The original plan was for an hour and a half hike but this was cancelled. This turned out to be a providential decision as Tan was walking with pain in his leg, and the whole day was wet, wet, wet. If we had hiked, it could have been a showery muddy trudge. This was a sign of God’s care.
From Hanaya inn we rode cabs to Nagiso Station where they rushed back and forth to see a 200 years old bridge while I had coffee in a souvenir shop opposite the station. Then we took a train to Narai, an Edo period post town in Shiojiri city, Nagano Prefecture. We had an hour or so to explore this old town that was about one kilometer of old houses and temples on both sides of a street. Most shops were selling food or lacquer souvenirs. It drizzled intermittently and I had to use a raincoat. This was where we missed a meal in order not to miss the train. Six of us found a restaurant and ordered our food but unknown to us there were many patrons waiting for their orders ahead of us. When we realized we would be late if we had waited any longer, we cancelled our order and rushed off. Good thing the restaurant allowed it. It was at Shiojiri train station that we finally had our belated lunch.
The next activity was to go to a vineyard and pluck grapes for a fee. Right in the city! Took a cab there. There was a store next to a greenhouse. The grapes we sampled were superbly large, round and sweet. And expensive. I thought this was what we came to pluck but it was not to be. They brought the women out to where they plucked grapes that were small, green, ripened, and not as sweet nor as crunchy as the samples we had tried. Was this a bait and switch strategy? I don’t know. Anyway the women came back with few branches of grapes. Smart girls. We bought some apples, grabbed a cab to the train station and went to Matsumoto, where we would be re-united with our luggage at Ace Inn. It was an eventful day but one I would rather laugh away or forget. For me a hearty dinner and a good sleep helped me forget the day’s misadventures.
Thursday, 27th October. We began early. One hotel staff measured the sizes of the luggage (charges were by luggage size, not weight) that the takkyubin company would forward to the Ace Inn Hotel in Matsumoto. We would arrive at that hotel the day after our hike. We would only carry a fresh set of clothes for the next day’s hike in our backpack. Cap, sunblock, camera, clothings and jacket, umbrella, torch, raincoat, phone and camera chargers, extra socks and underwear. Packing should be easy but the unknown factors made it a chore burdened by small decisions, “Should I bring this sweater or the fleece? Will I really need this penknife? What if ….?” We determined to travel light but somehow we packed too much stuff.
The journey was about two hours by train and then by bus to Magome. We saw older men and women in hiking gear, hat and backpacks in the train, in the bus, along the trail. During the vacation, we saw old people touring. Old people working outside their homes. Old people sauntering. Japanese people. Old people in the markets, the shopping mall, the streets, the restaurants. Old people making music. None were cleaners. Japan has aged quite well.
Magome is a picturesque post town that served the route between Tokyo and Kyoto during the Edo era. The quaint exterior of the houses and shops that lined the main street had an understated dignity of a grey haired elder. We had a leisurely walk up well-paved streets lined on both sides with souvenir shops, snack stalls, and old world feel. We snacked in the cool fresh mountain air. We one-two-three clicked clicked along the way. The sun was overhead and the harsh light played havoc on our photos. We were noisy. We looked the part. We had gotten into the carefree spirit of vacation. It was late morning and the hike had not begun until we reached the edge of tourism. Suddenly, our hike picked up energy to make up for lost time. As we plodded upward, we saw less shops but more homes of townsfolk spaced out along the trail.
It was a walk in the park: eight kilometres with some slopes. About three over hours through the beautiful forest, with some autumn foliage, gurgling streams and crisp fresh air. We enjoyed the moderate hike for the sheer beauty of the scenery, the cool autumn air, the light workout it gave us, and the friendships it strengthened. As we walked along we found ourselves talking with different ones and updated on what went on in each other’s life.
We arrived at the outskirts of Tsumago, another post town, and looked for the Hanaya, a traditional Japanese inn whose foundations were laid in the 17th Century. The décor was traditional Japanese with tatami-matted rooms with no attached bathrooms. Bathing and toilet facilities were shared in common – a distinct discomfort for all of us, but one we could manage since it was only for a night. The rooms were spacious but you had to lay out your own bedding and blankets. There were yukatas, the casual kimonos, and we decided to wear them later for the special sumptuous dinner that night. After checking in we quickly met outside to look for food at nearby Tsumago, another post town. A Japanese hiker pointed us in the wrong direction, so it was about 3pm by the time we walloped our soba in Tsumago.
We got to see more of the countryside and back at the inn we took our bath, rested a while, put on our yukatas and were slightly late for a lovely, delicious Japanese meal. Besides us there were several angmohs at tables nearby. Lots of laughter, banter, photos, and many many oishis later we were sated and heavily seated.
We clumsily got up after dinner and took many many one-two-three click clicks and ended chatting in the lounge area. I cannot remember what we talked and laughed about. It’s one of those light hearted rounds that went nowhere.
The inn had communal baths but I was not sure if anybody used them. I did not. The onsen looked like a 10 feet by 8 feet rectangular bathtub with steaming water. I had an early night – a cold night. The next day there would have been a short hike ….. a hike that we would thankfully cancel for reasons that I cannot recall. Thankful, not because we could laze around. I like hiking. But because it would rain the next day, and we were spared a cold, wet, muddy trudge through the forest. Thank you Lord.
It was a vacation I looked forward to with some anticipation. I had enjoyed my first Japan trip to Kyushu island two years ago. This one was on the main island of Honshu. This was a tour from Nagoya through the famous Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine route to Toyama and Kanazawa and back. Most of us were from the hiking group.
It was a night flight, and for me this meant a sleepless flight, a movie night. I admire those (like my wife) who could sleep despite cramped and upright space. I caught a Korean movie titled, Canola, a grandmother- grandchild story about the transforming power of unconditional love. And surprise, surprise: I did sleep.
When was I going to feel more relaxed, more like I was on vacation? Close to the date of departure, there was the rush to get work done. There was the anxiety of packing right for this mixed hiking and sightseeing jaunt. Even after landing in Nagoya in the early morning, I had to remind myself, I am in Japan. I am on vacation. I had to tell my soul: You are in Nagoya.
Group photos: this group loved group photos. Group photos at airports, at every new place we went, every grand scenery and memorable building. Click, click. 1, 2, 3. Click, click. Good thing I brought my tough and handy Olympus TG3 camera. Bright LCD screen, unlike phone camera screens that darken under the sun. The ladies wore colourful jackets, blouses, shoes and they enlivened the photos. The men were unremarkable. The ladies knew how to pose in a variety of ways; the men stood like they would for the class photograph. Click, click. 1,2,3. Click, click.
The hotel we stayed in was Sanco Inn, a ten minute walk from where the airport bus dropped us off. We could not check in until 3 p.m. so we left our luggage there (this would be standard procedure) and went out to look for lunch. There was a nearby eatery and straightaway we faced our first fun challenge of getting our orders and requests across. Separate bills please. They could not grasp it. They brought beer! Separate receipts. They got it finally. Receipto. Receipto. But the idea of separate receipto for each couple is foreign to them. So we adapted, we adjusted, we learned. The food was oishii. The yen was stronger than two years ago so the prices we paid were similar to what you would pay for Japanese food in Singapore. However, you felt satisfied, you felt better parting with your yen because of the freshness and the quality and authentic taste of what you had.
We spent several hours walking around their shopping area in cool temperatures and under a grey sky that threatened to drizzle. Nothing much in this area near the hotel. Except the 100 yen shop. Where the ladies spent considerable time surveying and bought few things. Singaporeans are experienced strategic shoppers. They did not want to lug around all the things they bought. They would buy later, near the end of the jaunt.
That night we packed for two days of hiking. We had to pack for an overnight stay in the mountain. Stuffed what we needed in the backpack. The rest of the luggage would be sent over by takkyubin to Ace Inn Hotel in Matsumoto.