Nagano, famous in my mind for the Winter Olympics, but I wasn’t sure what else. I assumed a place famous for snow wasn’t all that flash in the spring, but we still found plenty of fun to fill a day and met some nice people along the way.
We arrived in Nagano from Sapporo after an epic 8 hour train journey. We were pretty exhautsed, but at least it wasn’t as bad as the 18 hour bus ride from Mawlamyine to Kalaw in Myanmar. Train travel is much more comfortable.
We spent two nights at Moritomizu Backpackers (¥2,700 in 4-8 bed mixed dorm) which was quite nice and just a stone throw from Nagano station.
On the first day we tackled the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Crossing to see the snow walls. Thankfully, we spent the next day chilling around Nagano and despite there being no snow nor Winter Olympics it was actually pretty fun. Some people from the hostel invited us to go see the monkeys that bathe in the onsens, but there was just no way we were waking up for that bus after the last few days on the road (or on the tracks).
After a late start to the day we headed up through town in search of Zenko-ji temple and the free zoo. I think we pretty much just walked down Chuo Dori all the way after a short “detour” and some BBQ pork breakfast that we couldn’t resist the smell of.
It wasn’t long before we spotted this interesting little Foret Coffee stand owned by a guy called Takehisa. He likes cold brews and filter coffee a little more than I do, but it was still some of the best coffee so far in Japan. I often find myself wishing that Melbourne style coffee culture had invaded Asia before the Yanks, but unfortunately they’ve ruined it for everyone.
After coffee we stumbled across a ninja shop probably intended for little kids, but hey, I won’t judge if you don’t. There were all sorts of knick-knacks inside, but the best part was that there was a ninja blow pipe setup where you could shoot targets. Just Y200 for 5 shots and if you hit the bullseye you got a small prize.
Inevitably it had to become a competition and I have to say I was pretty worried when Rachel hit the bullseye three times in a row! Apparently I got the Asian ninja genes though because it was oh so easy. Child’s play even. The blow pipes were surprisingly powerful! I’m pretty sure you could hit someone across a room or from a rooftop somewhere.
A rematch was called, but it really made no difference. The difficulty level even stepped up to one footed long range shooting. The shop keeper was pretty amused and thankfully there were no casualties, except pride.
There was also a maze in the attic and all of a sudden I had a strong sense of deja vu. I still haven’t been able to work out why that was, but it seems that it made the maze much easier for me. I think I need some harder ninja challenges because I have clearly surpassed all the training intended for 6 year old ninjas.
Further up the road there was a nice bakery where we grabbed some melon buns, we stopped to take some obligatory cherry blossoms pictures before finally making it up to the temple.
As we arrived a very fair lady in a cloak walked past with her entourage. Unfortunately, I must have missed ninja photography classes because I don’t have a shot, but she was clearly very important to the temple and the religion. Locals bowed in the street, her escorts held umbrellas over her smooth round head and another less prestigiously dressed woman (maybe her advisor?) was in hot pursuit.
The temple had all the usual bits and bobs and so we headed from there up to the zoo.
The zoo is actually very small, but what’s sad is that all the enclosures are quite small too. It was nice to go and see the animals, but you will probably feel bad for some of them. Perhaps I have an inflated perception of what zoos should be like given that in Australia we have so much space.
There weren’t too many people around so it reminded me of the time I went with a group of people from the hostel to the Budapest zoo in the middle of winter. The Merry-Go-Round looked a little lonely and unused so I went for a ride on it. It was definitely big kids day today!
At this point though we needed to say goodbye to Nagano and head off back to Tokyo. Thankfully though we ran into our friends from the hostel just as we were headed to the train station. So whilst we missed out on the onsen monkeys, we at least got to say goodbye to them.