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22 Days in Japan, Day 17: Nagano, Rain, and a Scary Bridge

December 26, 2011 in Featured, Travel

Kyoto is now miles away, and I’m on the train to my next destination: Nagano. Yep, the same Nagano that hosted the 1998 Winter Olympics. It lies in the (more) northern part of Japan that’s so far been largely unexplored (by me).

This entry is part of a series, 22 Days in Japan: A Series»

So why Nagano?

I don’t really have a good answer, unfortunately. I started in central Japan (Tokyo), and moved west (Nagoya), then even more west (Osaka), then Northwest (Kyoto). I figured I’d circle around and make my way back to Tokyo, where I would take my flight home on Day 22.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to circle around from Kyoto to Nagano. You have to basically backtrack back to Nagoya, then take a different shinkansen directly north.

I wasn't kidding about the fruitcakes.

I wasn't kidding about the fruitcakes.

Leaving Kyoto is a sad experience. I know I’ve said this like five times already, but I feel like I’m leaving a part of me behind – and while I could stay (and cancel my Nagano ryokan reservation – at Hostelworld you have to pay 10% if you cancel, which is not a huge deal), Yashi informs me that there are no more openings for tonight, so I’d have to find another place to sleep anyway. Idea scratched.

There isn’t much to say about the trip to Nagano, other than that I guess I’ve gotten accustomed to the Japanese railway system.

Arriving at Togura is like my first night in Japan. And probably the sign of a bad omen. It’s quickly getting dark, and absolutely POURING when I step off of the train. I have my small umbrella, but after two weeks in Japan it’s bent and one rod is broken. I honestly have no idea how. But I suspect it won’t last the rest of my trip all the same.

Anyway, the walk from the train station to the ryokan looked short on the map, maybe 15-20 minutes tops. Nope! That map must not have been to scale. Or maybe the rain slowed me down. It’s hard to say. Either way, it takes me fifteen minutes just to get to the bridge.

I’ve since nicknamed this bridge “The Bridge of Death”. Let me describe it.

First, it’s about 100 feet high. There’s a very low railing, and it spans two rivers, one of which looks like it has some minor rapids included free of charge. I hazard a guess that falling from this height would hurt a lot. Not that it matters, I’d probably die from sheer fright way before hitting the water.

Normally, I would just stand like 10 feet away from the edge, but that’s not possible since the road is narrow and cars regularly drive by. So I’m stuck tiptoeing the length of the bridge about 2 feet from the railing, as the wind picks up and starts blowing me around. So the choices are either:

1) Don’t get wet but possibly get blown off the bridge from the wind, or
2) Get really really wet.

In the interest of my own self-preservation, I choose option #2 and just trudge through the rain as fast as I can without falling into the murky depths. Did I mention I have a really, really bad fear of heights?

So, yeah, it’s not a good day. In hindsight, I probably should have just walked back to the station, grabbed the first train to Nagoya/Kyoto, and enjoyed lovely Gion district, playing pachinko and singing karaoke.

After crossing the bridge I end up in what I can only call a backwater sort of town, flanked by a large mountain range. It is quite dead, unless you count the occasional dimly-lit street lamp. I walk around a bit, mostly trying to pinpoint the location of the ryokan where I’ll be staying the next two nights. It’s called Kamesei Ryokan, after a legend about a turtle that I will not rehash here because I’ve forgotten it already. It was fascinating though.

I meet the innkeeper, who’s – surprise! – a white guy from the USA named Tyler. Our conversation goes something like this:

Innkeeper: “Hey, how come you didn’t call us up? I could’ve given you a ride from the train station.”

Me: *facepalm*

Innkeeper: “You know, we offer a full course meal of local specialties. You should give it a try. So how about it?”

Me: “Uh, I’m not really-”

Innkeeper: “It’s a really great way to sample a lot of the local cuisine.”

Me: “Thanks but-”

Innkeeper: “You should definitely try it.”

Tyler-san gives me an overview of the surrounding area, and recommends several places for dinner. None of them sound particularly appealing, unless you count the one that’s owned by a retired geisha who doesn’t speak much English. I decide against it though. He also takes pains to remind me, yet again, that I should try the 4300 yen specialty dinner in the ryokan’s own restaurant. I do the mental calculation in my head: roughly a shirt and a half from RageBlue. NO THANKS.

Well, at least the digs are nice.

Well, at least the digs are nice.

Eventually he shows me to my room, and it’s nice. Really nice. Much nicer, in fact, than any other room I’ve stayed in during this entire trip. It looks like a four-person room, but fortunately for me, no one else decided to stay at the Kamesei. So I have this huge room to myself. There’s a separate bathroom and nice indoor balcony area, but no shower, because Kamesei is one of the only inns with their own natural onsen (which has its own showers anyway). On my first trip to the bathroom, I spot a medium-sized spider running up a wall and jump back roughly twenty feet. I really hate spiders, and I don’t particularly relish the thought of sitting on the toilet with a spider waiting to drop onto my head.

Yep, that's rain.

Yep, that's rain.

I head back out into the great unknown with the purpose of procuring something for dinner. Everything looks closed. I end up at a Hotto Motto fast-food (I guess it’d be fast-casual here) joint and, with my awesome ability to read Japanese and not understand it, manage to order a Korean beef bowl that I take back to my lonely room at the Kamesei.

A fine choice of cuisine, courtesy of Hotto Motto.

A fine choice of cuisine, courtesy of Hotto Motto.

With nothing much to do and no desire to go back out into the rain, I enjoy an evening soak in the onsen, and for a time, think of nothing but my own quiet thoughts. Tomorrow is another day.

…continued in 22 Days in Japan, Day 18.

***

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