We started our day at Matsumoto station’s bakery, noshing on yummy seasonal breads, like ones filled with kabocha paste. Then we (by which I mean hubby) got us tickets on the express to Nagano, where we spent the day.
The closer we got to the city, the more apple orchards I saw, so I figured that good apples are a specialty around here. We exited the station and almost immediately encountered a local seller. We asked how long she would be there, as we didn’t want to spent the day carrying a bag of apples around.
The main tourist attraction in Nagano (other than the remaining evidence of the 1998 Winter Olympic games) is Zenkoji, a Buddhist temple. It’s about a 1.7km walk from the station, so we took our time and enjoyed the sights along the way. By which I mean we took photos of Engrish and amusing signs.
This is advertising Lotteria’s (a Japanese burger chain) Super Fry-day.
Zenkoji is quite impressive, and feels blessedly uncrowded compared to Sensoji in Asakusa.
Rilakkuma wish boards at Zenkoji.
After our attempts at spiritual enlightenment, we turned to more mundane matters: food. Nagano is known (so the signs told us) for steamed buns filled with vegetables, called oyaki. We found a friendly vendor and bought one each. He pulled them fresh from the steamer, then invited us to sit inside and have some 麦茶 (barley tea) as well. As hubby joked, they looked they were filled with weeds, but such tasty weeds! A few stalls down I stopped for a giant grape soft ice cream; they grow and sell giant grapes here in this part of the country. And, unlike in the US, they are delicious and taste like grapes. I later bought a pack to take back with us; they were the “small” ones. (I put a 100 yen coin, about the size of US quarter, in the photo for size comparison purposes.)
Hubby and our friend got miso soft ice cream, which was actually not too bad. It was sold out of a little miso store, where we all also got some miso 焼きおにぎり (grilled rice balls). So tasty!! (Yes, food again. Regional specialties must be tried at every opportunity!)
On the way back to the station we stopped into an exhibition of Nizo Yamamoto’s art at the Kitano Culture Center. It was only on through November 4th, so we lucked into it by chance. Yamamoto did artwork for films such as Ghibli’s Laputa and Mononoke Hime, as well as The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Sherlock Hound. To see his artwork, including preparatory sketches and actual cells, was stunning. As we entered, they had a large setting from Mononoke Hime in which they encouraged visitors to take photos. A gentleman from the museum approached hubby and me and asked if we would like our photo taken. We said yes and thanked him, in Japanese, of course. He then asked if he could take a photo of us with his camera. Sure, not a problem. And would we mind if he put it up on their webpage? No, not a problem. He then, in true Japanese fashion, thanked us and told us to take our time and enjoy ourselves.
After three floors of cells and artwork, we made our way back down to the main floor to gather our things and leave. This kind gentleman we had met before (and assumed was just another employee) came out of a little office with an A4 sized envelope. He said that he had printed a copy of the photo for us. We thanked him, and he handed us his 名詞 (business card). He was the director of the museum! Color us surprised. Once again, the Japanese skills coming through to allow us better interaction with the people we meet.
We headed back to the station, where I picked up my Hello Kitty charm for the area, and we bought some apples from the lady at the station. And had a nice chat with her and her husband. Super cute couple; he was teasing her about her English, and she playfully slapped him on the shoulder and told him to stop it.