Monday, May 10, 2010

Next Stop Nagano

The last week of April and the first week of May sees the arrival of Golden Week, a collection of Japanese public holidays that meld together to form almost a week off from work. I've used past Golden Week holidays to show my Mom around Japan and to travel to Thailand and Vietnam. This year I went for something a little different, and a little cheaper.... Road Trip! Peter, my friend and roommate from training, was the first to arrive, and we packed up Hammond and made our way to pick up the rest of the crew.

Our first destination was Nagano City, home of the 1998 Winter Olympics, and one of the larger and more famous Buddhist temples in Japan, Zenkoji (善光寺). Visitors have a chance to go under the main alter in a tiny, pitch black tunnel to search for the "key to enlightenment", but being that it was Golden Week, the line for the tunnel stretched all across the inner sanctum. I had already found the key on my last trip inside Zenkoji 5 years ago, and the rest of the group opted for lunch over eternal enlightenment, which I think illuminates the human condition quite succinctly.

Traffic en route to Nagano hadn't been overly heavy, but the Golden Week crowds were out in full force in the shopping promenade near the temple. This didn't stop me from trying no fewer than three new soft serve ice cream flavors. First up was soba flavor, which is based on the buckwheat noodle that is famous in the Nagano area and tasted a bit like vanilla, though with definite hint of soba. Then I had a miso flavored ice cream cone, which I likened more to caramel, though again you knew that you were eating miso. Finally I had sakura (cherry blossom) flavor, and it was certainly cherry blossom flavor and not cherry. It actually hinted more strongly towards strawberry, though it smelled and tasted subtly of blossoms. Miso was the clear loser among the three, but even that flavor was far more delicious than it had any right to be, and all three were quite palatable.

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