Do you ever have one of those nights where you don't plan on doing anything, and somehow, it turns into a night for the ages? Without going into detail, last night was definitely of that ilk.
After returning from my vending machine adventure, I met up with some other travelers in my room.
What proceeded what a fun night of drinking, stuffing our faces at a nearby izakaya, and yes, singing tunes at a karaoke bar.
I don't want to elaborate too much on the singing but let's just say, I'm going to stick to guitar.
I had heard of Izakaya before, but I didn't get a chance to explore one until last night. I'm glad I went with a group, as that's the ideal situation to visit one.
The best way I can describe it to people back home is it's the equivalent of a tavern or bar & grill.
It seems to be a popular place for people to go at the end of the day and unwind with a few drinks.
Maybe I'll get a chance to introduce you to my new friends, as they're heading south towards the Kyushu region after leaving Tokyo.
As for me, the plan for today is to Nagano and explore the former Olympic village.
As you know, Nagano hosted the 1998 Olympic Winter games. Many of the old facilities used in the games are still standing and can be visited today. I found another hostel to stay for tonight.
I just have to keep in mind that last night set a high bar for all accommodations moving forward.
Before packing my things, I made one final pilgrimage to the neighborhood vending machine.
Unlike my mystery prize from yesterday, the liquid gold I retrieved from the machine is the prize I was hoping to receive.
I know that many parts of the country don't have the convenience of having so many machines, so the daily visit to these may have been a treat.
The smooth, ground sips of coffee start my day with a buzz and alert my senses to the GPS.
According to the tracker, I have a 3-hour trek from the city to Nagano. The northwestern route should have spots of elevation, so I'll have to keep the fuel efficiency of the bike in mind.
This route also lends me a 2nd chance at riding through some of the mountainous roads, made famous by drift racers.
Minutes after finishing my shot of morning energy, I collect my things and fire the DZed up one last time in the city.
Shifting through the streets of Tokyo evokes a melancholic, yet appreciative mood.
If you had told me I'd be visiting you, as a kid, my first thought would have been strolling through these bright city streets.
The view of the neon-tinged scenery is the long romanticized idea westerners have of Japan.
Sure, it's hard for reality to match the idealism of that picture, but Tokyo left a collage of great memories.
Everything from the attractions to the people I've met, no part of this trip (so far) has lived up to the billing as Tokyo has.
Crossing the bridge out of the city really signifies a shift in course, as my upcoming destinations will be more bucolic.
I was intrigued to see how Nagano would be structured, as you don't think of a city of its location to host such a major athletic event.
Naturally, you would think that the Winter Olympics would be held in Hokkaido, not somewhere on the main island (Honshu).
Upon arriving at my hostel, I was informed that Nagano also has a famous Ninja Museum (along with a course, to boot).
I'm glad that I brought a pair of athletic shoes, as the oft-neglected set could be put to good use today. The first and foremost stop of the day is the former Olympic Village.
As you walk into the area, you see the former Olympic Village (now called Minami Nagano Sports Park), perfectly manicured and ready for tourist interaction.
This area is mainly used as a typical park, with a few notable distinctions. One of which is is Cauldron that stands proudly, in front of the stadium.
On it is a plate with names of medal winners from those games, etched into eternity. It's hard to truly grasp the feeling it must be to accomplish something like winning a gold medal.
The achievement, in it itself, is a monumental feat. Add in the fact that your name will forever be synonymous with your athletic endeavor just adds to the surrealism of the experience.
Few people ever achieve their ultimate goal in life, let alone enjoy the legacy of their fruits.
Their physical pursuit is an art form that only a few can ever paint.
The fact that these athletes have achieved their goals, and have monuments dedicated to their success, has to be a soul gratifying experience like no other.
I proceeded to spend the next few hours bouncing between Olympic facilities (which aren't together). Looking at places like these really makes you think of that event, in a different.
Beyond the entertainment and athletic value that the Olympics bring, the underlying economic impact it has on a city has to be immense.
I don't know what kind of place the city of Nagano was sitting in, pre-Olympics, but it's clear that the games have permanently changed how the city operates.
It was cool to check out but I'm not going to lie, news of the Ninja Museum had me more excited than any of the Olympic facilities.
I eventually found myself immersed in the house of all things Ninja. For most people, this place is called the "Togakure Ninpo Museum".
For me, it turned out to be a badass exhibit with actual obstacles to try, nearby.
As it turns out, the museum actually coincides with a Ninja School, one that has been active since the 12th century.
According to the story at the museum, a warrior from this area fled after losing a battle between clans.
He made his way to the Iga Province (which is now the Mie Prefecture) and learned the skills of the ninja, which he then brought back to this area.
There are multiple exhibits, showcasing everything from old weapons and tools to photos of people training.
It's kind of ironic (and hilarious) that a Ninja exhibit would have a section dedicated to photos of them training. I thought the point of being a Ninja was to be stealthy and undetectable...
Nonetheless, the exhibit is an awesome peek into the past of this lifestyle (and how their training was applied).
In addition to the area was an old Ninja house, where visitors can walk through the trap and maze-filled living quarters.
More than any physical ability, it was clear that the goal of the Ninja was to collect info and deceive.
The tools and fighting abilities are the token hallmarks of this art, but at its core, it's obvious that the practitioners were about quick, painless, and skillful reconnaissance of their tasks.
To add the cherry on the top of this notable visit, visitors can also experience throwing an authentic Ninja star (Shuriken).
For a fee, anybody can come to their throwing range and try their hand at whipping these metal stars at nearby target boards.
After a few minutes of instruction and improving my form, I try my hand at throwing a Shuriken.
With the star firmly placed (gripped with my pointer finger and thumb), I launch my arm forward and flick the Shuriken towards the target.
In a brief second of suspense, I see the fate of my star plucked into the board. It ended up being at the bottom left-hand corner of the target.
It was an ok throw (for the first time) but far from enough to leave me content.
I proceeded to spend the rest of the afternoon, perfecting my technique and accuracy.
Throw after throw, I began to gain fluency in the star's flight trajectory, as I could feel where it was going to land.
I'd hate to guess how many times I threw the Shuriken but one thing's for sure, it was enough to leave me with a sore arm and whiplashed wrist.
I feel like there are some parallels to throwing ninja stars and to my native pastime of archery.
The weapons are far different in size, but relative in their ability to fly. Having great coordination and depth perception is key, in these artforms.
I had a ball at that Museum and it's definitely a must-see, for anyone that's visiting this part of the country.
I'll just have to inform potential visitors that the obstacle course nearby is for kids (much to the chagrin of my inner 10-year-old)...
Now that my dominant wrist is sore (even more so from writing this), I'm going to give it a rest and call it a night.
Tomorrow, I'm heading off to Kanazawa.
Thanks again and I'll see you soon!