March 8, 2013

The two best summer foods in Japan are goma dango [sesame seed sticky rice cake] and kakigori [shaved ice]. Goma dango served fresh and hot is the best. Most city dweller types rarely have a chance to try fresh sesame seed dango. I think it's because most dango are pre-made early in the morning then served through-out the day, so the soft warmness become firm and too sticky several hours later. And no. They do not taste the same. There's just something about that hot fresh sticky sesame seed goodness that melts in your mouth first thing in the early afternoon. Soft and chewy textured vs. the old and firm textured processed goma dango is no comparison

The kaki-gori is shaved ice and comes in a variety of different toppings. I prefer mines made with fresh blueberries at the bottom,shaved ice packed over that, then more blueberries on top, so just when you thought the lady didn't add enough berries, there's always more at the bottom. I love the fruity ice coldness, and at how refreshing it is to eat. The ice is so thinly shaved it melts on the tongue, and the blueberries are a perfect finisher. After a nice long hike both of these desserts hit the spot.

Karuizawa is known for its delicious dairy products too, but since the dairy industry was imported, didn't represent much for me. Another place we could go would be a church. Karuizawa is unique for having a few Western-style churches in the area. There's even a choir at one church, but I have never found Western churches a charming feature in Japan, so we skipped them. Shrines for me are more inline with my image of Japan. The shrine we visited is called Kumano-Koukai Shrine.

This shrine, like so many in Japan, have a long history about something tragic. But one thing that stood out about this holy place, particularly shrines in general, and something I really love about the Shinto faith, is how everything is infused within the indigenous religion itself. There were soccer jerseys adorning the walls, and soccer related goods all around the shrine. The religion is truly a part of the daily life of the people and is one of the charming aspects of the country for me.

Like out of an Avatar movie. Some huge cedar thousands of years old, tied into the local religion. Unlike Western religions where there's a fine line between what's natural and what is considered spiritual. In Shinto, there's a reconciliation between natural and spiritual elements.

The hotel where we stayed is called Hotel Karuizawa 1130, about a 40 minute taxi ride from the station - 8000 yen [$90.00]. We were in a hurry because heavy rain clouds moved in and poured heavily for about an hour. The hotel bus was slow, and unfortunately I didn't call ahead to reserve seats on the bus so we grabbed a taxi.

The best feature of this hotel is the hot spring, a pure 100% natural hot spring. Nagano has always been famous for hot springs, but not Karuizawa. Old timers know that this hotel boast one of, if not the best source hot springs in Karuizawa. The water is mineral rich and perfect for general fatigue, muscle aches, and so on. After our long hike it was perfect.

The hotel was huge, and as a result was understaffed as usual. Long corridors with a country club feel made it more appealing for the weekend golfer, or Westerners. There's no old traditional Japanese thing going on here, but was comfortable nevertheless. They didn't have my yukata size, which is not typical, by the way. Dinner was a bit strange. They had a lot of different kinds of fusion cuisine that didn't balance well with sake, so I ordered a bottle of red instead. I'd rank dinner a "D" if it weren't for the delicious pork. And the wine was delicious, by the way. Breakfast was alright, but I have had much better. We enjoyed each others company afterwards.

In closing, I think what really works is the ' process of simple' travel. We hiked,ate, prayed, and drank. Infusing natural and spiritual dynamics is so vitally important in all aspects of life.

Here's to good living...

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