Monday, August 22, 2011

A Very Not-Tokyo Experience

No cell phone service? No internet? No people? Cool weather? Ten hours of sleep each night?

This basically sums up our relaxing trip to Nagano 長野, which you may recall as the location of the 1998 Winter Olympics. After a long week in school, Eunbi, Rewon, and I were ready to take a trip to my host family's aunt's country house in Tateshina Kougen 蓼科高原, a plateau about 1,600 meters above sea level meaning an escape from the sweltering humidity and heat of Tokyo.
After about a four hour cramped ride (the three of us did not fit horribly well in the narrow back seat of my host mom's BMW), we finally arrived and met my host mother's bubbly aunt Hiroko, her husband Shogen, and my host mother's other aunt Junko. After a short tour of the outside of their house, a woodsy area with wood arrangements of animals made by Hiroko and various interesting looking fungi, the three of them prepared a delicious salad and various tempura made from some of the plants from the surrounding area for dinner.
One of the wood arrangements made by aunt Hiroko--an いのしし boar (like from Princess Mononoke!)
Again on the theme of close-up pictures of bugs.
We followed up by going to aunt Junko's personal onsen (not many people get hot mountain spring water pumped directly into their homes...) and relaxing for a bit, before trying some of the really delicious beer aunt Junko had bought and also the シソ shiso juice (apparently "perilla" or "beefsteak plant"), a red drink that was deliciously fruity, that she had made while having a discussion with her about her interesting travels around the world.
The next morning, we had one of the more American breakfasts I'd had in Japan. We then headed off to a lake and took a little swan boat out on to the water, which we had a strong craving to jump into just to cool off and swim. Unfortunately, that wouldn't have been very pleasant for the rest of the day that we would be soaking wet. Instead, we sat back, dipped our feet in the water, and enjoyed the serene scenery of the surrounding area, which is a sea resort in the winter.
After that relaxing stint, we went to make soba! Which was one of the coolest experiences I had in Japan. We had to pound the dough and make it soft enough to eat, and then cut it up into thin pieces. Unfortunately, we cut them rather thick so the end result turned out more like udon than soba...but it was still delicious regardless :D.

We gorged ourselves on our homemade soba and then proceeded to check out a nearby waterfall and then the river that it led into. We walked around the river and I made the best decision of my life--to hand my camera, wallet, cell phone, and overshirt to Eunbi, because very shortly after, I stepped on what I thought was a shallow part of the river, and ended up falling into the river completely! And this happened not just once but about embarrassing, but refreshing! Might as well have gone for that swim earlier!

We then went to relax at an onsen, where there was one outdoor portion that had some mineral water or something of the sort (the water wasn't see through). Funnily enough, Rewon and I soon noticed that across from that part, there was a trail where people were walking down. If they had turned their head to their right, they would have just seen a bunch of naked men chilling in an onsen. What??? Did they not think about the placement of this onsen haha? We almost wanted to call out "Oi!" (Japanese for hey!) just to see what their reaction would be!

I changed back into my wet pants (very unpleasant after a relaxing dip in the onsen) and we had a delicious assortment of different foods. Exhausted from the day, we were pretty much ready to go to bed by 8PM (very college-rashikunai), but decided we should probably stay up a bit longer. So we played a bit of the guitar, learning a bit from aunt Hiroko (who can apparently play the guitar, saxophone, and piano!) and trying to pull off playing and singing "Hey There Delilah." Our night ended with a ridiculous game of Jenga where we piled up the blocks in any way we wanted, and we retired by 10ish.
We began heading back to Tokyo by 10:30AMish but didn't get back until the late late hour of 6:30PM. Wow, traffic into Tokyo on Sunday is bad! Granted, we did take some pit stops. Overall, the weekend was super relaxing and a great escape from the bustling life of Tokyo! We finished off the Sunday by meeting up with the other Sun Academy-ers and the HIF kids who were down in Tokyo to visit, and then celebrating our (almost) last meeting with Chihiro.
At the "Alice" karaoke place, this was the "Little Mermaid" floor.
Joining the HIF kids in karaoke!
As a side note, Rewon and I also had a personal tutoring session with Yonehara-sensei this week because the other 3-nensei-ers were off doing an internship at Kikkoman. Needless to say, learning with only two people is amazing and we were able to practice our Japanese so much, even afterwards as she took us out for a delicious meal of monjya (Tokyo version of okonomiyaki) in Tsukishima 月島 mmm!

The process of monjya
Followed by a yummy red bean dessert.
Yonehara-sensei and Rewon.

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