The city of Ina

Nagano’s hidden gem: The city of Ina

For my first assignment for my new job as a National Relief Teacher  (traveling English substitute teacher) I was sent to the city of Ina in Nagano prefecture.  Ina itself is a small town…don’t know why they call it a city when its more like a village… But contrary to it’s size, it has an amazing amount of nature and scenery.

The beauty of Ina

伊那市

There are many bridges in the town with beautiful rivers flowing underneath.  Wherever you look, you are surrounded by tall mountains and with just a short drive, you can drive up and have an amazing view over the town.

During my stay, I taught at six elementary schools.  Five of the schools were in beautiful areas outside of the main part of town and one was so far up a mountain and isolated that it became my favorite school.

Ina school

Large mountain landscapes, forests as far as the eye can see and flowers and sakura trees surrounding the school.

My favorite school was about a 40min drive from my house and the drive consisted of going through winding roads with both sides covered with rice fields.  The school has less than a 100 students and only one classroom for both 5th and 6th students.  For the 5th grade class there were 11 students and for the 6th grade there were only 6.  It was very enjoyable and it allowed myself to get closer with my students and create more game filled classes making it more fun for everyone.

The school ground is surrounded by cherry trees in the spring, it is literally pink as far as the eye can see.  Unfortunately for me, the cherry blossoms season had just finished and I was not able to see anything more than pictures.

The great monkey Yakuza

monkey gangster2

The school also had a pack of wild monkeys that came down and raided their vegetable patch during the warmer months!  How cool is that?! Like a monkey gang! No…a monkey Yakuza!  I really wanted to see them (my obsession with Japanese maybe out of hand…) But again, unfortunately, because of the season, the monkeys were in hibernation or something and don’t come down from the mountains.  But I was happy just knowing that I went to a monkey yakuza school.

Food

Ina city also has two famous dishes: Roman a form of yakisoba and ….insects!  I had the pleasure to eat both of them.  Click on the links above to be taken to a more in depth review with delicious pictures.

Sooo good! Rivals even Osaka's own!

Sooo good! Rivals even Osaka’s own!

There was also a very delicious Kushikatsu 串カツ restaurant in Ina city called “Shiro Hige” (white beard), which was named after a famous character from the anime “One Piece.”  Shiro Hige served a cheap all you can drink and some of the best deep friend food I have ever had!  You could get a wide variety of different deep fried dishes from almost every meat and vegetable you can think of.  All the dishes were relatively affordable and the portions were not too bad for Japanese standards.  The staff were also really funny and friendly.  But no English menu, so if you have no Japanese speaking or writing abilities it may be a bit hard.

Here is their website: http://shirohige.jp/

Sightseeing

The healing area of Zero Jiba

There isn’t a whole like to see in Ina city.  However, one famous sightseeing sport in Ina has to be Zero Jiba(ゼロ磁場  ぜろじば).   This area is said to have the ability to cure any ailments you may have due it’s “zero” magnetic field.  It was feature on many Japanese TV shows and gets many visitors daily.  Even monks track up the mountain to get water from the springs.  Click the link above to read more about the spot and my misadventure getting lost in the mountains.

There were also some great temples in the city, one which was so secluded when I entered all I could hear was a few birds chirping and my own footsteps echoing in the surrounding forest.  So relaxing.

On the way to one of my schools I also saw a strange looking temple which appeared to be in the yard of someones house.  Upon further inspection I found out that the owner of the residence made the temple and the outer walls which had glass with wooden carvings in-cased in them!  It was probably one of the most impressive things I have ever seen in Japan that wassn’t listed in any tour book or asking for $4 entrance fees.  I also tried to go and talk with the man for an interview but no one was home.  Yet the gate to the entrance of the house was still open and people were allowed to walk in and enter the temple and look around.

Although Ina is beautiful it is also fairly close to other areas of Nagano.  Therefore, I ended up spending my first couple weekends going to Matsumoto prefecture and going to see Matsumoto castle,  Kamikochi and Zenkouji temple.

Final Thoughts

Over all in just 4 weekends I saw a lot of Nagano and made a lot of friends through my job and visiting the local bars and sightseeing areas.  In such a short time I was able to see a lot, not to mention some rare opportunities that I’m very lucky and grateful for.  I don’t get why, but I seem to just be on the Japanese gods good side and feel blessed in this country.  I hope you all can have such great experiences too.  Please leave a comment below and tell me some of your great adventures!

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Going to Japan: Ashley Fox from Nashville

My name is Ashley!

I hail from: Nashville, TN

What do you currently do?  I graduated in December 2014 from UT Knoxville with a Bachelor’s degree in Spanish and Hispanic Studies, but now I’m just working a few retail jobs until I make the big move! You can find me hanging out on the JET Facebook pages or making a fool of myself on Tumblr. 

What will you be doing in Japan? I was shortlisted by the JET program to be a Prefectural ALT, so this means I’ll be teaching high school students! In my free time I’d like find the best little restaurants, enroll in Japanese language courses, and travel throughout Japan.

Where will you be headed? I’ll be heading to Nagano Prefecture but I’m unsure about the specific city at the moment. While I’m really pleased to be placed in senior high school(s), for any future JET applicants, this means that you usually have to wait a little longer for your exact placements.

Nagano Prefecture is famous for hosting the 1998 Winter Olympics, but aside from that, ski resorts, and Matsumoto Castle, little can be found on Google about this lovely prefecture. One of my goals with this blog (see also: kitsune-ramen.tumblr.com) is to highlight what Nagano is now, not just what it was during its Olympic glory.  Aside from chilling in Nagano, I plan on taking as many train rides around the country as I can because, I mean, who doesn’t love riding trains?

Me about to board a train to go wine-tasting at a bodega

Are you excited? You know, it still hasn’t hit me that it’s happening. When I left for Seville, Spain, I didn’t fully understand the weight of my decision until I was sitting on the plane and trying not to cry in front of a bunch of strangers. I imagine the same thing will happen when I’m sitting on a plane full of Nashville JETs. 

What got you interested in Japan in the first place? A lot of things contributed to my initial interest in Japan: my dad visited for a few weeks during his college years, so seeing his mementos around the house definitely piqued my curiosity as a child; also, one of my best friends growing up was half-Japanese, and getting invited for Friday curry-nights was the best. (I’m still obsessed with カレーライス) Lastly, I won’t lie, but Sailor Moon was a real game changer because it got me into drawing and watching the subs was what made me want to initially learn Japanese. Things have changed, but I still want to learn Japanese… however, I’d like to use that skill towards things like international relations instead of watching anime!

What are some things you’d like to do in Japan? Oh man, the list is endless. I really like cooking, so I’d like to start collecting recipes during my time in Japan. I’d also like to get involved in some clubs if I have extra time, like tea ceremony and some sort of martial art,  and I think that will really help supplement my language studies as well. Nagano is famous for winter sports opportunities and onsen, so maybe I’ll try out snowboarding and visit onsen after a stressful week? I will also be stuffing my face with as much ramen as possible, or soba since Nagano is well known for its buckwheat noodles.

Sansai soba anyone?

How do you plan to spend your last bit of time before you come? First off, I’m going to work hard to try and save some money before leaving. JET recommends bringing about $2,000 with you as start-up money (key money, apartment supplies, etc.) and I am not close to that goal at all. Aside from that, I’ll be looking for a relatively nice camera so I can vlog about my experiences in Japan. Finally, my boyfriend’s family is taking me on a trip to Mexico so that will certainly be interesting!! It’s going to be a whirlwind of a summer, but when you’re about to leave the country it’s all you can really expect.

Last, if you were to send a message in the future to when you decide to leave Japan, what would you say to yourself? “Where are you going now, huh?”

 

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