Up early and off—to Niigata. My Tour book didn’t say there was anything spectacularly interesting to see there, but it was easy to get there and didn’t take too long.
Turns out I’m glad I went. The one attraction listed was the Hakusan-jinja shrine, set in a lovely park with an amazing lotus pond (that’s it above). Sadly, it was pouring rain—but amazingly, they were actually conducting a ritual service. I believe it was the ritual for blessing a newborn baby—like a christening ceremony would be for christians. So I actually got to see the maiko or shrine maidens dance and the shinto priests do their thing. I got a lot of it on video and it was awesome. I feel so lucky that I happened to be in the right place at the right time.
There wasn’t much more for me to do than that, so I grabbed a boxed lunch at the station (they’re delicious, by the way) and took off for my next destination—Nagano, home of the 1998 Winter Olympics.
It’s also the home to a very famous Buddhist temple, Zenko-ji, which houses the oldest image of the buddha in Japan (though, nobody has actually seen it in 1,000 years—they bring out a copy once every 7 years in a special festival). It was pretty fascinating, and you can see all my photos in the Photos section. The weather also cleared up late in the afternoon for about an hour, and it was beautiful. Nagano is in the “Japanese Alps”, and the mountain scenery reminded me of Utah. I had a lovely early dinner, rounded up a few souvenirs and then made my way back to Tokyo.
The strange things is that as I’m sitting here writing this and having a snack, I’m watching on the news about flooding, overflowing rivers, mudslides and people getting killed up in Nagano prefecture where I just was. It looked pretty scary, but I think it must have been somewhere in a more remote location. I did notice that the rivers looked fairly high and muddy as I zoomed by on the train.
It’s the final countdown already. I’m going to be busy in Tokyo shopping and touring, but I’ll try to finish my perfect record of journal entries all the way up until I depart. I’m already going to miss Japan, my time here and the friends I’ve made. I’m just starting to get the hang of the language and how things work—and now it’s back home with me.
[PS – I went to go upload my changes at that wireless spot I found the other night, but I couldn’t get connected. They either turned it off for the night or something else changed—I’ll have to try to find somewhere tomorrow…]