Happy New Year!! Tibetan New year that is… The year of the Ox

We took some extra time off at the beginning of 2021 to finish settling in Italy and get our residence paperwork in order.

Now, we’re ready to resume our virtual travels.

Otari Forest, the chosen site for our next retreat

Continuing with our adventure in Japan, our next destination is Minami-Otari, where in 2018 I had booked a full day Shinrin Yoku, private tour with a guide from the Otari Forest Therapy base.

After my visit at the Matsumoto Castle I jumped on a train to Hakuba, my destination for the night. This is a world-renowned ski area at a much higher elevation on the Japanese Alps, where some of the downhill skiing completions took place for the Nagano 1998 Winter Olympics.

Click images to enlarge

I stayed here for one night, just 20 minutes by train to Otari. Not many lodging options as you go deeper into the mountains of northern Nagano. This was a beautiful place to stay, with its own indoor Onsen (Hot springs bath). I was actually the only westerner staying here among dozens of Japanese tourists.

All the Hotels I stayed in, in Japan provide clothing that everyone can wear in the hotel, but not only in the room, anywhere inside the hotel.

My outfit in the next photo, a Yukata (Summer Kimono) was provided to every guest, everyone in the dining room wore the same outfit. Quite comfortable and a great idea to get out of the street clothes.

That night, once again something amazing happened, during dinner, a buffet style setup in a comparatively extra large restaurant for being at a hotel. After you get your food, you need to call a waiter for drinks, I was struggling to get the attention of a waiter to order some sake. I didn’t want to start waiving, as I didn’t really know what was appropriate, and I had no idea how to call a waiter in Japanese. All of a sudden I see this couple, two tables over, that called one of the waiters and as I was trying to get ready to get up and call him after they were done with him, I saw that once the waiter came to their table, they pointed at me and sent him over to me. This really blew my mind, how aware people are there and how they volunteer to provide assistance to the poor traveler with a desperate look on his face… I bowed several times at them of course, as I had learned by now, the proper way of expressing gratitude in Japan, not just a salutation.

Later in the evening, I booked the private Onsen as I was not quite ready to share the public baths with a bunch of naked Japanese men. Bathing suits are not allowed in the Onsen pools. The private session was actually not expensive and it was great to get to know the place. Very well set up with extra size, wheelchair accessible bathroom, showering area and a sliding window to the outside with a view of the Alps, though I didn’t get to see them because it was quite late already.

Early morning the next day, I had to get to the train station by 7:45 the only morning train that would take me to Otari, my next Shinrin Yoku destination.

I basically had the train to myself, beautiful sunny day and only 20 minutes away, I could hardly wait.

When I arrived at the Minami-Otari station, I saw this girl holding a sign saying “Mr. Carlos Ponte”, of course that was Naoko, the guide I had been communicating with through numerous emails to set this up and also arranged the next day’s tour through a Buddhist temple and several Shinto shrines. The only surprise was that I was expecting a man, no idea that the name Naoko was for a female. In the end, it was a great surprise because I was about to meet someone so beautifully in synch with my views of nature, forest and even religion and spirituality that was a complete pleasure to spend two days following her guidance.

The best gift of this entire trip when it comes to scenery, the full fall colours and their radiant splendor where exploding that day here. The full day Shinrin Yoku session was much more than I expected, very insightful, warm and fulfilling experience. Naoko was very professional and at the same time it felt very comfortable like I was taking a walk with an old, close friend. To top it all up, an amazingly beautiful backdrop, you just didn’t’ know which way to look, as there was one spectacular view next to another. Our retreat is planned for the same dates, around October 23rd, so our group will be enjoying these views too. More info here: Japan Retreat 2021

Morning walk  photos. (Click on them to enlarge)
Lunch and afternoon walk (Click to enlarge)

Next time: We will experience history and mythology on a Shinto pilgrimage route, the Togakushi shrines, surrounded by 600+ year old Japanese cedars.

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