Happy New Year everyone! My New Year was a pretty relaxing one, but unfortunately I don’t have a pictures for you at this time as I just got the film back last night and haven’t had a chance to scan it.
Anyway, December 29th was my wife and I’s fourth wedding anniversary, so to celebrate we went to Chirahunesou Shinhaku Ryokan in Nagano Prefecture for a night. We took the train from Tokyo to Matsumoto Station and then took one hour ride on a shuttle bus to the ryokan. The ryokan’s remoteness was totally worth it as it was far away from everything. No shops, other than the ones inside the ryokan. It was clear that your purpose there is to just relax. I have been to many ryokans around around Japan before, but this one might be my favorite. I love ryokans that have outdoor baths. I understand that this is something new and is not traditional, but I like it and Chirahunesou Shinhaku Ryokan did not disappoint.
When we arrived there we quickly got into the sprit of things and took a bath took a bath at a private bath together. This was nice as it was snowing outside and the hot water quickly washed away the stress of all the busy work up to the holiday.
After the bath we went back to our rooms and got ready for dinner. It was delicious and our Nakai (仲居) was a great host. I learned she was working there to save to go study abroad in England. She seemed genuinely friendly and was interested in how I learned Japanese, so we talked about that and I gave her tips that helped me learn. The food was as you would expect local cuisine of the traditional affair and it was delicious.
After dinner we decided to take another bath. This time we went to the main baths that are separated by sex. I showered and immediate headed to the outdoor bath. As foreigner there is something really crazy about being soaking wet and walking outside naked in the mountains of Nagano in the middle of winter, but that’s what I did. Unlike most other ryokan and onsens I have been too, this one’s outdoor bath was a bit of a far walk for somebody naked and wet. It wasn’t a direct walk and you had to turn corners, so my first time heading out there I wasn’t sure I was going the right way, but I was. It is about a 20 – 30 meter walk from the showers to the men’s outdoor bath. That’s plenty of time for the water on your body to get pretty cold, but it was worth it. The bath was beautiful. It was on the side of the mountain with an open view of the valley from the bath. The snow was really coming down, but the wind was minimal to none so it wasn’t cold at all to be in the bath. Ever since I was a child there has always been something Zen like to snow at night. The soft snow on the ground makes the outdoors acoustically perfect, so sound can’t travel very far and everything is ridiculously quite and peaceful. Combine this with the beauty of the Japanese countryside in the mountains and you have a failsafe plan for a very peaceful experience. I sat there just watching the snow come down and all my current worries seemed to be trivial. I thought about how people in Syria are dying in their domestic war, and how strange and peaceful it is for me at that very moment, why and how my life should be comparatively easy and what if anything did I do to deserve it. Who knows…
The next morning I woke up to my alarm to get a bath in before my 8am scheduled breakfast. Just as before I went out to the same bath. It was still overcast, but I could see across to the opposite mountain across the valley. The pine trees that covered it were covered in a snow and an occasional passing wind would blow throw the trees in the same way you would see a field of grass be blown about by the wind sending snow up into the air. I was starting my day on the same peaceful foot that I ended the previous one.
At breakfast we were greeted by our Nakai and spoke more about English. Afterwards we bid our farewell and went back to our room to pack as the bus heading back to Matsumoto was leaving at 9:45. After packing I wanted to go outside to take some photos. Heading down I checked us out and paid the bill. The staff as you would expect were very polite and wished us a safe return. Heading outside we were greeted by our Nakai again and she offered to take our photo, so we did. I shot a few photos of the place, but to really do it justice I would of liked to have had more time to hike to a more distant view of the place, but I guess there is always next time.
After arriving in Matsumoto we learned that the city pretty much rolls up the sidewalks and goes on vacation from December 29th until January 3rd. All the major attractions were closed. We walked around the outside of Matsumoto Castle anyway and shot a few pictures. After that we wanted lunch and my wife suggested that we should eat soba since Nagano is famous for it. She spotted a local soba restaurant near the castle that seemed like a local just entered, so she suggested we go there too. The soba there was great and the table we sat at was made of what seemed to be a single piece of wood from the trunk of a very tall tree. It wasn’t straight so it was weaved a bit back and forth a bit, but was big enough to seat at least 50 people comfortably.
Leaving there we headed back to the station. There wasn’t much else to do so we changed our tickets to the next available train and headed home.
The next day we headed to my wife’s parents’ house in Nara Prefecture, but that’s not nearly as interesting. Just the typical Japanese New Year’s Eve as everyone has here, but was nice and relaxing and that’s all that I ask for.