Family visits

So today I was just about to bike back home from the center of town when it suddenly turned from blue skies to blackness and tropical thunderstorm… and my laundry was still hanging out at home! They keep on saying that the rainy season is over (which it’s supposed to be), but I don’t really know…

The past few weeks have definitely been eventful! I’ve really gotten to know the heart of the Japanese Alps quite well. The main events, clearly, were my brother Cas (travelling with his friend Marek) coming over, shortly followed by my dad.
The weekend before they came, however, I ended going to some more festivals – every weekend there is at least one in the region – the first of which involved boats floating around the lake each with 365 lights on, which we watched from a local’s apartment (only after having made an attempt to fail successfully at trying to promote a drinks company for a commercial). The next night I went to see 15000 fireworks being let off, which luckily enough weren’t cancelled due to the pouring rain – beautiful! The nicest show I’ve ever seen.
Then Cas and Marek arrived and we took it easy in Nagoya, I took them out to an Izakaya (a local Japanese restaurant) with all you can drink, and the next night we had an experimental dinner followed by karaoke – very Japanese!
We then went on to Matsumoto, which is a little town about 3 hours northnorthwest of here. It’s really charming actually, despite the fact that when we arrived we were biking in the rain with our umbrellas Japanese style. The hostel we stayed at was proper nice, and it has a beautiful castle. When in Matsumoto definitely try the soba, as it’s a local-made type of noodle (buckwheat I think, whereas udon is very thick wheat noodles, or maybe the other way around). The next day we did a little stop in Nagano, which may ring a bell – the winter olympics were held here in 1998 – and we went further north to a tiny town (12000 inhabitants) of Obuse (pronounced obusay) – it’s so small that the school kids coming onto the train found us something to look at. But it’s beautiful up there – it’s known for its chestnuts and Hokusai museum. When we got back that evening to Matsumoto we went to the BEST local restaurant, where we each had a massive bowl of udon, tempura, free sake and a sake glass, all for the price of 3000 yen (i.e. 30 dollars). It was A-mazing. We finished it off by going to an onsen, which was relaxing as.
The next day Cas and Marek left for Tokyo, and I stayed the rest of the day to visit Kamikochi, which is more into the mountains, (many people climb mountains there) and it’s only open between april and November as during the other months there’s too much snow. Needless to say it was beautiful, despite the weather!

When my dad arrived we did the other part of the coast, we went to Kanazawa first, which is pretty big but very charming. It has a BEAUTIFUL garden, and we stayed at a homestay in the old district with this little lady who was so cool, and I practiced my Japanese slightly successfully on her! We stayed for 2 days, on the 2nd day seeing a dance festival which was cool, but it’s making me realize how much the Japanese really do like to belong in a group, and that they really hold on to traditions very strongly, so much more than any country I’ve seen! then took a drive around Noto Hanto, countryside, which wasn’t too thrilling. We stayed in Toyama because the next day, risking it with the rain, we did the Tateyama-Kurobe route into the mountains to see one of the largest dams in Japan. It turned out to be ok, especially on the way back as we managed to do a long 2hour painful hike, but stunning scenery. That night we were surprised by the earthquake – which I wasn’t too scared by clearly as I woke up, asked my dad if it was an earthquake, to which he replied I think so, and all I could say to the shaking of the beds was ok and fall back to sleep!

Maybe one of the nicest days came next, when we drove down to see the villages with gassho-zukuri houses, which have these straw roofs shaped like praying hands. We had beautiful weather to see this UNESCO world heritage site (called gokayama and shirakawago), and the first little village we went to – Ainokura – was SO beautiful and peaceful! The last – Ogimachi – was a LOT more touristy, but interesting. We stayed overnight in Takayama, which I hadn’t realized was such a touristy spot! It reminded me a lot of Kyoto, but I don’t blame them, it has a lot of atmosphere and we had, what I would class as one of the best steaks EVER there – made from Hida beef cows. It was so flavoursome! I would go there again just to have another one of those steaks.
So now it’s back to slight normality before I try and head down to Kyushu depending on my finances… will keep you posted!

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