After our adventure with the monkeys- we drove down in Nagano! aside from the ski resorts all over- Nagano isn't all that huge or booming. It was a fun little city- and did have one fabulous temple and shrine that was on our 'must see' list. Zen-koji. It was built in the 7th century!!
I LOVE the giant historic temples! all of the religious sites here fascinate me- but the oldest and most historic temples seem to always have long trinket and food shop lined roads leading up to them!! and I love Japanese trinkets and treats.
I had read online about something pretty unique at Zen-koji. For a few hundred yen (a few dollars) we could enter an underground passage of the temple and search in complete darkness for the 'key to paradise' attached to the wall along a corridor. It is said to grant salvation to anyone who touches it.
Our path to salvation was pretty humorous. They weren't kidding when they described the underground as being in complete darkness. There was not a speck of light. not one little glimmer. and we took all four kids down into the passageway to try and find the key to paradise! electronics or phones or lights of ANY kind are strictly forbidden. You have to use your right hand only to follow along the right wall of the corridors to search for the key and find your way out. It was ridiculous. Metta was terrified from the very beginning. She begged for me to hold her- but it was pretty difficult to hold her AND follow along the wall without wandering off! Ike was in the lead and sped off and ran into a group of Japanese school girls ahead of us Thankfully they were all giggling and having about the same experience as we were. I couldn't stop laughing. Metta was sobbing. Kent had mack on his chest and was trying to keep hold of Zeb and ike. And then we found the Key of Paradise. As we were trying to guide the kiddos to feel it- an old Japanese couple caught up to us and were obviously confused. the man kept grabbing at me!! I giggled through several "Konichiwas!!" and "sumimasens!!" (hello!! hello!! excuse me!!) but they didn't seem to do any good. He continued to grab at me- and then he and his wife attempted to pass our family of six! all while metta is still sobbing. and zeb and ike are asking us how to get out and how to turn on a light!
after a few more stumbling twists and turns in the darkness- we saw a glimmer of light and made our way back out into the real world. All with salvation attained of course!
Nagano is famous for their apples! the shops are filled with apple treats and apple toys and apple trinkets. We found apple caramels, red apple hi-chews, and apple KIT KATS!! how cool is that?! they aren't very good at all. but the apple caramels were AMAZING. They aren't caramel apple flavored- they are apple caramels. If that makes any sense. so delicious.
check out this shop filled with lucky cats!!! Japan has made me a LOVER of cats. seriously. I love cats. I want to fill my house with them. It makes Kent CRAZY,
our kiddos were the stars of Nagano!!
the word we hear more than ANY other on the streets is "Kawaii!!!!" (pronounced like Hawaii). It means 'cute'. And we hear it NON STOP. Especially with this little mack. They LOVE him. so so much.
After our adventures at the temple- we drove down to Matsumoto to found our hotel for the night and have dinner!
we stayed at the 'super hotel matsumoto' and had dinner at Mcdonalds for hte kids- and Coco's Curry house for Kent and me.
Hotel laws regarding #'s of guests in Japan are VERY strict. All laws in Japan are met with complete adherence and strict interpretation. This makes staying in hotels for our family expensive! we have to get two rooms because we have four kiddos. And even if we did get only one room- they charge PER person and are vigilant at counting who arrives and getting passports for each guest.
you aren't allowed to wear shoes in the rooms AT ALL. It's unreal to me how serisou the Japanese are about shoes and where they are allowed. It's a BIG deal to them.
Japanese hotel rooms are VERY small for the most part. this room may look decent sized here- but there wasn't even room for our suitcases! the foot of the bed almost touches the other wall! we had two of these rooms that were adjoining. Besides the size- it was a really nice hotel. and they even offered free breakfast.
mack was a champ and slept well. he's getting pretty chunky!!
the free breakfast was a pretty typical Japanese breakfast. Kent wouldn't even try this first dish right here! lots of fish and rice and miso soup!
they also had a good pumpkin dish and teriyaki chicken with veggies :)
thankfully we found free juice, hot chocolate, pastries, and cold cereal as well. I was super worried that our kids were going to revolt!!
After breakfast we made our way to Matsumoto castle. we woke up to a few inches of freshly fallen and snow and more falling snow all day. it was lovely.
This castle was built in the 1500s and is 1 of only 4 in Japan ( I think!). They call it 'crow's castle' because it's black.
the kids were excited to see a real moat! especially since it was full of giant orange koi! even in all of the cold- they were swimming about!
we got to go inside and climb all of the stairs and ladders to the very top! it was pretty cool. the kids were not so impressed with the freezing cold floors. we had to remove our shoes and the kids said their toes nearly froze off! I didn't think the floors were THAT cold. but metta's tears and cries about 'cold toes' proved otherwise.
the castle had some cool displays inside with weapons and ninja armor.
we got to peak out the little windows meant for guns and other weapons to see some cool sites of the castle grounds!
they were more than happy to put their boots back on. i think it took a couple of hours for metta to stop complaining about her toes.
Our kids are pretty good to trek around Japan with us- but Kent and I often dream about how fabulous it would be to travel this country without children.
Japanese architecture is pretty amazing. I love that everything is so new and different for us. I love taking pictures of everything and seeing all of these places. we are having such amazing experiences.
the snow made everything that much more beautiful!!
here's zeb holding up the castle! he came up with the idea ll on his own! he must have seen it in a movie or book or something!
After the castle- we hit one more spot. A street in Matsumoto known for their skinny alleyways, kitschy shops, and great food!
Zeb chose a ramen sandwich/dog. so weird.
metta had a turtle bun. and Ike had a donut :)
mack was a great kid for our entire trip. just hung out. and slept. and ate. like babies should :) he's growing up!!
we continued our adventures at home for a couple more days that I'll blog soon! Kent has to go back to work tomorrow but we just booked our next adventure for March! We are headed to Kyoto for my birthday!!