Day 7 - Nagano
written by Alison

look up Sanyo solar arc - basically an immense, crescent-shaped building covered in solar panels. wild!

Dear Amtrak:

We are two loyal and frequent customers of yours who often take your trains between Boston and New York, with occasional side trips to Philadelphia, Utica NY, or Washington DC. We have recently toured Japan, and think that there are some things that you could learn from Japan Rail.

  • arm-rests under the windows
  • Conductors have a map of the seats in each car, and check those and make notes on those (rather than the little stubs that fall out of place when the luggage is moved).
  • Reserved and Unreserved Cars rather than trains.
  • So on time!

We're probably overreaching ourselves on that last one, so we'll finish there. Thank you.

At last, a day that's blissfully easy to summarize! Laziness, as always, wins out in the end.

Though the day was hardly a lazy one, at least at first. We were up and out of bed by six-thirty in the morning, dressed and packed and knocking on the door of the Ryokan's office to be let out at seven-thirty (they lock the door overnight,) and boarding the Hikari shinkansen to Nagoya at 8:03.

After that, though, it was a day for watching the scenery, catching up on our journals and occasionally running for the next train. We transfered in Nagoya for the Shinono Wideview to Nagano, former site of the winter olympics, and the last major city before we struck out into the snow-capped Japanese alps. After a fabulous lunch of tempura soba (made all the more interesting by the payment system -- you put money into a vending machine of sorts, select the meal you want, and then hand the resultant reciept to the cook, who then makes your food to order. ROCK.) we hung out in the station for an hour or so before finding our way to the direct bus to Nozawa-onsen.

Naturally, we sat in the very first row so that we would have the best possible view (so. many. photos.) and the hour-and-a-half ride zipped right by as we climbed through the mountains. The snow went from six or so soggy inches to almost two feet of powder. The houses shrunk and aged, half-buried in the drifts. The pine trees that dotted various front yards were sheltered by wooden teepees that bore the weight of the snow.

Nozawa-onsen is a ski resort run by the village itself, which is populated by around 5,000 people. It's also home to 13 public hot springs, as well as numerous private ones associated with the local hotels and residences. The streets are narrow and winding and invariably slanted in one direction or another, densely packed with restaurants and ryokan and ski shops and homes. Of course, when we got off the bus we had no idea where we were, and even less of an idea as to where our hotel might be. Thankfully, though, our confusion had been anticipated, and there was a car with a friendly driver waiting for us in the parking lot. Said friendly driver was so efficient in spotting us, loading our bags into the trunk and whisking us away that we wondered, briefly, if he was a "gypsy cab" trying to hustle us.

The Nozawa-onsen Hotel is pretty damn swank, I must say. It might not be the fanciest place I've ever stayed, but in addition to having its very own onsen (hot spring) for its guests to use, its less than a ten-minute walk from the nearest ski lift.

It's also, we found out somewhat belatedly, insanely expensive. Apparently, there was something of a misunderstanding when it came to the room reservation, and the fee we had thought was "per-night" was actually "per-person, per-night." Ouch.

Several humbling conversations later, though, they kindly lowered the fee for us. And though our accomadations were still much pricier than we would normally have sought out we were made to feel a bit better about this by the fact that the fee included breakfast and dinner.

And oh....OH...what a dinner it was.

We'd tell you what we ate, but really, it was largely unidentifiable beyond a vague sort of "pickled vegetable," "sliced fish," "barley porridge," "potato dumpling thing." Suffice it to say that it was extensive, and almost invariably delicious. There were a few complications regarding out ignorance as to how, precisely, we were supposed to eat everything. And I do mean how -- as in, Am I supposed to eat this with my hands? This tiny spoon? And where does this lid go? And what the hell is that extra plate for?

In the end, we managed just fine. The wait staff was friendly and helpful and managed not to laugh outright at our ignorance (which was bountiful, I'm sure) and we weren't too blatant about our attempts to figure out etiquette by spying on neighboring tables (which didn't work, anyway, as the only people we could see clearly were young children. Somehow, I don't think I could have gotten away with eating the rice with my fingers.) One thing we did notice was that there was a near exact 50/50 split between those who had come to dinner in evening attire, as we did, and those who were wearing their yukata and matching jackets. Perhaps tomorrow we'll join the second group, just to see if we can pull it off.

So. We've poured over the maps. We've accepted the mostly-reasonable lift ticket prices. We've cowered in anticipation of equipment rentals. True, it's probably been five years since Alison last strapped on a pair of skis....but we're excited, nevertheless!

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