So yesterday I went on a mystery tour with three of the women who work in the Nanzan Institute for Religious Studies. If you don't know what a mystery tour is, it's basically a bus tour but you have no idea where you're going.
My day started at 6 a.m. when I fell out of bed (literally; me + shrilling alarm clock + extreme darkness = confusion) and then headed out of my dorm at 6:30 to catch the subway to Nagoya Station, where the bus tour was departing from. After some hardcore theorizing about where we were going, we all boarded the bus and settled down for a 2-ish hour ride to...somewhere.
About 30 minutes into the ride, the tour guide passed out snacks which she said would be a hint as to where we were going. The snacks turned out to be these little apple turnover sort of things, which made it EXTREMELY CLEAR to everyone that we were going to Nagano. Meanwhile, I had no idea why apple turnover things would be connected to Nagano, but one of the other women explained to me that Nagano is the #1 producer of apples in Japan. And then we talked about meibutsu and hang-gliding and other generally epic things.
So after a whole lot of riding, we arrived at Heavens Sonohara, which is a place with a giant ropeway up a mountain.
We also discovered that it was REALLY COLD. It was 10 C, which is about 50 F. That doesn't seem all that cold, until you consider that since we had no idea where we were going, a lot of people didn't dress appropriately. Shorts + cold weather = not happy. I fortunately brought a jacket and a hat, so I wasn't freezing to death.
So then we went up the ropeway!
Have I mentioned that I have a thing for heights? 'cause I do.
Also, fall makes everything more beautiful.
So once we made it to the top of the ropeway, we found that we could walk, ride another ropeway, or slide down the hill on little wheeled toboggans.
Guess which option we went for.
WHEELED TOBOGGANS ARE THE BEST FORM OF TRANSPORTATION, HANDS DOWN.
They're even better when you don't realize you're supposed to use the break until the end of the track.
So after that we went to this random little farm/petting zoo at the bottom of the hill, and then we found ANOTHER ROPEWAY. Although this one was more like a ski lift, I guess.
SO WE WENT ON THAT TOO.
...also, one of the other girls realized that she isn't a super fan of heights while dangling over a several hundred foot drop. Oops.
There was an amazing view from the top of the ski-lift-ropeway-thing!
And then we realized we should probably go back down the mountain to meet up with the rest of our tour group.
...and then we had to go down the other ropeway too...
...we wound up being 10 minutes late. Oh dear. Fortunately (?) we weren't the latest group back; they were about 20 minutes late.
So then we rode in the bus for a bit more and got lunch at a rest house. It was tabehoudai, except, as one of the girls pointed out, it doesn't really count as tabehoudai if there are only three choices of food. There's only so much udon you can eat in one sitting. But it was still pretty tasty!
So after that we got in the bus again and rode for about three minutes to Kouzenji, which is a temple.
TEMPLE TEMPLE TEMPLE TEMPLE.
I would say something profound here, but I don't really have anything to say. It was a nice temple? Kinda small, but nice. Well, nice other than the incense which started to trigger my asthma.
Oh, and there were really tall trees.
So then we hopped in the bus again*, and drove about an hour to Naraijuku, which is a Tokugawa-era post town. (Post towns were stations located on the roads between the different kingdoms/feudatories in the Tokugawa era. They were important points for travelers to stop at to restock and rest.)
Needless to say, the buildings have been almost completely preserved; they've replaced the old wooden roofs with metal ones now, but that's about it.
This is apparently the (old) sign for a sake shop. If you know anything about Shinto, you will immediately notice that it has a Shinto sacred rope hanging from it. The reason (as the shop owner explained to us) is that it's also the sign of the kami of sake.
So after wandering around there, seeing a whole lot of cool stuff, finding out that hematite is supposed to have Super Special Spiritual Properties,** and eating some senbei, we hopped on the bus AGAIN and went to get dinner. Dinner was this kind of raw salmon marinaded in soy sauce and put on top of rice (tasty) and also something called gohei mochi, which is like SUPERSMUSHEDRICE on a stick covered in walnut-sesame-soy-other stuff sauce. SO TASTY.
This was the view from the balcony of the restaurant.
So then we hopped on the bus to ride back to Nagoya. On the ride back we saw 3/4 of Udon, which is an utterly bizarre movie about...udon. And a dude's relationship with his dad. And his dad's relationship with udon. And a bear randomly attacking a car. I don't know. It was very strange.
We kept getting free stuff, since we were a tour group, so here's the part of my haul that survived the trip home. Clockwise from the upper left corner: miso donut, a kind of senbei that's apparently Nagano meibutsu, "apple pie," and some sort of pastry thing filled with something.
All in all, a pretty epic trip! But utterly exhausting, as we arrived back in Nagoya at 8 p.m. and I didn't make it back to the dorm until 9 p.m.
My big achievement today was finishing the first book in Japanese which I have read cover to cover. It was 『神道の常識が分かる小事典』and I cannot recommend it in good conscience, because it is really not terribly interesting, full of unrelated tangents, and also the author quotes the Bible and The Little Prince to explain Shinto concepts. Oh dear.
*Well, first, everyone in the tour group got samples of goma dango, which are little dumplings filled with black sesame sauce. AMAZINGLY DELICIOUS. Also full of puns, because they were 護魔団子. PUNS.
**Ironic, since I wear a hematite ring. DOES THIS MEAN I HAVE SUPER POWERS?