Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Traveling Tuesdays: Summer Vacation Spots

It's May, so Japanese people are already planning their summer trips for August. In most cases, you must plan far in advanced in order to secure your hotel rooms - things fill up quickly.

Yusuke and I haven't had time to talk about it yet. I don't know if we will go anywhere, and it's been years since we went somewhere memorable. Here, people usually escape to the mountains or to the beaches. We used to go to a place in the highlands of Nagano called Kurumayama. Kuruma means car, and that is exactly what you needed to get up there.

Kurumayama is a ski village in the winter, which makes it a great place for hiking in the summers. It is located in the southern part of Nagano, up in the highlands. We went there sans car so that meant a lot of buses and walking for us. Pre-kids, that was do-able. Now, that would not be the case, so we've put off going there until our kids our older.

The best part about Kurumayama is our favorite pension. Pensions take after the European style of pension which is to serve both breakfast and dinner. The Shetland is a small pension run by a couple. The guy cooks the meals and wife serves them, but they must be pretty busy cleaning and fixing things all day long. It can't be an easy business to run. For dinner every single night, they serve steak. Wine is all you can drink and you can sample wines from nearly every prefecture in Japan. If we ever get back to Kurumayama, we will for sure stay there again.

Aside from the amazing views, beautiful flowers, wide array of pensions to choose from your stay, and in general a peaceful, uncrowded feeling you can only get when you you leave Kanto area, we most enjoyed hiking down the mountain to the valley where lies a small village called Shirakabako. Shirakabako is actually a lake with a surrounding village, and Shirakaba means birch tree in Japanese.

In it's prime, perhaps during the bubble era of Japan, I am sure that Shirakabako was a happening place, and it still does draw a small crowd, but nothing like the current most popular places for escape in Japan. Most people have never heard of this place, so let's keep that way.

So, what's there to do in Shirakabako? Rent bicycles and ride around the lake. Shop at the convenience store for an impromptu picnic and walk to a quiet spot on the lake to enjoy your lunch. Dine at any one of the cafes or restaurants along the lake, some of which have verandas where you can crack open a book, drink your coffee and let the breezes flow over you. Feed the carp in the pond just off the lake. Rent a swan boat or a cheap paddle boat and paddle around the lake. It's just one of those quiet resort towns that doesn't get much attention anymore, but still has all the fun things to do. I am looking forward to going there again someday.

Time to mention it again to Yusuke and see if he wants to try taking the kids there this summer. Problem is that he refuses to drive, and I cannot imagine taking the kids there without a car!

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