Off we go to Nagano! Plane to Haneda, shinkansen to Ueda. Do I need to add to the acclaim for shinkansen? Er, yes! They are always on time, super clean, totally silent and very fast. Well done Japan. We get off at Ueda, where Tomomi san is more or less from and where her mother, Miyoko san, lives. She meets us at the station.
5 days in Nagano, birdwatching, visiting temples, shrines, hiking, eating and generally absorbing the wonderfulness of this mountainous region. I am going to try and organize this entry into different chapters to avoid a long rambling chronological narrative.
Chapter 1: Temples and shrines.
Almost straight from the train we go to the castle in Ueda where there is also a shrine.
A common denominator for the trip was blossom. Trees are flowering everywhere! So beautiful.
Miyoko san instructs me how to pray at a shrine. Put money in box, bow twice, clap hands twice, pray then clap hands again. My life has much improved since I have learned this.
Next day we go to Nagano city. It has a major temple and was also the site of the 1998 Winter Olympics, which I had forgotten. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1998_Winter_Olympics
Talking of temples, Nagano has the best public toilet in the world.
Nagano has a big temple surrounded by many shrines.
I remind you that this is Corona 19 Japan. There are no tourists, just me. The perfect time to visit. We buy very dry Nagano cider; Nagano is the apple capital of Japan.
We drive to our base for the most part of the holiday, Togakushi. Togakushi is a place of pilgrimage. It is high and the shrines are higher. I pity the poor pilgrims of yore, who had to walk all the way up here.
There are 3 shrines. The first is easy, it is beside the road.
Th second is reached by a long and wonderful hike between an avenue of ancient trees.
The third shrine in Togakushi is walking distance from our hotel, hotel does not do the establishment justice but we will come to that. It is a tough one. Steep steps that go on and on. It is worth it.
The shrine is beautiful. Decorated with carvings of animals and a very intricate, nail free charpente.
The best bit about temples and shrines has no illustration. The wonderful lady at our place of stay told us that there would be a performance of dance and music at shrine # 1.
It is authentic, no photos, no filming. The performance takes place inside the shrine.The dancing and singing is performed by local priests. There is a drum player, 85 years old?, who controls the performance with changes of rythmn and intensity. A flute player follows. The story revolves around a myth whereby the sun is locked up in a cave . Oh joy! a God comes and releases the Sun. I have the impression that there is a local interest, I mean that it happened around here. There are several scenes. The music.dancing and singing is exquisite.
During the performance, I look right through the window. There is a mountain stream cascading down the hill just outside. Oh my!
I am the only non Japanese at the performance, but at the end people come to smile and welcome me. I feel teary.
Chapter 2: Birdwatching
Togakushi is famous for birds and we are here to look at them. At 6:00 we are tramping around the Togakushi Botanical Park. There are several other birdwatchers there, most equipped with huge lenses and telescopes. The park is wooded and marshy and everywhere there are Mizubasho, which in English have the feeble name of Peace Lilies.
The next day we go to a lake and feast on birds.
We then go back to the Botanical Park for more woodpeckers and stuff. Then we head off to our next destination but stop off at Nojiri Lake. We see lots of birds and Tomomi wants to live here.
The next day we are up at 4:30 and out by 5:00. We drive up into the mountains. It is a faabulous excursion as it has snowed overnight and we tramp through fresh snow.
There are lots of animal tracks. We see Fox, Rabbit and, we think, Raccoon
We walk around 2 lakes and absorb the very early morning in the mountains.
Tomomi san has not done much birdwatching but I think she is infected. She has very sharp ears and eyes that pick up the slightest movement. Essentially she is better than me. She has tested positive.
On the way back to Ueda we stop at a park and go for a walk around the wood wetland in the freezing drizzle. It is wonderful and we see loads of birds, Tomomi san more than me.
I will not list all the birds we saw, too many. Nearly all are Japan birds that do not live in Okinawa. Great excitement to see new birds at my advanced age.
Chapter 3 Food
We buy food for the Shinkansen trip to Ueda at Tokyo Station.
The restaurant where we eat our soba lunch is festooned with empty bottles of Islay whisky. I mention that Islay is my breeding ground and all hell breaks loose! The adorable couple who own the restaurant spent their honeymoon on Islay. They named their daughters Islay and Ellen, after Port Ellen.
In the mountains of Nagano, Islay is strong.
OK, the place we stayed in Togakushi is remarkable. It is very old and was a stop over for pilgrims.Tomomi san found it. Thank you.
We stayed 2 days and had dinner and breakfast at the er hotel, pilgrim’s refuge.
The lady of the house did all the cooking herself. The food was absolutely excellent, so many courses. I never managed to finish them all. My lady companions just whooshed through the whole lot. One thing I very much appreciate in Japanese women, well the ones I know