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A Happy Christmas in Nagano

Warning: the following blog contains copious amounts of snow. Please watch your step.

To those of you who may be familiar, Nagano is quite a famous location amongst skiers and snowboarders alike. I, however, am not one of those people. Having only tried snowboarding once and nearly collapsing due to overheating, I haven’t felt any desire to try since and this year’s trip to Nagano was no exception.

Until last year, my company treated staff and their families to a trip to a place called Hakuba (also in Nagano), which was always jolly good fun. Two nights in a nice lodge with an open bar and Christmas dinner? Yes please. Others went skiing and snowboarding while I just lazed about in the lodge, but I think with past experience, that is entirely justified. Alas, after my third time there the company decided to ditch it as it was getting ‘too big (expensive)’ with no alternative to fill its place. After spending so long in Japan without really celebrating Christmas properly, it was the closest thing I had and is needless to say that I was a bit disappointed when they announced it’d be cancelled. Well, trying to retain that feeling of celebration, my girlfriend and I decided to go it alone and do something ourselves.

Last year we ventured to Gujo Hachiman and stayed in a lodge Airbnb for one night. This year we’re coming back to Nagano (just a half-hour drive south from Hakuba) to try out another Airbnb.

I think Winston wanted to come.

The lodge this time round is much bigger than the one we stayed at last year, and understandably a bit more expensive. Had it not been for the ‘Go To Travel’ campaign that Japan had up until recently initiated to encourage tourism during the COVID-19 pandemic (I know, right?), we probably would not have come here just the two of us or would have settled for the one night instead. However, it’s Christmas, so what the heck!

After a four-hour drive from Nagoya and then struggling to reverse up a slippery slope to the lodge (I eventually left the car at the bottom of the slope) and unloading our luggage, I realised again that it would have been great to have had a larger group here to record our own rendition of George Michael’s Last Christmas. With that being said, the lodge itself was very nice, albeit a little untidy (which I thought gave it a bit of character. My girlfriend, however, did not). It was a completely open plan lodge, with the living room, dining and kitchen downstairs, and four double beds side-by-side upstairs on the landing.

I’d thrown the idea out to a few friends a little while back (not literally recording a George Michael video), but everyone has their own lives to live and not everyone can take time off work for Christmas. That and covid preventing one couple in the group from even seeing each other, it just wasn’t going to happen. Ah well, next time.

We eventually trekked out into town to pick up some supplies (booze and snacks) and have a little look around. The lodge is located in a small town called Omachi, where from what we could see from driving around, does not have a lot going on. However the view of the mountains all around town make up for any lack of typical entertainment. Looking at Google Maps, there appeared to be a lot of parks around and mountains to climb, but after a long day of driving, I only wanted to kick off my shoes and relax with a nice beer. And that I did. It was Christmas Eve, after all.

Christmas Day – Snow, Snowmen, and Snow Monkeys!

Waking up at 8 am (probably the closest thing I can say I’ve had to a lie-in since we got the kitties) to the sound of a noisy truck doing the rounds outside. We opened the curtains to find a light snowfall that had covered everything in sight. Nagano was able to offer exactly what I wanted; a true Dickensian white Christmas!

After exchanging presents we had breakfast and made some hot tea to take out with us to brave the cold that awaited. We decided to check out some of the local area that we could get to on foot, as I was not totally confident in driving in the snow and we thought it’d be a great opportunity to try out our new boots we purchased just the day before. It turns out they were an essential purchase, otherwise we’d have had extremely wet and cold feet to deal with at the end of each day. Before committing ourselves to the trip ahead, we could not help but create a new addition to the family… by which of course I mean we made a snowman!

Our first destination was the Omachi dam. Not that I go to dams regularly, but I believe the last dam I went to was back in 2017 during my trip to New Zealand, and I’d forgotten how big and impressive these things can be! Unfortunately we didn’t really have enough time (or the energy) to go to the other side of the lake, but we did climb up a little more to the top and the view was amazing. There was a park at the top as well that was absolutely smothered in snow. Had Google Maps not told me otherwise, it would have been difficult to identify it as a park. Oh, apart from the statue of a boy riding a dragon. I think that helped too.

We decided to take a different route back and continued up into the mountain, crossing a few bridges along the way and being treated to more great views as we headed towards a hotel restaurant. After forty minutes or so, we finally arrived only to be told they don’t do lunch during the winter. We soldiered on, hungry and cold. About halfway back to the lodge, we saw some animals in the distance which we could not be sure were monkeys or bears. Worrying that they may be the latter, we took a little detour, only to find a group of monkeys nearby minding their own business and doing what monkeys do.

We dropped by the main public bath that runs the lodge on our way back to make sure if that was included in the booking or not as we had planned to try it out that day. The nice lady at the counter confirmed that it was, so we decided to give it a go, only to be accosted by a man as we were leaving, who came running up the window to tell us that due to the coronavirus and the number of elderly that apparently use the bath, they requested that we do not visit later on in the day. We were of course disappointed, but these are strange times we’re living in.

With the bath out of bounds now, the rest of the day was set: a quick convenience store run for snacks and alcohol, a couple of movies while enjoying said snacks, dinner and drinks, and a nice hot bath.

A lovely bit of cider. Scrummy.

I’ve been told many times that Die Hard is a Christmas film and I can honestly say that I’d never watched it, neither did I understand why it was considered one. I thought it was just because it was shown at Christmas and didn’t actually have anything to do with it, but it turns out it does! A pleasant surprise indeed. The girlfriend was less convinced once Mr Takagi (I can only say that in Alan Rickman’s voice) got his brains shot all over the window, but I was less deterred. An enjoyable film and next year I’ll make sure to give the second one a shot (no pun intended). With Die Hard out of the way, it was her choice of film next with a slightly happier and jollier musical, Hairspray. An equally enjoyable film, but for many different reasons!

Despite not being able to use the main public bath down the road, the lodge did come with its own, which was certainly a good alternative. I now only wish I could have a bathroom like this in my place! Maybe some day…

Peeping Toms would have had an eye-full.

At the end of the night, I had one last beer and spent some time to talk with my family back home and to wish them a Happy Christmas. Pandemic permitting, I will go back next year to celebrate with them. It’s great living in Japan, but I’ll never stop missing my family, especially at this time of year.

The snow continued to fall throughout the night and the next morning we were awoken again by the truck out on the road clearing the way. After rushing around to pack and clean up before we left, the next job was to unsnowify the car and clear out the driveway a little. A few false starts to get onto the road, but we got there in the end! We said our goodbyes to Sgnome and we were off.

We set sail southward and it didn’t take long for us to be out the snow and into the clearing. Amazing what just a few kilometres difference makes. There were some absolutely fantastic views of the mountains in the distance that I would love to have taken a photo of to share, but unfortunately there was no opportunity to stop for a snap, so all I’ve got is one taken on the road, but I think it shows a little of what I’m trying to describe.

I’d read online that Mt Fuji could be seen from Nagano in a placed called Suwa. So we set the coordinates for Suwa lake as the starting point. We had some soba noodles for lunch (a local dish, apparently), walked around the lake a little bit and then headed off to some mountains a little bit further south from where Mt Fuji would hopefully be visible.

There was a little confusion as to how we would get to the top of this mountain once we arrived, but after finally figuring it out we got to the top and there it was! Mt Fuji in all its glory. Had the weather perhaps been a bit clearer, I’m sure the view would have been even more spectacular, but I cannot complain. The photos do not do the actual view justice, but I hope you enjoy them all the same.

Well, that was the final stop (bar a few service stations on the way home, but I don’t think they’d be of any interest to anyone!) and after three wonderful days away from home, it was time to leave. We couldn’t wait to get back to the cats who, I should mention, were being taken care of by my girlfriend’s sister while we were away. While I hate driving in Japanese cities with the endless rows of traffic lights, driving on their motorways is a great experience. Literally driving through mountains and valleys makes the whole drive a little adventure in itself.

Now it’s time for a cup of tea and a return to reality.

Sleep tight.

3 Comments »

  1. I loved reading that Jeremy and the photos are beautiful, especially the very last one.
    (Just in the interests of useless information I remember when I worked for the Halle Orchestra (not a musician I hasten to add) the conductor at that time was Kent Nagano. I had no idea then (early 70s lol) that Nagano is a place in Japan.
    The Christmas film in Sweden by the way is “Fanny and Alexander” it goes on all day long. Also Donald Duck is compulsory at 3pm on Xmas eve) A need a funny emoji ….
    Akemashite omedetou !
    from Seb’s dragon

    Like

  2. I loved reading that Jeremy and the photos are beautiful, especially the very last one.
    (Just in the interests of useless information I remember when I worked for the Halle Orchestra (not a musician I hasten to add) the conductor at that time was Kent Nagano. I had no idea then (early 70s lol) that Nagano is a place in Japan.
    The Christmas film in Sweden by the way is “Fanny and Alexander” it goes on all day long. Also Donald Duck is compulsory at 3pm on Xmas eve) A need a funny emoji ….
    Akemashite omedetou !
    from Seb’s dragon

    Like

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