Five Days in the snow – A trip to Nagano (part one)

Five Days in the snow – A trip to Nagano (part one)

It’s the start of 2021, but my first post of the year is going to take us back a little way to the 26th of December 2020. Following up from a less than impressive Japanese Christmas (spent watching the husband work at home, whilst preparing a dry and chewy Christmas dinner), we were finally starting our winter break.

I hadn’t been back in Japan long, as I returned from 10 months of lockdown in the UK only in November. But even so, this trip was much needed.
With two suitcases overpacked of winter layers, socks, and snow gear, we slowly made our way to Japan’s snow zone – Nagano.

The plan wasn’t spontaneous, as we had made arrangements with our good long-term friends Jesse and Jessica to go snowboarding in the area.

The day began before sunrise (6am) in Nagareyama city, Chiba, but we we’re both prepared for the early start and caught our first train with ease at 7am. Leading up to the trip we had attempted to adjust our body clocks to an earlier sleeping schedule, but it just didn’t happen.
What followed was an organised, yet jumbled array of train rides and stations out of the Kanto region.

From Omiya station our Shinkansen train to Nagano finally started. This was my first time on a bullet train ran by JR East, as all my previous Shinkansen rides had been from when we lived in west Japan. Now that we live in Chiba, and have (regretfully) sold our car, we will have more options to explore east and northern Japan.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with my first time on the Hokuriku Shinkansen railway – Would it provide a majestic view of Mt. Fuji as the Tokaido Shinkansen does in the south? – but in the end, it did not disappoint, and I ended up with a view of Fuji that I had never experienced before.

Mount Fuji visible from the Hokuriku Shinkansen.

After an hour and a half on the Shinkansen we arrived in Nagano city. We had a few hours to kill and our friends had suggested us to check out nearby Zenkō-ji temple just 2km north of the station whilst we were in the city. At first we thought about dropping the temple visit and heading straight to our friends house, but curiosity got the better of us, and am I glad it did.

We hadn’t done our research, and what we thought would turn out to be a regular city temple, turned out to be pretty grand and impressive. As soon as we stepped off of the bus (yes, we were lazy on the way from the station to the temple) it felt as if we had been transported back to a historic Japan.

Heading further up the road, we passed classic tea and sweet shops before waiting on a crossing with a strange tune replacing the stereotypical Kakkō and Piyo chimes (bird tweeting sounds) that play over a speaker at junctions.
On the far side, we were greeted by snow-covered traditional Ryokan buildings and the impressive Niōmon gate.

I had to stop here for photos.

Passing through the Niōmon gate our eye’s were met with a semi-busy shopping and dining street not too dissimilar to Asakusa’s Nakamise-dori. Here, there were plenty of cafes, stalls and restaurants serving up some of the area’s best-known treats. We got to try Nazawa Oyaki and chomped down on a bowl of curry at the Maruhachi Takuya store, before relaxing with a pot of gelato and coffee in Caffe Terra.

After the shopping street, the Sanmon Gate marks the entrance to the inner temple complex. From here, buddhist statues and figurines line the walkway up to the main temple.
We veered off to the left before the Sanmon Gate and explored around the less-busy outer edges of the temple.

After a few hours at Zenkō-ji we deemed it time to head over to our friend’s house in the more mountainous area of northern Nagano. Collecting our baggage from Nagano station’s coin lockers we made our way to the Kita-Shinano railway and began our journey out of the city.
After a small confusion over which side of the train would have the best mountain views we settled down and enjoyed our train ride from the dry streets of Nagano city to the 2 meter-in-depth snow covered Shinano-Machi.

Each station seemed to mark more and more snow, until eventually the train tracks themselves we’re covered, sleepers, rails and all.
At our destination we were met by our friend Jesse, who then guided us back to his house where Jessica was waiting.
This was the first time we had seen the pair of them since we moved to Tokyo almost two years ago!

As you can imagine, with so much time to catch up on, the evening was filled with conversation after conversation. Even now, I’m sure we still have so much more to tell each other.

After hours of laughter, we all headed to bed for another early start on the 27th – day one of snowboarding!

One Reply to “Five Days in the snow – A trip to Nagano (part one)”

  1. Glad you all met up and had special time , and enjoyed snowboarding 🏂. Your photo’s are beautiful and what lovely memories you have , let’s hope
    2021 is going to be a good healthier year Happy New Year 🥳 mum😘

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