100 Happy Days / Day 50: Shinjuku to Nagano

After we missed our overnight bus to Nagano by an infuriating 3 minutes (these people are too efficient!), we were at a loss for what to do. Our legs, already hurting from the day’s hike, were now close to buckling after our mad and unsuccesful amazing race dash through the massive Shinjuku Station with all our luggage. To add to the gravity of the situation, we had no hotel for the night, and the bus we missed just happened to also be the last bus! In our desperate moment, I noticed this giant signboard in the distance with yellow words that read “Manga Cafe”. That’s it!

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I have heard of how some people spend the night in these cafes. The receptionist could not speak a word of English, but the moment she showed us the pricing menu that said “free hot shower”, we were sold. No looking back! We booked 5 hours of rest time and you can read more about our review here. The room was tiny and we had to sleep with our legs on top of our luggages, but well, free hot shower! And once again, thank goodness we are both hobbit-sized!

Our time slot expired at 5am. The bus to Nagano was scheduled at 6:50am and we had time to kill. After we missed our bus, we learnt that everything runs like clockwork here in Japan. Not a minute early, not a minute late. Everything leaves on the dot.

We decided that the best reward for our ultra long day of maneuvering on mountains and in cubicles is … Good Food. Thankfully this 24-hour restaurant was just opposite the road and everything on the menu looked fabulous! If not, our alternative would have been to walk all the way to Kabukicho – the red light district – to find eateries that are still open.

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Across from where we sat, a young guy was facing his female friend and doing some amateur palm reading probably so he could touch her hand. Judging from her laughter, her fortunes must be pretty good! Beside them, their 2 friends were conveniently concussed. The waiter in this restaurant looked interesting; straight longish hair and manga-esque eyes. Maybe that’s what happens when you work too long beside a manga cafe.

We ate and ate and had lots and lots of green tea refills. The meal ended up costing about the same as our manga cafe stint. But we’re worth it!

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imageFinally, at 6:30am, we got our bus tickets from Shinjuku highway bus terminal and it’s off to Nagano! The buses in Japan are clean and comfortable and this bus even had a privacy curtain which came in handy as we caught up on our rest.

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4 hours later, we reached 1166 backpackers in Nagano, which was a palace by our past nights’ standards. Finally we had a full room to ourselves and we could reach comfortably for the items in our luggage without having to climb across each other.

The friendly host, who was very aptly called Key (his parents also own a backpackers so maybe it does make sense), gave us a map and carefully wrote and drew in his recommendations while standing opposite us in the counter. He even wrote upside down so that we can read it in the correct direction. What a good skill! We later learnt that he had biked the whole of Japan over 11 months and joined this backpackers hostel as he is a friend of the owner’s husband. We shared that we also dream of cycling around the world. Coincidentally there was also this book on a nomadic couple sitting on the bookshelf. Inspired!

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Feeling hungry, we headed to the recommended Oyaki shop. Oyaki is a local Nagano food; it is something similar to a Chinese bun or pau But mostly with vegetable fillings.

We felt like we stepped into a different era when we entered the shop. There were tree-stump seats around the open fire, and the old chef stood alert to the changing colour and texture of each bun. There were 3 different flavours available, and we tried all of them; flower, red bean and vegetables. True to Japanese hospitality, we were also served some lovely miso soup and neverending soba tea and pickles. All for only 510 yen!

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While we were there, a family came and 2 of their young children signed up to learn how to make Oyaki from the owner’s wife. We watched as she patiently explained how to pinch the dough to form the skin and how to close it back together after the stuffings are added. This was such a quaint display of culinary culture. We hope that this shop continues to stay open in this manner!

We headed to Zenkoji, one of the famous temples of Japan and at the gates were 2 giant, ferocious looking wood statues sealed inside metal cages to protect them from curious tourists. Or maybe to protect the tourists from them? Their giant wooden feet glowed in the morning sunlight, muscles taut, looking as though they wished to be free.

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Talking about feet, ours were in dire need of rescue and thankfully, this came in the form of a big signboard that said Taiwan Foot Massage! The shop was above a memorabilia shop that looked like it was still part of the 1990s when Nagano hosted the Winter Olympics. 1990s! Why does it seem so far away…

The massage shop was helmed by a middle aged lady and her younger male assistant and they shared that they came from Taiwan and China respectively. “Taiwan is also part of China”, the lady said. This surprised me as we have not met any Taiwanese who did not emphasize their independent sovereignty.

The male therapist was in charge of my leg massage and we started chatting about life in Nagano and how he came to live here.

“I married and came over,” he said, seeming almost reluctant to give further details. “Nagano is the city in Japan where people live the longest. The air, water and lifestyle is very good here.”

“Are there a lot of other Chinese here?” I asked.

“Where in the world would you not find any Chinese? Next time try this – go out to the street and scream 救命! (help!) in Chinese, you will see how many Chinese there are!”

My massage session was coming to an end, and yet he has not worked on my knees. Those were the most painful spots following the hike.

“Is there any way to help relieve pain in my knees?”
“I will teach you a method that you can do in your own.”

He not only instructed me; he also instructed Kenneth so that he can help me with it 😀 He was probably especially nice as we are both Chinese in ethnicity, and to him, Chinese is Chinese, no matter where you are born.

Our therapy did not end here. We continued part 2 on our own by visiting the onsen!

The onsen does make me a little nervous as we need to be naked in front of everybody else in there. Thank goodness it’s segregated by gender. I was so in need of the onsen that my inhibitions were over-ruled. Since everyone was walking around as if it was the most natural thing to do, I followed suit.

I can’t help but notice the different kind of body and boob shapes of women of all ages. It is quite fascinating.

In the cold winter, I never thought I would go out to the outdoor bath area but it looked very inviting! Nicely landscaped with giant bonsai trees, it was a pleasant place to hang out.

Each pool also has its own label, with some proclaiming its beauty enhancing properties, and others helping with all types of illnesses. I just dipped in all of them so that I can enjoy an all rounded beneficial bath! Yes!

The ultra long day finally came to an end with an early night’s sleep. Nothing better to replenish energy than sleeping well.

The only thing left to say is: Oyasumi Nasai!

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