious meal, but it was fun in a primal kind of way. It made me wonder what we humans must have been like when we hunted for food.
After I finished my meal, I noticed that there was venison curry on sale. Well, then… I’ll have to come back to try it. Just don’t tell anyone I said that.
At the lodge, I had a tatami room after a long time and enjoyed the scent of the mats. I used to dislike futons when I first came to Japan, but how things have changed… By the way, check out the old school TV in the photo. It’s been ages since I’ve seen one of these.
I have another business trip in two days so I’m just going to take it easy till that happens. Just before you think I’m bumming around at home – unfortunately I had to work today and will also be working tomorrow. Sigh…
I truly am counting down the days to my holiday abroad.
Coming soon. Coming soon.
Till next time.