With my stay in Japan only days left, I keep hearing the words ‘why not make a trip in Japan while you’re hear’ that some people put in there last week. A few pieces of idea linked together, and I was on the morning train next day. Is this the first time I come to Nagano in the summer?
It’s been pretty hot in Tokyo on those days in between monsoon’s rain coverage. Somehow imagining it would be cooler up here in the hills, but the truth was, the city of Nagano is as hot, if not hotter, than the city by the bay. It is only in the high altitude resorts that you get the cool breeze. Oh well…
It’s been years since I last took Nagano Dentetsu, or ‘Naga-den’ for short. One year I was with my family or friends and connected to the local train from Nagano towards the ski resort. The train I got on this time was a retro, built in the ’60s. It didn’t show its age so much, until when the doors closed and I saw the small windows around standing adult’s eye level. This is how the subway cars used to be when I was a kid, with bare metal inside. In the next platform was a train that used to be used for limited express train towards Hakone, near Mt. Fuji. Its curved extra-large view window used to be revolutionary back then. It is still painted in the same original colours as I remember seeing on the train enthusiast magazine all these years ago.
From the nearby station it was an easy slope up. But it was under the hot sun with no tree or roof to cover. By the time they get through the impressive gate of the Zenkoji temple, people sat down or stood around in its shade catching breath.
I vaguely remember coming to this temple when I was still in high school. But in my vague impression it was an old temple that you could feel the depth of age from. But coming back here, it is cleaned up, still large and stretched out but pretty taste-less. It was like coming across a girl you admired in school but finding her years later when she had become an ordinary auntie. Well, not that I have an actual express to refer to, but you get what I mean!
The main reason for coming to Nagano is elsewhere and it is for after dark towards the morning. I was in rush. I could not quite decide what to do for the rest of the day time, while slowing walking back towards the central station. In one of the side streets I stepped into to take a few shots, I saw a few groups of 2-3 office workers coming from this direction and that, all going into the same restaurant just near me. There are only a few varieties of noodle soup on the menu. This looks pretty promising. When I walked in it was actually full, but the three people at the nearby table who obviously finished eating already stood up to make room for me. It is not the kind of interior (or exterior) you’d expect from a typical noodle soup place. It seems it serves stake on the hot plate at each table. Interesting how they serve noodle soup by day. I tried the chilled noodle soup.
Slowly walking the lunch off, I got to the Nagano central station, when the bus towards Matsushiro just rolled in. It was one of the ideas for the day but when I saw the timetable on one of the bus stops there were very few services to this part of town. What I’d missed was that there was another route departing from the stand next to it, which had far more frequent services. Had I known this, I could have made it to this historical town first and do the temple later. Whatever. I got on the bus. I tapped on my Tokyo electric pass but this bus accepted only the local e-ticket. I pulled the number tag which indicate the stop I got on, and I would look up at the fare chart when I get off to work out the amount for my ride.
I got off at Matsushiro station stop. There was a tourist information office just across the road, in a building that used to be the Matsushiro station until the train line went out of service 4 years earlier. Most of the visitors knew about this town after watching this year’s morning TV drama on historical figure. I don’t even have a TV though I was aware of the show.
I walked for a block and found the restored residence of the Sanada clan. While walking around the block looking for the entrance, I came across a warrior of the clan.
It must be hot wearing this on a day like this. He and his colleagues just did a welcome show for the visiting ambassador of Herzegovina.
Like Kyoto, in a land where the community was wealthy and influential, you could feel the quality in things they built and left behind. The seat of the master of clan was in the very back of the house. But it was on the same ground level rather than lifted. I wonder how the world looked like sitting here.
I was taking a bit more time than I had intended. The original idea was to arrive at the accommodation by late afternoon, and head out again for the evening shoot. But now I was pushing time. The sky was now overcast, not looking ideal for sunset shots. Finding that I had just missed the bus back to the main station and there is no service for half an hour, I decided to chill out. It was not a long distance to where I was going, but there is no direct line of public transport there. It makes you realise that this is a rural area where people depend more highly on cars than the metro area with the matrix of trains, subways and buses.
From Nagano station, I took a train which use cars that used to be common when I was a kid. Passing the small stations, some of which are not manned, it really felt like the old days when I took trains to travel the distance in the countryside as a kid.
The reasonably-priced no-frill accommodation I booked the night before was a classic onsen (hot spring) inn. It was in the low season and it seemed I was the only guest. I could feel free and at home in the big bathroom.
Next up, the main purpose of my visit to Nagano…