Nagano – Best Place in the World! Part 2

Nagano – Best Place in the World! was a much longer entry than the version that was posted last night. I think there might be a maximum length for WordPress posts. Anyway the piece was cut off in mid paragraph and I lost another 2 chapters.

Here we go again. I was extolling Japanese women’s joyful eating. They are excellent people to take out for a meal.

The second hotel also gives us dinner and breakfast. Not up to the very high standard of the first place but wonderful nonetheless.

Many dishes to come Amongst which is the obligatory kilo of soba.
Breakfast after dawn birdwatching. They also serve rice porridge. I eat a lot.

Our last meal together was back in Ueda the evening before the return to Okinawa. Tomomi san and Miyoko san take me to a Yakitori restaurant. I am a bit underwhelmed, as my vision of Yakitori is little bits of chicken on a skewer covered with sticky brown sauce. Not in Nagano!

Big chunks of liver, chicken and pork with garlic sauce. Delicious we had lots! I drink too much sake.

I think that about covers food, oh no, we had a fabulous sushi lunch at the airport on the way home.

Chapter 4: Onsen

One of the principla goals of the trip was to initiate me into the mysteries of the onsen. Onsen are big hot water baths that you sit in and think about stuff. Real onsen are fed by hot water springs that gush out of the earth all over Japan, but particularly in Nagano. Frequently onsen are combined with a hotel so you can eat like lords, sleep very well and onsen like crazy. Okinawa has few if any real onsen

We go to Yudanaka Onsen. It is in a town that seems to have an onsen for each inhabitant. Steam shoots out the earth wherever you look. I have no onsen experience due to Scottish prudery – naked in front of unknown men is not a Scottish pastime. The first place had an onsen but not a real one. I think the water was heated. I was the only male to use it so that was OK.

The Yudanaka Onsen is the real thing. You go into the first room where you sit on a stool and wash like crazy. I have never been so clean. Then into a very hot pool. There are other guys around who watch me with great interest, In fact you have a small towel to cover your er private parts. I feel no bashfulness. From the very hot pool you move outside to a pool surrounded by rocks and Azaleas. It is beautiful. It is raining during my first bath and during my second bath a Grey Wagtail comes down and has a long discussion with me. It is wonderful. My next Japanese trip will be a tour of selected onsen. Tomomi san is an expert and will advise.

On the way to Yudanaka Onsen we stop at the renowned Jigokudani Monkey Park.


There are monkeys everywhere. They are in no way scared nor aggressive.

I wonder what Kim Kardashian is doing?
Who would fardels bear?

Chapter 5: Sake

I have never really liked Sake. First I never drink it as Awamori is the drink of choice on Okinawa. On this trp I was instructed on Sake and it is fantastic. Just like wine there are many different regions and techniques for rice fermentation. On the final day we visit high class, small sake producers. The variety of taste is astonishing.

This one is cloudy white.

We buy lots of bottles with a vision of a picnic at the marina to celebrate upcoming birthdays with classic Japanese dishes and many different bottles of Sake. Probably won’t happen due to Corona restrictions. At the moment no more than 4 are allowed to cluster around the festive board.

So I think that is about it. I think the original version of these chapters was much better. But there we go.

What a great trip. So grateful to Tomomi san and Miyoko san for their hospitality and excellent companionship. Thanks to Japan. What a country!

Worse than ever bit of video.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Nagano – Best Place in the World!

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.

Gate into Ueda Castle.
Ueda castle

A common denominator for the trip was blossom. Trees are flowering everywhere! So beautiful.

You know
We came at exactly the right time.

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.

Talking of temples, Nagano has the best public toilet in the world.

Not a very good photo but the building is old, made of wood and a very good place for relief.

Nagano has a big temple surrounded by many shrines.

Nagano Temple
Another part of Nagano Temple.

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.

Shrine 1

Th second is reached by a long and wonderful hike between an avenue of ancient trees.

The white paper marker start about 5 kilometres down the hill.
The last part is really tough
Shrine on top of the mountain. We pray.

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.

Pain in legs.

The shrine is beautiful. Decorated with carvings of animals and a very intricate, nail free charpente.

I pray
The charpente, complex and old
An Elephant

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.

Flowers and birdsong

The next day we go to a lake and feast on birds.

This is the lake

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.

Nojiri Lake

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.

Not Okinawa

There are lots of animal tracks. We see Fox, Rabbit and, we think, Raccoon

Rocky 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.

The mountains as we go back to the hotel

Chapter 3 Food

We buy food for the Shinkansen trip to Ueda at Tokyo Station.

Railway station food. Salmon eggs, Tuna sashimi, cheese.
First night in Ueda, Tonkatsu!
Lunch in Togakushi, Soba and stuff off the side of the road tempura. Soba is big in Togakushi.

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.

Islay, on the left, is a Japanese High School Ski Champion. Look for her in the next Olympics

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.

Where we stayed.
From my window. Thatched roof
My bed

We stayed 2 days and had dinner and breakfast at the er hotel, pilgrim’s refuge.

Dinner, incredible!
Breakfast, outstanding!

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

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment


If it is windy, it is a good idea to put a reef in the mainsail. This makes the sail smaller and the howling wind does not heel the boat over so alarmingly such that you think she might capsize. She would n’t of course but it feels like it.

The weather has been excellent and I have two consecutive days in the boat.

The first sail is in bright, bright sunshine with the wind coming straight offshore. We zoom up the coast from Ginowan marina to Cape Zanpa. I love sailing up the coast. I have driven the same route a thousand times but looking at it from the sea gives a very different perspective. The distance between different places is not the same.

How can distances not be the same?

When I reach Cape Zanpa I turn around and sail back. The sea is still very lumpy and there are big swells but the boat is in no way concerned. I can see that for those who do not like sitting on a boat for hours with not much to do, sailing could be tedious.

The next day the wind is stronger and the weather not quite so glorious. I decide to put in a reef. Doing this single handed is quite an art but I am getting better at it. You must raise the mainsail and then lower it again such that you can pull the reefing lines that are attached to the sail. These lines pull the sail down just the right distance and you cleat them off onto the boom. You then raise the sail again but it cannot go as high as before as it is held down by the reefing lines. You can only do this if the boat is headed straight into the wind. If there are two people, it is relatively easy but with just one there are a lot of things that can go wrong!

With a reef in the mainsail I head off for the Sand Islands that lie some miles South West of Ginowan.,127.5600406,8508m/data=!3m1!1e3

Naturally, when I get out to sea the wind is nowhere near as strong as I had anticipated. No worries, as she charges across well with the reef. It is a wonderful sail.

My feet and ankles have gone a strange color. Maybe I should wash them more

We make it to the Sand Islands and, as is traditional, turn around and sail back.

Poor photo of one of the Sand Islands.

As we get closer to Okinawa, the wind drops and I succeed in shaking out the reef all by myself. All of this is great practice for when you might have to do it in difficult conditions. The weather also improves and it is a beautiful evening as we glide back to the marina.

Sorry, this post is about as dull as spending 6 hours a day on a sailing boat but, er, that what it describes.

Here is an equally dull movie. Sorry!

Snore full screen high definition

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

A Stitch in Time

Having a big hole through the hull through which the sea can pour is not a good idea. Regretfully this is something my boat has. How I don’t not know.

Big hole, not good. You can see that the collar is still on the bilge pump exit.

The collar has come off the exit of the cockpit bilge pump. The pipe pulls out leaving a gaping hole. So pleased I noticed it.

This used to stick through the hull and the collar screwed onto it.

I rush off to one of my favorite places. It is a very old fashioned store that has everything. They will definitely have an exterior collar for a 30 year old Norfolk Gypsy cockpit pump pipe.,127.7191353,3a,90y,8.95h,99.5t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1s2Ycr7Toi7FhdgoYeyiNGyQ!2e0!7i16384!8i8192

It is a big place but it is not the Western model of wide avenues that you can push a trolley down but a different model where you can barely walk between the shelves.

The shelves go from the floor to the ceiling
There is no logic.

I mime my problem to one of the many guys from the store who are continually ferreting around the back alleys of the shop. I can see in his eyes the disgrace of the Japanese who knows he or she cannot help. However he brings the dai sensei to me. He has spent his whole life in this place and has ancient ancestral knowledge. We spend 30 minutes digging around but without success. The only thing they do not have is Norfolk Gypsy spare parts.

However he will not be beat. He has a very clear vision of the problem and brings together parts from all over the store. These will I hope provide a much better set up than the original. The parts are brass and chromium steel. I have no idea what they were designed to do but I hope they will work for my boat. Thank you dai sensei!

Solid stuff

Usually when I try to install parts, bought on the adrenaline that hardware stores provoke in me, they do not fit when I get back to the boat. This time everything works just perfectly.

Beautiful inside.
Beautiful outside

It is amazing what you can achieve with mime alone.

There was a big typhoon around the Philippines last week and we caught the outer edge. Rain and high winds over the last few days. Tomorrow looks like a good sailing day. I can test my new collar.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Masking Tape

It is now nearly 3 years since I started the big job of repainting the boat. At the time I was worried that the paint would not adhere and would soon flake off. However this has not been the case, it has done very well. Other than flaking I also assumed that the paint would fade due to the intense Okinawan sun. However this has not been the case. I raise my hat to International yacht paints.

There are notwithstanding quite a lot of small chips. These are mainly on the edges of the locker lids in the cockpit and around the anchor pit. I touch up.

Look at the edge of the right hand locker. It is quite badly damaged. Remember you can get huge zoom by clicking on these photos
Bashed up paint.

I worry that my paint, which has been sitting in a can for 3 years, will have dried up or otherwise decayed. However this has not been the case.

Good as new! Well, after a lot of stirring.
Nice new Chinese brush.

I tape up carefully and after some sanding start painting. Unusually, I make no blunders nor do I cover myself in paint.

Very pleasing.

I go to the Ginowan Town Hall to see if someone can help me with my Covid vaccination procedure. What a pleasure! Haruna san, who speaks excellent English, helps me fill in all the questionnaires and explains that I have to wait until 26 April to then phone to make an appointment for the jabbing. This will happen in the municipal gym that is only 5 minutes from my house. Thank you Haruna san.

So many nice people around! One, called Vena Robinson, sends me a cheque for $1400.

Thank you
Amaryllis growing wild outside my building.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

So Desu Ne

Japan has been very slow to start Covid vaccination. The over 65s, a group that I easily qualify for, get the jab first. Nobody seems to care. I finally grilled a friend and we looked at the Ginowan City Hall website. There she found the info that oldies should get a letter this week informing them how to make an appointment for the vaccination.

This morning I found this in my post box.


There are many pages of info and mysterious forms in the envelope. I do my best with Google translate but only get a general idea of what I have to do. I am going to need help as the procedure seems a bit complicated.

I think this is asking questions like, “When did you last see your Father?
Do not pass Go

Anyway all of this is very exciting.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments


Excuse my French.

After 3 months of repair, adjustment, poor weather, I finally get the boat out on the water.

It is a truly glorious day, bright sunshine, not too hot but shorts and Tshirt all the same. The engine starts on command, I get the sails up with no difficulty and off we go. There is only one snag; there is very little wind. To be honest, this is a good thing as I would much prefer to amble along on my first outing rather than battle it out on a heavily heeled boat in high wind.

So blue

I motor out and once clear of the harbor, I stop the engine and silently ease out towards China.

China bound

The Norfolk gypsy is a comfortable boat as you can put your back against one gunwale and stretch out your legs onto the lockers on the other side of the cockpit. You are nearly lying down as you watch your legs frazzle.

A sight for sore eyes

There is now a bit more wind and we tear along at 2.5 knots. A 30ft boat motors out of the marina and comes past. She finally raises sail when she is 200 metres ahead of me. I thought she would race away but in fact I gained on her! Such fun.

Here is a very bad clip. I updated the operating system on my Mac last week and this brings a new version of IMovie. I can’t work out how to use it! Apologies.

So good to be out on the boat again! Lots of adventures coming up.

P.S. I have since watched some “How to use IMovie” videos on YouTube. The clip is not so bad now.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments


Another beautiful ikebana piece by Tomomi san. She arrives with branches from kiwi fruit trees or is it bushes? My miniscule experience with ikebana has shown me that structural engineering has a lot to do with it. How to get flowers or branches or leaves to apparently float in the air? If you just jam them in a pot they just flop all over the place.

The kiwi branches were challenging as they are top heavy and want to fall over.

First she installs a lattice in the pot to support the branches.

This does not work to her high standards. She takes another branch that stands vertical in the pot and grafts the main branch onto it.

Hard graft.

The result is magical. The high convoluted branch hangs mysteriously in the air.

More difficult than it looks.
She thinks about adding another plant but we don’t like it.

Then we eat poached salmon with umibudo and avacado.

Tomomi san tells me that there is almost no nutritional value in umibudo.
More food

After the meal Tomomi san moves the ikebana to stand on my piece of boshafu, on top of the cutlery canteen. It looks so much better!

Defying gravity
Why doesn’t it fall over?

I wake up early this morning and stumble into the dining room and there was the ikebana in the dawn light. It was beautiful. I am so lucky. Thank you Tomomi san, you are amazing! See more of her art at: Follow her.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments


The Okinawan sun plays havoc with wood. The tiller and the top of the rudder – rudder post? – have suffered badly. I should have taken some “before ” photos to show the dried up state and the devastation of previous varnish but I forgot.

Something must be done.

It is difficult to get spar varnish. All ship chandlers on Okinawa have closed and my trusty supplier of boat stuff on the mainland has, I think, gone Covid bust. It takes forever to track down high quality varnish.

Success at last.

Varnishing I do not like. You have to sand scrupulously and then apply the varnish very carefully as it is prone to runs. You then do something else for a day to allow the stuff to dry completely. Next day, light sanding and another coat.

One coat . You can see how dry the top of the rudder post is.

You will remember that I pumped out all the oily water from the bilge. Well it went into a big jerry can and the problem was where to put it. There is a old oil disposal drum at the marina but they do not want it to be filled with water. I pour the oil/water into a bucket and use the Kiyuna torn up newspaper trick. I shred huge amounts of newspaper and put the scraps onto the oil covered surface. They soak up the the oil very effectively.

Just a few so you get the idea. Finally they come to the top of the bucket.

It is a dirty job as you have scoop out all the oil drenched shreds. Actually I could have used BBQ tongs but I didn’t think of it at the time. The water is sufficiently clean to be poured down a drain with no environmental guilt.

I continue to varnish for 6 days , so 6 coats.

Six coats later, nice and shiny
Job done. Notice big new hotel in the background.

I can’t reach Kiyuna san. He sometimes goes to work on boats on other islands. Only he has the massive spanners needed to adjust the stern gland so I have to await his resurrection before doing that job. It is not crucial to the performance of the boat but it is annoying to have a steady drip of water getting into the bilge. Not to worry, everything in its turn.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Start of the New Financial Year

April 1 is an important day in Japan. It marks the start of the new financial year So what, you cry!

Well I am too lazy to go into it but for instance I could not get into the marina as my access card’s magic ran out at midnight on March 31. Everyone has to get a new one.

This is a pretty thin post but it is raining so I pass the time.

Little amaryllis outside my building. They are everywhere.

I take a photo of my irises at 7:30 every morning to record their flowering.

Only the beginning
Day 2
Day 3
This morning

We celebrate April 1 with fine lunch in a fancy hotel.

Strangely, there is a Kookaburra sitting on a tree in the atrium
April 1 yay!
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment