Until today, I've been able to get around without speaking any Japanese. A mixture of hand gestures / facial expressions and my crude pronounciation of locations in Japanese has gotten the job done. The patience of the Japanese, their extremely helpful nature (I heard from Thailog's crew that strangers have walked them to the locations in question more than once) and their sparse understanding of English are also factors in how I've managed to get around.
With all that said, my inability to read Japanese and lack of preparation finally reared its ugly head. In what must be the most depressing day on this trip so far, I took a three hour train ride with 2 connections (6 hour roundtrip) and a ¥1300 cab fare to the Prince-Skyline museum only to find it closed for renovations.
Getting out of the cab and walking up the stairs to the top of the hill where the museum sat, my heart skipped a beat when I saw a faded sign and nobody milling around the exterior. In fact the entire park was pretty much deserted. The front doors were shuttered so I walked around the building, peering through the windows to make sure it was in fact the museum I had been seeking. In back, there was a pickup truck parked outside and the service entrance was open. Walking in and towards the sound of machine work, I found two construction workers and attempted to communicate with them.
After I drew out a calendar and wrote some Chinese characters down representing dates and months, one of the workers was finally able to get across to me that the museum wouldn't be opened until April 20th. I spent a few seconds trying to formulate how I could get across to them that I'd pay them if they could just let me in. But given the difficulty in getting my first question answered and the noble/law-abiding nature of the Japanese, I stopped myself knowing it probably wouldn't have worked.
The bus stop sign at the entrance of the park was covered even though there was a Highland Shuttle bus parked out front (with no driver). Since bus service was probably suspended for the time being, I started the hike down the mountain, following the winding road the cab had taken me up on. Normally, I would have appreciated the trees around me, taking my time to wander the paths. But the disappointment had me feeling sick in the stomach and furious at my own stupidity.
The 35 minute walk down the mountain and back to the train station gave me plenty of time to curse myself for not calling ahead or paying more attention to the website. I was so focused on the info page where it stated that the museum was closed on Tuesdays that I chose to ignore the front page which had a message announcing that they would be open on the 20th of April at 9:30am. After all, why would you have information on what time and days the museum was opened if it was under renovation? I guess my eagerness to see the museum led me astray. I had indeed seen the news about the April 20th opening date, but because the website was so poorly designed, I thought it was just old and that it hadn't been updated in a while. Any plans to offer the website in English? I wouldn't mind working on it, just need Tomo to translate for me.
For anyone interested in visiting the museum, their Japanese directions won't give much of an idea for us gaijins. The museum is located in Tadashi Torii Park YAMABIKO in Okaya, Nagano Prefecture. It's about 1.5 hours south of Nagano City.
From Tokyo, the trip should take about three hours each way max and cost between $75 - $90 total. It's however much it costs you to get to Shinjuku Station and about $30 each way on the JR. The museum entrance fee is around $10 and the last bit depends on whether you take a bus, cab or walk up the mountain. The majority of the time spent traveling will be the 2.5 hour train ride from Shinjuku Station (Tokyo) to Okaya Station on the Limited Express Azusa.
In Okaya, take a cab to the entrance of the park at the top of the mountain for around ¥1300 or take one of the buses available. Not sure which routes drop you off at the entrance, but I'm going to assume the Highland Shuttle does (and the bus stop at the park should be in operation by the time the museum opens back up).
Halfway down the mountain, I also saw two separate bus stops for the Silky Express. I saw a sign for a 'Silk Museum' so I'm assuming the Silky Express eventually deposits you at the museum. So if no Highland Shuttle is available, you could probably take the Silky Express and get dropped off mid-mountain and then walk the rest of the way.
I'll be attempting to visit the museum again in late April so I'll provide clearer directions then. As of now, I'd recommend the 35 minute walk back to the station, I've laid out the route on the Google Satellite Map, the last image of the series on the left. It's all downhill and the scenery isn't bad at all. The question that remains is what bus to take up to the park.
For now, I'll make do with the Nissan Gallery in Ginza, and I also heard the Nissan HQ a few blocks away from the gallery has four GT-Rs on display.