Have made it to Nagano. Crooked eye be damned.
After sitting around for almost two whole weeks of vacation seeing none of Japan beyond the interior of my apartment which happens to be located there, I decided I should not let this vision problem cancel any more of my travel plans. Though I needed that long rest, I’m sure, and I thoroughly enjoy doing absolutely nothing every chance I get, I did in fact have plans to get out and do some things (a ski trip, mainly) over New Years which did not get got out and done.
This weekend, I had intended to travel to a ski resort as well. Not to ski this time, but to witness a really wacky bit of Japanese culture called the Dosojin Fire Festival. I’m a bit foggy on the exact details and purposes of this festival, but basically all of the 25 and 42 year old men from the small ski resort town of Nozawa Onsen gather together every Jan 15th and wage an epic battle against the rest of their village using tree branches. 25 and 42 are both unlucky ages in Japan. I don’t know who is defending what or why, but at the end they light a giant wooden structure on fire that they have spent weeks building with trees brought down from the mountain. Oh, and there are people giving out free hot sake as well. Clearly this is a truly unique spectacle that is not to be missed.
I briefly considered putting it off until next year, but I looked at the calendar and found that next year the festival would fall on a Tues or something. Not convenient at all (this year it’s on Sun, and I get Sun and Mon off). So, it’s now or never. Me and my one good eye will just have to see what we can because it might be the only chance. Oh, and there is also a snow monkey hot spring! Def not missing this
So, I booked myself a nice cheap bus at the JTB travel agency, and reserved the only hotel room I could get online without a credit card (reasonably priced and looks decent) and headed out to Nozawa Onsen.
I’ve had really good luck so far. I exited on precisely the right side of the mammoth Shinjuku train station to most quickly reach the bus station where I would depart for Nagano. Found the correct bus with my minimal Japanese and a sprinkling of English. Upon reaching Nagano, I was able to find the not clearly marked train station, and subsequently the handy tourist info office by practically just bumping into them, and conveniently arrived just in time to catch the next bus to NO (had I missed it, the next one wasn’t for an hour and a half. Now I am on that bus trying fairly futilely to find the stops the driver is calling out on my map, but worst case I know where the last stop is, and I hear that the town is small enough to walk to anywhere – even if it IS almost the furthest possible point on the map from my hotel. It looks like a gentle blizzard here. The roads are all bordered by a snow wall about 4 to 5 feet high. It is piled on all of the rooftops like sloppy layer cakes. There are fat snowflakes sifting through the air, and people everywhere in ridiculous looking ski getups. It’s kind of nice to get out of the city and see a cute little ski village like this one this winter.