They say you have to be a bit of a sadist to be both a good Game Designer and a good author, since you need to make either the players or the protagonists suffer. “Can do!” says little old me as I plan my trip to Sado in order to become a genuine sadist, if only for a few days. Where is it located? Pretty much in as close to the geographical centre of the Japanese archipelago as you can get while still being on land.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Right now I am still here, at Appi-Kogen-Eki, and Sadogashima (佐渡島 “Assistant Crossing Island” = “Sado Island”) is still over 300km away as the bird flies and over 500km as the train goes.
Soon enough, however, a train from the JR Hanawa Line for Odate should arrive to take me away.
This should be the beginning of my…
Race for the Island
Originally, I had planned to find a host or another place to stay on Sadogashima. However, as fate would have it, there were neither HelpX nor WorkAway hosts available on Sado, and the only accommodations I could find were ridiculously overpriced, so I eventually settled on staying just two nights on Sado. In order to make the most of my trip there, however, I planned to stay the night before in the nearby harbour town of Niigata (新潟 “New Lagoon”), and then take the earliest possible ferry to Sado to maximise my stay on the island. That means my race should begin with an already quite marathonic trip…
Down the West Coast
Normally I avoid going by Limited Express, sticking to the cheaper and more scenic local trains. This time, however, the distance which I have to cover to get to Niigata is so great that even racing down the coast aboard a Limited Express from Akita (秋田 “Autumn Field”) to Niigata, the entire journey should still take over eight hours. I should change trains a total of two times: Once in Odate from the JR Hanawa Line to the JR Ou Line, and then in Akita to the Limited Express Inaho.
Anyway, so here I am aboard the train from Appi-Kogen to Odate, and as you might recall, Appi-Kogen-Eki is completely unstaffed.
So how do I get a ticket? The answer is simple and old-fashioned: Since this is not a Wanman, there is an actual conductor walking through the two-wagon train, selling tickets. Since I highly doubt that he would be also selling Limited Express tickets, I purchase a ticket to Akita for 3350¥, which should also give me the chance to get off there and grab some lunch.
And thus should begin my epic-lengthy journey through the mountains, past the ever-ripening endless rice-fields, and then down the long coast to the big city of Niigata. As I ride the Limited Express along the coast, I can catch glimpses of the two smaller Islands of Tobishima (飛島 “Skip Island”) and Awashima (粟島 “Millet Island”), but the notably bigger Island of Sado should not come into sight just yet. This would clearly be my longest train-journey in Japan thus far, and it makes me sad to leave this place behind, but now the time to part has come.
Naturally, such a long journey should not come without its own share of curiosities, and incidentally, they should all occur between Odate and Akita, including both stations, but neither the travel segments prior or after. The first of those should be JR Hachiko Jinja, a Shrine erected to the loyal dog Hachiko, whose statue I visited back in Tokyo (see Book II ~ Chapter 3 ~ Living Learning and Working). Conveniently, the Shrine is located on the platform, so I can actually pay my respects there while waiting for the connecting train.
But what is a Hachiko Shrine doing here, so far away from Shibuya? The answer to that lies in his breed: Hachiko was an Akita-Inu, a breed of dogs originating from this part of Japan, and since Odate is already a part of the greater Akita region, it somehow happened that a Shrine was built here to honour Hachiko, and consequently give the station its own fair share of fame.
Subsequently I should sit down and eat the breakfast which I bought at the Lawson in Appi-Kogen the day before: A hot dog of sorts and my personal favourite, a Yakisoba-Roll.
While I am sitting there eating, an older Japanese man sitting next to me should strike up a conversation that would last not only until the train arrives, but indeed all the way to Oriwake-Eki, where he should get off the same train that I'm riding until Akita, and transfer to the JR Oga Line to get to his own destination. As we talk mostly about travel-related topics, naturally my blog comes up sooner or later, and as he loads it up on his smartphone I am able to see the miracles performed by Japanese Smartphone Operating Systems: Without him having to do as much as pressing an icon or answering a prompt, my blog is automatically translated to Japanese, and even though that transation is probably a bit bumpy, it still allows people like him to read up on my journey without having to go through all the trouble of having to learn English. Praise technology!
At Akita-Eki I briefly have to exit the platforms in order to buy the Limited Express ticket to Nagano, which comes in the usual form of two slips of paper: One for the base price, and one for the Limited Express surcharge.
I also use this opportunity to buy some lunch in the form of tasty Inari-Sushi. They actually offer a “black” variant (which is actually just slightly darker coloured), and being the curious fox that I am I decide to try them out – especially since they are only 20¥ more expensive than the regular ones, and even at six rolls total this meal should come at a very affordable 280¥. However, the results of this experiment should be somewhat underwhelming, as I am unable to taste any difference between the light side of Inari-Sushi, and the dark side.
And with that, this first and longest segment of my race is already over. Next, I should spend…
A Night in Niigata
The first thing I should do here is finally, finally, finally getting Robert’s and my PasMo Cards unlocked (hopefully).
You may recall that we managed to get them locked up as a result of our trip from Shiroishi to Ishinomaki, and couldn’t get them unlocked again since we were outside the sphere of influence of JR East. Ever since then, I've been fretting about if there was any way that I could get them unlocked again prior to my eventual completion of the circuit. This chance should present itself now, since auspiciously JR East’s area of control extends all the way to the west coast in the area surrounding Niigata.
Afterwards, I emerge from the main exit of Niigata-Eki, and confidently stride down the main thoroughfare towards the hostel that I booked, thankful for the overcast sky shielding me from the searing sun in the already quite considerable heat. Having departed from Appi-Kogen where it had gotten so cool that I had to wear my trusty jacket Krevyasz, the 33°C that await me here are like a hammer to the face.
Unfortunately, the overcast sky should have its drawbacks, for if the sun had been out I would have realized much sooner that I am walking into the wrong direction. That is a bit embarrassing for me, but the combination of Niigata-Eki having a really confusing internal layout and straight, major roadways extending perpendicular both north and south from sizable station squares were apparently enough to overcome my otherwise sound navigational skills. I eventually realize my mistake upon walking along the road for a distance at which I'm certain it should have taken a slight bend to the left at a major intersection according to the map I memorized. Not wanting to just walk back the same way I just came, I instead plot a slightly different course that should eventually take me to my destination all the same.
And all of that while lugging not one, but two heavy backpacks around. Oh well. At least I should come across a number of sights that would make me feel welcome here in Niigata…
…such as this adorable little bar by the name of Akatanuki (赤たぬき “The Red Tanuki”).
But I only truly realize how dearly this detour has cost me when I come out in Baden-Baden. Well, at least it’s not Zürich.
Apart from the most confusing Station, Niigata should also win the price both the biggest variety and most colourful display of manhole covers. In fact, I find those three different designs in a row while walking down one of the main roads of Niigata.
Despite all the nice sights along the way, the at least 30kg-heavy burden that I’m continuously carrying starts taking a toll on me to the point where I wish that bears of Wakkanai would have eaten me after all. Worse, there are no benches anywhere in sight that I could sit down on, so I continue on well past the point where I normally would have taken a short rest to gather my strength. Finally, I find a tiny, low bench in a tiny little “park” by the name of Tenmei Kouen (天明公園 “Daybreak Park”) and gratefully use it to sit down and rest for a few minutes. Fortunately, counting my involuntary detour, I have by now covered about 2/3 off the distance to my hostel.
Another benefit of my involuntary detour is that I coincidentally come across Sanja Jinja (三社神社 “Three Gods Shrine”), which most notably has a Frog Side Shrine. And while we’re talking about frogs: Did you know that the Japanese word for “frog” (蛙 kaeru) is homonymous with the word for “returning home” (帰る kaeru)? As a result, frogs are often used as metaphors for returning home, and although I can’t quite read them yet, I imagine many of the wish plaques at this shrine concern themselves with that very topic.
The last hurrah of my detour should be Ryuuto Oohashi (竜灯大橋 “Dragon Light Great Bridge”), and as any experienced backpacker will be able to tell you, climbing a bridge with 30kg of backpacks strapped to you is considerably more challenging than climbing it without any extra weight attached. Ryuuto, by the way, are strange lights allegedly seen at sea at night, similar to Will-O-Wisps or maybe ball lightning. Interestingly, they appear to be exclusive to Japanese folklore.
Finally, I arrive at my stay place for the night – a nondescript hostel that goes by the name of Guesthouse Asogo – completely exhausted from my 75-minute slog and vowing that I shall never again try to walk anything longer than 45 minutes with those heavy backpacks of mine.
By the time I finish checking in, it’s already after 18:00, and night is slowly starting to fall. Nonetheless I embark on a little stray around the neighbourhood, intending to make the most of my short stay in this town. Fortunately I find that with the heavy weight of my luggage lifted from my shoulders, my feet are still eager to take me places.
Fortunately, there are a number of Shrines very close nearby – including one with foxes – so I can easily visit them with what little daylight remains.
It's a little bit annoying that I should learn about a nice Shrine Circuit in the neighbourhood at Toyoteru Inari Jinja (豊照稲荷神社 “Bountiful Illumination Inari Shrine”) and not have the time to walk it, especially considering that it would have taken me to at least one more vulpine Shrine.
But it can’t be helped, or “shou ga nai”, as it would be in Japanese. As it stands, the sun finally sets and scattered clouds above reflect the light of what must have been a beautiful sunset back to where I can see it.
Hunger eventually gets the better of me, and so I gather all my courage and enter a little Shokudou of the type where Japanese skills are absolutely mandatory, predominantly because the menu is all in Japanese and does not include any pictures. With the help of the personnel, and my humble Japanese skills, I eventually manage to figure out which button I have to press on the ordering machine. It turns out the dish that I covet is not on one of the regularly labelled buttons, but rather falls into a group of dishes like “Class B Side Dishes”, and thus requires me to press a special button. This might already have been a first indicator that my chosen dinner ¬– a plate of Tomato-Cheese Gyouza – should turn out to be a bit lean, but it’s tasty nonetheless, and the cheese makes up for the missing substance, so I walk out reasonably satiated after all.
Afterwards, I drop by the nearest Konbini – a 7/11 this time – to purchase tomorrow’s breakfast since I should have another early day ahead of me…
…before returning back to the hostel and working on updating my maps and blog later than I should probably have given how early I would rise tomorrow.
Oh yes, and I should probably tell you about this place before I forget all about it with all the rush. I am staying the night in a blissfully air conditioned two-bed bunk room, together with a male traveller from Switzerland by the name of Marco. I wonder if he is from Zürich?
I believe I've already mentioned that pretty much all places – from coin laundries over medical clinics to hostels – have their share of mangas available, and this place should be no exception, featuring a considerable collection.
It also features just the right measuring cup in case you need to add “half a cup” of something.
And even the toilet manages to add a new twist: Not only is it controlled via a detached wall-panel, but it also has an infrared sensor built into the seat that will detect when you get up and automatically perform a small flush for you (you still need to manually trigger big flushes via the wall panel though).
But now it’s finally time for me to go to bed. After all, tomorrow I should have to get up by 5:00 in order to get to Sado…
Faster Than Can be Carried by Waves
The next morning, I set out at first light, intent on catching the first possible ride to Sadogashima.
In fact, I should leave early enough so that I have time to visit an urban Buddhist Temple along the way…
…as well as take note of a very cute “please don’t dig here” sign that even I can understand. In fact, it is right there and then that a very plausible explanation comes to my mind for why the Japanese are using so many cute pictographs: With the Japanese language being so difficult to read with all its Kanji, it is entirely possible that only few Japanese people would take the time to decipher something unless its of interest to them. The cute pictures not only serve to generate that interest, but also convey the essential message at a glance without people having to go through the effort of translating it.
This time around, my destination is the Sado Kisen (汽船 “Steam Ship”) ferry terminal, and knowing as much in advance, I wisely chose a hostel that is located barely half an hour’s walk away from the terminal.
However, as I walk back over the bridge and along the promenade towards the terminal, my back begins to complain again. Obviously, a single night’s rest was not enough for it to recover from what I made it go through yesterday, and so I’m quite happy when I reach the terminal and can finally drop off my backpack again. Also, let it be known that even in these early morning hours, the weather is already murderously hot and humid.
Now, I have already taken a relatively small ferry boat from Ishinomaki to Tashirojima and back during May (see Book II ~ Chapter 5 ~ A Trip Together) and a much larger cruise ship from Tomakomai to Hachinohe in July (see Book II ~ Chapter 8 ~ An East Side Story), but this one should be something new entirely. You see, there are a number of options how to get to Sadogashima, and one of them is via Hydrofoil, specifically a Boeing 929 Jetfoil, built under licence by Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. in Kobe, Japan. I've been wanting to ride one of these swift water vehicles ever since I've seen them in a book about ships which my parents gifted me at age 5 or so, and now I finally get that chance, as Sado Kisen operates not one, but at total of three of these swift vehicles.
Granted, the fare for this joy is almost three times as expensive as taking the regular, slow ferry (6,390¥ as opposed to 2170¥), but in exchange the Jetfoil is over two times as fast and easily ten times as cool, so I deem it worth the price.
Now that I've safely arrived at the ferry terminal, I can finally relax a bit in the tastefully furnished waiting room…
…and enjoy my breakfast: A genuine Japanese… burrito? Oh well… why not? I don’t think we’ve hit on Mexico yet on my trip through Japan so… take that, I guess.
A little bit later, it’s time to board the Jetfoil. My trip is aboard the Suisei, which depending on which Kanji you use to write it can mean either “comet”, “mercury”, “aquatic”, “water current”, “this decadent world” or “decay” (did I mention that the Japanese language has way too many homonyms?). On a more technical note, the Suisei is a Boeing 929-117 with a capacity of 250 people, 7,600 horsepower, and a top speed of 87 km/h. It is the youngest ship of the three Jetfoils operated by Sado Kisen, and was built in 1991 as the 10th Jetfoil from Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd.
On the inside, the Suisei looks more like a plane than a ship…
…a notion that is further underlined by the presence of seatbelts…
…as well as the safety brochures.
One thing that I was genuinely concerned about was incoming Typhoon N°13 “Shanshan”, which was originally scheduled to hit this area… right… about… NOW!!! Fortunately, the tropical storm apparently took a long look at the jagged, up to 2km high mountain range in its path, and then went “Naaah!”, choosing a more comfortable path north along the east coast and back into the ocean.
As a result, I should be in for once smooth race across the ocean, and it really should not feel like any ship ride I've ever been on at all. Except at the very beginning and end, there is no swaying whatsoever, and If anything, it feels like I'm riding in an airplane, barely skimming the surface of the ocean, making this by far the most amazing ship ride I've ever taken. On the way to Sado, we should not only pass the regular ferry and another of the three Jetfoils going the other way, but also overtake the regular ferry going towards Sado that departed a full hour before the Suisei, and would only arrive half an hour after it.
The top speed that we should reach during this trip is an amazing 83 km/h – only 4 km/h short of the Suisei’s maximum specs and significantly faster than any conventional ship. By comparison, so far the fastest nautical vehicle ever built that can still in good conscience call itself a ship is only about 50% faster than that, making this civilian vehicle pretty much the Concorde of watercrafts.
And thus, I should arrive on Sado, specifically the port town of Ryotsu (両津 “Two Havens”), only shortly after 8:00 in the morning.
Now that I’m on Sadogashima, it’s high time to give you some details about this island. Being the sixth-largest island of Japan after Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku and Okinawa, Sado is roughly the size of Lanzarote with a land area of about 850 km² – that’s a little less than half the size of Stewart Island/Rakiura in New Zealand. However, since Sado has significantly more developed infrastructure, I should be able to access a significantly larger portion of the island, thus making it seem larger to me. About 60.000 people live here, making its population a little less than that of Dominica, and its population density (64 people/km²) about equal to that of Bulgaria. Administratively, the Island is considered a single city, but in reality it is mostly countryside with a number of individual towns located mostly along the two bays and coastlines. And geographically, Sadogashima is a sadiment… oh sorry… sediment plain wedged between two mountain ranges, and while the mountains may rise as high as 1172m, the majority of the sediment plain between is below 50m, with parts of it being below sea level altogether.
My first destination should be the hotel. Although it’s not quite check in time (actually, it’s not even check out time yet), I'm sure I’ll be able to drop off my luggage in order to go end explore the island freely. Foolishly, I should decide to walk the distance, and although it’s only about half an hour, my body should soon enough remind me that half an hour plus half an hour equals more than 45 minutes.
This stray should not be without merits, however. For one, I come across statues of two Sado women wearing what appears to be the traditional garb of this island. The most notable features are the buckled straw hats, and I should see many more depictions of women wearing this garb during my stay on Sado.
And then there’s Kamoko (加茂湖 “Increasing Overgrowth Lake”), a truly picturesque lake separated from Ryotsu Bay by a strip of land not even 100m wide. I imagine it must be an estuary lake since the channel connecting it to the see is only five times as long as it is wide.
The back streets of Ryotsu are very beautiful and calm as well.
However, the one aspect of this place that does not properly get across on these pictures is the searing heat, so here’s how it actually feels like.
Either way, I have little choice but to push onwards, and on the way pass a Temple, Church and Shrine each, before sitting down to rest at a bench next to aforementioned Shrine.
Near that Shrine, I should not only find Jizous of the Shichifukujin (七福神 “Seven Gods of Fortune”)…
…but also Ryotsu’s unique manhole cover design, featuring a trio of Ika (鰞 “Squid”).
Dragging myself away from that bench through sheer force of will, I eventually manage to walk the rest of the way to Hotel Shiiya, where I can finally drop off my heavy backpacks.
I would allow myself some time to relax and cooldown in the blissfully cool hotel lobby, but then I should set out again, for now it’s…
Or 鴇の時 (did I mention that the Japanese Language has too many homonyms?). 鴇 (Toki) are endangered birds – also known as Crested Ibises – that were once native to Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan, and Russia. However, due to hunting and habitat loss, they are now extinct in most of their former range. However, ongoing programmes are in process to bring them back, one of them right here on Sado Island. 時 (Toki) meanwhile means “time”, making “鴇の時” mean as much as “It's Toki Time!”. Incidentally, these efforts make the Toki the mascot of Eco-Island Sado, and phrases such as “Bring Toki back to the Sado Skies” can be read all over the place.
In fact, there already were educational leaflets about Toki and proper behaviour around them available on the Suisei, right next to the safety brochures.
But before we go there, here’s some more background on Sadogashima. Having first been settled around the 5th century, Sado soon turned into a popular place to exile for difficult or inconvenient figures due to its remote location… yes, I know I said that Sado is located as close to the geographical centre of Japan as one can get, but we’re talking about a time here when the north of Japan was not yet conquered by the Wajin people and everything remotely interesting happened in the area around Kyoto and Osaka. In those times, Sado was pretty much as remote as you could go and still be in Japan, or Yamato, as it was called back in the day. For almost a thousand years did Sado serve as a place of banishment, with the first officially recorded exile having been that of the poet Hozumi no Asomi Oyu in 722 for the dastardly crime of criticising the emperor. Other notable figures exiled to this island were former Emperor Juntoku, exiled after losing a war, the monk Nichiren for remonstrating the government, and the Noh dramatist Zeami Motokiyo on unspecified charges. At least they weren’t sent to Zürich.
And now here I am, on this former Prison Island. However, for reasons that are soon to become apparent – and which are totally unrelated to the Kanji for “Island” (島, shima) looking almost like the Kanji for “Bird” (鳥, tori) – I prefer to call it…
Since I still have about 6 hours’ time until I can check into the hotel, I decide to take the bus over to Sawata (佐和田 “Assistant Harmony Field”) and have a look around, but not before getting myself a nice, cool drink from a nearby vending machine in the form of a bottle of Calpis Soda. It's not half bad!
Now, the good news is that Sado has bus routes going all around the island.
The bad news, however, is, that these buses don’t go all that often. Some routes have only one or two buses a day, and even the main line, which I am trying to take, only runs once an hour, as I should find out upon reaching the nearest stop.
Unfortunately, I just missed the last bus by 15 minutes, and those who know me will realize what my next actions are going to be. Unwilling to just stand around and wait, especially not in this merciless sun, I take to walking along to the next stop, and then the stop after that, and then the stop after that, until eventually, I just decide to change my plans since by now I've already covered half the distance to Toki-no-Mori (鴇の森 “Forest of Toki”), Sado’s Toki reserve, which I originally planned to visit tomorrow. Hence, I take a turn south from the main road, and decide to execute that plan one day early.
On the way there, I should get to enjoy the exceedingly idyllic landscape of Japan, which I would say is the most beautiful I've seen in Japan thus far. I can only recommend travellers to spend a few days on Sado and enjoy the pristine harmony of earth and sky.
Along the road I also come across quite an unusual fence made of what I think could be thatches of dried rice straw, or maybe reed.
And then, I pass by Sado’s airport, which is, in one word, cute. However, the addition of a terminal building still makes it somewhat bigger as the airfield on Stewart Island (see Book I ~ Chapter 15 ~ Restless in Rakiura).
Subsequently, my path leads me through a little grove, and naturally that means that I’m surrounded by insect’s calls once more. Interestingly, the odd, bird-like-sounding bugs that I last heard in Morioka seem to be present in large numbers in this thicket.
One of the perks of Sado being an island is that there are no bears to beware around. In fact, there don’t seem to be any mammals around except those introduced by humans. This may be due to the fact that even at the shallowest point, the oceans surrounding Sadogashima are well over 200m deep, meaning that it already was an Island during the last ice age, when ocean levels were around 120m lower than today. An even then the closest gap would have been well over 5km across.
As a result, few if any mammals ever made it to this island, and I've already seen the results of this on a larger scale in New Zealand. As a result, the ecosystem of Sadogashima has evolved to be a bird paradise, and even if it’s not Toki quite yet, everywhere I look there should be Daisagi (大鷺 “Great Heron” = “Eastern Great Egret”) strutting around the ever-ripening rice fields.
I can also tell that they have been hunted by humans for generations, for the natural fearfulness bred into the descendants of the survivors makes these majestic birds take a flight as soon as they become aware of my presence, even if I'm still hundreds of meters away, and not touch down until I’m safely out of reach.
The rest of the way should take me through the rice fields on little-travelled idyllic country roads…
…and eventually, I should arrive at my destination: Toki-no-Mori Kouen (トキの森公園 “Forest of Toki Park”).
However, I should soon figure out that noble though their cause may be, this place definitely is not one that I would recommend as a sightseeing spot…
For one, half of it is an off-limits animal preserve to allow the Toki to procreate in peace and quiet…
…with the other half being more of a theme park, featuring a Toki-mascot and matching props.
However, since the conservation of an entire species is a noble goal, I am not too upset about it, and also happily pay 400¥ to purchase a ticket to the Toki museum and observation hall from a ticket machine. Fortunately, the buttons are clearly labelled, and there’s even a handy English explanation.
Sadly, the museum is all in Japanese far beyond my level, so the extent of insight I gain is limited to the pictures of the Toki’s former range.
The museum also features a gallery from where you can see the Toki in the cages from quite a long distance away, and in a play of words also photographs of Toki taken in the wild in recent times.
Maybe most notably, however, there is also a map documenting wild Toki sightings, and with it the ongoing efforts to restore the Toki population of Sado.
Also, let it be known that Sado is indeed an Eco-Island, and a globally important agricultural heritage system.
Apart from the museum, there is another attraction here in the form of a volery, where a trio of birds can be observed in a semi-natural habitat. Much to my delight, the museum ticket which I purchased earlier also doubles as a ticket for this part of Toki-no-Mori Kouen, and so I don’t have to pay again (although I would have been ready and willing to do so in order to support the Toki preservation effort).
Unfortunately, thanks to these tropical temperatures, the Toki temporarily terminated their terrestrial activities, and are mostly just sitting there, resting.
Since there’s not really much to see here, I should soon leave this place behind. However, not without purchasing a little souvenir from the gift shop, which should turn into the second seal for my daypack, the first having been the keychain I bought on my way around Hokkaido near Toyako (see Book II ~ Chapter 8 ~ An East Side Story). With this, I now have two of the required four Island Seals, and thus my Daypack is upgraded from the Awakened Backpack to the Alpha Daypack, and one step closer to the Daypack of Flames.
Since all that walking around these last few days has made me quite tired, and my body is screaming “PLEASE KILL ME NOW!!!”, I decide to have mercy on it and take the Minamisen (南線 “South Line”) bus to town… or at least that was the plan.
My resolve to grant my body some well-earned rest lasts exactly until we pass the Torii of Ushio Jinja (牛尾神社 “Cow Tail Shrine”)…
…at which point a rapid-thought-response process in my mind factoring in the rapid approach of the next bus stop in combination with this once-in-a-lifetime chance to visit this perfectly good and inviting Shrine results in me performing a combination of actions involving getting up, pressing the “Stop” button and dashing to the front of the bus saying I want to get off, which judging from the driver’s reaction would be remembered by him as “the scare of his lifetime.” In fact, I unintentionally startle the poor man so badly that he misses the upcoming bus stop and has to drop me off at the next one, forcing me to walk a little extra.
Also, in what I estimate to be a net gain on my end, I choose this opportunity to purchase the Two Day Free Pass, a cheap and convenient way for… T-O-U-R-I-N-G-S-A-D-O.
Had I not been in such a rush at that time, I might actually have realized in time that while I'm only staying on Sadogashima for less than 48 hours, I would still be using buses on a total of 3 calendar days, and could subsequently have saved money by purchasing the only 500¥ more expensive three-day pass instead. I should subsequently attempt to upgrade my two-day pass to a three-day pass both at the tourist information and in another bus, but apparently the act of taking my 2,500¥ two-day pass together with 500¥ more and giving me a 3,000¥ three –day pass in exchange is simply not within the power of (Japanese) man. Oh well. My one solace should be that after doing the math, the three-day pass would only have saved me a total of 890¥.
Moving on, I visit Ushio Jinja, which sits on top of a forested mound, and sports quite elaborate wooden carvings.
By the way, is life currently not going to you? Did your boss just work you 170 hours a week 50% below minimum wage before firing you? Did your wife just leave you and take your children, house, Mercedes, life’s savings and xerophyte collection with her? Did lightning just struck your priced circus cacomistle while it was knocking over your priceless Ming vase onto the keyboard of your webserver, inadvertently deleting 30 years’ worth of irretrievable long-term studies about the birth of the universe? It doesn’t have to be that way! Call now and secure yourself your own, personal shrine to get on the right side of the gods. For only a few measly few ten-thousand yen you can turn fate in your favour, and before you know it you’ll be swimming in gilded caviar in solid-diamond bathtubs on your private 300-room artificial island attended by a rotating ledger of ever-fresh virgins. Guaranteed to help you cope with everything life can throw at you or your money back (submissions for reclaims to be submitted in person after the completion of life). Only while supplies last!
Incidentally, there is also a cheese factory near the cow shrine, and this time around, it’s an actual genuine one, and I can watch people go over the industrialized process through the windows.
Now, I already mentioned that even the buses along the main line run only about once per hour, which would once again leave me with some extra time to walk along the line before boarding the next bus… even though the temperatures are hot enough by now that small animals just lay down and die.
Incidentally, I can feel my sunburn coming along just nicely, even though I've taken the precaution of applying SPF50 sunscreen prior to my departure today. I suppose next time I’ll have to go with a slab of SPF9000.
The increasing burning sensation on my skin, however, should not be enough to quell my distorted desire for spiritual Japanese culture. This time, however, I should at the very least take the bus well into the town of Ryotsu before ultimately getting off again and paying my respects to a number of Shrines and Temples.
And even here in the town the island lives up to its name, and I can watch a pair of kites tussle around on the rooftop of a temple, as well as the nearby cemetery.
Anyway, by now it’s half past one in the afternoon, and due to not having found any place to eat either at Toki-no-Mori or the Cheese Factory Roadside Rest Stop, I am positively famished. Having taken mental note of a “restaurants” sign at the ferry terminal, this is my logical port of call, and sure enough I find a nice and inviting canteen on the third floor of the building…
…which even features an (albeit reduced) English menu with cute, hand-drawn illustrations.
Not that I need it, mind you. Being the shy little fox that I am, I rarely enter a place without knowing exactly what I want and how much I’ll have to pay for it. As such, I order the Tenpura Soba that I decided on in advance, together with a rare treat in the form of a glass of coke, which I more or less use as a gesture of goodwill in order to justify ordering at least half a dozen free refills of my water glass. Divine Dragon am I ever-parched by now! Dropping all my luggage off at the hotel inadvertently also left me without the Awakened Daypack, and thus without my trusty drinking bottle. All the better that I get extra liquid from the soba soup that I drink while overlooking the harbour of Ryotsu.
All this, and I still have some time to kill before check-in. Hence, I decide to leisurely stroll back from the ferry terminal to the hotel, this time along a more scenic route and without heavy luggage weighing me down, starting at the bridge of animal-borne naked people.
It goes without saying that the direct consequence of this stroll are visits to quite a number of additional Shrines and Temples both big and small. In fact, after a month of spiritual austerity, the amount of Shinto and Buddhist culture I get here on Sadogashima feels almost like an overdose.
On a more mundane topic, I should briefly befriend one of the big insects lying on the street. Taking the critter for dead, I crouch down to pick it up, only to find it clinging to my fingers quite eagerly for a while before flying off.
Also, there’s this strange reflection on the ground that I can’t figure out where it comes from.
I can tell it has to come from somewhere on this house, but I don’t think it’s from the roof tile since that one has a different shape…
…and I can’t just look directly into the reflection because…
Speaking of which, I try to stick to the shadows as much as possible. The cat might actually have the right idea of how to best spend a day like this.
Fortunately, by now it's finally check-in time, and I am almost back at the hotel too. So without further ado, I check into my room, glad to be out of the reach of the orbital photon blaster.
Expensive though it might be, my room is actually quite neat, featuring a breathtaking view of Kamoko along with an indoors-balcony of sorts from which to behold it.
But that’s not all! There’s also a tea set with genuine Japanese Ocha (お茶 “Green Tea”), and also complimentary Sado-Okashi (お菓子 “Sweets/Cookies”).
I gladly spend the rest of the day in my room, updating my maps and blogs while resting my weary body. At nightfall, my attempt to eat in the hotel’s restaurant should fail due to the hotel not having a restaurant (I must have somewhat misunderstood the menu in the room’s brochure there). Instead, I should venture out into a somewhat cooler Sado night, which should honour me through the simultaneous visibility of Kinsei (金星 “Gold Star” = “Venus”) Kasei (火星 “Fire Star” = “Mars”) and Dosei (土星 “Earth Star” = “Saturn”). Incidentially, planet names are one of those rare occurrences where the European language has a way to write them that is both easier and shorter.
Now, the hotel is a little bit out of town, so even the receptionist has trouble pointing me to a nearby restaurant, and eventually I just venture out with a few vague pointers. Luckily, fate should be on my side, as I before long I run into a place that I've been wanting to try out for some time now.
The last time I came across a Hotto Motto, the circumstances were not really in favour of a take-out Bento. This time, however, such an affordable meal is precisely what I am looking for, so I take my pick from the menu…
…wait for a little bit while they prepare it, and then take it back to the nearby hotel to eat in in my room. My choice tonight would be a tasty bowl of Katsudon (カツ丼 “Cutlet Bowl” = “Breaded & fried pork cutlet on rice”).
So here’s to a day well-spent, as well as a fox well-burnt. As a result of my excessive exposure to the deadly space laser, I should contract the sunburn of a lifetime on the back of my hands, one of my personal weak points due to a natural lack of pigmentation on that part of my skin. It should take almost two weeks for the back of my hands to revert to their natural colour and texture afterwards, with it temporarily taking on a disturbingly glazed texture in between. The Japanese word for a sunburn, by the way, is Hiyake (日焼け “Sun frying”).
What a great way to start my time here on Sadogashima! And since I'm only here for two days, I should have little choice but to press onwards and…
Go for Gold!
That night, I should learn the painful way that just like my room is a Washitsu (和室 “Japanese-Style Room”), so is the door to the toilet – as in, only 175cm high, and with it just a few cm too low for me to pass through it without inviting a headache.
In exchange, however, I get treated to a really nice sunrise over Kamoko.
Today, I would go on another extensive tour across Sado. But before that, I indulge in a tasty Japanese-style breakfast at the hotel.
Now, for a bit more of Sado’s history: In 1601, much to the delight of the Edo-government, gold was found on Sadogashima. What a boon! Now, instead of exiles just working on rice fields, they can actually do something much more valuable (and dangerous) for the government. In fact, the throughput of workers was so high that the government eventually started “exiling” homeless people to Sado, thus killing two birds with one stone. The primary gold mine was located in Aikawa (相川 “Fellow River”), but there was also a placer gold mine on the opposite side of Manoirie (真野湾 “True Field Bay”) at the town of Nishimikawa (西三川 “Western Three Rivers”). With more time, I could have visited both. As it is however, I have to decide on one, and since I wanted to check out Ogi (小木 “Small Tree”) anyway in hopes of finding Shrines with foxes, I decide to visit the old placer gold mine in Nishimikawa on my way back, and also attempt to find a few Geocaches en route.
Not counting the way from the hotel to the nearby bus station, today should consist of five bus-, and five stray-segments. The first bus segment takes me from the hotel right across the main island using the Honsen (本線 “Main Line”). Interestingly, this bus has the stop buttons embedded in the back of the seats.
In Sawata, I have half an hour to transfer to the Ogisen (小木線 “Small Tree Line”), and if you think I’d just wait patiently at the station then you're sorely mistaken.
Instead, I make good use of the time to visit one Shinto Shrine and three Buddhist Temples, which are conveniently close together in this little town.
And naturally, I also shouldn’t pass up this opportunity to take a snapshot of Sawata’s colourful manhole covers.
Now, the Ogisen Bus is of a notably different design, that makes me wonder if it’s operated by JR.
Not only is the route it takes along the mountains quite scenic per se…
…but it also takes us past not one but two natural Moai rock formations! What are the odds?
After that, it’s up into the mountains, and down the other side to the southern coast of Sadogashima.
Arriving in Ogi, I embark on an hour-long exploratory stray through the town in hopes of finding some vulpine guardians watching over the Shrines here.
I should be out of luck, however, for while I do find two Inari Shrines while straying through the streets of Ogi (among other Shrines and Temples), none of them have any vulpines watching over them.
In consolation, the streets of Ogi themselves are quite idyllic, especially in the district of Inarichou (稲荷町 “Inari Town”), where delightfully colourful decorations are hanging in front of every house.
And naturally, even Ogi should have its own manhole- and hydrant-covers.
Following that, I’m on the bus for the third time today, riding the Ogisen north across the mountain again, this time apparently with some would-be fishermen.
My next destination is the Nishimikawa Gold Park at the location of the old placer mine, where people in olden times would use pans and other devices to extract gold deposits from the river. And since this is Japan, the place naturally has an overly cute mascot in the form of a golden Tanuki.
Apart from the cure golden Tanuki, it’s also not surprising to find a huge, gilded statue of Daikokuten (大黒天 “Great Black Heaven”), one of the Shichifukujin (七福神 “Seven Luck Gods”) of Japanese Buddhism, watching over this place. After all, the primary domain of Daikokuten is commerce and prosperity. Also, speaking of luck, the Gold Park should also be the location of the one Geocache I would find on Sadogashima.
Anyway, I should not hesitate to pay 800¥ to enter the Gold Park. In fact, I should get more out of it than I accounted for.
The museum displaying old Japanese gold coins and jewellery as well as illustrating the traditional techniques for extracting gold from the river is about what I expected…
…and the gift shop certainly earns high grades for staying in character…
…but what I absolutely didn’t see coming is the interactive gold-panning experience!
I get instructions and a modern gold panning pan, and then I have half an hour to pan as much gold as I can from the troughs filled with original Nishimikawa sand. Now, as one might suspect from the fact that this placer mine was eventually abandoned or that the museum offers this experience for only 800¥, the yield is not exactly rich. The vast majority of my panning attempts does not result in any gold, and even those few successful ones return only tiny little flakes of the precious metal, which I would then gather in a little vial that should remain soberingly empty.
Upon completing this back-pain inducing experience, the museum critically hits me with an overdose of cute, causing me to enter a dazed state in which I am willing to pay 2000¥ for an adorable little Gold Tanuki keychain in which my meagre spoils get stored. Even with the gold price being what it is, I don’t think I've managed to pan even ten yen’s worth. But I've panned something, and that’s probably more gold than most people will ever procure in their entire lives.
By the way, for more experienced panners, there’s also a simulated outside environment, and the introductory movie also mentioned an experts course that takes place in the river itself. I for my part am quite content with the indoor troughs, and the sunburns on my hands are grateful for me spending the zenith hour indoors.
Anyway, since lunchtime is upon me and the next bus from here won’t run for another 45 minutes, this is the perfect opportunity to purchase a plate of Yakisoba from the food stalls outdoors. After all, futile though the gold panning might have been, I sure managed to work up an appetite, and where else can you have a meal with view on the gold panners?
One bus ride later, I should arrive at the starting point for the longest stray segment today: Following the lure of two more Geocaches, I should follow an idyllic trail through forested hills, before eventually making my way to the road along which the Minamisen bus runs.
The path that I walk is roughly, but not quite along the Chubu Hokuriku Shizen Hodou (中部北陸自然歩道 “Central Region North Land Nature Footpath”), and starts at the Mano Goryou Iriguchi (真野御陵入口 “True Field Imperial Tomb Entrance”) bus stop.
Predictably, I soon run into yet another manhole cover design. This is what, the fifth one for this island?
And for one reason or another, there is a veritable circus of kites soaring above the trees in his area (also, I must apologize for the scratches in my camera’s lens degrading the quality of zoomed-in shots against blue sky. I tried getting a new one all the way back in Akihabara, Tokyo, but alas, the selection there did not include what I was looking for).
My first stop should be Mano Kouen, where I would not find the desired Geocache, but instead behold a number of interesting walkways, fountains, as well as a golden Buddha statue and a Temple. Also, very importantly, there’s a drinking water fountain installed here, which I gladly use to quench my ever-growing thirst. This time, I brought my daypack along – which by now has been upgraded to the Alpha Daypack thanks to the addition of the Toki Seal – and with it my trusty drinking bottle, but the day is still long, and so I try to conserve water as I go.
Following that, my chosen route should lead me along (mostly) blissfully shady country roads along the northwestern edge of Sadogashima’s southern mountain range.
I'm about halfway along my way when things start getting culturally absurd: One Buddhist Temple follows the other, and where it's not fully-fledged temples, it's little Jizous standing at the road side. Truly, of all the places I've visited so far in Japan, Sado clearly has the highest density of Buddhist Temples, and probably also the highest Temple-to-Shrine ratio. I suppose the government banished too many Buddhist monks here back in the day. Or maybe the exiles turned to the Buddhist Faith to relieve their worldly woes. Who knows? One thing is for sure though: Buddhists, sure get their money’s worth here on Sadogashima.
Probably the most notable of these is the five-storey pagoda of Abutsubomyosenji (本山 阿佛房妙宣寺 “Main Mountain Corner Buddhist Image Exquisitely Proclaimed Temple”), which is one of the highest of its kind. Another Geocache that was supposed to be hiding around here, however, remains regretfully unfound.
Other notable attractions along the way include the for some reason sacred charred remains of a tree struck by lightning, as well as a very artisan wooden carving of a hunting eagle displayed openly by the roadside here in the middle of nowhere.
I eventually rejoin the southern main road by the Takedabashi (竹田橋 “Bamboo Field Bridge”) bus stop…
…and find out that I missed the bus by about 15 minutes. Since it’s 16:45 now, that means my options would either be waiting around until the bus comes…
…or, I could do the energetic thing and walk along the bus line through fields and villages…
…visiting even more Temples and Jizous along the way, and even a single Shinto Shrine.
By the time I visited the Temple and Shrine near Miyakawa (宮川 “Shrine River”), which is three stations own the line, the next bus has caught up to me, and I ride it all the way back to Ryotsu, where today’s final Geocaching attempt should be made. With that final (unsuccessful) attempt, I have tried to find almost half of Sadogashima’s nine Geocaches. Another four are hidden in out-of-the-way locations that I might have reached with maybe two or three more days, and the final one, annoyingly, lies hidden at the cheese factory that I passed by yesterday. Unfortunately, however, I only became aware of that fact upon checking the Geocache locations later that day, and while I briefly consider just getting off at that bus stop again since the Minamisen bus runs right past it, the fact that I would have to wait a full hour for the next bus to come deters me from pursuing that course of action.
And thus, I reach Ryotsu once again, fail to find the last Geocache, and without any better options in sight, choose to dine at the Ryotsu Ferry Terminal Shokudou once again. This time, I order a bowl of Tendon (天丼 “Tenpura Bowl” = “Tenpura on Rice”) and a brightly green drink of Melon Soda. Unfortunately, my drink order gets somewhat messed up, and although it clearly says “Melon Soda” (メロンソーダ) on the bill, I get a glass of Cola again. Maybe the waiter remembered me from yesterday and failed to clear his drink order cache, or maybe they were thinking “There’s no way a foreigner would actually want Melon Soda, let’s just give him a Coke instead”. Whatever the reason, after this long day I feel too tired to complain about it and thus content myself with another serving of the caffeinated beverage.
By now, it’s already quite dark outside, so I’m glad I did not spend the extra hour to check out the Geocache at the cheese factory, and walk back to the hotel through the dark streets of Ryotsu along the shore of Kamoko.
I had planned to spend the rest of the evening updating my maps and the shrine and temples list and then calling it an early night, but the people of Ryotsu should find a delightful way to delay me for another half hour even from this distance. At first the sudden booms echoing across the lake startle me, but when I look out I find that they are originating from a firework taking place in town. And since I'm unable to concentrate with all this ruckus going on anyway, I decide to enjoy the show from my little indoors-balcony, marvelling at the two-fold display in the skies above and the lake below. Interestingly, the firework display appears to be segmented into phases, alternating individual big rockets with compound displays closer to the ground. A particularly nice touch are the occasional Sadogashima-shaped fireworks.
Only after the display is finished should I get around to complete my wrapping up of the day’s events and go to bed. Little do I know that tomorrow should end up turning into…
An Impromptu Itinerary
This day should start with another beautiful sunrise, this time featuring a group of Daisagi bathing in its golden sheen. Shy and watchful as they are, they even notice the subtle movement of me opening the curtains of my window, and take flight within seconds of becoming aware of my watching them.
One last traditional breakfast awaits…
…and then I’m off again, carrying all my belongings with me front and back. It's not even 7:45 by the time I'm on the road.
My travel route today should take me all the way to Yudanaka (湯田中 “Hot Water Field Middle”), a resort area in the mountains near Nagano (長野 “Long Field”), where my next host would await. Technically, it's only 200km, and yet it should take me over 10 hours to complete due to the route that I chose. Since I don’t like repetitions, I planned my route to take me off Sadogashima via a different ferry, departing at the other side of the island, from Ogi, to be precise. In fact, yesterday’s trip served as a sort of beta test of today’s route since I would be taking exactly the same buses to Ogi. From there it’s to the port of Naoetsu (直江津 “Straight Bay Haven”) per ferry, and then to Yudanaka by train via Myokou Kougen (妙高高原 “Charming Heights Highlands”) and Nagano… or so I should think.
Okay, so that probably sounds a lot more ominous than it would turn out to be, but this particular journey of mine should be a lot more spontaneous than usual, starting with me embarking on yet another stray around Sawata while waiting for the bus of the Ogisen, only this time while also carrying all my luggage around.
My efforts should not be in vain, however, and I would find yet another two temples on this island…
…and also get a nice view of Manoirie.
Now, one of the reasons why I chose precisely these days to stay on Sado was that they are right between two major festivals, meaning that the island would not be quite so busy. More importantly, however, it meant that there were remotely affordable rooms available. Consequently, it’s of no surprise to see festival preparations going on as I depart, such as festival floats parking near the streets and firework instalments being set up in the bay.
Now, since I messed up with the Two Day Free Pass, I have to go with the ye olde numbered ticket system again as I ride both the Honsen and Ogisen buses to the port. Notably, this time around the Ogisen bus has “normal” seating, so I guess they just have a number of different types of buses in service that they shuffle around randomly.
I arrive at the Ogi Ferry Terminal with plenty of time to spare, which was a calculated buffer from my side in order to avoid missing the ferry in case I missed one of the buses for whatever reason. Also, it means that I’m not on the bus that all the other people wanting to board the ferry are taking, and as such my ride is a lot less crowded.
Purchasing a ticket at the Madoguchi (窓口 “Window Mouth” = “Ticket Counter”) is also a lot more relaxed this way since I don’t have to stand in line while under time pressure.
As such, I now have over an hour to sit back and take in the amenities of the ferry terminal, such as a floor map of the route which I’m about to take…
…as well as a Sado woman riding a washtub as a boat, which is apparently a tradition here on the island. In fact, didn’t I see this same motif on one of the manhole covers here on the island?
Now then, another reason why I took this route of all is that I would be able to add yet another ship type to my list, for the Akane is a modern hi-speed catamaran ferry, and while it naturally can’t compare to the amazing speeds of hydrofoil crafts, it nonetheless impresses with speeds as fast as 63 km/h (whereas ordinary shops reach maybe 35 to 45 km/h).
Also, it certainly does not lack for amenities. In addition seating opportunities in all colours of the rainbow, there’s a sleeping area, a kiddie corner, as well as a gift shop. And did I mention that the Akane is a car ferry? The belly of the beast is full of automobiles!
With this, it is now finally time to say goodbye to this beautiful island. Wish that I had more time to explore it thoroughly, but alas, it should not be. At least I got to take a good look at it, and I daresay I managed to beat as much into these two days as was humanely possible… and then some.
Since the catamaran-design of this ship is not only fast but also very stable, I help myself to a local specialty. Very local. Very special: The Special Akane Burger (スペシャルあかねバーガー Supeshiaru Akane Baagaa)! Come to think of it, was my meal the last time I ate on a ship not also a burger (see Book II ~ Chapter 8 ~ An East Side Story). What is it with me and devouring burgers on mobile buoyant iron-carbon alloy contraptions?
And then, we arrive at the Naoetsu Ferry Terminal, where a cute kangaroo mural demonstrates that even boring old oil tanks are not immune to the Japanese influence of cute.
Originally, I planned in some time to walk from there to the Naoetsu Station, but in my second act of spontaneity today, I decide to take the bus and with it a risk, since I have no idea if that bus even goes to the Naoetsu Station. However, since it’s the only bus that runs from here, I reason that it would be likely for it to connect to another infrastructure hub, such as the station. Also many of the people that got off the ferry proceed to form a line, waiting for the bus, so I assume it must be okay.
And it turns out alright! For only 180¥, I manage to get a ride to Naoetsu Station (although I almost fail to get off in time), and arrive there 45 minutes early for my train. Perfect to take a little breather and relax… or to indulge in another act of stupendous spontaneity and scour the immediate neighbourhood for Shrines and Temples while still carrying all my luggage.
I should be rewarded not only with an impressive number of Shrines and Temples for such a small area (one of which finally featuring foxes again)…
…but also with the obligatory manhole cover, this one made from a very duck-tile metal.
Another curiosity I would have missed if not for this little impromptu exploration is this curious stone slab with two naked calling women on top of it that stands right across the road from Naoetsu Station. Unfortunately I can’t read what it says.
Anyway, it’s about time for me to enter the Naoetsu Station now, which is not only quite a modern building…
…but also contains the first zig-zag escalator I've ever seen.
Getting a cute little ticket from a Jidouhanbaiki (自動販売機 “Self-Moving Market Selling Mechanism” = “Vending Machine”) should be no problem since by now I have figured out the mechanism…
…and then I’m on a good old –fashioned JR train with lengthwise seating again.
Looking out of the window, I also notice a very colourful train on the next platform over. I wonder where this one goes?
But there’s no time to find out, for we are moving already, past rice fields, up into the mountains to no less than 600m aboard the Echigo TOKImeki Railway Myokou Haneuma Line, and then down the other side at breakneck speed riding the Shinano Railway Kitashinano Line. And all of that in not even 2 hours, counting 15 minutes of transfer time in Myokou Kougen.
Now, one thing definitely worth noting along this line is the interesting layout of Nihongi-Eki (二本木駅 “Two Main Trees Station”): Whereas any ordinary station is either built along the line or at its terminus, this station is built next to the line on a storage track of sorts, meaning that in order to approach the station from the north, the train has to move past the station, stop, and reverse into the station. It makes sense when you know about the peculiar track layout here, but can you imagine my surprise when the train suddenly stops in a wooden structure of sorts and starts moving the other way?
Anyway, for my next act of spontaneity, I should engage in some impromptu improvements to my travel route. While Hyperdia suggested for me to go all the way to Nagano Station and then transfer to the Nagano Dentetsu (電鉄 “Electric Iron” = “Electric Railway”) there, which goes back the other way for a while and then branches off east into the mountains, a look at my maps reveals that there is actually another, more efficient way that would allow me to catch an earlier train by crossing the short distance between two earlier stations on foot.
And so, it happens that I get off the Shinano Railway Kitashinano Line one station early at Kitanagano (北長野 “North Long Field”), and walk the absolutely manageable 500m to the neighbouring Shinano Yoshida Eki (信濃吉田駅 “Unshaken Faith Joyful Field Station”)…
…and wait for the Nagano Dentetsu to arrive.
And with that, I’m on my final ride segment for today, aboard an officially Mild Air-Conditioned Car.
I should have to change trains one last time at Shinshu Nakano Eki (信州中野駅 “Faithful Province Middle Field Station”), but that one is only two stations short of Yudanaka, and thus within extended walking distance, and even with this little change, the ride through the town, across Chikumagawa (千曲川 “Thousand Bends River”) and up into the mountains should only take another hour. And on a delectable note, I did not only save time but also money, since the ticket from Shinano Yoshida only costs me 1,020¥ as opposed to the 1,160¥ it would have cost me from Nagano. It may only be a little bit, and I could have shaven off a bit had I had that plan formed before buying the ticket from Naoetsu to Nagano, but it’s nonetheless enough to make me happy.
As it happens, Yudanaka is yet another definite terminal station to add to my collection. After Nikko, Wakkanai and Aomori, this must be the fourth one.
Now then, my host said I could just take the bus from the station to near her place, but since I can’t immediately figure out where the bus goes from and her place is only about 2km away, I spontaneously decide to cover this final bit of my trip on foot… completely neglecting that I'm in the mountains now. Unfortunately, this last hurrah should have an average gradient of 5%, meaning that I would cover an altitude difference of about 100m in addition to the 2km of walking, and an altitude difference of 100m with 30kg of luggage on my back amounts to an additional 29.4 kilojoules of energy, or about 7000 calories. Talk about a workout!
In appreciation of my efforts, I should be rewarded with one last manhole cover, this one depicting… uo-oh… spoilers! We’ll get to that in the next chapter.
Anyway, battered and broken, I finally arrive at the place that should be my home for the next weeks, a hostel this time around…
…and after introducing myself as the new helper, I am shown to my room in the basement, which for now I should be sharing with another helper (what is it with accommodation businesses keeping their helpers in the basement?).
For now, I am happy and content to have a place to rest, and am once again looking forward to staying in one place for a while to have some respite after all the travelling of the last few days. In the end, that should be my doom, for this new place should not turn out to be quite as nice or relaxing as I had either hoped or expected. In fact, it should eventually prompt me to take unprecedented measures. Do you want to know what transpired here in this hostel? Then stay tuned for the next chapter of The Travelling Fox Blog!