Another late start. We almost left our luggage in the hotel for storage, before realising it would only add more time to our journey later- sometimes there is just too much information to process: where we are going, where we even are!
We headed to the JR SCMAGLEV & Railway Park. Back in the UK when I was planning this trip, I managed to get Samuel to help with itinerary one evening, and told him about a train museum I had read about - this would entail us staying in Nagoya strictly for that purpose, but knowing his interest in trains and my plan to do the same for a museum I wanted to visit, it seemed only fair.
Anyhow, I asked him in passing to check the opening hours in the guidebook (over the years I have been caught out in many countries with museum opening times).
He said 'it's closed on Tuesdays', so I checked my diary, and sure enough we were due to be there on a Tuesday. Damn!
Sam suggested we looked at the museum website, so we did.
It revealed that during school holidays and following a public holiday the museum would be open. According to our sources there was a school holiday, and their calendar indicated it would be open on Tuesday 5th April. We are currently on a train heading for the museum, so I sincerely hope the information was correct!
Hurrah! Locomotive-love affirmed - amazingly informative museum with lots of trains to see and explore!
Now back to Nagoya for a three hour train journey to the last 'N' stop of Nagano.
We picked up some food from the station and felt like one of the locals, tucking into our Bento boxes on the train.
We swiftly located our guesthouse(50/50 ratio on that so far) and swapped our shoes for fleecy slippers - not sure Samuel has embraced back-packing yet, as he commented 'it's a bit run down'. Obviously been treating him too well!
We wound down, and had our first (relatively) early night in ages!
It was an early start and a fast scoot to the train station.
Last night I was doing my planning for today and discovered we'd be having a four hour train journey south later, which meant a re-jigging of plans to fit everything in.
Right now we're off to Obuse on the 'snow monkey' train. The announcement 'snow monkey' sounds particularly cool with a Japanese accent - reminds me of 'Monkey' which was a Japanese (taken from a Chinese story) TV programme that my brother and I used to love watching as kids.
We were pointed in the direction of a cafe and were greeted by an older lady with the famous line 'I don't speak English'. Makes me smile every time. She was flanked by a younger woman, and both were very genial. We were the only people there and the menu offered three choices: vegetable curry set, quiche and toast set or toast set. I thought I had ordered just the toast, but along came a mini quiche - without the pastry! A very tasty little egg concoction with two doorstep slices of white bread (very popular in Japan) and a little side bowl of yoghurt with a pear compote. It was very good indeed.
Now on to the main event...over the past five or ten years I have become quite a fan of Japanese art - especially fond of wood block prints. I am no expert, but the undisputed master (or most famous?) artisan is Katsushika Hokusai, so when I saw there was a museum dedicated to this man in a place called Obuse, I knew I had to make the pilgrimage.
Hokusai started his practice, as with most arts in Japan by being an apprentice to another master. He specialised in Wood block prints for much of his career, but broadened his practice to include brush painting, amongst other things over time. He was a man dedicated to his art and practiced day and night until his death at the age of ninety, spending the last thirty years of his life in Obuse.
This was a quaint little town, and famous for chestnuts. We were informed from a lovely lady however, not to buy any at the is time of year as they are imported from China, and she feels tourists are unduly led to believe they are local chestnuts. We still sampled a 'chestnut icecream' which was decent, wherever they came from!
Whooshing through towns on the Shinkansen we got to see some agricultural land at last, and a tractor which always makes me feel at home!
Lunch (and dinner) was a sandwich made with a brown, spongey bread consisting of egg, tuna, edamame beans, broccoli and a light mayonnaise. The kind of thing I would never throw together at home, but it tasted real good!
We shared a small tube of Chip Star - the Japanese equivalent of Pringles, and a bottle of Blood-orange Orangina. I am hoping they have this in the UK as it's my new favourite drink!
We had to make three changes on today's train journey, the last one taking us up, up and away into the Mount Fuji region. It was coming towards dusk and we were hoping to catch a glimpse of the mountain, but it didn't happen. Maybe tomorrow...
We awaited a bus that served as a drop off for various mountain hotels. Once dropped off, we followed the convoluted route through an adjacent hotel lobby, up to the eighth floor, outside and up a very steep slope to the entrance!
We listened intently to the concierge who explained how things worked here - this Ryokan offers Onsen which I have been looking forward to experiencing.
Onsen is a traditional hot-bath, synonomous with Japanese culture, but maybe not so well known as a Turkish Hammam. The water in an Onsen is drawn from natural hot springs and often contains a mixture of different minerals, which are reported to aide various conditions.
This is a naked experience, to which Samuel didn't feel the urge to participate. I left him in the lobby where he could connect with the ether, as there was no way I was missing this opportunity.
I almost had a Fawlty towers moment as it took me three attempts to get started - wrong location, wrong towel etc...
Dropping my gown, along with my inhibitions I entered the fray.
The ritual starts in a shower room, where you sit on a low stool, making sure you are washed & rinsed thoroughly, whereupon you step outside, literally, and have a choice of various bubbling pools: be it jacuzzi style or a hot pool. There was also a steam room and extremely cold plunge-pool. As the sandtimer syphoned it's grain and the sound of bubbling echoed all around, I thoroughly embraced the moment. Bliss!
I returned about an hour later to find the boy exactly where I had left him. Even the fact I am re-writing this as I lost the first draft is not disturbing me!
This will be my last post from Japan. All being well I'll round up when we are firmly back on home soil.
Thanks for reading!