August 11th2009, 5:00, Nagano Sunroute Hotel… I woke up for some reason I don’t remember. It was still night over Nagano and I peered through the glass of my room. The station plaza seemed very like any Japanese station plaza. Right after lying on my bed, I sensed my room shaking heavily from left to right for a moment that might have been minutes. When everything went still again, I looked in the lobby – there was no one. I went back to the window, but the station plaza was identical as it had been 10 minutes earlier. I thought I might have dreamed this, but the Shizuoka earthquake was all over the news on the following morning. Shinkansens and local trains had been stopped and motorways closed on the spot, just like in Evangelion when Tokyo-3 is on red alert.
Let’s go 2 days backwards now. Nothing really special occurred during our first evening in Nagano. The city is no different from your average Japanese prefecture. The resemblance with Sendai was quite striking, given that the station plaza looked exactly the same. The only noticeable point was the exceptional rurumo restaurant, which is definitely in my top 3 ramen restaurants. Rurumo is basically ramen, but boiled in actual pork fat, which doesn’t look particularly appetizing but turned out to be extremely tasty.
The second day left us enough time to explore the mountains. We stopped at Obuse, where all the restaurants seemed to be closed, to visit the Hokusai museum. Hokusai was a Japanese painter of 浮世絵 (ukiyoe – woodblock print) who is famous for his Kanagawa great wave part of theseries called 36 views of Mount Fuji. The museum presents a variety of authors who seem to be relatives or pupils of Hokusai. The museum explanations even hints that Hokusai might be in fact part of the Sori family, which made me wonder whether Hokusai could be just a title. As we were making our way back to the station, a lorry that was passing by splashed us violently.
Shortly after we got on the Yudanaka express, which was astonishingly slow for an express. I’m not even sure we exceeded 40km/h on the trail to the spa town.
In the soba restaurant just in front of Yudanaka station, we were treated many delicious fruits by the owners, and I had a lot of conversation with them, from fruits to politics. The onsen was quite pleasant too, even though I half-removed the 女 (onna – women) sign while attempting an explanation of how onsens worked. I was alone in the 露天風呂(rotenburo – outdoor bath), there was a good feeling about it.
Just a quick word about Zenkoji. It’s the biggest temple around, so it takes quite a bit of time to go through it entirely. But the interesting thing is that it refers to Prince Shotoku a some point, which is a name that appeared in Nara’s Gangoji. It’s hard telling who Shotoku really was, though he seems to have had a great role in the introduction of Buddhism in Japan, as the Tokyo National Museum will show later.
Originally published in August 2009.