Today I’m going to write just a summary of my trip that I took to Nagano with my host family on the last weekend in October on the 29-30th. It’s been a while so I can’t exactly remember all of the details so I’ll just generally write about what we did. The purpose of this trip was to return to my host mom’s hometown for the death anniversary ceremony for her Grandmother. This Buddhist ceremony is called Hoji.
My host mother’s home town is in Nagano, which is a decent distance away from Saitama and where I was living. To get there we all had to get up early, maybe 4 or 5 am to get off on the long 2+ hour drive. You can see on the map below to get an idea of the distance. I am not living in Tokyo but I am fairly close.
But anyways, it was a really long drive and whenever we go out with all 5 people then I am always sitting in the back seat where it’s pretty squishy. I just got used to calling it the “adventure seat” since we only usually use the car to go somewhere when it’s a trip or excursion like the ones I’ve been writing journals about.
When we finally arrived to the temple that the ceremony was taking place at we were already late. We were even more late because my host sister really had to use the bathroom. Once we got into the building my host family went ahead to the room where the ceremony was taking place and I just sat in the room in the picture above and waited. I wasn’t expecting to have to literally sit out so it was kind of surprising but I guess it worked out for the best. While I was sitting there a couple people even asked me where the bathroom was and of course I didn’t know so I just gestured towards the sliding door that led to some place.
After that ceremony was over then everyone got back into their cars to drive to the family grave where we offered incense and also ate mochi that was “from the Grandma.” It was nice because they let me participate in offering incense and everything even though I felt that I shouldn’t because this was not my family and I didn’t want to intrude on a private event.
When that part of the ceremony was done we all hopped back in the cars again to head to a place where we would have lunch. It was at a hotel and the set up kind of felt like a wedding. The meal was multiple courses of fancy things and I had no idea what most of them were, but I knew was really expensive so I tried my best to eat what I could. This picture is just of the first dish that was laid out. It was some sort of “salmon crepe.” The middle was imitation crab with mayo I think and the last green block was an absolute mystery.
For some reason I didn’t take any more pictures of the food past this first course but you can probably get an idea of what kind of food I was eating. Look at how many utensils there are LOL.
During the lunch, the family shared some words about the Grandma and they also shared some photo albums that had pictures going waaay back. I even got to see pictures from my host parent’s wedding.
Once this formal event with all of the close and more distant relatives was completed, the immediate family moved to my host mom’s mom’s house just to hang out and then to eat dinner. My host family’s family has a lot of young kids so it was kind of fun. Mostly I get questions about why I speak English and whether or not I can speak Japanese. Kids are fun though and I prefer having to stay in the kid’s room rather than stay with the adults because then I don’t really have to talk, I can just chill out and play with them.
I don’t really know what else to write about because it was kind of just like whatever you do when you’re at your own house. Watch some TV, eat a bunch of snacks, and talk story. After dinner the kids showered and watched Ponyo and Harry Potter. When it was time to go to bed my host mom drove me over to a hotel where I was going to stay for just that night. I felt kind of bad that they were going through the extra trouble and expense but the house was pretty packed and also I really just wanted a break from having to worry about acting a certain way whenever I am not alone (which is pretty much all the time). I got to enjoy a nice quiet room and a long soak in the bathtub then it was off to bed.
My host mom got me the breakfast set so I was able to go to the dining hall and pick up a breakfast. I chose the washoku, Japanese-style breakfast over the Western breakfast because I love me my fish, rice, miso soup, and little sides.
Once breakfast was over I packed up my stuff and moved to the lobby to wait for my host family to retrieve me. Once we were reunited then we hopped in the car to take a long drive towards Lake Suwa, which was what inspired the one featured in the animated movie Kimi no Na Wa that has become super popular recently around the world.
It was a long drive but it was so worth it. It was as beautiful as imagined and I can definitely see how it resembled the one in the movie which I had gone to see with my host mom a while back. Below is a picture from the movie. Can you see the resemblance?
According to my host parents, the places and locations pictured in the movie are based off a really identifiable places in Tokyo and Nagano, so those places have seen a huge increase in visitors coming to visit it just because they saw it in the movie. It was a really beautiful film though and even though I could only understand maybe 85% of it since it was in Japanese, I still loved it and would want to see it again.
Sorry I got a little side tracked there but we went to this park in order to view Lake Suwa. They had a cute playground that had that little rocket jungle gym, a sandpit, and mini slides.
They also had two large wire slides that even adults could ride along with a rope climbing area.
During the time before this trip I had been really craving a “trip to nature” so I was so happy when we went to Nagano. The weather was crisp and cool and I felt refreshed 🙂
Once we were done looking around at this park then we were off to visit Suwa Taisha, known for having one of the largest shimenawa in Japan, “(標縄・注連縄・七五三縄, ‘enclosing rope’) are lengths of laid rice straw rope used for ritual purification in the Shinto religion. They can vary in diameter from a few centimetres to several metres”
The temple was actually very impressive and also full of parents with their young children taking photographs for 7-5-3, shichi-go-san, the important milestone ages for youngsters in Japan.
Together with my host family we walked around the temple grounds, offered our prayers, and touched this “power spot” which was one of the trees.
On the way out we purified ourselves once again with this hot water spring. Usually in Japan the purification water that you use to spiritually cleanse yourself is cool/cold water so it was my first time seeing this one. It was really hot but it looked really cool!
I even ended up picking up chopsticks as omiyage for a classmate who I don’t care for but who I knew had always wanted to go to this shrine. I don’t know why I did this when I really don’t care for that person but I guess it just shows what kind of person am I. (Stupid? Kind? Who knows). Anyways, I got him these chopsticks that had “Suwa Taisha” burnt into them and then we were on our way to go and get lunch.
We ended up settling on a soba place that was right across from the entrance of the shrine. As expected it was really crowded but we waited and eventually got our seat. I just got a plain soba but it was really good. Nothing like eating hot noodles when it is cold outside ❤
Once we were done with lunch we headed closer to the water for our last stop of the day. We walked around the colder-than-expected area near the water and then my host dad and siblings dipped their feet into a foot bath. The kids were walking around it in and ended up getting their clothes wet so we packed up and left to head back home.
All in all it was a very productive weekend but same as always, spending the whole time with my host family and especially host siblings exhausts me. I was happy that my host family brought me along on their family vacation to such a beautiful location and that their family was so welcoming of me. I wasn’t the first host student that my host family brought home so it wasn’t anything new, but it was still nice that I wasn’t made to feel like an outsider. Really grateful for this experience and it’s definitely one of the many fond memories I will remember of my time in Japan.
If you read this all, thank you! Take care!