Bus Tour to Karuizawa

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Hotel Green Plaza, Karuizawa

One thing Tod & I had never done until this weekend was to take a Japanese bus tour. They seem the province of older Japanses folks, but this is "Respect for the Aged" weekend, so it was the right way to celebrate.

We showed up on time at the appointed departure place, but screwed up right away by failing to notice the seating assignments posted on the door of the luxury bus. We really bollocksed up the works by sitting two rows ahead of where we were assigned. Because we couldn't fight our way back down to the front of the bus, a fellow passenger had to check the chart and shout our assignment to us. Embarrassing, but it was our only obvious error of the day.

The bus started off with two rounds of applause (for the guide and the driver) and a lot of explanations. We were offered the choice of reserving a popular lunch option for our meal stop, and a bento for the return trip the next day. We opted for both, as it seemed simplest.

Lunch was kamameshi, a steamed rice and chicken dish, at a roadside restaurant that's been serving it for 120 years. I guess that makes is popular, as advertised. They certainly had the bus tour business down pat. A man with a flag bearing the restaurant's logo greeted our bus as we pulled into the parking lot He waved teh flag high as he lead the lunching crowd through the gift shop and upstairs to our long table in the restaurant.

Back on the bus, we continued north to Karuizawa, a famous mountain resort area where many well-off families have summer homes. We'd spend the night at a hotel and on the way back, we'd stop along the way to pick apples and grapes.

"Karuizawa is a little bit interesting," my friend Elizabeth warned me. "It's where the upper middle class go for the summer, and it's a mix of Western styles and Japanese tastes."

She was more spot-on than I imagined. Many of the buildings, including the hotel, are half-timbered Swiss look-alikes. The summer homes span a wide range of styles, none of them particularly Japanese. Our hotel room was split in two: half the room was carpeted, papered in a floral design and sported twin beds. The other half was tatami with a low table, zabuton cushions and the ubiquitous complimentary green tea.

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Beautiful flora

Shaking our heads in wonder, we headed outside to walk around the complex. The air smelled clean and woodsy and it wasn't long before we were off the beaten path and hunting for interesting flora and fauna. I spotted a pink mushroom; we marvelled at moss and discovered a well-contained stream meandering through the property.

Of course, we enjoyed an onsen bath and the hotel's extensive buffet dinner before heading off to bed. We had more fun in store for us the next day...

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Sounds like a great weekend. Relaxing. I love the mushroom!

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