28. | Nagano-ken: Suwa to Ina to Shinjuku

{Part 1 can be found here}

Before the sun had set, we were back in Suwa, and getting ready for games night.

I have my own game night group back in Yokohama, so I was interested to see how it would compare. We were welcomed in, and I tried to seize the opportunity to socialise, making an effort to talk to everybody. However, the heat and the humidity had affected me more than I’d expected and despite wearing a hat, staying in the shade, and drinking water all day, my head was feeling the effects. There was nothing more I could’ve done, so I propped myself against the wall by the fan and quietly rehydrated while still joining in the conversation.

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Suwa at sunset

A little while later, I felt almost back to normal and we all had a game of Werewolf (which I suck at if I get any role that’s not a villager). You’d think that a teacher with a background in performing arts would be able to improvise but for some reason I can’t quite transfer those skills into the game just yet.

We moved onto TV based games via jackbox.tv. I actually managed to win a couple of rounds, much to my surprise. By the end of the night, it didn’t really feel like I’d only known two of them before that day. I think that’s one of the more positive parts about the ALT population in Japan. We’re all in the same job, and even if our situations are slightly different, we’re all far from home. We have to be there for each other, and I’m very grateful for the friends I’ve made here because they’ve honestly made this whole experience much easier.

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I love my game group.

It was great to see that people in a completely different branch of the company had the same kind of community. It made me realise how fortunate I was for getting to know my own game group (… if you’re reading this, thank you!)

When morning came, I was still feeling rough. Thanks to a combination of factors, I hadn’t felt like eating much (and I don’t eat a lot anyway). It hadn’t gone unnoticed, and I was pretty much bullied into having breakfast. I really appreciated my friends for keeping an eye on me despite my constant reassurance that I was fine. We sat outside at a picnic table to eat, already warm enough to not need a jacket, although I did find that the temperature stayed pretty consistent all summer, regardless of the time of day.

I’d also developed a cough at that point, which ended up turning into something else, so maybe my body was just trying to warn me about what was to come…

Even so, I didn’t want it to hold me back. I was there to have fun and hang out with my friends and nothing would ruin that. After breakfast, we headed out to a store that sold miscellaneous ‘nerd stuff’ which I’m sure all of my family and friends would agree… suits me perfectly.

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Mari Illustrious Makinami

I’ve been very good in terms of not buying anime merchandise since I arrived back in November. Sure, I have several Gachapon prizes and the odd homeware item but most of what I own is either small or practical. I don’t want to crowd my apartment with ‘things’ – which is logical given how small it is – but I also don’t want to stop myself from buying them just to save space.

I do like to think my self-control isn’t that weak, but it’s another story when I’m faced with an entire shop full. It started off with a couple of Durarara!! badges, then one of my friends pointed out the Evangelion section. I debated whether to buy a figure of Mari Makinami and after deciding that it was both cheap and small enough to justify, she came along too. I saw so many things I liked, but I was behaving. I bought one last item, which was a figure of Suwa City’s mascot character: Suwa-hime (諏訪姫, Princess Suwa).

I figured that it’d be a fitting memento of the weekend; fusing my love for anime with my need to collect souvenirs. Suwa-hime was created to promote the city in 2011 and as a 500 year old anime princess; she’s a concept that you’d only find in Japan. It was that uniqueness that sealed the deal for me, and she’s adorable to boot. At around 2 inches tall, she now stands on my bedside table next to my night light and family photo.

In my opinion, it’s a miracle I came out with only three things.

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Suwa-hime

Feeling pleased with my purchases, I got back in the car and we headed to our next destination.

If you think of things that other countries have borrowed from Japan, I wouldn’t be surprised if cat cafés were high on the list. They’re one of my favourite things to do here – you get to play with cats without the all the responsibility and seeing as I can’t even keep plants alive, that’s probably for the best. We get all the benefits of being around cats and they get affection in return, but I am always wary of whether they are being treated properly.

I’ll admit that I’m not the world’s biggest animal lover, but that doesn’t matter. I know some places have bad reputations but I try to avoid those as much as possible. The one I like in Yokohama may look like the cats haven’t been looked after, but that’s due to the fact that they’re rescues, bringing conditions from their former homes. The owners care for them and it’s like a kitty rehab centre, socialising them to be around humans again.

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Miysis, Yokohama

We drove to the nearby city of Ina, where there’s a café that takes in stray cats. It’s a charming little place and somewhere I’d definitely recommend.

The cats change regularly as they’re able to be adopted but the ones that stayed there in July were so lovely. As I said before, I’m not great with animals but cats are one of my favourites. However, I’m still not sure how to handle them and I was concerned about hurting them when I picked them up. My friend gave me some pointers and I relaxed, lifting one of the new kittens that had recently arrived.

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Little baby

My friends all went to have the food they’d ordered but I wanted to stay with a cats for a bit. I was sat on the floor stroking one of them and a little boy came over to me. He was probably just a little younger than my youngest students so I turned on my elementary school teacher persona and gave him a big smile. He’d noticed I hadn’t got any cat food and shared some of his bag with me. I felt like my heart grew two sizes and I said a emphatic ‘arigatō’, feeling very grateful. I moved around the room feeding as many cats and I could before the pellets ran out.

But ran out they did, and quickly too, so I sat on the sofa to chill and watch them play with each other. A short while later, a beautiful black and white cat walked over and after a few strokes he settled into my lap.

I’d been chosen!

 

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Best friends

 

His name was Kenta and in that moment, I fell in love. My new friend and I stayed in that position for I don’t even know how long. I lost all track of time and with a comfy seat and a cat on my knee, I hadn’t been that relaxed in a long time. Kenta had fallen asleep and I didn’t want to disturb him so it was the perfect excuse not to move.

Eventually we did have to leave so I had to say goodbye, but not without picking up a bookmark from the counter with a picture of him on it. I found out recently that Kenta has since been adopted so I hope his owners love him as much as I did.

 

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Kakigōri

Next, we drove to a place that sold kakigōri (かき氷, shaved ice), one that was recommended as the best in the area. We ordered one each and they were brought out to our picnic table in front of the shop. I chose a lemon one, deciding to keep it simple, but it was still amazing. Although, the matcha one did look great too – accompanied by mochi, anko, and condensed milk. Kakigōri is absolutely perfect for summer, particularly given the heatwave we had this year.

By that point, we had a few hours left before we had to catch our bus back to Shinjuku. We decided to head to the Takatō Castle Remains to the east of Ina City. This would be our final stop on the Nagano trip, but on the way we found a beautiful rose garden. We took some time to look around, and once again, the mountain views were breath-taking.

It’s only open in the summer so it was good that we had a chance to go while we were there. There’s nothing like being surrounded by nature after living in a big city for several months and I definitely appreciated it.

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Takatō Shinwa no Oka Rose Garden

 

After a quick explore, it was time to go to the castle ruins. Takatō was a town in its own right until it was merged with Ina during its expansion in 2006, and the castle was first built around the 16th century. Then, the Meiji era came along and it was dismantled, leaving the remains we have today. At the same time many cherry blossom trees were planted, cementing it a place as one of the best hanami sites in Japan. It must be stunning during the spring with a complete canopy of pink, but I loved the green that we had in the summer. Not many people were there and it was so quiet, but due to our tight time schedule, we didn’t have chance to savour it too much.

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Takatō Castle Remains

Now behind schedule, we raced back to Suwa, but not without stopping at a platform at the side of the road. Our friend wanted us to see it, and for good reason. We could see the entire city, the mountains, the water… and I could see why she loves living there.

I quickly took a couple of photos before rushing back to the car. I didn’t want to risk missing the bus, after all, even if we’d already brought our bags with us as a precaution for this very scenario.

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This view was amazing.

We made it to the bus stop with a small amount of time to spare, and we said goodbye.

On the way back, I took full advantage of the free WiFi, watching old episodes of QI on YouTube. It had been a great weekend but I was tired, especially having been up at 3am the night before, so I chose to spend the travel time relaxing as best I could.

IMG_20180716_014007_261.jpgHowever, it was growing closer and closer to our arrival time and we were still in Yamanashi Prefecture. The holiday traffic had ground our journey to a halt, headlights stretching for miles. Our three hour journey gradually turned into five, meaning that when we got to Shinjuku we’d already missed the last train on our usual way back.

After some quick thinking from my friend, we ended up walking to another station so we’d be able to be back in Yokohama that night. It was around 1:30am by the time we pulled into Sakuragichō Station and then we had one more hurdle left: the 40 minute walk back to our apartments. The temperature was still way too hot, so I tried to drink as much water as I could in the meantime. We reached home a little after 2am and now exhausted, I instantly passed out.

But I don’t regret a thing.

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