Wednesday, January 18, 2012


One of the best decisions Jason and I ever made was to get married over a 4 day weekend.  Now, every year when our anniversary rolls around, we have a long weekend to celebrate!  Last year we went to Hawaii {thanks to a TDY}, this year we chose to stay closer and we went to Nagano for 3 days.  I was just happy that we were spending our 3rd anniversary in a row together.  I'm pretty sure that might be some sort of record among the military community!  

The weekend was...interesting!  Overall we had a great time but the weekend definitely had it's high and low points.

Saturday morning, we boarded a Shinkansen bound for Nagano.  It was Jason's 1st time to ride the bullet train

When we arrived, the package we had paid for through the travel office on base included a free bento or lunch box.  We had no idea what to expect of these bentos but they ended up being delicious and we couldn't have picked a better lunch if we tried!

We had a few hours before we were able to check into our hotel and thanks to the awesome system here that is called "black cat"{for a very reasonable fee, this company will ship your luggage to your hotel, usually in under 24 hours.  It truly makes traveling within the country a breeze!  America should take note.}, we didn't have any luggage so we walked up a beautiful shop lined street in the snow to check out a temple in Nagano city

at one of the side temples, I spun a wheel to save myself from pain and suffering

once we entered the main temple

we noticed a long line of people waiting to see a man ornately dressed at the front of the temple {I assume he would be the equivalent of a Priest in a Catholic church}.  We weren't going to join in because we weren't really sure what was going on {we assumed it was some sort of prayer or blessing but it could have been anything!} but a kind Japanese gentleman saw us and pointed to the line and said "dozo!  dozo!" or "go ahead! go ahead!" so we joined the line.  We watched what others were doing so we knew what to do when it was out turn.  Each time a person would step in front of the man in the fancy clothes they would place their hands together and bow slightly as the man pressed his gloved hands onto their head.  The kind man in front of us showed us to put some change into a dish and step in front of the bigwig. We did as we had seen each person in front of us do and I can only hope that the man prayed kind words upon us.  I really wish I could have taken photos of this man in his fancy robes or asked questions to find out exactly what was happening.  I REALLY need to work on my Japanese!

After our visit to the Zenko-ji Temple, we took another train then checked into our ryokan, or Japanese hotel.  This was my 1st time staying in a ryokan.  It's slightly different from a traditional Western room in that there isn't a bed.  In the evening, a futon mattress is laid out for sleeping.

The room set up for the day
 the sitting/eating area
 us in our yukatas with our beds laid out

This is where I realize this post is going to be LONG!!!!  Oh well, I don't want to break it up.  So...

After we checked into our hotel, we took off in search of dinner.  We chose a chanko-nabe {WikiPedia's 24 hour black out is messing with my ability to easily link unknown Japanese words on my blog...point taken} place.  When we walked in, there was only one table occupied

to make a REALLY LONG story short, by the time we received our food {the same thing EVERY OTHER TABLE ORDERED} every table was full and had their food!!!!  I was LIVID but since I don't speak the language, I couldn't really do anything about it but sit there and stew {pun intended}!  A very kind family at the table behind us realized what was happening and started sharing their food with us.  They spoke little to no English but were still extremely kind to us foreigners.  The woman kept saying Jason was "macho"...I am NEVER going to hear the end of that one.  They had an adorable 6 year old son who spent the entire evening shouting any and every English word he knew, "APPLE!", "SUGAR!", "MONKEY!".  Their kindness completely turned my mood upside down and I ended up thoroughly enjoying my evening {and, I hate to admit, the food was well worth the wait}.

Day 2 was spent in Shiga Kogen which is home to some of the slopes that were used in the 1998 Nagano Olympic Games.

I might have spent most of my time ordering hot chocolate from a vending machine !
 my little ski turtle did so much better than his 1st attempt last year.  Instead of just flying down the hills screaming "sumimasen" {"excuse me" in Japanese} he actually slowed down and attempted to teach himself to turn and stop

That night for dinner, Jason decided he wanted to try the "western" restaurant the hotel staff had told us about.  When we arrived we found a menu with no photos and no English.

In case you can't tell from the prices, he was reading this upside down and understanding about as much as he was when he tried to read it the right way.

One of the VERY FEW words I can read in Kanji is "chicken" so we each pointed to an item under the chicken section and what  we were served was one of the best pieces of chicken I have ever put in my mouth!

For the 2nd night in a row what started out as a not so good dinner experience did a complete 180!

Our 3rd day in Nagano was my favorite!  We hiked along a beautiful trail for 30 minutes in the below freezing temperatures to visit a wild monkey park
 I have never in my life, up until this minute, called snow "beautiful" was truly breath taking!
 and the monkeys?!?!  THEY WERE SO ADORABLE!
 "this is fun, but how will I ever get down?!?!"

 they spend a lot of time keeping warm in one of the natural hot springs

 a huge crowd showed up right before we left
 this guy was hanging out in the tree eating a snack

After visiting the snow monkeys we grabbed a warm bowl of soba {Japanese buckwheat noodles that are very famous in Nagano}

and headed home.

Today is our actual anniversary.  I'm looking forward to cooking a delicious lobster dinner followed by some cheesecake that is chilling in the fridge =}