Summer Vacation and Stuff
Trip Start Mar 15, 2004
13Trip End Apr 16, 2005
Despite the incredibly, disgustingly, unbelievably hot and humid weather, we did have a terrific August - mainly thanks to a 2 week summer vacation (called Obon - when Japanese people return to their hometowns to acknowledge their dead relatives)
A few days later we bought super cheap rail passes (valid only for the slow local trains) and headed out to see a bit of central Japan for 6 days. The trip took us to Magome (old fashioned town), Tsumago (old fashioned town), Matsumoto (cool castle), Komaga-take (mountain), Niigata (port), Sadoga-shima (island), and Tokyo (big city!). Along the way we rode the train, subway, ferry, night bus, cable car, and got rides in a car, rode power-assist granny bikes, walked, climbed, swam, and hiked. Here are some highlights.
1. Hiking 8km from Magome to Tsumago. Although it was difficult due to extremely hot weather and constant ups and downs, it was really nice to hike the trail (not many bother walking the distance). Along the way we were treated to some tiny villages, rice paddies, and we also saw some waterfalls and ... forest!
2. Staying at Japanese Ryokan (Japanese B&B). We didn't bother to pre-book any accommodations, but were able to find nice, clean, affordable accommodation the whole way through. The rules of the house were generally simple: always wear your yukata (Japanese robe) when outside your room for bathing purposes, and be sure to change your slippers according to your activity (in your room, in the hall, in the bathroom, in the shower)
3. Visiting Matsumoto Castle. This is one of only a few authentic castles in Japan. Most castles required reconstruction following the wars. This one is beautiful - complete with moat, various defensive appendages, and gorgeous solid wood throughout.
4. Giggling Japanese Man. In order to get to the top of Komaga-take mountain (altitude 3000 metres) we had to take a bus, cable car, and hike. On the bus ride to the cable car station an elderly man giggled like a school girl whenever the bus took a sharp turn. We thought it might have been his first ride in a moving vehicle. He was hilarious.
5. Staying at the top of the Japan Alps. After climbing to the top of the mountain following the cable car ride we decided that we wanted more time to enjoy sunset, sunrise, and the cold, refreshing mountain air
6. Sunrise on Komaga-take. It was really, really pretty. A blanket of clouds covered everything, and mountains poked out like islands in the sea. Super relaxing (and cold).
7. Getting laughed at trying to decipher the food (again). This happened pretty much every time there were witnesses to us attempting to decide what food was edible and what was just too damn weird
8. Watching Sunset on a Ferry. The same day we watched sunrise in the mountains we saw sunset on a ferry on our way to the island Sadoga-shima.
9. Touring Around Sadoga-shima. While on the island we rented power-assist granny bikes (mine pink, Kyle's blue of course) and cruised around town. We visited sunflower fields, the famous Sado gold mine (3rd largest in the world when it was still operational), and a fishing village. On the first day the temperature was so hot that we took an unplanned dip in the Japan Sea. Lovely water.
10. Tokyo - I guess. Tokyo wasn't exactly a highlight for me, but apparently we didn't visit the good spots, and we were there on Obon day which is Tokyo's least busy day of the year. Due to a transportation glitch we ended up riding the night bus to Tokyo, and arrived at 4:30am (temperature: 26 degrees). We did see some really cool buildings and experienced the messed up subway system. Since I was going delirious with fatigue I was glad when the time came to catch the train home
The only other exciting thing we did in August was take part in an apple picking trip in Nagano. When we signed up we thought the plan was to drive to Nagano and spend the day picking apples and baking apple pies. Once we were on the bus we realized that apple picking wasn't the main event. We basically spent the entire day on the bus, making stops at gift stores along the way. For hours on end the bus tour guide babbled on and on in Japanese. We found out that she was introducing absolutely everything as we were driving past, including elementary schools and fire stations for small insignificant towns. I can't believe people are interested in that kind of thing. When she wasn't talking she broke out the bus karaoke system. One guy jumped out of his seat and ran up and down the aisles giving people high 5s as he sang a JPop song. Of course, we convinced Kyle to give a performance - that alone was worth the ticket price. We did eventually make our way to an apple orchard. We each got to pick one apple, then were ushered into a large cafeteria where we removed the core, stuffed sugar in the hole, and wrapped the apple in precut dough squares. ½ hour later the "apple pies" were ready. We headed back onto the bus and stopped at 20 more gift shops selling exactly the same thing before we made our way home. It was an experience to remember.
We are now back in the swing of things at work. We have been busy working both of our jobs and are looking forward to a 5 day vacation we have coming up in a few weeks!
That's all for now! Take care of yourselves! We think about you all the time and can't wait to see you some time soon.
Joanne and Kyle