After a very long first day on tour, the group moves onto the quiet mountain village of Karuizawa. If you haven’t yet, go back and read Day 2.
Day 3 – Run to the hills: Breakfast was on our own this morning. I wanted to get a feel for the country away from the security of the group, so I struck out on my own and headed for the market in the train station near the hotel. I arrived right as they were opening. An employee stood at attention at the corner of every stall, and when I walked past they would bow and say something to me. It was entertaining at first, but after the first several stands it started to feel a bit creepy. I eventually found a fried pork and rice bento box to try, which I ate sitting next to the koi pond at the hotel. It was the first time I truly felt like I was in a foreign land.
We loaded up the bus (normal sized this time, so everything fit) and headed north-east towards Karuizawa. The three hour trip took us through the dense urban forest of Tokyo and into the beautiful mountains. At the rest stop I was introduced to onigiri, a triangle shaped rice ball stuffed with different things and wrapped in seaweed. Best gas station food I’ve ever had. I’m going to complain to the 7-11 at home and ask them to start stocking it.
After checking into our hotel, which had a distinct bond-villain lair feeling we headed to dinner. At the restaurant we chose, the two main options appeared to be fried pork and horse sashimi, basically raw horse meat. Everyone in the group went with pork.
Day 4 – Weeping rock: Our concert in Karuizawa wasn’t until the following day, so we had a free day to explore the area. Karuizawa reminded me of the touristy ski villages we have around Lake Tahoe back at home. There were all the usual gift stores and restaurants around the train station with ski slopes off in the distance. The weather was very cold and required the use of all my cold weather clothes I brought. A group of us decided to catch a bus up the mountain to check out a popular waterfall. The Shiraito No Taki Waterfall wasn’t very large, only 6-8 feet high. But the water seeped out of the rocks magically from nowhere, giving the whole place a very mystical feeling. After being in Tokyo, this was a great side trip.
For dinner, the group decided to go with Italian food. Horse was not on the menu.
Day 5 – Jinguru beru: As much fun as it was to play around in Japan, we were all getting antsy. Since we all came to Japan to play bells, it was weird taking that much time off. Luckily we had a concert scheduled in town. A local kids choir joined us on the program. They sang “Song of the Beach” (a Japanese folk tune), “Silent Night”, and “Jingle Bells” with us. “Jingle Bells” made me laugh the most. The Japanese translation almost sounds like English, but doesn’t feel quite right. It’s like when you think you know the lyrics to your favorite song, then you read what the lyrics actually are and you can’t quite listen to the song the same way again. The kids sounded great though and were a pleasure to work with.
This time for dinner we went to a French restaurant with fantastic pumpkin soup and no horse on the menu.