Skiing Weekend in Nozawa Onsen (野沢温泉) near Nagano

I left work at a reasonable time one recent Friday night and caught the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Nagano followed by a local train and a taxi to the final destination of Nozawa Onsen. It’s been a while since I’ve been away for the whole weekend and I felt quite excited.

My thoughts have turned a bit in recent days to my return to the UK in April and as part of that I’m seeing Japan in fresh eyes. On Friday night I realised that I will really miss the efficiency of Japanese trains. The Shinkansens are very comfortable, with lots of space and it’s nice to have time to study and read while travelling fast through the country! I enjoyed a packed tea – a kind of bento box.

I met a running friend in Nagano and we got the local train together to the nearest station to Nozawa Onsen. From there we share a short taxi ride to the hotel with 2 other people in the queue.

Arriving at the hotel I was sharing a room with 3 other women from the running club. This is quite common in Japan, we had futon on tatami mats with a shared toilet and small table to socialise around. I enjoyed some tea and snacks before we headed out to one of the 14 free public baths in the town (onsen). There is an abundance of natural hot water due to the volcanic geology in the area.

The town was lovely, there was deep snow but the roads were clear as people pumped the natural hot water over their drives and the road melting the snow. There was a slight smell of sulphur in the air from the volcanic activity but a real treat to have a hot bath in the snow!

I got up early the next morning for a short run before another quick Onsen and then a good Japanese breakfast, pescatarian version for me, which included fruit, salad, rice, green tea and fish.

Next was skiing. The resort was great and the snow very good. Like Hokkaido at Christmas there was a lot of fresh powder snow. Not quite to the level of Hokkaido but enough to make the skiing very friendly and pleasant. I spent the day with 2 Japanese women that I was sharing my room with. They were better on the slopes than me but we had a great day out stopping for lunch at a restaurant near the top of the mountain and meeting most of the others. In the day we managed to cover most of the resort hardly touching the green routes – an achievement for me!

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We got the last chair back to the village and after another Onsen had a great Japanese dinner in the hotel with the whole group. It was a kind of banquet with sashimi, rice, hot pot, pickles including traditional Nozawa Onsen pickle that was delicious! A kind of patchoi mildly pickled. They had it with every meal and was for sale in all of the ski resort lunch spots.

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After dinner we visited a real ale bar with a bit of a British twist

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Chiba San got out the Namban Banner and we took a ‘holiday’ picture!

The next day I enjoyed a Sunday morning without a run (the only one in my marathon training – 11 weeks so far) and after another good breakfast hit the slopes again. We started with the small chair lift to the ski station – you get an idea of the amount of snow from this!

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Sumo Wrestling

A few weeks ago I went to the Sumo wrestling tournament in Ryogoku, Tokyo.

For lots of good information see Japan Guide:
Japan Guide – Sumo Wrestling

I went with one of my colleagues who is a big sumo fan so had a great experience learning about the sport as well as being really entertained! I’d studied it a bit by reading the internet and reading an interesting book on sumo wrestling:

Sumo – a thinking fan’s guide – David Benjamin

Sumo Wrestling, A thinking Fan’s Guide

The book was good and I learnt a lot, particularly about how to get passionate about the sport.  The only problem was it is written by an American sports writer so all of his references were to American sports, mainly baseball.  These references didn’t help me to understand. I’ve read a few books about Japan by Americans and it sometimes seems like there are only 2 cultures in the world from their perspective!

The day was good – we started our sumo experience with a typical sumo lunch (small size) – chanko nabe – a kind of hot pot in a restaurant that is linked to the stable that Mizuho’s sumo wrestler belongs to.  It was delicious.  You cook your own hot pot with a small cooker on the table.  I had a seafood version and you can see the uncooked version.  It came with lots of pickles, sashimi and rice as well as green tea.

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The tournament starts with all the lower ranking wrestlers so we took our time after lunch and got to the stadium around 1530. It was perfect timing as we could find our seats, get established and check out the lay if the land. For example, which side was ‘east’ which ‘west’, where the scores were, how the schedule worked etc with a bit of relaxing time before the big event started.

The main event started with a parade of all the wrestlers except the very top level – the Yokozuna with each one being announced as they entered the ring.

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There are currently only 3 Yokozuna, all Mongolian. While I’m on the subject there are quite a few foreigners that are sumo wrestlers including an Egyptian!

The Yokozuna have there own entrance, one by one accompanied by two other wrestlers from their stable.

The wrestlers are quite amazing – they’re big of course – some if them enormous but they are also very very strong, particularly their legs and lower bodies.

Mizuho and I had fun with a competition in every match. I had amazing beginners luck and just kept winning! Mizuho’s came back strongly at the end and we ended up close with a small victory on my side!

The tournament lasts for 15 days and wrestlers climb by beating those above them in status. They each fight one match per day and matches can be very short so there is a lot of thinking time to build tension before they get into the ring.

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and would go again!

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Unfortunately I forgot my camera so the above were all taken with my mobile phone

Hiroshima visit: Peace Park and Hiroshima Castle

Back between Christmas and New Year; Mark and I spent a day looking around Hiroshima after our visit to Miyajima and before heading back to Tokyo.  We started our day with a long run along the river.  The rivers here are really nice, lined with trees and some nice cafes.  After that we explored the city on foot and took some pictures that I include below.

Hiroshima Castle.  It was destroyed by the atomic bomb but has been rebuilt.  A striking landmark.

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The Peace Park including the Atomic Bomb dome, the only building that remained after the A-bomb (the bomb exploded almost exactly right above it).  It is now preserved as a memorial.  When we visited it was covered in scaffolding but normally this is not the case.  It’s a strange irony that it is being repaired to return it to its semi-destructed state.

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The Peace Memorial Park:

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Memorials for children made from thousands of origami cranes (see below).IMG_2884

Part of the Children’s Peace Memorial:

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The memorial was inspired by Sadako Sasaki who developed leukaemia aged 11 in 1955 and decided to fold 1000 origami cranes as in Japan the crane is a symbol of longevity and happiness and she believed that if she made 1000 she would recover.  She died before reaching her target but her class mates folded the rest and her story continues to inspire people to this day.

When I visited Nagasaki with my parents there were a lot of school trips visiting and they all had ‘streamer’ made up of cranes.

Okonomiyaki

One of the traditional food of Japan is the Okonomiyaki a kind of pancake/pizza made of mixed ingredients cooked on a heated plate.  In Hiroshima the traditional okonomiyaki includes noodles.  It was delicious but very filling – this eating tourism is not as easy as it looks!

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