Day 7- A Volcano erupts!

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The place we were staying at Tomi city is dominated byΒ  mountains all around and the most impressive is the Asama volcano, it is covered with snow, very beautiful.

Asama Volcano before eruption

Asama Volcano before eruption (click for bigger image)

Then 2am on 2nd Feb the volcano erupted, #Bing bong bing# there is an anouncement system wired into the telephone system keeps the local people abreast of events such as earth quakes and volcanos. The girl announced (in Japanese of course) that the volcano had erupted but that it was within safety margins, although there was a 4km “no go” area imposed around Asama.

The newspaper covers the eruption

The newspaper covers the eruption

The last major eruption in 1783 devistated 500 sq km

A cloud of steam coming off Asama

A cloud of steam coming off Asama (as always click for a bigger image)

More steam

More steam...

local artists capture the Asama volcano

local artists capture the Asama volcano

nicely captured

nicely captured

Yet more steam, should we be getting worried?

Yet more steam, should we be getting worried?

Naaah! Maybe not, lets go for a drive anyway.

The traffic lights have a count down so you know when its going to change - good idea! Borris?

The traffic lights have a count down so you know when its going to change - good idea! Boris?

5…

4…

3…

2…

ONE!

ONE!

We went and got our train tickets back to Tokyo

We took the opportunity to go and get our train tickets back to Tokyo, so we'll be ready to go on the last day.

These statues were a gift from China

These statues were a gift from China

Ok, I couldn't resist this one; a curry restaurant called "Poo"

Ok, I couldn't resist this one; a curry restaurant called "Poo"

A waterwheel in the centre of Ueda

A waterwheel in the centre of Ueda

Day6 – Matsumoto Castle

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It was an exciting day, not only finally getting to see Matsumoto castle but experience driving there myself, a daunting prospect but it shouldn’t be too bad only 2 major road changes and it is sign posted most of the way.

The trusty Rav4 with it's permament 4 wheel drive awaits the experience of my moutain driving, will it get back in one piece?

The trusty Rav4 with it's permanent 4 wheel drive awaits the experience of my moutain driving, will it get back in one piece?

We printed out a Google map of the route and off we went.

On the road to Matsumoto

On the road to Matsumoto

After leaving the minor roads, we came to the first major road sign posted to Matsumoto, the Google map said take route 152 then route 254 simple! But when we got to the cross roads it said Matsumoto Route 167! What do I do? We thought the 152 must be further along the road we were on so we went passed that turn off, several KM later it was obvious we weren’t on a main road to anywhere. So we went back to the cross roads and took te 167 anyway as that was the last mention of Matsumoto. Annoyingly when we got back to Internet access I found that it depends how much you zoom in to the map – cheers Google. Disappointingly confusing.

Beautiful views, keep eyes on the road...

Beautiful views, keep eyes on the road...

narrow roads not much margin for error.

narrow roads not much margin for error.

Nice scenery

Nice scenery

Just before going into the tunnels through the mountains, one was several kms long.

Just before going into the tunnels through the mountains, one was several kms long.

We have arrived

We have arrived

first impressions - nice!

first impressions - nice!

lovely moat, shame theres some building work going on

lovely moat, shame theres some building work going on

The red bridge is being repaired so we had to go the long way round to the main entry

The red bridge is being repaired so we had to go the long way round to the main entry

A cute logo for the castle

A cute logo for the castle

walking around the castle

walking around the castle

would you consider attacking this castle?

Would you consider attacking this castle?

What a beautiful castle

What a beautiful castle

halfway round, it's a big castle...

Halfway round, it's a big castle...

It is a very cold day

It is a very cold day

The easiest way to get a stranger to offer to take your photo - try an awkward self portrait.

The easiest way to get a stranger to offer to take your photo - try an awkward self portrait.

It worked! Some friendly Belgian tourists took pity on our plight and offered to take a photo

It worked! Some friendly Belgian tourists took pity on our plight and offered to take a photo

Almost there, the water is frozen over on this side.

Almost there, the water is frozen over on this side.

These trees require more discipline, you'll stay in there until you straighten up!

These trees require more discipline, you'll stay in there until you straighten up!

Granda decides to not to come into the castle a decision we thought was wrong at the time. But once we saw the stairs… That WAS a good idea.

south side of the moat a lot warmer, all the fish and the swans know where to find comfort.

south side of the moat a lot warmer, all the fish and the swans know where to find comfort.

Lets go!

Lets go!

At the ticket office more good news today there is a discount for foreigners πŸ™‚ nice.

grown from seeds that have been in space!

Grown from seeds that have been in space! Looks like the ancient wig of Kajagoogoo (actually its be plant underneath the wig)

The inside gardens of the castle grounds

The inside gardens of the castle grounds

View from inside the gardens

View from inside the gardens

We're listening to an announcement about the history of the castle, it's 400 years old!

We're listening to an announcement about the history of the castle, it's 400 years old!

Keeping Austin off the gardens was a challenge

Keeping Austin off the gardens was a challenge

The fish on the roof are often seen on castles in Japan.

The fish on the roof are often seen on castles in Japan.

See all the holes? rifles and canons would be on us by now.

See all the holes? rifles and canons would be on us by now.

5 floors, maybe Granda was right!

5 floors, maybe Granda was right!

side entrance

side entrance

We're not sure we want to go in

We're not sure we want to go in

Yeah, come on, it looks like fun

Yeah, come on, it looks like fun (in a museumy kind of way)

Here are some of the original roof parts

Here are some of the original roof parts

inside 1st floor

Inside 1st floor

Very steep scary stairs

Very steep scary stairs

The building is original but the have had to do repairs.

The building is original but they have had to do repairs over the years with at least 2 major restorations.

Not big on furniture those Samurai

Not big on furniture those Samurai

The original lucky fish from the roof

The original lucky fish from the roof

It's a smart looking fish, I'm sure Osaka castle had a similar design

It's a smart looking fish, I'm sure Osaka castle had a similar design

Well kept Garden, it must look stunning in Summer

Well kept Garden, it must look stunning in Summer

Rifles

Rifles

More rifles

More rifles

Cool samurai armour!

Cool samurai armour!

Some more rifles, theres a pattern here

Some more rifles, theres a pattern here

Rocket bombs! whoa!

Rocket bombs! whoa!

Wonder what the range was?

Wonder what the range was?

Small cannon, looks charming, wonder how many people it's killed.

Small cannon, looks charming, wonder how many people it's killed.

The battles are documented by a mural

The battles are documented by a mural

It's a camera stand-off! Rie won...

It's a camera stand-off! Rie won...

Phased-plasma rifle in the forty watt range? Just what you see pal

Phased-plasma rifle in the forty watt range? Just what you see pal!

More guns

More guns

Nicely lined up... you guessed it - Rifles

Nicely lined up... you guessed it - Rifles

The rilfles you can take today, but you'll have to wait 14 days for the hand guns.

The rilfles you can take today, but you'll have to wait 14 days for the hand guns.

Many different styles of pistol, but where can you get bullets from?

Many different styles of pistol, but where can you get bullets from?

You make them yourself!

You make them yourself!

Finally at the top!

Finally at the top!

Inside the roof

Inside the roof

Granda looked after the pushchair and bags

Granda looked after the pushchair and bags. As always click for bigger pic.

He must be freezing there.

He must be freezing there.

Lets try that trick again!

Lets try that trick again!

Bingo! A free family photo courtesy of a nice australian tourist. works everytime.

Bingo! A free family photo courtesy of a nice Australian tourist. works everytime.

Matsumoto city

Matsumoto city

Lovely phone boxes

Lovely phone boxes

So the tour ends, back to the car.

So the tour ends, back to the car.

The castle was this big.

The castle was this big.

Just time to check out Matsumoto Shrine

Just time to check out Matsumoto Shrine

Entrance

Entrance

The Shrine

The Shrine

Matsumoto Shrine

Matsumoto Shrine

And so we bid farewell to Matsumoto, we managed to find our way back in the dark. Ready for the next adventure.

Day5- Suwa Lake

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We went to Suwa Lake by car, it’s hard drive so Shigeo took the wheel. It wasn’t long before we were in deep snow.

Cosy

Cosy

The right kind of snow?

The right kind of snow?

Short comfort break

Short comfort break

Snow on the mountains on the way to Suwa Lake

Snow on the mountains on the way to Suwa Lake

A cold and surprised Brandon

A cold and surprised Brandon

Sky resort

Ski resort

Roads getting worse the further we go

Roads getting worse the further we go

This region has snow all year round, unlike London they are used to it and nothing stops except for the most dangerous of storms, we saw people putting chains on their tyres.

This region has snow all year round, unlike London they are used to it and nothing stops except for the most dangerous of storms, we saw people putting chains on their tyres.

It's a shame there was no where to stop on this narrow road as the countryside was so beautiful lots of small rivers with rocks and ice, I couldn't do it justice taking photos from the car window, just a blur.

It's a shame there was no where to stop on this narrow road as the countryside was so beautiful lots of small rivers with rocks and ice, I couldn't do it justice taking photos from the car window, just a blur.

I heard that London was covered with snow at the same time.

I heard that London was covered with snow at the same time.

Suddenly roads are clear, Japan is an amazing place 20 minutes drive and the landscape changes, we still have to return in the snow later tonight!

Suddenly roads are clear, Japan is an amazing place 20 minutes drive and the landscape changes, we still have to return in the snow later tonight!

Follow the red nissan driven by Masahiro

Follow the red nissan driven by Masahiro

We arrive at Suwa, not a snow flake in sight

We arrive at Suwa, not a snow flake in sight

We visited a Sake brewery (I forgot to photo the entrance (doh!)

We visited a Sake brewery (I forgot to photo the entrance (doh!)

Rie explains to Granda what the place is all about

Rie explains to Granda what the place is all about

The brewery has a wonderful dolls display for childrens (girls) day which is in March

The brewery has a wonderful dolls display for childrens (girls) day which is in March

These dolls will be very expensive, not sure how they enhance the Sake experience

These dolls will be very expensive, not sure how they enhance the Sake experience

I've got to admit it is a nice display, imagine keeping it clean

I've got to admit it is a nice display, imagine keeping it clean

Why so serious?

Why so serious?

Free samples anyone? Marvelous!

Free samples anyone? Marvelous!

When in Rome...

When in Rome...

You get to taste their entire range of Sake, fortunately that is only 7 bottles or so.

You get to taste their entire range of Sake, fortunately that is only 7 bottles or so.

The range of flavours is immense, from almost like Vodka in strength to soft and floral to very sweet.

The range of flavours is immense, from almost like Vodka in strength to soft and floral to very sweet.

A traditional Soba noodle shop for lunch

A traditional Soba noodle shop for lunch

Eating noodle soup with chop sticks is quite difficult

Eating noodle soup with chop sticks is quite difficult

Granda is managing ok, this may take some time.

Granda is managing ok, this may take some time.

Granda and me had hot noodles, everyone else went for cold noodles

Granda and me had hot noodles, everyone else went for cold noodles

Suwa Lake, on a very rough day

Suwa Lake, on a very rough day

Reflexology pavement!

Reflexology pavement!

Take your shoes off and do the course

Take your shoes off and do the course

Halfway through, why did I start this?

Halfway through, why did I start this?

Need I say more?

Need I say more?

Getting our feet wet - volcanic heated foot spa

Getting our feet wet - volcanic heated foot spa

Lovely and warm

Lovely and warm

The lake, shame it was such a windy day as the boat trips were shut.

The lake, shame it was such a windy day as the boat trips were shut.

These unusual boats were closed due to strong winds :-(

These unusual boats were closed due to strong winds πŸ™

Another Sake Brewery

Another Sake Brewery

This on brews the Sake on the premises and Rie asked if we could have a tour of the brewery, they said you have to book ahead.

This one brews the Sake on the premises and Rie asked if we could have a tour of the brewery, they said you have to book ahead. But they said ok as we have come from London. πŸ™‚

So much Sake, so little time.

So much Sake, so little time.

It's a very small brewery, just about a dozen or so of these tanks.

It's a very small brewery, just about a dozen or so of these tanks.

Shall I go up the ladders?

Shall I go up the ladders?

The guy was stirring the bubbling rice

The guy was stirring the bubbling rice

There was a strong but pleasant smell of fermenting rice.

There was a strong but pleasant smell of fermenting rice.

Rie's Father takes a look

Rie's Father takes a look

The guy explains the complex process, in Japanese :-(

The guy explains the complex process, in Japanese πŸ™

Different tanks for different grades of sake.

Different tanks for different grades of sake.

Something special about this one.

Something special about this one.

This is a all wooden filtration system used only for the finest sake.

This is a all wooden filtration system used only for the finest sake.

The wood gives it a completely different flavour.

The wood gives it a completely different flavour.

And so the tours ends.

And so the tours ends.

Day4 – Japanese Spa

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It took a while to persuade me to goto a Public Spa as you have to go in naked and that just doesn’t seem a very British thing to do. I suppose the sight of the mountains and the thought of coming all this way and not doing something. Anyway it turned out not that bad no one payed any attention so that was ok. The men and women are separated so Brandon, me, Shigeo and Granda went through the blue curtain and Rie, Setsuko, Elizabeth and Austin went through the red curtain.

There were 2 main pools one indoors and one outdoors, a sauna and lots of shower and baths. I spent some time in the indoor pool (41 degrees C) before venturing outside to the outdoor pool (42 degrees C)Β  It was great looking up at the Asama volcano in the hot water while being outside. What an experience!

Outside the public baths

Outside the public spa

Brandon and me had enough of the heat so we went and got changed, we left Granda in the main pool, I told him we were going for a beer, he said “ok” so we went back to the lounge area and chilled out a bit. BUT what we didn’t know was that Granda had put his clothes in a locker and placed the key in Brandon’s bag without telling us…

He thought we had gone to get beers to bring back to the pool, obviously that isn’t allowed. When he realised we weren’t coming back, he went back to the changing rooms and without a towel or a key was completely naked and concerned that his clothes were behind lock and key. To make things worse no one there could understand English so it was all getting very “carry on”, anyway Shigeo went back to the changing rooms and discovered Grandas situation, but as the communication barriers were up (remember Granda’s hearing aid and glasses were in the locker) things were getting difficult. We were imagining that Granda was having a great time and not wanting to come out.

beautiful view

beautiful view of Asama volcano

Anyway a bit later Shigeo decided to get our help so Granda was saved after 20 minutes. Luckily the place was warm and Granda saw the funny side. πŸ™‚ so that was ok.

inside the public spa

inside the public spa

After using the spa there is free tea and you buy or bring your own food and beer, now that’s a good idea. The place was mainly full of older people and families, maybe not a trendy thing to do, but relaxing and pleased we went.

View from the Spa window, notice the lovely gardens that is where the outdoor baths are this is January!

View from the Spa window, notice the lovely gardens that is where the outdoor baths are this is January!

Spa car park

Spa car park

Asama

Asama

a range of mountains surrounds tomi city, these photos don't do it justice I will try and stich a landscape together

a range of mountains surrounds tomi city, these photos don't do it justice I will try and stich a landscape together

mountains everywhere

mountains everywhere

landscape: 2 photos stiched together, sitll not as good as the real thing, click on the image to see the whole thing

landscape: 2 photos stiched together, sitll not as good as the real thing 7000 pixels across, click on the image to see the whole thing

landscape2: sitched another 2 photos together, I wanted to do 4 photos but missed the area next to the tree so will have to make do with this.

landscape2: sitched another 2 photos together, I wanted to do 4 photos but missed the area next to the tree so will have to make do with this.

Day3 – Nagano Temple

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Nagano is a long drive so we took the train from Tanaka station.

complicated ticket machine

complicated ticket machine

The ticket machines in Japan are very hard for non Japanese readers to understand, and usually there is no English speaking help, Japan must do something about this if they want English speaking tourist trade. Click for larger picture.

Train maps are often almost entirely in Kanji

Train maps are often almost entirely in Kanji

Here is some of the route in Romanji but not much, it really makes it difficult for an English speaker to travel through Japan.

Granda has a well earned rest at Tanaka station

Granda has a well earned rest at Tanaka station

Rie gets our tickets to Nagano

Rie gets our tickets to Nagano

Tanaka Station

Tanaka Station

Confusing cigarette sign

Confusing cigarette sign

So we have to hold our cigarettes at child’s face height?Β  I don’t even smoke and the helicopter shows these people are at least 30 metres tall… What a country!

Nice idea - no mobiles

Nice idea - no mobiles, Mayor Boris?

Welcome to Nagano

Welcome to Nagano

Austin gets interested in pigeons

Austin gets interested in pigeons

They don’t have child leashes inΒ  Japan so you get a mixture of reactions to using one, some people just stare in shock but Rie has had many parents of toddlers ask where she got it from, mothercare in UK which is a long way from Japan. So there is a market for it. πŸ™‚

I want that one!

I want that one!

on our way to the temple

on our way to the temple

a beautiful journey

a beautiful journey

Granda said it was a long way up the hill, and he wasn't wrong!

Granda said it was a long way up the hill, and he wasn't wrong!

very lovely road

very lovely road

Temple entrance

Temple entrance

lots of side buildings

lots of side buildings

such architecture

such architecture

cute shops

cute shops

the budda on the way- serious stuff

the budda on the way- serious stuff

inner temple entrance

inner temple entrance

Wash you hand here, in the pure water

Wash you hands here, in the pure water

the temple

the temple

Spectacular

Spectacular

the guardians of the temple

the guardians of the temple

Temple entrance

Temple entrance

thats us

thats us

incense

incense

The incence comes out contantly and it is believed that to wave it on your head or your body it will have a positive effect.Β  Why not, worth a try?

lovely gardens

lovely gardens

beautiful monument

beautiful monument

No not a new right wing leader

No not a new right wing leader

The swastika was a symbol of peace and harmony centruries before the nazis stole it.

View from the Temple, no pictures of inside allowed

View from the Temple, no pictures of inside allowed

Big Bell

Big Bell

We heard it ring while we were there. We weren’t allowed to take photos inside the temple it self as it is an active place of worship.

we're loving it!

we're loving it!

What the hell! We're near Matsumoto! That is my companies name!

What the! We're near Matsumoto! That is my companies name! Surely we must visit.

Austin enjoying water fountain

Austin enjoying a water fountain

lovely park near the temple

lovely park near the temple

random statue

random statue

lovely clean park

lovely clean park

tree surgeon

tree surgeon at work

The place is so clean and well looked after.

a free zoo in the park, what a surprise

a free zoo in the park, what a surprise

can't understand how this is free

can't understand how this is free

monkeys

monkeys

flamingos

flamingos

penguins

penguins

more penguins

more penguins

I like penguins

I like penguins

Beautiful  frosty forrest

Beautiful frosty forrest

I love these little bridges.

Close up of the little bridge

Close up of the little bridge

not sure what this bird is

Here is a pleasant pheasant