Anyway, forgetting the lesbian cousin because she is such a flake -- did I mention this holiday was free! In the Uncloned World tradition all travel is good but free travel feels best of all, just like the free candy tastes sweetest. But of course nothing is free in life and during this trip I did feel I was contributing something to the world, I was providing entertainment and emotional support to Mr Tanaka and his family, who literally killed me with kindness in return. In the whole time I was in Nagano Prefecture, the only things I had to pay for was a couple of vending machine beers at my hotel, and a 1000 yen card which enabled me to watch porn in the said hotel room (don't bother, Japanese porn sucks! Although it is cute in an innocent kind of way!) The most amazing thing about this journey is that it was so cheap, for me at least. The total cost, including four beers guzzled on the 8th floor of the Kami-Suwa Station Hotel, a porn card and the occasional bottle of chilled green tea, came to about 5000 yen. And I enjoyed some pretty luxurious experiences free of charge, such as traversing the Japanese countryside aboard the Azusa Express, which whipped me from Tokyo's Shinjuku Station to Chino in only two hours. This was my first impression of the train:
Hajioji (with its many universities and student bars) came and went with a flurry of concrete, and some impressive views of futuristic Tokyo highrise. The train rolled on, through endless suburbs, and before too long we were shooting through Takao where my friend Chris lives, and then the beautiful mountains which commence their rise there. I found time to enter another entry in my diary (ie, my keitai cellphone) an impression of the everchanging scene outside:
On my last trip through this region during the Lesbian Holidays I had got off the train and looked about in Kofu for an hour or so, but to be honest, there ain't that much to see there. This time I was bound to a far more interesting part of Japan -- Lake Suwa! Interestingly, I had never heard of this place before Mr Tanaka invited me to spend Obon there with him and his kin. If you look closely at a map of Japan, you will see Lake Suwa as a small hole in the very center of the island chain. According to the geologists:
The lake has been filled with sediments transported by rivers from its relatively wide drainage basin to become a typical eutrophic lake with an average depth of about 5m. Nearly 30% of the drainage basin are covered by forest vegetation, while the greater part of the population is concentrated in a few cities near the lake shore. The spectacular growth of industrial activity around the lake since the 1960's caused a very rapid hypertrophication of the lake as indicated by heavy blooms of Microcystis (blue-green algae) that take place every summer.
On my keitai diary I wrote a more simpler, elegant description of Lake Suwa's beauty:
Fireworks and onsen baths. They were to feature heavily in the days that followed. That and sake rice wine. And soba buckwheat noodles...
When it was all over and reality had been experienced, and then transformed to sweet memory, I sent my folks an email. It read thus:
At the party there was Kuniaki Tanaka (the one who likes Australian country music), his cousin Setsuko, her son Yuutaro who is 8-years-old, another kid and some bloke who was working the barbeque and who enjoyed drinking (I think his name is Miyasaka, the same name as a popular brand of local sake, made by the Masumi Sake Company.) After I had my bad experience with the shishitou vegetable they were rubbing it in about how I can't handle spicy food, which is not true. But anyway, that is the reputation I have now.
After the fireworks were over Setsuko and Yuutaro tried to go home by train, but there were about 50,000 people waiting at the station, so it was impossible to leave. We males ended up going to a hot bath just down the road at the bottom of the hill, which was good fun. Setsuko's husband drove over from the next town to pick them up, but he was stuck in traffic for three hours (even though it should only be a 15-minute drive).
When I got home last night I noticed that some things in my room had fallen over. It turns out that while I had been away there had been yet another earthquake, this time a real biggie (7.2 on the Richter scale). That's the third earthquake in the past month. But it says something for Japanese engineering that more people don't get killed by earthaukes here. If a 7.2 magnitude earthquake happened in Iran or India, thousands of people would die. But here nobody was killed, just a few people were injured. Then again, maybe we were lucky this time.
Thus passed my third and greatest yet visit to Nagano Prefecture. For more detailed depictions of the place I saw (with photos) click at the names beneath: