Japan 2019 – Summer in Tokyo and Nagano

While we’ve visited Japan numerous times now we’d yet to really experience the true heat and humidity of a Japanese summer. Technically it was the beginning of Autumn but the hot temperatures seemed to suggest otherwise. Shade offered little relief and we often spent as much time as we could indoors when possible. Most of our stay was in Tokyo but we also visited Nagano for a few days to escape the bustle of the city. Below are pictures from the main highlights of the trip.

Every now and then we’d come across shop fronts like this, tucked away off the main streets

Nakano Broadway is such an odd, curious place. It’s an multi-level shopping complex filled with long corridors, low ceilings, dim lighting, an escalator that takes you from the first to the third floor only (have to take the stairs for the second). Everything also opens late – around 11am to 12pm – so there’s often no point rocking up earlier. We mainly go to hunt through the numerous figurine stores but it’s always interesting to walk the hallways and discover the many small eclectic shops. We’ve seen tiny cafes with fake concrete exteriors, expensive watches and camera shops next to vintage toy stores, a random mum and pop food cart around a corner seemingly selling nothing. All of it adds to the strange charm of the place. This time we went we came across a new Takashi Murakami store as well as a gallery exhibition of Thunderbird illustrations.

This trip was the first time we’d ever visited Odaiba. Our main sightseeing item was the teamLab Borderless exhibition, a very fun and beautiful experience though after seeing other people’s photos online, I think we might have have missed a couple of the rooms.

Afterwards we spent time exploring the other sights of the man-made island, particularly the giant Gundam and Tokyo Big Sight convention building.

We had a few food based stops planned this time round, including these crazy milkshakes from Cookie Time in Harajuku.

I really wanted to get back out into nature again after visiting Hakone two years ago. Mount Takao is just one train ride out of Shinjuku and is a relatively easy climb. Walking from the base takes about 90 minutes though catching the cable car up half way helped cut down our time.

It was an overcast day the morning we arrived, with fog slowly building up the higher we climbed. This ended up blocking out all the potential views we could’ve seen once reaching the summit but for me the forests, shrines and statues we saw along the way made it worth it. We also rewarded ourselves for making it to the top with a much needed ice-cream.

Once we were back at the base of the mountain we made our way over to the Takao 599 museum, an educational facility around the nature and wildlife of the area. The building itself is beautifully modern and clean with cute mascot illustrations featured throughout.

I had been given the recommendation to visit Shimokitazawa a few times now. I could definitely see the appeal once we arrived with its multitude of second-hand/vintage clothing stores along with trendy modern shops along its narrow streets. Unfortunately I couldn’t really find anything to my tastes in the second-hand stores and only bought new items *my bad*.

We saw so many of these small pot plant gardens outside stores and homes all throughout our visit. I want to create something similar out the front of my place now.

One station over from Shimokitazawa, hidden away on a street corner is Shiro-Hige’s Cream Puff Factory that sells Studio Ghibli themed baked goods. Apparently the owner is a niece of Hayao Miyazaki. Apart from the small sign out front, the bakery appears just as an unassuming house in the neighborhood. However upon entering you are presented with small Totoro directional sign in front of a cute wooden staircase, before passing through the door into the shop just to the left of it. We were served by a very kind lady, picking up a chocolate and peach flavoured cream puff for ourselves which we snacked on at the station.

That same day we also went to T-site where I wandered Tsutaya Books admiring all the nice cover artwork along with popping into the nearby dog store to pick up a souvenir/toy for Lucy.

Though we always spend a lot of time in Tokyo, I try to always plan for a small side trip in another city or town. I feel like it makes you more aware of how different the city life is from places elsewhere in the country. This time we went to Nagano which is a couple of hours away by shinkansen.

We spent the afternoon walking up to Zenkoji temple located near the centre of the city.

About an hour’s drive out of Nagano in the nearby mountains are three shrines – lower, middle and upper – that make up the entirety of Togakushi Shrine. My original plan was to start from the top and work our way down however the humid heat, long distance and lack of clear trails between each one made us stick to just exploring the top-most path.

Before that though, we visited the Ninpo Museum which is based around the Togakure school of ninja. It’s a small and charming place with a rocking tower, a ninja house maze and various little challenges along with buildings of old equipment and history of the area.

The path to the upper Togakushi shrine is around 40 minutes long and on a steady inline with many steps in the last leg of the trail. It may have been a bad move on our part to try reaching the top in the middle of the day but at least the surrounding forest offered some relief from the sun.

As you walk further in along the path you will encounter the tall cryptomeria trees that line either side. I remember thinking that who ever planted these trees probably never saw them at their true size. There are many small shrines and statues along the way to the top, the whole experience was so beautifully scenic. The shrine itself is actually quite modest to what you may expect, however it was very popular with many people lining up to pray in the waterfall nearby.

Thankfully we didn’t encounter any bears

Matsumoto is only an hour train ride from Nagano and is probably most known for Matsumoto Castle. The interior featured many interesting artifacts and history of the tower as well as very steep, narrow stairways with foot traffic going both ways making it slightly perilous.

We would also take a quick detour on the way back to the station to ‘Frog street’ to see the souvenirs and unsurprisingly frog related trinkets.

I took this photo because of how amusing the juxtaposition between this mascot statue and the more classical statue behind seemed.

The night before we were to head back to Tokyo, a strong typhoon hit the east coast and was expected to hit the Tokyo area. We were unaffected being much more inland but I did say up as late as I could to see what impact it would have. Thankfully our train line wasn’t damaged however on arriving back in the city there were still fully packed trains in the middle on the day as people continued to try and get to work.

The typhoon had left behind no major damage but the heat and humidity were much more intense. We figured we should try to find an indoor activity to pass the time and decided upon the Samurai Museum in Shinjuku.

We were given a guided tour that provided context and history to the many styles of samurai armor and weaponry on display. In the afternoons there is also a samurai/ninja performance by trained actors from action fighting shows and films.

Gotojuki Temple is one of those places I discovered while researching online and was surprised by how unknown it was. This place is situated in a quiet suburban area, about a 10 min walk from the most convenient station.

The grounds on entry are what you’d expect for a temple yet the further you explore the more you start to notice the waving cats. Then, tucked away round the side of one of the temple buildings is a vast display filled to the brim with cat statues of all different sizes. Most are bought at the temple shop and then added by visitors. The lack of tourists made this feel like a special discovery in the middle of nowhere.

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