Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Bon Bon Bon!
This summer break I went on a 5 day trip to Nagano prefecture. It's located Northwest of Tokyo prefecture (see above map for more detail). I've been to the prefecture before but that was to a different area. Anyway, the first few days I went to Matsumoto. It took about five hours by bus to get there. I don't remember much of that city, but here is the one thing I really do remember: the Matsumoto city theme song that was blasted on repeat for over 5 hours from speakers that hung from light posts around the city streets. ( Note to reader: I don't know why everything seems to be in five's in this blog post, but I will try to continue this trend now that I've noticed it.)
"Bon bon Matsumoto Bon Bon Bon. Bon Bon Matsumoto Bon Bon Bon."
So simple. So pure. So genius.
It's my fifth new favorite song and it will never leave my head, at least not for the next five months. For your own amazing experience of the Matsumoto Bon Bon festival, watch this video below. (Watch it five times if you please.)
After the festival, I remember seeing a castle that I assume was called Matsumoto Castle. I climbed to the top, I think there was probably a beautiful view. Mostly I waited in the dark unlit interior of the castle behind a long snake of people, as I waited to climb the dozens (or maybe there were five?) of identically steep and narrow staircases up to the top. I also remember going to a hot spring on a roof with an amazing view of the city and the mountains surrounding it. I was naked on the roof of a building. I have no idea if people could see me, but I guess in Japan they don't care about those things. Apparently I took pictures, more than five. (Are you sick of it yet?)
After Matsumoto, I went to Kamikouchi. It didn't take five hours to get there. It took one and a half. I stayed in a Japanese style inn (called a ryokan) with the traditional tatami mat floors. People wore the casual kimono (actually called yukata) and slippers around the place and took advantage of the free hot spring. I'm just crazy about hot springs- they are super relaxing. There is nothing like scrubbing every inch of your body clean and then soaking in a hot tub of water. There was also another private onsen you could use for free. They had to drive you to it cause it was in a cave. A cave I tell you! How cool is that?
But seriously, Kamikouchi is a beautiful place. It's situated in a gorgeous river valley among the something-something Alps (in case you couldn't tell, I can't remember which Alps because just about every mountain range in Japan is called "the blabbity blabbity Alps"). The river's water was so clean and clear you could see right through to the bottom and it was a gorgeous green color. It was also extremely misty, which made everything very mystical and mysterious. The weather was also extremely cool. We were able to sleep with our windows open to let the cool breeze in at night. It was quite a relief from living in Tokyo, where the heat is simply brutal.
Also, where else can one eat an ice cream cone, in the rain, while hiking in the mountains? Yes, there was a souvenir shop selling ice cream. I couldn't help myself. And it wasn't raining until I stepped outside of the shop with my freshly bought cone. Call it bad timing, or denial of iffy looking clouds in the sky. Either way, I felt a bit ridiculous, but also really enjoyed my ice cream.
The other exciting part was eating at a restaurant where I watched the staff pulling fish out the river, sticking them on skewers in one, big, violent thrust, then ripping out their organs, and putting them on an open fire to cook. A good while later at my table, a delicious set lunch of grilled fish, rice, Japanese pickles, miso soup, and other assorted goodies was set before me. I was told I could eat the entire fish-- head, tail, fins and all. You could even eat the eyes, the bones, the teeth! Oh my! My companion just bit right into the head and ate that whole darn fish in a few gulps. Craziness! I managed to eat everything, but the head. It was a mighty delicious fish, though. I've never had fresher.