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Tokyo3 October 2012
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London3 June 2010
Japan May 2010
London2 February 2010
London September 2009
SE Asia December 2005

Visiting 9 cities in Japan - Oct and Nov 2016 - Page 2

Day 4 - Wednesday, 19 October 2016


Yes, I am now in Nagano.
You may remember this as the city which hosted the 1998 winter olympics. Except no one remembers the winter olympics. Who even hosted the last one? Who is hosting the next one? No one knows, do they even still have it?
Nagano is in the middle of Japan, in the alps, but its 30 degrees celsius today, super hot in the sun, I dont understand why the sun is so hot, I was looking for shade when I got here.

Getting here was a bit more of an ordeal than it had to be so I could save a few dollars. Instead of bullet training it the whole way I took a local train to a station in Saitama where I changed to the bullet train. This took an hour. The bullet train then only took another hour from the outskirts of Tokyo to Nagano.
There is no view, the whole way you are either in a tunnel or staring at a noise blocking fence. People will tell you to take the bullet train for the view, if you arent staring at darkness or a fence 1 inch from your face flashing by, then an old grandma will come along and pull your blind down to prevent the sun from entering the train.

My hotel in Nagano is literally attached to the station by a walkway thing. It is of an older vintage than my last hotel, and my legs do not fit under the desk when sitting on the chair. There is also no way to adjust the air conditioning, which is currently set to full on heating, but the window does open.
I am directly above a pedestrian crossing which plays a lovely tune for 30 seconds out of every minute.
This is also a hotel with a key policy, you must leave the key when you leave. Then you come back and ask for a different key from a different girl on reception and she smiles and hands it to you. Then you go into someone elses room and steal all their stuff.
When I arrived at reception the first time they did not even ask me my name when I registered, they just pulled out the piece of paper with my name on it. How do they know my name isnt Hirohito Michiba? Perhaps that photo they take of you at the airport is sent around Japan.

Before leaving Shinjuku I toured the back streets to see some tired looking girls finishing work for the evening from various places looking like fun parlours for children.

Then I went through some tunnels. No one seems to start work early in Japan, its 9am on the dot.

The forest area is reserved for filthy smokers.

Shinjuku has its own version of the gherkin in London, Gherkin-no-des.

I was just killing time now before my train rides. I had already had my daily coffee quota, so boring cityscape photos it is.

Finally, I'm home

Omiya in Saitama is a huge station with a huge number of shops attached. Tokyo is massive.

It even has a Sogo with revolving restaurant.

This unappealling Tokyo banana has the same effect on the cat as a cucumber would.

The one glimpse out the train window for the whole journey to Nagano - nice mountain.

My small, dated room. Everything works.

And it is very close to the station. Nagano seems quite small, most of the shops are part of the station complex. Now I have to work out what to do whilst I am here for 3 nights.

The winter olympics signs are being taken down due to shame over the costing blowout for the upcoming Tokyo summer olympics.

Nice view out the other side of the station, more mountains.

I have decided to eat all my fruit in sandwich form from now on.

Public convenience

Nagano is very quiet.
I think everything is concentrated around the station, I walked a few loops away from it but always ended up coming back.
There was one covered shopping street, but that seemed to be in serious decline, lots of empty shops.
Most of the places that were open were actually closed to someone like me, there are literally hundreds of bars with seats for the same 6 people to sit at every night.
It was almost impossible to even find a restaurant away from the station, I did eventually. Of course the station itself has lots of department stores, food courts etc. So its not like you will go hungry.

What I did notice on my walk was public toilets. Everywhere. I dont think theres plumbing into houses in Nagano, it was like a Chinese tier 3 city where theres a public toilet on every corner.
So there you go, if you own a house in Nagano, you dont have to worry about keeping your bathroom in working order, just use the one at the end of the street. Very convenient.

The covered shopping street. Quite long, quite empty. The strange green color made it seem even more dated.

The worlds biggest seven eleven.

I am willing to bet this is a love hotel.

Just one of the many many public toilet buildings. Yes, I am now photographing toilets.

I suspect this is an old Sake factory. The town maps suggest this is a big attraction. I guess it is if you like Sake. I will stick to Pepsi as usual.

Halloween runs all month in Japan. This entire shops window is halloween themed. I have absolutely no idea what they sell here. Insurance maybe. Or perhaps fertility treatments.

After much walking, I found a ramen place that wasnt just a bar. It was all smoking! No non smoking section. Oh well, I was here now, and breathing smoke.
I selected the spicy sesame option. Not sure what makes it that as it had no sesame seeds and was not spicy. The pork was good though.

Final picture for the evening, my convenience store favourite of red bean and mochi with fake cream. So rice and beans, like Mexican food.

There are currently 3 comments - click to add
mother on 2016-10-20 said:
Today - Thursday - you haven't left the comment box for me to write in. Is this a deliberate ploy? The autumn leaves look great. I'm surprised that they are already so colourful. Here is horrid. We've gone from winter straight to bushfire heat and winds today and back to cold and rain tomorrow. Hope you continue to have nice days.

adriana on 2016-10-19 said:
There might be a town centre some distance away from the station - I'm not sure as have only been there to change trains.

adriana on 2016-10-19 said:
Could you also include the hotel name with the picture please? You should have taken a bus to Nagano or gone via Matsumoto and changed local trains like we did. It was fabulous with views that whole way.

Day 5 - Thursday, 20 October 2016

Not too early for color

Apparently the colorful leaf season hysteria does not start for weeks. No one told the place I went to today.
Because of colorful leaves, lots of people with full on camera gear were out and about filming for live leaf news which is shown before anything else on Japanese tv.
The place I went to was called Togakushi, which is over a couple of mountains, around a roller coaster figure 8 highway bridge and through some alarmingly narrow long tunnels.
All up, just over an hour on the bus.

The bus departing from Nagano station, conveniently just outside my hotel door, was 2 minutes late. This is bad, very bad! So bad that the bus company employees had to come out of the office and apologise to everyone. When they got to me one ran inside to find someone that spoke English, but before that person could be summoned for my apology bow, the bus arrived.

There are 5 large shrine complexes selling ice creams and bear bells to see in the Togakushi tourist exploitation zone. You can bus between them, or walk, as I did.
The scenery was magnificent, and despite all the warnings, I did not get eaten by a bear, even though I did not buy an expensive shrine endorsed bear bell. Everyone else had bells dinging all over themselves.

When I was at the top shrine, the mountain range behind it looked enticing. I had not planned for this! I had no water. I did not know how far it was. So I decided to walk up for an hour and see where that got me and turn back.
The path was treacherous, going down was perilous, but it was also great. A shame I did not plan for that to be my activity, however it seems it is a multiple day journey and you need proper gear.

The late bus. So shameful. No face.

There really were signs everywhere advising you that you will get eaten by a bear.

The path between the temples is designed for thousands of people to use. Not that many today, but there were certainly other people, dinging their bells to terrify the bears.

I did not expect the leaves to be so great. Others did. There were tv crews and plenty of old guys with tripods and microphones filming and recording the sound of falling leaves.

Clean your gutters.

The leaves are replaced by huge stands of cedar trees. The tourist website talks a lot about these.

Of the hundreds of trees I went past, only this one was decorated and provided a plate to throw 1 cent pieces at.

This is the top temple, smaller than the others. The view down the valley wasnt that great which is surprising. Also you could not see the mountains behind it very well.

These girls decided on their selfie spot, I kept my distance and photographed them photographing themselves photographing leaves.

A bit further back, you can see the rocky mountains towering above. Now to work out how to get up there.

After using tree roots as hand holds for an hour up what I presume was the path, this is as high as I could get before I thought I should turn back. It was hard work! Going down was even harder, had to crab walk a lot of the way down on all fours.

The view on the way down was worth the hassle of dirty hands.

My bonus mini mountain climb meant I could enjoy a green tea ice cream from the shrine ice creamery.

Peak red. Theres actually a crowd assembled to take this photo. I am taller than them.

Walking back down the pilgrimage path to the other shrines gave some fantastic views of the rocky mountain range.

Looks like an old postcard with fake colors, but thats what it really looked like.

Lower down and a nice path had been cut through the bamboo. Bears live in the bamboo.

Another shrine selling ice cream.

Apparently this tree is 1000 years old. Everyone touched it, so I touched it. Now I am 1000 years old.

Down even further and I have to go up again. I would have given this a miss but it was ages until the bus was due to come.
When the bus did come I had to stand for the entire 1 hour journey home and watch old people give up their seat for each other and fight over who was the weaker of the two that needed the seat.

The final shrine for today. Going back down those stairs was the most dangerous thing I did all day.

I still had time for lunch before the bus. Apparently according to the signs, this area makes the best Soba in all of this sub prefectural special designated soba boasting area.
I found a tiny shop, seating for 6 people, run by 2 old women who were at least 100. They spoke no English at all but we worked it out.
It was nice, but despite advertised health benefits of Soba, I dont really understand how wheat noodles, sweet sauce and deep fried battered leaves of the forest can be healthy.
So thrilled were they to have me give them about $8 in change for my lunch, they gave me a pat on the shoulder as I left.

Still just a station

I have checked google, websites, google maps which these days shows you which areas of cities to find shops and restaurants by conveniently color coding those areas a strange apricot color. I can now confirm that Nagano is just the station.
There is no other city centre, I checked anything that might be on street view, those places are just a supermarket and nothing else.
This seems unusual for a city of 381,000 people in Japan. A city that once hosted the Olympics. A city with a huge number of tourist attractions nearby - although I havent seen any tourists around.

Oh well, this just means I will have dinner in the station, theres 100 options there.
Before that, I walked around aimlessly, taking photos of darkness and train tracks.
The main hobby of your average Nagano citizen must be drinking in tiny little bars, these are everywhere, in the most unexpected of places. I suspect they are invite only.

Now I am back in my room, ready for sleep, watching Japanese people debate the Trump / Clinton debate. Earlier they were using the news about that topic to teach people how to speak English, which was quite amusing, they spent a good 10 minutes analysing Barack Obama saying 'Stop whining' - (desu)

Creepy doll shop is in a stand alone building in the back corner of a large dark outdoor parking lot.

This is my hotel, responding to earlier requests to name it, Hotel Abest.

Station restaurant has every kind of omurice, not tonight for me though, maybe tomorrow!

After having 'floor made' soba noodles earlier today, I decided to watch these guys make them on a table. The problem was I watched for 10 minutes and they still did not get up to the making the dough into noodles part, just ever so slowly rolling out the large piece of dough.

I am still lapping the station. Unfortunately no bullet train went past as I was taking the photo.

This is actually an excellent store, despite the weird name of hard off complete with european accents above every letter.
I guess its like cash convertors in Australia, except they mainly buy electronics, high end stuff, and guitars, and guitar equipment.
Luckily there are none in Australia because I dont have room for any more stuff I dont even use.

These cuckoo clock looking things are everywhere, but each is different. I think they have an obscure graphic on them advertising what shops are on that section of street. Most of them should be blank then?

This is where all the action happens.

I decided on creamy pasta for dinner. Actually I think it was the least creamy option, and features many kinds of mushrooms.

Because I had a big lunch and then pasta for dinner, I decided on chocolate caramel coated chips for dessert.
The recipe has been improved this visit with the introduction of caramel! Even better than my previous favourite white chocolate ones.

There are currently 1 comments - click to add
adriana on 2016-10-20 said:
Glad to see the comment box is back. So are you disappointed with Nagano? Should go and check out some of the old olympic venues or is there more mountain climbing to do?

Day 6 - Friday, 21 October 2016

It happened again

I really only intended to visit the big Temple. The Zenkoji temple is the main attraction in Nagano, so I thought I had better go take a look at the temple and the streets surrounding it selling plastic junk and Chinese made chopsticks.
I could not find where to pay, I read online it costs about $5, but I didnt pay anyone anything and just wandered about for a few minutes.
Thats about all the time it takes to see a temple really, and that includes pondering time, going around it in both directions, and using the free bathroom.
The hill behind it looked nice.

I really had no intention of climbing anything today, as my photos show, I wasnt even wearing my proper hiking boots, just my minimalist low sided lightweight urban slippers.
However since I awoke at 5am and had finished looking at the temple by 7:30, I decided to see if there was a way up the hill. There was, and it was great.

After a 90 minute ascent, the top turned out to be an abandoned building, with a completely overgrown carpark, and signs that had all been removed. No vending machine for a drink (I had no water).
This was very strange, I thought it was an excellent hike, lots to see, not dangerous, and theres even a different path to take back down. I never saw anyone of course. I guess Japanese people only play Pokemon Go now or something.
Pokemon Go caused the big building on top of the mountain which is the only place you can admire the view below from to close down. Shame on Nintendo.

After going down the different path, I found it let out one street over from where I started, so I went back through the temple and waded through the masses of tour groups, as a new feature they had constructed a 4 tier stadium for tour groups to amass upon and have their photo taken.
Also there were children dressed in traditional clothes screaming a lot, very unusual to see screaming children in Japan. Perhaps they were cermonial robes for sacrificial children.

UPDATE: I was sitting here using my laptop with the tv on barely audible, when the tv made a strange alarm like noise, a map of Japan with a dot appeared on it, and seconds later every channel was interupted by live earthquake news.
It seems there was a 6.6 magnitude earthquake about 300km west of here. The webcam footage they somehow have on tv seconds later makes it look impressive, but it seems there was no damage.
Despite the map of Japan suggesting Nagano felt it as magnitude 2, I felt nothing.

This is the main expesive boutique steet in Nagano for purchasing wedding dresses and jam. I believe its called Chuo Dori. If you need anything besides a wedding dress or jam, look elsewhere.

The Daimon Gate. Cool name for a gate.
Note that guy in front of me with the backpack. Wherever I would go, he would follow. Then go in front of me and stand there. This happened on at least 9 occasions, even if I doubled back or went sideways.
Eventually I just pushed him down the stairs.

Nice view, including red tree of course.


Todays version of bear panic signage is obviously drone panic signage. Sign companies in Japan are worth billions.

Here he is again!

More of the temple.

This is nothing to do with the temple and is just an office building built near the temple to pretend its part of the temple.

Now I am looking for my path up the hill, first I went through a graveyard with a great view.

Then I found my excellent path. Steep in places but mainly switch backs. As far as I can tell, the area is part of the national historic highland forest area for the preservation of nationally significant acorns, pine cones and associated seed pods which may fall from trees at certain times during the year.

Evidence that I am wearing the wrong shoes for this kind of activty. These shoes are designed so you can feel through the sole what you are walking on.
Every acorn is what I felt. They do however have a nice rubber enclosed toe area, in case I need to kick an advancing bear in the face.

I saw no people, but I saw lots of evidence people do at some point use this path. If you light the paper crane at the bottom you can make a prayer that they will all burn, and they will.

The path is a lot lower down than yesterday, but theres still plenty of color to admire if thats your thing. I paused to listen to falling leaves.

Link to Hi Resolution 3000x2000 version
This is only about half way up, but the view is impressive. Nagano looks massive from here. Luckily I took this photo, because there is absolutely no view at the top.

Instead the top has this building. Presumably the view is great from the top of this building, but its completel abandoned. The car park was all cracked with huge weeds growing out of it, and all the signage had been removed. I wanted to break in and climb to the top.

The pathway down lead me through some farming areas. With no one around, it would have been pretty easy to steal some wheat and make my own Soba.

Eventually I got to a nice park, which filled up with school children, so I had to leave before I was reported to the police for hanging around school children.

The temple area shops were now all open and full of people stocking up on commerative pens, fans and hair clips.

At lunch time, I thought the covered shopping street might have people, but no. A few are using it as a way to avoid the sun, but it is still ridiculously quiet. Its Friday afternoon, surely people go out to lunch? Where do they go? The subway store seemed full.

City in decline

I am convinced, Nagano is a city in serious decline.
Perhaps this is the future for much of Japan, with a declining population, a reluctance to allow non Japanese in, negative interest rates, and the worlds largest debt to GDP ratio, it is hard to understand how they will pay for the upkeep of anything.
Nagano simply does not have people to fill its many buildings. They all died or left!
I have no printed facts to back this statement up, just observations.

It is Friday night, and the only department store in town with retaurants on the top level has not a single customer. Not one in the seven restaurants they have!
The train station is busy, of people leaving for the weekend. I watched for a while as trains were arriving empty and leaving full....just like Adelaide airport!

Anyway, 3 nights in Nagano is more than enough, tomorrow I will go to Toyama, but before then, I did finally find a Japanese curry shop that is not CoCo.
I wish I had more funny stuff to write, but that often relies on observing people, and there are not many people so theres nothing funny to write about.
Well, the earthquake coverage is over, some houses have damaged roof tiles. Also my toes are in tip top condition because I wrap the second and little toe in paper medical tape each morning. Neither of those things are funny.

A giant chilli. One of the famous foods of Nagano is that mix of msg and red powder they give you in ramen shops. It never seems to have much chilli in it despite being red.
The Nagano variety comes in a distinctive little tin you can see all over Japan in the top ramen shops (according to the sign I read), except I never saw the tin before coming to Nagano, I always see a different brand entirely.

This is someones house, which already has both halloween and christmas lights up.

The top floor restaurants of the Tokyu department store. They have optimistically placed seating along the outside of empty restaurants in case you feel like waiting.

I took a photo of traffic out of the lift as I was coming back down from the empty restaurants.

This is the main train station. Really! Not the Shinkansen part thats above ground, but the terminus of 3 local lines which is underground in the same station as the Shinkansen. The lines do not take IC cards yet, just paper tickets.
That fenced off area with a bucket collecting dripping water is a permanent fixture.

Curry time! I was very happy to find this place down a dark alley. The machine you put coins into to get a meal ticket had no pictures, but there were pictures out the front on the window.
The cook was very helpful, as I was his only customer. First we went out the front and I pointed at the picture, then he operated the machine, then he handed me the ticket, then he went back around to the other side of the counter and I handed him the ticket.
I chose based on the one with the most added vegetables, the picture showed eggplant, and I got eggplant. I also got pineapple. Actually it was delicious.

Final picture this evening is to highlight that Nagano has no Mcdonalds! Not even in the station that actually has 2 starbucks on the outside. Instead, Nagano has a huge Sukiya beef bowl store with drive through and parking area.

There are currently 2 comments - click to add
jenny on 2016-10-21 said:
No Mcdonalds and a Sukiya could be a pretty good reason to go to Nagano. NHK says there is a lot of snow in Hokkaido already. Might as well be there as it is winter here again after being over 30 degrees yesterday.

adriana on 2016-10-21 said:
Just got home and saw the news of the earthquake. Apparently there is damage with collapsed houses and injuries, but no footage yet. Bullet trains were stopped and the ground is still shaking. Also all qantas flight to HK have been cancelled due to big typhoon. The building on top of the hill today looks like an imitation castle keep. maybe they built it and then thought it was too crap looking or they ran out of money to turn the inside into a museum. The taller buildings in your view photo look like there might be a centre to Nagano after all. Maybe you should head that way.

Now there is a page 3, not sure if the new navigation thing works ok or not. Give it a try.


Day 1 - Sunday, 16 October 2016
  Magpie attack!
  Landing gets you half way there
Day 2 - Monday, 17 October 2016
  Splashing about in tunnels
  Green motorbike birth place
Day 3 - Tuesday, 18 October 2016
  I saw it!
  Used and organic
Day 4 - Wednesday, 19 October 2016
  Public conveniencce
Day 5 - Thursday, 20 October 2016
  Not too early for color
  Still just a station
Day 6 - Friday, 21 October 2016
  It happened again
  City in decline
Day 7 - Saturday, 22 October 2016
  Huge hotel room
  Places to eat
Day 8 - Sunday, 23 October 2016
  Volcanic gas panic
  Famous food and plenty of parking
Day 9 - Monday, 24 October 2016
  Castles gardens and tourists
  Its a real city
Day 10 - Tuesday, 25 October 2016
  Racing the rain that never was
  NO PHOTO Bigot
Day 11 - Wednesday, 26 October 2016
  Slow train to big city
  They actually finished one
Day 12 - Thursday, 27 October 2016
  Canyon mountain
  Repeat visits
Day 13 - Friday, 28 October 2016
  New airport day
  Wheely good time
Day 14 - Saturday, 29 October 2016
  No smog yes people
  So happy to give information please sit
Day 15 - Sunday, 30 October 2016
  Terrible sign failure
  Pre halloween
Day 16 - Monday, 31 October 2016
  Baseball star
Day 17 - Tuesday, 1 November 2016
  Dam it
  Flipping my own food
Day 18 - Wednesday, 2 November 2016
  Fight for your right for a view
  Running with the buses
Day 19 - Thursday, 3 November 2016
  Dull hysteria
  The final freeze
Day 20 - Friday, 4 November 2016
  Under the sea
  Nights of the warming lights
Day 21 - Saturday, 5 November 2016
  White flag
Day 22 - Sunday, 6 November 2016
  Lets try that again
  Damp pants
Day 23 - Monday, 7 November 2016
  Last stop
  Tourists outnumber local
Day 24 - Tuesday, 8 November 2016
  So shiny
Day 25 - Wednesday, 9 November 2016
  Now they are rubbish
  Button security
Day 26 - Thursday, 10 November 2016
  For the sake of completeness