Week 1: Whirlwind

Settling into ALPHA- Lots of administration- Matsumoto- Yabuhara, Narai & Torii Pass- Candy festival- Wasabi farm- FOOD

Oof! Jet lag is a killer, eh? And for someone who is used to getting 8 hours of uninterrupted rest a night… Ugh! Last Tuesday/Wednesday I felt like someone had replaced my brain with tofu. But at the end of a week I think I can say that I’m (mostly) over it. Not that I’ve let exhaustion get in the way of embracing Japan & it’s amazingness!

We arrived on Monday night and Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday were spent on administration, settling in, meeting the ALPHA people, sleeping when able, learning our way around: all guided by the wonderful Mori-san. I feel like I’m settling into Japan and everything that is different from home a little bit now- but WOW if I hadn’t had Mori-san to advise the first time I went into the supermarket…

“Mori-san, is this a vegetable?” “No, it’s fish.”

“Mori-san, is this fish?” “No, it’s a vegetable.”

“Mori-san, is this meat?” “No, it’s mustard.”

You get the idea. I really like Japanese food, and eat it when I can in the UK- but what is available at home is only a TINY representation of the range of Japanese food. It didn’t occur to me that food would be confusing, but it really is. Actually it’s hilarious! I’ve resolved to try new food whenever possible. As a result, in a week I’ve already eaten some really delicious things and some (to my mind) really disgusting things! And I’ve already accidentally eaten meat at least 3 times. Probably a lot more than 3 times but I’ve definitely chewed down on actual flesh 3 times. In one week. Yuk. But I’m getting good at spotting hidden meat, so I think I will be better at avoiding it in future.

I start work at Kiseki no Hoshi tomorrow (Tuesday) and I’ve just had 4 days free to with as I please. Our schedule is already quite full and it’s unlikely I’ll get another 4 days off in a row, so I decided to use the opportunity to travel far away from Awaji. First thing Friday morning I got on the school bus and off the island and headed north to Matusmoto, which is in Nagano region. To be honest, I didn’t have any a plan- I headed there because it’s on the edge of the Japan Alps region and I thought winter+mountains= good. Actually, I didn’t really even know how to get there when I walked out my door, but such is the reliability and efficiency of Japan that you can just go somewhere, and there will be a tourist information office that will give you a map and tell you what trains to take- and there will be trains and they will run on time and be clean and comfortable and lovely and lots of polite kind people will help you.

In the end I stayed in Matsumoto for the whole weekend (returning today) and did a couple of day trips and saw loads of great things! A fantastic introduction into Japan, including an ancient castle, a few temples and shrines, a hike through the mountains, a traditional village, an amazing modern art gallery, a festival, a bike ride to Japan’s largest wasabi farm amd of course lots of food.There was, however, very little snow- it has been unseasonably warm so far this winter (like everywhere, it seems). Oh, and I stayed in Matusmoto Back Packers: a lovely little hostel which has traditional tatami mat rooms (and very lovely staff). I slept on a futon! In a room with paper walls! It’s almost like I’m in Japan…

Anyway, here are some pictures…

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