That morning we headed out too early for the museum or castle to open, so we simply had to skip me seeing them because we had way too much planned. Today was Joe's last day with the JR pass, so we planned a full day of travel. First we would check out the port town on the way to Nagano as we switch trains, then to Nagano to see the 1998 Winter Olympic park ect (maybe even get to skate in the ice rink, but I doubted we would have time), then onto Tokyo where we hope to meet up with Shelly (my mom's neighbor Melody and Belia's sister in law) either tonight or tomorrow.
Yep, that is the city (kinda depressing). We walked around for a bit taking one last ditch effort try to find Joe one of those stupid cone hats made of hay. He decided he needed one this past week, and we really have been looking, but surprisingly haven't found a one. We have seen farmers wearing them though, so he decided that if we stopped in a small farming town that we may find some because they apparently aren't sold in touristy places. We didn't manage to find any wondering around the town, and I wasn't pushing too hard, but Joe caught the drift anyways that I thought we should move things along. We stopped in a bakery for some breakfast and Joe looked in the cabinet and pointed out all of these delicious treats for me to buy for myself that he would usually pester me for even thinking of purchasing. Of course Joe picked up a huge loaf of organic wholegrain bread for himself, and I sat there a long time contemplating if I should get a fruit waffle, but I had been conditioned for so long to not buy such things, I compromised and got a pumpkin bread (not just a slice, but the loaf).
Bordom of waiting for the train:
Back on the train Joe and I snacked on our breakfasts, but had to keep putting them away to stare out the windows because the mountains the slow trains took us through were just so magnificent. I couldn't actually get any real nice pictures of them, and I kept thinking we would get closer, so I kept saving batteries and memory by not taking awesome shots! So you'll just have to take my word for it, these mountains were really wonderful.
Really creepy train station:
Hitting Nagano, we were told at the information desk that none of the Olympic buildings were open since it was summertime, but during the winter you could buy expensive tours to go through the buildings. Other than that, they aren't accessible. They said that they used to have public ice skating at the M-Wave, but the rink was just too big for the amount of people it would draw in after the Olympic fervor subsided.
But, seeing as we were already here, we decided we would go forth to see the outside of the buildings anyways... but then there was this man. He was looking at us looking at the map, but not in a creepy way, in a "can I look at the map too so I can point things out" way. I acknowledged him. "Konichiwa" "Ahhhh, konichiwa! Sugoi! Nihongo o hanashimasu ka?" I told him that I spoke a little Japanese, and then he proceeded to speak to us in decent English. He said his name was Miko, and he loved showing people Japan, so he tries to take people around whenever he has time. He asked us if we were here to see the dalai lama. "Eee-eh" I shook my head. Miko said that he was coming to Nagano tomorrow to give a speech and that it was a very big deal since his banishment from Tibet by the Chinese government. He told us that Obama is a great man, and that he had lunch with the dalai lama against China's wishes, and that he wished Japan's prime minister would be so great. The Japanese government has not acknowledged his presence in Japan, but are allowing him to hold several auditorium lectures throughout Japan. He said that it was being held tomorrow at the Big Hat arena where they held the ice hockey events for the 98 olympics. Unfortunately, Joe couldn't go unless we wanted to drop a lot of money to get him a ticket back to Tokyo tomorrow, which he didn't want to see the dalai lama that much. But I told Miko that I would think about coming back tomorrow myself to see him.
Miko told us that if we had an hour or so today, that he has a few hours before his next appointment (I believe he was some sort of an architect), that we should come with him to the next town over, Ueda, and see that city, because it was loads better than Nagano as a lot of alleys in the town are unchanged from the time of Edo. He said he would take us on a tour of his hometown, show us the castle grounds, and take us to the sake-factory all before lunch time. I looked at Joe, and he looked at me, and in our faces we couldn't agree more that this sounded like the best idea since hanging out with Adam and Shinobu in Toyooka. So we went back to the ticket desk, and got a ticket to Ueda, just 10 minutes on the shinkansen, and then a ticket back to Nagano for 2 hours later. If we ended up only taking an hour, then we could always hop on the bullet train early, but this way we gave ourselves plenty of time and an assured seat, because today was unfortunately the day that started the weekend of elderly getting tickets for half price on the trains... so they were packed!
Exiting the Ueda train station Miko insisted that we pick up a couple of umbrellas that were sitting in a bin outside the station after we bought our lockers for all of our things. I told him it wasn't necessary, but then he forced his umbrella on me, and he then picked up another umbrella for himself. I felt bad because his umbrella was so much nicer that the one in the bin, but there was nothing I could do to trade him back. He insisted that Joe and I should use the larger one so we could share, and then we wouldn't feel so bad about talking someone else's umbrella, even though that is what you do in Japan, especially if you planned to go back to that location and return it. (Strange customs)
First, a detour into a historic building from the turn of the century (you don't think things that old are impressive when you are in a country with a history as long as theirs, but with a bit of perspective, its pretty old). They sell homemade jam here, and allow you to taste all sorts of weird flavors. Really expensive stuff, but cool to look through.
Then we headed off to the castle, and Joe continued grilling Miko about his hometown, and his experiences.
Here is something they built to store and age sake (if I remember/ understood properly):
Shrine to the warriors who defeated many in battle for the castle even when they were outnumbered, the 6 coins are a symbol of Ueda warrior luck:
In the distance there is something that appears to be a Christian church... well, it is made to look like a Christian church, but you will find no crusifixes on the walls. It is a wedding chapel for brides (who are the majority) who want a western looking wedding without the religious connotations. They want the big white gowned, the church pews before a pulpit, and they will even go so far as to have a man dress like a catholic priest preform the ceremony. Apparently there is also a lot of money that goes into having someone who can speak perfect english preform the ceremony, even if the bride and groom don't understand a word of it.
Now, to the sake factory!
Inside the sake shop they had a doll collection and a wooden log carved out with little owls inside:
The woman who owned the shop was apparently very happy to see Miko and his foreign guests again, so she threatened to not let us leave until she made us all tea and lunch. We attempted to get out as soon as possible so as to not overstay our welcome, but we couldn't leave without at least having a cup of hot sake (so cute). Miko, having a very western way about him from his work, also found it hard accepting the woman's hospitality, but eventually took a cup of sake after Joe and I took ours. Then, as promised, he led us back to the train station just about an hour into our stay in Ueda. He tried giving us his umbrella as we left, but we managed to run away before he could, waving and thanking him all the way.
We managed to catch another train back to Nagano only 15 minutes after we were to catch the first one, and then we purchased bus tickets out to the M-Wave building where the ice rink was located for the Nagano Winter Olympics.
Joe trying to curb my disappointment:
As you might have been able to notice by my lack of sound of any kind... it didn't work.
The area leading into the M-Wave part of town reminded me of west Cleveland... rundown, old, dirty, spread out, and giving you the feeling that you could be jumped at any moment. Really a strange feeling town for Japan. I would have to say it was the worst city I have been to since northeastern China... no offense Jinan, your city was still better : )
Coming back into the train station, we went literally over the tracks, and then appeared back in a city that looked like Japan. Many close together shops, bright colors, tall buildings all packed into one another, many people on the streets, a place you feel it is almost impossible to be lost or forgotten about. We started out by asking people where we could find a nigiri sushi place, walked down a street for about a half block, entered a very fancy restaurant, and then were directed to the second half of the restaurant upstairs that had the sushi trains (Joe explained that we were looking for the sushi trains with sound effects and visual hand motions... I think she could tell what we were after just by the way we were dressed). After that we hit up the Baskin Robbins (very popular in Japan), and spent 10 minutes deciding on what cone to share. I ended up giving him some cash, then waiting for him outside. I felt my presence may make him hesitate and look to me for advice. I just wanted ice cream, and I wanted it quickly and efficiently, no mucking about. Once we were done with that, Joe checked on me to make sure I was okay, and I did actually feel a lot better. Yay for ice cream! So with that, we concluded our time in Nagano, and headed back into the train station to pick up Joe's last JR pass ticket. We were on the train to Tokyo within the hour.
In Tokyo we couldn't get a hold of Shelly on the pay phone, so we decided to try and get an internet cafe to see if we could reach her on skype or by email, but we had no luck finding one. It was getting dark by this time, and I was really tired, and there was this love hotel. Apparently, before we left Japan, we had to stay in one of these. Adam said that they were great, and that it was a real Japanese experience. The price was about the same we would pay for a hostel, so we went for it. Our love hotel was New York themed, and you got to look at a photo board with all sorts of different styled rooms lit up if they were free, dark if they were taken.
(Thats the statue of liberty on top)
We picked the cheapest one:
Mirror above the bed:
And here, sleeping in our 1920's style New York apartment, with condoms and love making help supplies, Joe and I laid. He was upset that I would be leaving tomorrow already, hoping to spend one more day with me hanging out with Shelly and her kids, and I told him that he would just have to be disappointed, because that wasn't enough to keep me in town one more day. The tension of our last night together was astounding. An hour passed, neither one of us moved a mussel, but I could tell Joe wasn't asleep because he wasn't making any noise with his breathing either. I waited... oh hell I wanted something to happen, I just didn't want to do anything about it. What a waste of a love hotel... I turned my back to Joe on my side. Nothing was happening, and I was just going to have to pretend, once again, that he is not sleeping right there, probably my last chance in a long time to get any. I know, it sounds so very crude... and both our mothers read this blog... maybe this is where I loose a lot of readers from... I don't care. It is crude, but it is how I felt, and what was happening, and I feel like writing about it, regardless of who does or doesn't want to read about it. It was crude to think about it, but sometimes people who aren't crude have such thoughts, and denying that you have them only makes you less of a person, not more. I would like to be a person who embraces all qualities of myself, good or bad, and this one, as long as Joe felt the same, I was ready to embrace all night. A nose appeared between my shoulder blades, nuzzling into my back. He whispered V to me, and I lost my nerve. Thankfully (or so I thought at the time), he did not give up at my stiff cold shoulder. We cried to each other as we explained what happened to us. We held one another so tightly, as if by crying so close together we could wash away our physical problems, just for one night. Slowly, tentatively, cautiously, this lead to us having sex that night, as best as we could, touching in that way for the first time since Taiwan. Neither of us could bring ourselves to kiss, however. That would be crossing a line, one that you could see was too far as we looked into each other's eyes, wondering what we were doing, and contemplating weather or not we cared. As we continued as if virginally moving forward, the answer was no, all we cared about was saying goodbye in this way for the last time, and knowing that it didn't mean anything other than we were probably still attracted to each other, physically if nothing else. This gave us peace somehow, and we fell asleep holding the other in a gentle embrace for the last time.
Sneak preview of the next morning:
We seem to have fairly uplifted spirits.