It was messy to leave Tokyo because the transportation system is pure chaos that I don’t understand entirely. But after 15 minutes of walking underground and a few more walking outside the train station and around the bus station, I finally was on my way to Nagano.
At my arrival, I waited for my friend Ryota to pick me up. He came with the car, picked me up, we parked the car and he took me to visit the main shrine of the town of Nagano. It was extremely nice only because of the fact that there was nobody around and it was empty. Then, he also taught me how to pray. We both took a coin and threw it to this box in front of the shrine. We bended twice, slowly and then clapped twice, as well slowly, to finish with another bend. After that only one more thing could be done: dinner! And after some decisions, he chose a Japanese barbeque place where we were cooking our own beef slices that were delish!
Then, we made our way to his place. We arrived after an hour drive more or less and after crossing woods, passing by lakes full of frogs and in general, arriving to a place in the middle of the nature. I got to see a huge house more like a guest house or a hotel. And her mum was awating for us. After the introductions and getting the names right, which was hard enough with mine, we decided to call me V-san. It was the easiest for everybody. And before wishing everyone a good night, they took me to my room: a beautiful lovely huge place that was nothing like what I am used to. Ryota’s mum made sure I knew that he would be working next day and we would be hanging out together. She wanted to do sightseeing with me, show me around, go to an onsen together (she also made sure by gestures that I knew that naked was involved here) and go to gather pine nuts.
The next day, I woke up, took a relaxing Japanese bath (shower option was not available here), had breakfast and then Ryota’s mum and I would be hanging out. First of all, she took to some place in the mountains with some beautiful yellow flowers fields. When we got there, she introduced me to the guards in a building and they offered me a bicycle to go around the lovely place. I had 20 minutes to go around and see the mountains, the flowers, the woods… I also got to see a huge snake that made me think twice about getting to the middle of the flower fields like other people around and I only could get around the field walking a bit but keeping eye contact with the ground constantly.
Then, when I returned the bicycle, she took me to the place where Ryota was working. We entered a huge meeting room and then crossed the building to get to the middle of a field where some guys and Ryota were working on assembling some long-term tents for some German student they would be having over the next week. After saying hello to everybody and enjoy the bending ceremony, people around found out that I am an architect and made Ryota took me on a tour around the whole complex. It was brilliant, to be honest and while the ground floor had a lot of separated spaces and outdoor space in between buildings, the lower level was actually a compound of corridors and buildings all connected for the winter season, as this area gets lots of snow. I thought it was great and quite enjoyed the tour and learning what they were doing over there and the project they were involved in.
After the visit, we headed somewhere else; where more mountains were waiting and there was some strange smell…it was sulphur! Because around here there is some volcano activity in the mountains which creates the onsens we went to see. It was funny how we arrived at the first one and when Ryota’s mum was pointing me the entrance for ladies, we couldn’t help to see a man, naked of course, at the other entrance and giggle a bit. We weren’t expecting people around because it was low season and a Monday. But well…we had to laugh. We continued to look for another onsen around, but the way was blocked and the snow melting around wasn’t making it any easier so we had to desist.
Afterwards, we both went to the supermarket, did a bit of shopping and went back to the house to have a lovely lunch. After lunch, I had time enough to send an important email to the visa centre to make sure that my Chinese visa was getting processed and then we headed out for more stuff: I volunteered to go with her to gather pine nuts for her hand crafts and, after providing me with a long shirt, rubber boots and a pair of gloves, we went to the forest, where there was still snow left. We visited a wooden cottage and tried some bamboo soup that a friend of hers had and then made our way to the trees to gather the pine nuts. At the beginning I was not sure about what to do but once I realised if I kept behind her I was not going to find anything because she was going first and therefore, collecting all in her way, I separated a bit and started gathering them myself. I was fairly tired from all day, but as everything or almost everything I do, I got competitive and tried to find as many of them as I could and so I did. Once we figured we couldn’t really find many more, we just came back and I realised how wild the area still was, because we heard worrisome noises from the wildness.
Anyways, back to the house and then I didn’t have much more time because at 6pm some students were coming to attend Ryota’s English class and I had been asked to collaborate. I wanted to prepare some power point or something similar to help to deliver the message and also help me with the message to be delivered, because I tend to talk in circles. Also I tend to speak too fast and I had noticed how I had to slow down in the delivery, because otherwise people wouldn’t be able to get even half of whatever I was saying. But I hadn’t had any time for that and Ryota was happy enough with me taking about my travels and showing pictures from my laptop, as I once did with him in the plane where we met. So, I spent an hour and a half talking non-stop about all these things that I do (well, not all of them, just some, a few). The class was fun, I did most of the talking and it was quite fun to hear their reactions on stuff, how they were “oouuuuuu-ing” me together and the general expressions they use. Then, they thanked me and we took a few pictures together to remember the moment. And by the time we were finished, it was dinner time and Ryota’s mum, Hisako, made delicious dinner for us, as it would be usual and offered us some red Japanese wine to go with the dinner. Ryota and I enjoyed a lovely chat on different stuff and we tried to organise the following day. I wanted him to take it easy because it was his free day and I didn’t want to be a burden. But his mum had a different opinion and although he usually wakes up late when he has a free day, she wanted him to wake up early to take to places. All I wanted was everyone to enjoy and also, to help him to build his dream and his business. Mainly because I believed in his idea but also because I was grateful to be there and how they were taking care of me and because I simply liked him, a person with dreams, ideas and full of stuff in the head, not afraid to take the lead, to break in, to do something good for the society… I was enthusiastic of his ideas and truly wanted to do something with my time and my travels.
So we agreed to wake up at a decent time and he had to apply for some program in Germany, but after he had organised to have lunch somewhere with a friend of his that was also a teacher and knew a little English. We made our way to the restaurant, met him up and chatted about the project, ideas, things he could do and research, what I could bring to that, what I knew about that… It was the first serious chat we were having about this and I finally understood what was in his head. It was wonderful, to bring Japanese kids to home stays and families in Europe so they could open their mind, learn, get the travel bug, practise languages and also appreciate what they have back home. That was something, especially in this culture and society.
From the moment of my arrival to Japan and since then, and I have discussed this with Ryota, I have seen how shy the Japanese people is, generally speaking. It is a society quite different to others, and definitely, and I have got to this conclusion speaking of a few people that live here, they need to open up more and see other things. This would be extremely positive for them.
After this productive lunch, we said good bye to Ryota’s friend and I attended to a series of bending from the respective cars that left me wondering how they know when to stop, because I couldn’t grasp the moment when you know you are supposed to be done. And then, Ryota drove me to Naena fall, a beautiful waterfall nearby his place. We grabbed some ice cream and came back home, to chill a bit before having dinner. By this time, the place was receiving two more guests and dinner was something more than special. I was served a dinner that felt proper for a king (or a queen in my case), where plates didn’t stop coming even though I already thought I couldn’t eat more. A lovely chat kept following and also, Hisako wanted to make sure I had something in mind for the next day for both of us, as Ryota would be back at work. I didn’t want to be a burden and she was busy with the guests, but she insisted on hanging out until 4pm as very late as then she would have to do some work and insisted on me thinking of a place to go next day.
Next day, I really couldn’t think of anything and I wasn’t very familiar with the area, so I did what I usually do when I travel: look at a map and go with my guts. I saw a lake and I asked her to take me there when she asked me. It was actually a good choice, even though the day was cloudy and a bit rainy. After that, she decided to go to a winery in the area and we visited the place and the shop. At the shop, there was an American man in between all the Japanese employees that immediately said hello to me and offered us to taste different wines. Hisako had to drive and couldn’t drink but I was free of responsibilities and I love wine. After the tasting of different wines, we got a bottle of a wine made with a grape called dragon eye that I thought it was quite different to anything I have ever had and also everyone would enjoy because of its sweetness. Unfortunately, Ryota and I wouldn’t drink that because we happened to have different plans later on, but that comes later.
After a nice tour that our new American friend took us, we went for lunch (I needed food to wash down the wine, although normally it works the opposite way and you need a drink to wash down the food). She wanted to take me to have soba, which it happens to be very famous in this area of Japan, but the place was closed down and we ended up somewhere else more Chinese, having noodles and simply enjoying lunch together before we were back and Hisako was back to her chores. By then, I had prepared a bicycle that Ryota used to use for Junior High school and that it was perfect for me to be left alone for a while and explore the area. It was also nice to exercise a bit because I had been eaten huge amounts of food and feeling full all the time while been driven everywhere. I took some hills and enjoyed the green fields and the rice fields around until I reached a nice pond I went around. Half way there, I decided to leave the bike a bit and hike because I found an interesting track that I didn’t know where it was going but it was not suitable to follow by bike. After a while, I had to abandon the idea, half afraid by the possibility of finding snakes and bears (I had seen lots of dissected bears previously in a hut around that area) and the possibility of not finding the way back to the bicycle afterwards or ending up lost in the woods. So I rode my bike back and went randomly here and there, snooping around, seeing different houses and roads with a slightly different landscape, still green.
Back to the house I had a beautiful relaxing bath in the Japanese bath, which by then I already had made compulsory to take one at the end of each day and before dinner, to chill and disconnect. Ryota came back from work and he had more plans for me: we were going out for dinner to meet a friend of his. I absolutely adored this friend and her boyfriend, who she brought although he couldn’t speak English. But people always surprise and he started speaking to me with some loose Spanish words and that made the situation hilarious, because generally the conversation had to be translated into English or Japanese for one of us, but when he was speaking to me nobody else could understand. They were lovely and we chatted and laugh and had a lovely (and huge) dinner until it was time to go back.
By next day, all that was left to do was to pack and get my things ready to go and clean up a bit the room because I didn’t want them to be doing it for me. I had stuff everywhere and when I packed the whole thing, I realised something was missing: my towel. My fantastic and absolutely magical microfiber towel. This was a big big loss. I have been 8 months fearing this moment and it has arrived. The moment where the traveller forgets the towel somewhere. For me it was more than that. I couldn’t even recall where I had lost it. I have been facing more than several things getting broken. I have lost a few things during the way. These last two months have been particularly tough and everything is getting knackered (probably I should include myself there). But the lost of a fine towel, hard to replace was tough. The voices that were whispering “Virginia, go home”, started to scream. I shut them up. I was coming back to Toyko that night to collect my passport and visa and go to China in a few days! I would contact the last places I have been in and see if they have found it and in the meantime I could use my scarf-towel-beach wear – beach towel – sheet and many other uses I have been giving to that scarf, until a replacement was to be found. But I must admit it is the first time I feel overwhelmed (it wasn’t only the towel but also my epilady, how am I supposed to survive without that!!??), just now that I had bought a ticket to get out of Iran considering that I wanted to take my time because it was going to be awesome and I wanted to take it slow with the Ramadan.
Anyways, and leaving alone the towel drama, I went for lunch with Ryota’s mum again, because she really wanted me to have Soba and this time the place was opened so we could enjoy a delish lunch. We commented on things and laughed as we had been doing all these days. I really admired this woman, that although she thought she was unable to speak English, was communicating with me and knew more words than what she probably believed. She was cheerful and kind and warm and in general a great great person and the moment to say goodbye to her, back at home and before her son was coming back to pick me up and take me to the station, was hard. She apologized for not being able to speak more to me, which I found unacceptable and she got emotional inviting me to be over again at her place. I couldn’t stop thanking her for everything and asked her to visit me somewhere in Europe, wherever I end up, because she will always be welcome to my house and because I really wanted to return the favour and return at least half of the hospitality she showed for me. I almost got emotional as well when she said that I had been for her as her daughter. So sweet. I have no idea how many times I hugged her.
After, Ryota arrived to pick me up and we were lively chatting in his car, as always. He even parked his car and came with me until the very bus station and to see the bus. I hugged him as well and couldn’t really wish him more than the best for his project and to keep me updated and hopefully visit me wherever I am!
I left Myoko with my heart full of love, of hope, of joy and a bitter taste because I had to say goodbye once more. But feeling amazingly well because I have had the most amazing experience with lovely kind people in Japan. And I feel so grateful once more for these opportunities and these fantastic feelings, for this lesson that I get once more while travelling, for this unique experience lived. I can’t wait to see these people again in Europe and show them around and be half as good guest as they have been to me. I don’t think of myself able to equal the hospitality I have received. But it is time to get back to Tokyo, back to Osman’s house, to collect my passport and get to new exciting destinations. Also, to recover a bit the travel bug, to learn to be with myself again and to enjoy my loneliness. I am aware I need some of that, I need to learn to be with myself once more and it will be an easy thing to achieve because China won’t allow to keep attending my social networks very much. New challenge: two weeks for myself and only myself. And it surprises me how much it scares me when it shouldn’t, not at this stage. But I always get a bit emotional after leaving people that marked my way so much and get a few days a bit down. Nothing that more adventures can’t fix, right?