Monday, 31 March 2014

A restful day

Date: 31st March 2014

Weather: Beautiful. The sun was out and sky was blue.

MP3 track of the day: Where the streets have no name – U2

Having crashed last night, I failed to spot that the curtains were not fully closed. This mistake was revealed to me at around 7am when a beam of light poured into my room and onto my face. Looking out I could tell that the weather was fantastic, which presented an unusual problem. Due to having a long day yesterday, I had planned on sleeping in however, with the weather so good I failed to go back to sleep because I felt as though I should be 'making the most of it'. Japan's spring weather is extremely hard to predict (look at today's and yesterday's weather) and so any sunny day is a blessing. At 8am I decided that enough was enough. I got out of bed and started to get ready.

After having a lovely shower I proceeded to write yesterdays blog before leaving my room in search of food. As the time was 11am I decided to stop by Mr Donuts for a couple of, errr, doughnuts to fill my stomach until lunchtime. As I was sitting there, eating a custard doughnut, I planned my day plus I made a list of all of the jobs I had to complete. Reading through my guidebook, Nagano only has one major tourist attraction (a temple called Zenko-ji) which was located 2.8km north of where I was currently situated. Nagano is a small city therefore, as I looked at the city map my hotel gave me, I realised that my hotel was at the extreme south of the city and the temple at the extreme north. In between were three major roads (running north-south) with many cross streets. I therefore decided to walk along the most eastern street to the temple, and return to my hotel using the middle road (I would work out how to tackle the most western road later). With my sightseeing planned I thought about all of the things I needed to do. First of all I needed to get presents for my friends, a memento for me and some postcards for my family. I also needed to visit the local tourist information centre because, for tomorrow and Wednesday, my planned sightseeing locations were out of the city and therefore I needed to find out which roads were open (if any). Last of all I needed to prepare for my birthday tomorrow; this involved buying a birthday cake and visiting the local cinema for information. Last Thursday a friend told me that she had seen the new F1 film 'Rush' at the cinema and that it was very good. This information had tempted me to make my first visit to a Japanese cinema (they have English viewings; sometimes the film is in English with Japanese subtitles. Sometimes it's the other way around). As the cinema was on the eastern main road I decided that I would visit it on my way to the temple. With my doughnuts eaten I headed off.

Stopping every-so-often to take photos, I found a rather delicious (and expensive) looking cake shop. I had only walked for five minutes and so I decided to wait a while before I bought presents for my friends and indeed, my birthday cake. Maybe I'll find something better further up ahead.

The walk was longer than I imagined however, with the sun out, it was a beautiful walk none-the-less. I made it to the cinema to discover that 'Rush' was not showing at all, let alone tomorrow. I had kind of set my heart on watching a film tomorrow so I therefore looked at what else was on offer … but nothing grabbed my attention. I therefore decided that watching a film for the sake of watching a film was pointless; I had brought some films of my own on a memory stick so, if I want to watch a film tomorrow, then I can watch one of them.

Having left the cinema it was time to head east towards the temple. The street leading to the temple was lined with old looking (but you could tell that they were new) buildings located on a steep hill. Each building was of course a shop, however these were not your tacky souvenir shops; these were your 'up market' souvenir shops.

At the end of the 'up market' souvenir shops lay a pedestrian crossing; past this was the temples outer-gate followed by a row of the more usual tacky souvenir shops. At the pedestrian crossing I had to wait for the 'green man'; as I did I heard a nearby monk ask 'where I was from'. I had ignored this monk for two reasons; firstly he was hitting a small bell every few seconds (which was extremely annoying) and secondly, he obviously wanted money. However, he repeated his question and so I answered in Japanese to find out that he was actually American (he was wearing a big hat so I could not see his face). He had come to Japan as an English teacher and ended up becoming a monk. He asked if I knew what he was doing. Before I could say 'trying to get money by annoying passers by with that bell' he said that he wouldn't tell me as it would look like he was trying to get money from me. He could have told me every past 500m sprint Olympic champion and I still wouldn't have given him any money. Thankfully I avoided a lengthy religious chat due to the 'green man' appearing on the pedestrian lights in front of me. I said farewell and made a note that, on my return journey, to use the other-side of the road.

Once through the outer-gate I quickly by-passed the tacky shops and went through the inner gate of the temple. This gate was huge and, like normal, it was guarded by two big wooden guardians. Once inside, the stone forecourt opened up with Zenko-ji in front of me. Unusually for me, I decided to visit the main temple first before viewing the outer-buildings on the temples left, and gardens on it's right. The temple was beautiful but, it looked like most other temples in Japan. The gardens and outer-buildings were more impressive due to the white tipped mountains and beautiful blue sky behind them. Some cherry blossom trees had started to bloom and that just made the whole area perfect. I happily photographed the area taking photos of everything from every angle. Finally I read my guidebook's entry about this temple for the final time to make sure I had seen / done everything. There was a 'sacred passage way' within the temple itself which I could have gone into however, at 500 Yen, I decided not to bother as my guidebook described it as a 'pitch black hole'. Content that I had finished the temple I left the same way I'd come – though I made sure I avoided the American monk – and proceeded down hill, down the middle main road and south towards the hotel.

The time was now 2pm and I was hungry. After looking around the souvenir shops near my hotel (and finding nothing; I hate souvenir shops) I ventured back north and stopped at a Moss Burger for dinner. Once consumed I decided to venture back to the temple – again missing the monk who was still hitting that bell – to start the job I hate the most when travelling; souvenir shopping. I think I hate souvenir shopping because I never really know what I want. When I usually go shopping I normally know what I want and where to get it; with souvenir shopping you have to 'browse', which to me is dead time. Anyway I browsed quickly through all of the souvenir shops finding the same stuff in all. I then made up my mind what I wanted and purchased it (one shop owner gave me a luckily '5 yen coin' because I spoke English to her ... could have done with that yesterday). To be honest I didn't really like the postcards I bought however, they were the only pack on offer and they were cheap. Once done I left the temple, once again, but this time I took the most western road back into town. It was on this road that I drove into Nagano yesterday and it was here that I found two possible restaurants for dinner tonight.

Once back at the hotel I kept walking and went into the train station. Here I found the tourist information centre where I spoke to a lovely lady. I told her all of the places I want to visit and in return, she gave me information about each one including if any of the roads going to said locations were closed (one road was; I have to go a longer way around). Once done I thanked her and headed out of the train station and into the nearby cake shop I had seen earlier today. Here I purchased my birthday cake for tomorrow's breakfast and some 'omiyagi' (souvenir cakes) for my friends. With that done I returned to my hotel where I put all of my shopping away. I then decided to have a drink of coke and relax.

At 7pm I ventured out into the night looking for food. Due to the sun having gone down, it was a lot colder than during the day. I put my hat and gloves on and walked quickly to Sukiya where I had a beef bowl, a slice of fish and some vanilla ice cream for dessert. Afterwards I returned to my hotel to use the internet and to get an early night.

So how was my last 'twenties' day? Not bad; I was doing what I loved (looking around a place I have never been to before) in a relaxing way. Not bad ... not bad at all.

So tomorrow is my 30th birthday and therefore, money is no object. I shall get up when I get up, open my presents from my parents and eat my birthday cake. I shall then get in the car and head to one of two locations as discussed with the woman at the tourist office. The first choice is to drive to a little town 20 minutes north-east of here called 'Obuse'. My guidebook states that, though there isn't much to do, it is very pretty. After that there is a monkey park close by which has many Japanese long-tailed monkeys. The second choice is Onioshidashien; the location of Japan's highest triple-cratered active volcano (and a few woodland walks - though with it still being 'winter', I wonder if the walking routes will be open). Depending on time I may drive 60km further south to Matsumoto where a beautiful castle – called after the city – is located. I think it will be weather dependent; if the weather is bad I think I'll select the first choice. If the weather is good I'll go for number two as I really want to see Onioshidashien (John Lennon and Yoko Ono holidayed here; plus this is where the current emperor met his wife).

However now I am off to bed and when I wake, I shall be thirty. Before I go I have to tell you that I am sad to leave a decade in which I have achieved so much. During my twenties I learnt to drive, completed my degree and traveled around the world before coming to live in Japan. I can't help thinking that it is going to be hard for the next decade to compete.

Toodle Pip!

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