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Sunday, 16 September 2018

Book II ~ Chapter 11 ~ The Yoke of Yudanaka

11-Aug-2018 – 23-Aug-2018

I know that with my night in Niigata and my stay on Sado, I've already been in the region for a few days, but only now that I’m settling down after a period of frantic travelling and trying to push as much content as possible into each day do I consider myself to have truly arrived in…

Chuubu (中部”Central Region”, also known as Chubu or Chūbu, depending on which transcript you like to use) is the second-biggest region of Japan after Hokkaido, which makes it the biggest Region on Honshu. At 72,572 km², it surpasses Sierra Leone in size, and its population of almost 22 million people is the third-biggest in Japan after Kansai and Kanto – where Tokyo is located – and closest to the Republic of Niger on a global scale (not to be confused with Nigeria, which has significantly more inhabitants). Density-wise, there are about 300 people living on a km² here, which is roughly the same as Grenada, and higher than for example Germany or the United Kingdom.

At this point, it should be noted that unlike the Regions of New Zealand, which mostly covered either the east or the west coast, almost all regions of Japan stretch all the way across the mountains and from one coast to the other, which naturally makes them a good deal bigger. In fact, since Chuubu is so large and there are so many people here, the Chuubu region is generally divided into three distinct subregions: Toukai (東海 “East Sea”), Koushinetsu (甲信越 “Armour Faith Exceed” = The first kanji of the three prefectures making up this subregion) and Hokuriku (北陸 “North Shore”). While I was in Niigata and on Sado, I was in the Hokuriku Subregion, while now I'm in the Koushinetsu subregion.

And within Koushinetsu, I am at a town by the name of Yamanouchi (山ノ内 “Mountain Home”).

…I mean Yudanaka (湯田 “Hot Water Field”), the famous snow monkey and hot spring resort town…

…that is actually called Shiga Kougen (志賀高原 “Aspiring Joy Highlands”)…

…unless its name is Shibu Onsen (渋温泉 “Astringent Hot Spring”).

Okay, so apparently having one clear name for a place is a thing of the last century, but let me try to break it down. Yamanouchi seems to be the administrative district, Shiga Kougen the geographical location, Yudanaka the name of the Station, and Shibu-Onsen the name of the hot springs. I've heard people refer to this place by a variety of these names, and while I’m sure it would be excessively fun for you, the readers, if I just randomly used one of those four names throughout the chapter, I think I’ll limit myself to “Yudanaka”.

Anyway, with that having been cleared up my stay place in Yudanaka is located at the upper end of the town, shortly before it gradually converts to farmlands and then forested mountains.

As for the climate…

You’d think that being 100m higher than Appi-Kogen would keep the temperatures at a tolerable level, but apparently being 400km further south is more than enough to counteract the effect. Fortunately, I should spend most of my time here indoors, but the effects of the heat are still… palpable.

Befitting the hellishly hot humid temperatures of this place, my stay here should not be the most pleasant of experiences. Instead, it should become the locale for my own, personal re-enactment of…

Spirited Away

This is the story of a little fox who works in a traditional Japanese bathhouse…

…that is run by an evil witch…

…who steals people’s names and makes them her slaves.

Oops, those were the wrong pictures. But the gist is essentially the same. The bathhouse is actually a hostel with an integrated Onsen, and it’s not quite as glamorous…

…although the Kanaguya (金具屋 “Gold Tool House”) hotel, which is said to have been the inspiration for the bathhouse from Spirited Away is just 200m down the road. In fact, a picture of this much more lustrous place was uploaded to the HelpX profile describing the hostel, so I am a bit disappointed when I find out that’s not actually the place, but rather a picture of the surroundings. Oh well. I wouldn’t be a fox if I couldn’t appreciate a bit of relatively harmless trickery.

The evil witch who runs this place is also probably neither evil nor a witch, but she not lack a certain amount of valiciousness. Her name is Anna Morita, and she runs this entire four-storey, 23-room hostel without any paid staff, only with the assistance of volunteer helpers. As for the name-stealing part: Upon arrival all helpers are assigned a diminutive one-syllable nickname by Anna Morita for the duration of their stay, so I became Ki-chan to her. The Japanese suffix “-chan” is usually used for girls, little kids or animals, and I am instantly upset by it. However, since I am sort of dependant on her goodwill, I choose not to say anything about this, and it’s much the same for the other helpers.

Speaking of trickery, let’s talk about how I ended up at this place. I first came across it using HelpX, and seeing the large amount of negative reviews it got chose to make it my absolute last priority. Instead, I used WorkAway to contact a different, more promising place, which was located in Nagano and offered free accommodation, WiFi and facilities in exchange for 15 hours work per week. Anna Morita, the host of said other place answered my message on WorkAway and said she was also running a different place where food is included in exchange for 25 hours a week. She said it was on a different website (and cunningly provided no link), and being the naïve and trusting little fox that I am I accepted her proposal, not yet realizing that it would spirit me away to the place that I had previously placed at the very bottom of my list, and with good cause too. Again, well played, Anna Morita, and you have my respect as a fox and trickster. As a result, this should become a hard time for me that I was only able to bear to a point thanks to the other helpers who stood by my side during the ordeal.

As for said other helpers, first there’s Pat from Maryland, USA, who should leave a few days after my arrival. He is pretty chill and approaches the situation with a very relaxed attitude. His work might not always be up to Anna’s standards, but of all the people here I think he has found the best way to deal with the circumstances here. His motto is “It's easier to ask for forgiveness than ask for permission.”

Jessica from Mexico has my deepest sympathies, since she’s been here for over a month and should be staying longer than me. Unlike the other helpers, however, she mostly helps out Anna Morita with administrative duties, which I can only guess are either significantly more enjoyable or better regulated than what we others have to do, or I wouldn’t be able to understand how she managed to hold out this long.

Aurelie from France is a much more rebellious nature, and the two of us should spend a lot of time regulating our frustrations about the situation at this place by ranting about it together. She would leave this place only a few days before me and go on a carefree journey into the wild blue, with no plans made whatsoever. I wonder where the winds have taken her?

So much for the helpers who were here before me. The next helper to arrive after Pat’s departure would be a Chinese girl by the name of Phyllis. She is also clearly the smartest of us all, for she leaves this place on short notice only a few days after her arrival, using the opportunity when Anna Morita is out for a day to shop for groceries to stage her escape. Godspeed, Phyllis!

And finally, there’s another girl from China who arrives the day after Phyllis’ departure. Her name is Ariel, and she should stay until after my own exit. I hope she’s alright.

So much for the cast. Now, many of you will be wondering just what made my stay here such an ordeal. The answer to that is complicated, but I think it’s best to start with…

The Place

On its own, the locale is not quite that bad, and could almost certainly be transformed into a serene sight of staggeringly sparkling splendour if Anna Morita was willing to put some actual paid work into it. As it is, however, that is not the case, and this hostel is a place that you should neither support by staying there, and especially not by volunteering to work there. Never forget! Always remember! The name of this dreaded place is: Nozaru Hostel (の猿 “ ’s Monkey”).

A shame indeed, especially since the neighbourhood is also quite idyllic.

But anyway, let’s start with a tour of the big place, featuring mostly the more presentable aspects, but also a few unsightly ones.

Now, since I realize this would have been confusing even with the lights on, here’s a map of this place detailing the route I took through the hostel during this tour.

My room is actually quite comfortable, despite being located in the basement and a wee bit shabby. At first, I have to share it with Pat…

…but then I have it all to myself. Fortunately, it has a working AC, because it’s located directly beneath the Onsen and with the heat freely radiating from it in all directions, and the outside temperatures being a heat-stroke-to-go, the room quickly turns onto a subterranean hell unless the AC as running. Pat figures that Anna Morita would probably object to us using the AC, but since the room turns into an oven without it, we use it anyway and very carefully avoid her trick questions about the temperature in our room. My bed, by the way, is once again only a simple futon. By now I've more or less gotten used to it, but having slept on both futons and mattresses, I can say that I clearly mattresses.

As for the guest rooms, they share the same Japanese style of my den…

…yet feature clearly better views.

And here’s the scenic hallway captured in a much better light. All of us helpers agree that this is the most beautiful part of the hostel since it has a rustic, traditional flair to it.

Now, moving on to the less glamorous parts: First, there’s this place that I lovingly like to call “the dungeon” which is not only used as an incredibly well organized storage space, but also to dry towels and other hostel-related laundry that we need to do as part of our duties. Fortunately, I manage to avoid having to come down here all that often. The other helpers are not as lucky.

We already had both the messy kitchen and the garbage pile during the place tour, but since they are two unsightly features that upset me on a daily basis, I want to start a three hour rant briefly address them separately. The kitchen itself is a Sisyphus work where every day I try to put a bit of effort into making it just a bit cleaner, but don’t seem to make any progress at all in the end.

Meanwhile, the garbage pile is frankly an unhygienic outrage. Now, I must admit that I have never tried running a hospitality franchise myself, nor have I ever worked in a place this big before, yet somehow I find it hard to believe that “piling up all the rubbish bags in one corner” is an approach that would qualify for best practices. What’s more, since rubbish bags are apparently excessively expensive, Anna Morita routinely scolds us for not making the bags full to the point of bursting, as if one or two bags more would make a difference with the amount we’re already handling. Eventually, Garbage Mountain as I like to call it (Jap.: 塵山 Gomisan) becomes so big that it completely blocks off one of the paths in the kitchen, and almost makes it impossible to get in and out.

The changing room for the male Onsen, meanwhile, may look nice… until you find out what the bath mat covers.

And speaking of “broken”, guess what’s up with the second-floor public toilet.

Also, apart from us helpers and the customers, the Nozaru hostel is also prone to a host of other inhabitants that are neither helpful nor paying.

My personal favourites are the itty-bitty teeny-weeny little lizards that can be observed in the most unlikely of places. Their survival strategy appears to be the original Zevi-brained “hold still and hope it didn’t see me”-approach.

It goes without saying that Anna Morita can’t charge to much for a place like this… or can she? At 2,400¥ for a dorm bed and 3,900¥ for a single room, this place is clearly more expensive than most of the dorms I've stayed in, and at a comparable rate to most single rooms I've had. Also, in addition to these base costs Anna Morita is not shy to monetize via micro transactions as well. In her defence, however, compared to the ungodly high rates that other places in this region charge (we’re talking about 9,000¥ to 82,000¥ per night here), the Nozaru Hostel really is dirt cheap, which might account for its lack of paid staff.

Anyway, so much for this lovely little place. I really don’t want to say that running it this cheaply is a mistake and that it would be better to charge more and have a proper staff, using the helpers for support – such as certain other places do (see Book II ~ Chapter 9 ~ Amicable Appi-Kogen)… so instead I am going to comment that offering accommodations and commodities to discount prices like this results in a suboptimal situation which could be ameliorated by levying elevated fees and compensating with a ledger of core personnel, relying on volunteers for secondary assistance – which is a practice successfully employed by marked disparate establishments. On a completely unrelated note, I miss Pension Mutti.

I’ll get more into detail about the surroundings in the next interlude, so I don’t want to say too much right here, but at the very least I want to give you a quick overview of the immediate neighbourhood, which is located between Yokoyugawa (横湯川 “Side Hot Water River”) in the south, and a forested hillside in the north. There is a little grocery store with a very limited selection nearby which we mostly use to buy vegetables, and the nearest Konbini is all the way back at the station. As for a supermarket… there’s no such thing around here. The closest one is over 9,000 meters away.

Instead, there are plentiful of Onsen around, even outside the hostels, hotels, Ryokan and bathhouses. In fact, there is a tour of 9 numbered public Onsen, and although I did not specifically seek them out, I should still randomly run into over half of them during my time here. Had I had more free time, I would have made a point of tracking the remaining ones down as well.

Now, I’m not an avid Onsen-goer (especially not in weather that feels like the next best thing after dying in a fire), but for those who are into it I hear you can buy a “Rally Towel”, stamp it with the seals of each of the nine Onsen after bathing in them, and receive a price once you’re done! And it's completely free of charge! All you have to do is stay in Yudanaka’s ridiculously overpriced hotels for a number of nights and a cheap souvenir is all yours (generously sponsored by the Yudanaka Onsen & Hotel Lobby)!

So much for the place, which is, as I mentioned before, not all that bad, and could certainly be turned into something great with a little bit of effort. However, there would be little time for that, and that is largely thanks to…

The Job

Just like the place, the job in itself isn’t so bad. It's just what Anna Morita makes of it for us helpers that’s the problem. But let me start at the beginning.

The most basic task is cleaning the rooms. For that, we have to fold up the tatami mats, wipe the surfaces, clean the bathrooms, open the windows but close the curtains, unplug and open the refrigerator, check the lights, as well as a number of other little tasks in order to make the rooms look good and ready for the next guests again. Exactly how much time that takes highly depends on how neatly the Okyakusama (お客様 “Honoured Customer”) leaves a room behind – and the bandwidth for that goes from “easy peasy” to “inexorably horrible”.

Also, let’s not forget about the trash. The amounts of empty cans, bottles, wrappings and other waste products that some Okyakusama leave behind bothers absurdity. Fortunately, most (but regrettably not all) customers have the grace to neatly tie them up and arrange them by the litter bin, and some are even proactive enough to go through all the trouble of disposing of them in the bins in the lobby.

And all that is done, the floor needs to be cleaned. Initially, I am told to do it with a broom, but after giving it a try I quickly realize that this method is not only slow and unreliably, but also takes way too much time considering just how many rooms we have to clean. So within the first day of duty, I initialize the technical revolution and start using readily available and fully functional vacuum cleaners, and within a week everyone else follows suit and complaints of customers about dirt and hairs on the Tatami mats miraculously stop.

To do all these tasks, we use a little cart to carry around all the supplies. Actually, Aurelie tells me that the cart is a new addition to the tasks, and that previously the helpers had to carry brooms, garbage bags, cleaning supplies, wiping towels, spare tissues and what else all by themselves. I can only imagine how inefficient that must have been. Incidentally, one of my first inofficial tasks should be to fix said cleaning cart: The pegs connecting one of the lower crossbars to one of the legs had come out. Fortunately, just like the broken of tail of a wooden fox toy (see Book II ~ Chapter 7 ~ The Sapporo Strawberry Stay), this, too, is nothing that a little UHU universal adhesive can’t solve, and my fix should prove to last at least for the duration of my stay, making it a pleasure to work with the little cart.

In addition to the rooms, we also have to clean the mini kitchen – which is available for use by the guests – as well as the shared bathrooms for the dormitories and on the first floor. Neither of them are big tasks, but they do add up…

In fact, let us make a quick balance at this point. Despite the utopic manager-like phantasies that Anna Morita displays, cleaning a room takes about 30 minutes on average. The number of rooms to clean on a given day varies, but averages out at about ten rooms per day, staging the daily effort for the rooms at about 5 hours. Add to that the time required for the toilets and the mini kitchen, and we’re at about 6 man hours. Some days I should work alone, and on others, I should have one, rarely two of the other helpers to assist me, so let’s say that each day an average of 1.5 persons are working on the rooms, bringing down the average to 4 hours. So far, so good. 4 hours per day for 5 working days a week is still well within the agreed frame of 25 hours per week.

Next up is the Onsen. This is one of the tasks you can’t get right, and Anna Morita should repeatedly spend time (which I’m perfectly sure she could have used more productively) complaining about it and micromanaging tasks to the point where it would be faster if she had just done it herself. The first step – cleaning the changing rooms – is pretty much the only one I manage to complete to her satisfaction.

Before that, we have to start draining the Onsen, which takes quite some time, and then cleaning them. Once again, the method that Anna Morita prescribes for this – using a brush to scrape out all the mineral condensate that naturally accumulates in the hot spring – is painstakingly slow and inefficient, and she routinely critics me for using more efficient methods such as washing down the dirt with a rotating ledger of water buckets (fill a bucket with water and empty it uphill from the dirt, thus washing it down the drain while you simultaneously fill a second bucket of water so that it’s full once you return from the three-steps away pool) or using the showers as makeshift hoses. With proper equipment, such as an actual hose, the cleaning process could have been done within minutes. As it is, however, this takes at least half an hour for all the Onsen combined.

There are four Onsen in total: Male Inside, Male Outside, Female Inside, and Female Outside, and the person in charge of cleaning them for a day has to do them all. As a perk, that means I get to see the females’ Onsen as well as the males’. The female outdoor Onsen is particularly cute.

Afterwards, we have to refill the Onsen, which is not as easy as it sounds.

Anyone who has ever filled a swimming pool – or even just a makeshift garden pool – will know that you need two things: Time, and water. The tricky part with the Onsen is that we only have a very limited amount of water coming down from the hot springs through a little falling pipe…

…which also changes in quantity and temperature on a daily basis. Using a complex system of plugs with different sized holes in them that we insert into two different water tanks (which are about three minutes apart from one another since there is no direct route between them and we have to walk all the way through the hostel, changing shoes twice on the way), using gloves because the water is scalding hot, we have to make sure that each Onsen gets just the right amount of water and is just the right temperature to make Anna Morita happy. Needless to say that the latter never happens. Either this Onsen is not getting enough water, or it’s too hot so it should get less water (yet still be ready by the time the Onsen is supposed to open up), or hat one is too cold, or another Onsen (chosen apparently at random) has a higher priority. As such, no day on which I'm in charge of the Onsen should pass without Anna Morita actively looking for me, telling me to stop what I'm doing and change the plugs for the Onsen pipes. Occasionally, it should also happen that she’d tell me to use a bigger plug on a pipe that I had already left completely unplugged in order to maximise the flow of water, which should usually result in a lengthy optimization discussion about which other Onsen’s pipe should get a smaller plug to increase the flow to the unplugged one. Also, regarding the temperature of the Onsen, some people would use advanced technological temperature measuring devices to ensure the correct temperature. We, however, are on a “put your hand in and see if the temperature is right”-basis, which should yet result in more complaints from Anna Morita.

Anyway, doing all that should only take 30 minutes according to Anna Morita, but it actually takes at least an hour, not counting the little extra interruptions for changing the plugs. I have to do this about every second work day, so let’s be generous and say this increases the daily work time to 4.5 hours. Still okay for 5 days a week.

But we’re not done yet! In addition to cleaning up the rooms, we also have to set them for the next guests. Fortunately, the bulk of the task was already done in the cleaning section, but we still have to prepare fresh linens, and more often than not adjust the number of futons in a room, putting extra ones in the cupboards, or pulling out additional ones and folding them up neatly. Especially the latter is something that can escalate if there aren’t enough futons available in a room’s cupboard, and we have to search other rooms for (matching) spares. Altogether, that adds an average of one hour’s worth of work to the daily tasks, bringing the daily work hours to 5.5, and the weekly work hours to 27.5 for a 5-day week. More than agreed on, but still short of the general consensus of 28 hours of volunteer work for food and accommodation.

Incidentally, the whole process should start out to be rather chaotic. In the mornings, Anna Morita would just randomly assign room keys to helpers as the guests check out, completely disregarding that we have only one set of cleaning supplies, and also not telling us which rooms were expected to check out later, thus (hopefully unintentionally) maximising the time we should spend changing floors.

I wouldn’t be the fox that I am if I let such a chaotic and inefficient system stand. Within a week, I have not only worked out a way to efficiently organize us helpers so we won’t get in one another’s way when there’s multiple of us or forget tasks in the heat of battle (or the heat of Onsen-cleaning), but also procured state of the art materials to create a management device so advanced that Anna Morita has apparently not yet heard of it: A List!

At first I’m hesitant. Decades of having various people in my life tell me “you're arrogant” whenever I proposed an idea for an improvement have discouraged me from trying to improve situations such as these. However, this time should be different. Aurelie is instantly delighted by this system which allows us to parallelize our tasks and also helps avoiding accidentally doing the same task twice, and before I know it my system is readily adopted, and the other helpers proactively create their own list on my days off. Words cannot describe how good that makes me feel.

But moving on. Apart from the regular tasks, there are also irregular tasks such as vacuuming the corridors…

…emptying the ashtray outside the entrance (editor’s note: EEEEEUUUUUGGGGHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!)…

…and manually lugging sacks of rubbish from Garbage Mountain to the collection point, which is located a hundred meters away at the river side. In fact, along the river there’s a series of these little overhanging constructs, which I guess make it easier for the garbage service to collect it, but certainly is a long ways of the convenient trash containers in front of each house.

And in addition to all this, we also have do lovely tasks that “don’t count as work” but still have to be done, namely cooking food for Anna Morita and the other helpers and washing the dishes. Now, maybe my feelings here would have been different had Anna Morita occasionally pitched in with either of these tasks – and in fact we mentioned this to her – but during my entire stay she only prepared a total of three meals, two of which were pretty much warmed up leftovers, and did not help with the dishes a single time. That’s not a situation that I would consider fair, especially when contrasted with Pension Mutti where I got three meals a day prepared for me, or Sapporo, where Seina practically banned me from doing the dishes, considering that task her chosen duty.

Altogether, that amounts to an average of over 7 work hours per working day, as well as some hours on non-working days as well, which is definitely too much, but would still have been tolerable if it had not been for Anna Morita herself. Maybe the worst part is that I never see her doing any work, and while I can imagine that she must be busy doing organizational tasks, I simply can’t believe they keep her that occupied, especially with Jessica to help her. Add to that the fact that she likes to spend time nitpicking details of how we do tasks and complaining about things that she could have easily fixed in half the time had she wanted to, as well as the fact that you never hear something like “well done” or “thank you for your hard work” out of her mouth, and you have a very poisonous and demotivating working environment. I try my best to counteract the effects of this by maintaining a cheerful and positive mask around the other helpers and thanking them for the effort they put in. After all, we’re all working together to make this place as good as possible, and I sincerely hope I was able to improve the general morale of the place at least a little bit, but still…

…eventually, it becomes too much, and I begin to experience effects of psychological degradation that I had not felt since I stopped working for MegaZebra over two years ago. So eventually, I drawn up a sum of all the hours I've worked (which should turn out to be 38.5 hours for the first 6 days alone, significantly over the agreed-upon 25 hours per week, and also significantly over the limit of what I would consider appropriate or even tolerable), factoring in the fact that I only got one day off during my first week instead of the agreed-upon two days, and present it to Anna Morita, asking at the very least to get my one day off back, and ideally for an extra day off to compensate for all the extra work I've put in.

At first, this ultimatum is simply ignored by her, and only at my third and final attempt to open a dialogue does she actually take some time to talk with me. It effects to a lot of “ah, but we’re so busy” and “but that day is some other helper’s day off already” and “I really can’t give you three days off in a row” which then becomes “actually, I can’t give you two days off in a row either”, followed by “and could you make it this day instead of that”. At the end of negotiations, my requested extra days off have been moved so much backwards, that they are effectively the regular days off for the following week, and I realize that any attempts to talk with Anna Morita will only be a waste of my already sparse time. To gracefully leave negotiations, I accept her proposal, which effectively means that nothing changes about my original schedule, and begin making preparations for my own unannounced exit, but more about that later.

For now, let me tell you about what I would make of the litte free time I have in this place. For starters, I should use the waning afternoon hours of my first day here in Yudanaka to go on a tour with the purpose of…

Interlude: Scouting Shibu-Onsen


Still exhausted from my trip yesterday, as well as a 7-hour first work day, my body just wants to rest after the completion of my first shift in this place.

However, the fox in me has different plans and wants to explore his new surroundings, and so I find myself embarking on an explorative stray around the immediate neighbourhood. At 1.5 hours, it’s one of my shortest strays, and it shouldn’t even cover a whole 2kms, yet featuring in the troubling treacherous terrain, the steep slopes, and my battered body, it sure feels like a fully-fledged hike to me.

The Nozaru Hostel is right in front of the gates of Onsenji (温泉寺 “Hot Springs Temple”), so you’d think starting with that Temple would be the logical choice…

*BLEEP* Wrong! After I take my first steps into that direction, I am distracted by a huge dragon head with plentiful coins in its maw…

…and alerted of a lovely little staircase leading up the mountain, and to a hidden Temple & Shrine combo.

Following the mountain past east from there, I pass right by Bachi (墓地 “graveyard”) on the hillside…

…and then emerge right in the middle of Onsenji.

It should probably come as no surprise that it would be here, in the Snow Monkey Town of Yudanaka, that I should come across the proverbial Three Wise Monkeys, which happen to be Japanese Macaques – the very same species as the famous Snow Monkeys. Their names are Mizaru (見ざる “don’t see”), Kikazaru (聞かざる “don’t hear”) and Iwazaru (言わざる “don’t speak”), which is a play on words: The Japanese word for monkey is “Saru” (猿) which becomes “Zaru” if it is preceded by another syllable in compound words. At the same time, “zaru” is also the ending syllable for an old (and no longer actively used) conjugation meaning “don’t”, and thus a word pronounced “Mizaru” for example can mean either “see(ing) monkey” or “don’t see”. Interestingly, in opposition to the Three Wise Monkey, there are also what I guess would be the Three Foolish Monkeys. Going from the naming conventions for the Three Wise Monkeys, I guess their names should be something like Miru (見る “see”), Kiku (聞く “hear”) and Iu (言う “say”), though the play on words no longer applies in that case.

Afterwards, I stray through the very idyllic streets of Yudanaka for some time, backtracking west along the river…

Before eventually climbing the next staircase, leading me to yet another temple – this one featuring the rare and unusually modest priest-Tanuki.

From there, I decide to follow the hillside forest path in search of the other Shrines and Temples that are supposedly hidden here…

…which as a pleasant side effect should also give me a nice view on the area I'm staying in.

I should also find a number of Shrines and temples up the forested hillside…

…yet there is one the quest of which I have to abandon, for while the path to Mihou Jinja (三峰神社 “Three Peak Shrine”) looks clear enough on the map…

…the actual trail should barely be deserving of the name, first leading through what I believe to be anti-landslide fences…

…then up a slope that can with some fantasy be recognized as a former trail path…

…and finally fading out into the forest near to a little shack that regrettably is not a Shrine. I have a very rough inkling where to go from here, but not knowing how much higher up the mountain this adventure will take me, and with me already being quite exhausted, I decide not to risk it and turn back for now.

So instead, I let this initial exploration come to an end by visiting the more readily available Temples and Shrines along the route, as well as walking along the main road in front of the hostel in search of the very unobtrusive little local grocery store, before returning back to the hostel.

Now, all this running around and the work sure have made me hungry, which regrettably brings us to yet another shortcoming of this place, namely…

The Food

[To be continued…]

Interlude: Maiban-no Matsuri

The Flair

Interlude: Monkeying Around


The Escape

The Retrospective