After spending what quite possibly would be the worst time of my Japan trip in the Nozaru Hostel in Yudanaka, I am now finally free again. However, the experience has clearly left myself traumatized, because try as I might, I can’t shake the feeling that Anna Morita might try to come after me and steal me back. As such, I should spend the following two weeks putting as much distance as possible between myself and that dreadful place while still taking some time to explore my respective whereabouts. Using Airbnb to organize my trip for the first time, I also have to juggle potential hosts, balancing between price, availability and location, but I finally manage to find a route that works out for me. It should only be during my great escape that I realize that I have inadvertently chosen three places that all start with "Na-" as my hideaways for this flight. The first of them would be…
The 1st Hideaway: Nagano23-Aug-2018 – 26-Aug-2018
Distance from Nozaru Hostel: ~25km (not all that safe)
Nagano (長野 "Long Field") is a moderately big city of about 375,000 people, and the capital of the Nagano Prefecture. It's name, quite straightforwardly, comes from the fact that it is located in a long valley covered with fields. Notably, the Nagano Prefecture also contains the point in Japan that is furthest away from any ocean. Located a bit south of the small city of Saku (佐久 "Help Old Story"), it’s about 112 km to the ocean both north and south. By the way, just in case you noticed that I translate both "No" (野) and "Ta/Da" (田) as "field", here’s the difference between them: "No" (野) generally describes vegetable fields, while "Ta/Da" (田) is pretty much exclusively used for rice fields. The term for corn fields, meanwhile, is "Batake" (畑).
Originally, I had not even planned to stop here, my first intended hideaway having been Nanao. However, after I continued to experience further symptoms of an impending psychic breakdown, I eventually decided to move the date of my escape forward another three days and pay for a hostel in Nagano during that time. Since I fled the Nozaru Hostel in Yudanaka quite early, I arrive well before the check-in time. However, fortunately I can drop off my bags there, and then embark straight on...
The Long Field Long Stray23-Aug-2018
Distance: 16 km
Ascents: 150 m
Duration: 8.5 h
46⛩ (10🦊); 13卍; 4/6🎁︎
Having planned out my early arrival in advance, I naturally did not neglect to research both Shinto Shrines and Geocaches around Nagano. As a result, I already have a rough route in mind, which should eventually turn into a sizable, figure-eight-shaped stray that should take me all the way to the northwestern edge of the Nagano Valley as I brachiate from one Shine or Cache to the next, also visiting quite a number of Buddhist Temples en route.
Most of the Shrines and Caches I want to try are to the north, as is Joyama Doubutsuen (城山動物園 "Castle Mountain Zoo"). However, feeling a spring in my step after finally throwing off the crux that has been burdening me for so long, I decide to venture south at first, and begin by crossing a pedestrian’s bridge that leads across the nearby railroad tracks.
Naturally, I should run into a sizable number of Shrines and Temples along the way. Some of them were the ones I picked out in advance, and others just happened to be standing there along the way.
Incidentally, the very first of them already features a bunch of Senbazuru – the one-thousand paper cranes crafted by hand to have a wish granted by the gods – hanging next to the prayer plaques.
Nagano also features the highest variety of manhole and hydrant cover designs that I have registered thus far: One for the city, two for firefighters’ brigades (one of which has a traditional design), and finally, one commemorative design for the 1998 Olympic winter games held here owing to the fact that this prefecture features impressive highlands, as well as nine of the twelve highest mountains of Japan. And did I mention that this region is famous for its apple orchards?
After finding the one Geocache of the southern extension of this stray – this one being located in Wakasatou Kouen (若里公園 "Young Village Park") – I cross the railroad tracks back to the northern half, and end up running right into an Inari Shrine so vulpine it gives me a proper fox-gasm: My face lights up as an enraptured smile spreads across it, and my breath starts coming in short gasps accompanied by cute noises that eventually converge into an ecstatic "WHHHHEEEEEEEEEEEE~~~~~~~" (Or to express it in Temmie words: "OMG FOXES SO CUTE *DIES*").
What a great way to start the day! It's not even 9:30 yet, and I’ve already found such a fantastic treasure! And I didn’t even need one of the cute maps they have printed on the posters around here.
Moving on to the northern part of Nagano, there are many, many more Temples and Shrines to discover. Not knowing how long this will take, I backtrack to the hostel first and go north from there, since that route will take me past all of the remaining five geocaches on my way north to Joyama Doubutsuen. Depending on how long this should take, I would either be able to walk back south, or head east to the nearest station of the Nagano Dentetsu and ride it back to the hostel.
Apart from Shrines, Temples and Geocaches, I also run into a number of other notable things, such as this academy, which features a hip, German name. I am not entirely sure as to what it is, but based on the Kanji below I suppose it might be a private school covering elementary (小), middle (中) and high (高) school.
In front of the Nagano Station, I run into this interesting construction that continuously sprays a thin haze of water. I wonder if this is an intentional measure to moisturize the air and cool off pedestrians in the still quite extreme temperatures, an art project, or maybe just a leaky water hose? Well, since this is Japan, I’m pretty sure we can eliminate the last option, and regardless as to its original intent, walking through the haze is nice and refreshing.
As long as I'm near the station, I also stop to take in Nagano’s very interesting bus system. They have one line that goes to Zenkouji (善光寺 "Virtuous Light Temple") – a major landmark of Nagano that I should also visit during this stray – a second line that goes to Zenkouji and then a bit further and to the right, a third line that goes to Zenkouji then a bit further and north, and a fourth line that goes to Zenkouji then a bit further and north, looping around to meet the third line from behind. Well, at the very least they know what their priorities are.
Then, there’s this shop that I manage to identify as a foot massage place by virtue of its sign alone…
…and also another of those typical Japanese waling mall streets.
I also come across a very dynamic bakery, where the chefs apparently throw flour, dough, pastries and …cats??? I wonder if it’s called the House of Flying Pastries? Or maybe the more adequate thing to say here would be: "Where pastries fly, cats will also fly!"
Once more, in an attempt towards cleanliness, the city also has all sorts of cute "Please pick up after your dog"-posters. And indeed, I do not see as much as a single pile of droppings lying around. Maybe we should adopt the cute poster strategy in Germany as well?
Another thing that catches my eye are road signs that only apply for a single hour every day, usually closing narrow side streets for one hour in the morning. At first this does not make any sense to me, but during a ride in the morning hours almost three weeks from now, their meaning should become apparent: During that time, the narrow side streets are generally quite full with young children going to local pre- or elementary schools. with or without adults accompanying them. This appears to be a phenomenon cantered around the 8AM-hour only, since school ends at different times for different grades, and some kids also stay behind for extracurricular activities.
By now, it’s already lunchtime, and as fate would have it, I come across a nice soba shop that provocatively displays its preparation of soba noodles in the window. How could I decline?
There, I not only enjoy a hearty combination of two of my favourite Japanese Shokuryouhin (食料品 "Foodstuffs") – Soba and Tenpura – but also help myself to a generous number of free refills of tasty, tasty Reisui (冷水 "Cold Water"). Having dropped off all my luggage at the hostel means that I’m once again travelling without my Omega Daypack, and thus without my trusty drinking bottle. I did, however, have the foresight to put a small bottle of sunscreen in my pocket which I strategically re-apply whenever the pale spots on the back of my paws start tingling – I certainly don’t want to experience another roasting like back on Sado (see Book II ~ Chapter 10 ~ Sadistic Sightseeing).
After that, my next stop is Zenkouji, which was originally founded in the 7th century, over a millennium before the city of Nagano was formally established in 1897, and also before the Buddhist Schism in Japan, which split the formerly unified religion into several independent sects. As such, Zenkouji is also famous for being one of the few "unified" Buddhist Temples of Japan, attracting followers of all sects.
It also features a sizeable garden around it, as well as quite a number of sub-structures, such as several very elaborate Jizou and a pagoda, causing me to rank it as one of the few "Complex"-sized Shrines and Temples that I should visit on my journey.
It also serves as an excellent example of what cathedrals would probably look like today if Jesus had not chased the merchants out of the temples.
A pleasant side effect of having these stalls all around, however, is that I manage to pick up some collateral knowledge about the meanings of different colours of Daruma.
Naturally, there is also drink vending machines around. Now, I don’t know which of my books said that you can’t find sparkling water in Japan, but that information is clearly outdated. Nowadays, you can even get bottles – either plain or with lemon flavour – at the ever-present Jidouhanbaiki.
Moving on, my next destination is a district that I will admit I solely visited for it’s name: Kitsune-Ike (狐池 "Fox Pond"), in which I disappointingly should find neither a fox nor a pond.
I should, however, get a really nice view of the surroundings from one of the Shrines overlooking the district from which should be the highest point of my stray today. In fact, from my vantage point I can even see all the way into the valley of Wakahowatauchi (若穂綿内 "Young Cattail-Cotton House") – a distinctively-shaped dead-end valley at the foot of Myotokusan (妙徳山 "Exquisite Benevolence Mountain")
And speaking of Shrines, there’s naturally quite a number of Shrines and Temples to be found on the way to and from Kitsune-Ike, as well as within.
After Kitsuneike, my next stop is Joyama Doubutsuen. Naturally, I could have taken the direct path there, but instead I prefer to take a left after exiting Kitsune-Ike and walk through… a tunnel? A bridge? Oh well, I’ll just call it a "brunnel" for now.
That choice immediately leads me up a steep, windy road…
…and right past one of those very definite dead ends where too much momentum will result in you inadvertently dropping into your neighbour’s second-floor bedroom window – quite literally.
The mountainside here is also quite scenic, and Temple and Pagodas peek out of the green foliage. Had I stayed here for longer, I would have made a point of visiting them.
As it is, however, my time is limited, and I proceed to weave my way through the backstreets….
…until I finally arrive at the gates of Joyama Doubutsuen.
Now, you might wonder why I chose to walk all this way to visit a zoo, especially after passing up similar chances in other places, such as Auckland (see Book I ~ Chapter 2 ~ Absolutely Amazing and Astoundingly Awesome Adventures at Auckland). Well, to be frank, there is one very convincing argument for the Scrooge McFox that I am.
You’d think that a place like this would be full of people at any time. However, it’s actually quite the opposite.
Now, I'm not a sociology expert, but I think a possible cause of that might be this place just across the street… especially in conjecture with these scorching hot temperatures.
Anyway, as for Joyama Doubutsuen… it’s not a big place, and yet it would blow the scope of this blog to address all the animals individually...
…so let’s just say that despite its small size, there’s still a big variety of animals to be encountered here…
…and continue straight to the highlights, such as the squirrel house.
In this idyllic, volery-like retreat, dozens of squirrels can… well, considering the temperatures, "lie around tiredly and defeated on branches" is probably the right way to describe it.
With a little bit of patience, however, I should also see some squirrely goodness in action. Compared with their European or American counterparts, they are more slender, and their tails are not quite as bushy.
And then there’s the Japanese Deer, also known as Shika (鹿), which are notable because they are a good deal smaller than I expected them to be. Compared to European or American deer, they are only about half as big.
As for how this zoo finances itself… well, let’s just say that mobile games are not the first ones to utilize the concepts of microtransactions.
After my visit to Joyama Doubutsuen, all that’s left is the way back to the hostel, which entails – and you probably guessed it – yet more Shrines and Temples! Yay! (Note to self: Look up the lethal dose of Shrines and Temples, just to be sure)
At the very least, my initially fully charged camera’s battery dying on me is probably a sign that it’s enough for one day.
So with that, I set out on a more or less straight route to the hostel… okay, no, I can’t say that with a straight face. Actually, I make a whopper of a detour to visit more and more Shrines to the point where I start seeing scaffolded giraffes by the roadside.
It's only when I see a Niji (虹 "Rainbow") in the distance heralding rainy weather coming my way that I am finally ready to call it a day.
And thus, after a day full of Shrines, Temples and Caches, I now finally retire to my retreat for the next few days, which is called…
The Moritomizu Backpackers
As I mentioned in the last chapter, I'm staying at the Moritomizu Backpackers, a cute little hostel near the station, featuring a comfortable common area in conjunction with a cute kitchen.
"Cute" is also the proper way to describe my sleeping arrangements here, which are composed of a rather hard bed in a rather big dormitory. But oh well, it’s only for a few nights.
In place of keys, this place has key cards… low-tech key-cards, that is (it’s got the combination for the electronic lock on the back).
One very commendable thing, however, are the clearly visualized schedule and rule sheets.
Also, conveniently, there is a supermarket literally right around the corner, this one being called "JC". Speaking of which, did I mention that unlike Konbinis, supermarkets apparently don’t come in chains around here? There are some exceptions, but unlike in Germany – where there’s a few major brands that are your primary port of call in any city – the majority of the supermarkets I've been to in Japan have unique names, making one of the first challenges I face in each city finding out what the nearest supermarket is even called.
The pleasant addition of a small kitchen should also mean that I’d be able to prepare tasty dinners each night. Coincidentally, they should all turn out to be quite… Udonic.
After the huge stray of my initial arriving day, I originally planned to spend the rest of my time here in Nagano at the hostel, working on my blog and earning money doing software development. However, these plans should be cut short by the Moritomizu Backpacker’s very unique regulation forbidding people to stay there from 10:30 to 16:00 each day. How then should I deal with this? Well, fortunately, I should figure out a solution with the help of one of the staff members, which directly brings us to a tale…
Of Subways and Surroundings
My daily refuge for these next two days should come in the form of a humble Subway shop not far from the hostel, which boldly advertises free WiFi and power outlets as it’s perks
Well, if that’s part of their marketing scheme, then I sure hope they don’t mind if a fox on the run uses their venue as a den to crash during the days.
Incidentally, that should also resolve the issues of breakfast and lunch. Justifying my presence at this place, I should sample my way through the majority of their ingredients over the course of four meals. Their selection is mostly the same as it is elsewhere in the world, but there are a few more exotic options, such as the Ebi-Avocado sandwich, which features shrimps and is quite tasty.
Incidentally, the practice of using places like this as workspaces is not all that uncommon. Especially high school students often spend their afternoons studying in places such as this one.
As a result of my daily strays to the Subway and back (during which I should only get a little bit wet as the result of random rainshowers) , I should discover a few hidden gems in the immediate surroundings of these two places, such as the Yie Ar Kung-Fu curiosity shop, featuring things such as the Margea Lisa…
…or a creative fence design that would make the guys from Once Upon a Bottle proud.
And finally, who ever said bank commercials need to be boring and stuffy? I for my part clearly consider cute character credit card commercials choice.
With that, my time here in Nagano is coming to an end, and fortunately, Anna Morita has not yet managed to catch up with me. Now, however, it’s high time for me to…
Escape the Valley!
Once again I get up rather early. However, since this is Japan, even at this hour, it’s already nice and bright outside.
Actually, my train does not depart until 7:45. However, since I’m as usually excited about my upcoming journey, I can’t stay asleep that long anyway, and that way I have time to get on top of all my plans and still have a tasty breakfast of Melon Pan and a Yakisoba Roll without having to rush anything.
In accordance with hostel tradition, I check myself out by taking off my bedsheets and leaving my ultra-modern key-card in the key box…
And then I’m on my way to the station. It promises to be another stiflingly hot day. Even at this early time and without any direct sunshine, the temperatures are already as warm as 26°C.
Incidentally, the station building is relatively recent. Prior to the Olympic Games in 1998, the old station building was modelled in style after Zenkouji, giving it a much more traditional Japanese look.
Anyway, my route today should be excessively fun again, and should set a new absolute record for the number of times I should have to transfer on a journey covered exclusively by train, as well as the biggest number of different railway companies I should use in a single trip: First it’s back up to Myokou-Kougen with the Shinano Railway Kitashinano Line, secondly to Naoetsu using the Echigo TOKImeki Railway Myokou Haneuma Line, third to Tomari aboard the Echigo TOKImeki Railway Nihonkai Hisui Line, fourth to Toyama with the Ainokaze Toyama Railway, fifth to Tsubata by means of the IR Ishikawa Railway, sixth to Nanao utilizing the JR Nanao Line for Nanao, and finally, seventhly, one last station within Nanao aboard the local Noto Railway to Wakura-Onsen, my destination for this day. This Odyssey should cover a distance of about 300 km, and last for a total of 8 hours.
It goes without saying that I would not be able to handle this with a single ticket, but I should find a way. For starters, I purchase a pass to Myokou Kougen, and hop onto the train which should take me back across the mountains and then along the shore – though only a relatively short part of the distance is directly adjacent to the sea. Mostly, the tracks run parallel to the shore but a good distance inlands. Also, I should witness that the time of harvest for the first types of rice has apparently arrived during my stay in Yudanaka, as a number of fields has already been harvested, and I can actually see some of the harvesting – with machines significantly smaller than corn harvesters – taking place right while I pass by the fields.
Anyway, the ticket I bought in Nagano comes at 830¥, and should only see me as far as my first stop of Myokou-Kougen. Fortunately, I have 15 minutes there to get my next ticket, and as a very pleasant surprise, the station attendant – a kind old man – recommends and sells me a discount ticket, that should save me about 1,000¥ altogether, the catch being that this ticket goes only as far as Toyama(富山 "High Mountain").
Naoetsu is my closest connection, with only 3 minutes to get to the connecting train. Fortunately, it’s just across the platform (and some way to the back), so I manage to make my way aboard the stylish modern Echigo TOKImeki Railway Nihonkai Hisui Line Wanman with its well-designed priority seats just in time.
Tomari (泊 "Overnight Stay") – the transfer station between the Echigo TOKImeki Railway and the Ainokaze Toyama Railway – is literally in the middle of nowhere, but features some very clear and descriptive posters detailing where on the platform the individual trains stop…
…as well as some not-so-clear posters explaining… something.
It is upon boarding the Ainokaze Toyama Railway that the truth behind one of the unsolved mysteries that I had not even thought about so far is revealed to me: How do they always manage to have the seats in the cars facing the right way if all the train does is going back and forth without turning around? Well, the clever answer to that is that it is possible to make the seats face the other way! Now wary of this, I manage to observe two different systems for this: One where the seats are turned around in there entirety, and another like this where the seat backs are flipped to the other side.
The next exciting part should be in Toyama, where I have 15 minutes to get my next ticket, as well as something to eat. This one is a particularly notable station since it serves as a crossroads between the main railway lines, a light railway to the north, and a tram to the south, the latter actually extends into the station building in a most curious manner that I can only paraphrase as "the construction workers forgot to stop laying tracks once they reached the side of the station building, and the people who built the station decided to just swing with it".
At first I try to get my connecting ticket at the JR Ticket office, but they are not very helpful and tell me I have to go to a different ticket office.
So I decide to try my luck with the Ainokaze Jidouhanbaiki…
…and after a very scientific approach (aka, I systematically try pushing all the buttons on the left side labelled with incomprehensible Kanji until a ticket option costing the same as the amount I read from the table above appears on the screen)…
…I actually manage to purchase a ticket t get me all the rest of the way to the Wakura-Onsen Station of Nanao.
And then, I buy myself something to eat at stalls in the station hall, randomly manage to get myself interviewed again (because why not?) and make it back into the train just seconds before the doors close behind me. The special gag here is that this is actually the same train I arrived here on. It took a 15 minute break in the station to magically transform from the Ainokaze Toyama Railway into the IR Ishikawa Railway, and the majority of the people (who obviously ad cooler tickets than me) just stayed aboard for the duration. Actually, I had not expected to be able to make this connection, and accounted for an hour’s wait for the next train here at Toyama, but somehow even with the unhelpful station attendants and the unexpected interview, I was able to get everything here done quickly enough to hop back on. Yay! Go me! That just made my day!
As it is, my next longer stop is Tsubata (津幡 "Haven Flag"), where I have time to eat a cream cheese cake sandwich (tasty) and a mini pizza (regrettably, not so tasty) before the somewhat more rustic JR Nanao Line arrives.
At my last intermediate stop of Nanao (七尾 "Seven Tails"), I get a first overview about the area in which I’ll be staying in, which is known as Noto-Hantou (能登半島 "Ascending Talent Peninsula") of Ishikawa-Ken (石川県 "Stone River Prefecture").
The final train I should be riding on during this day would be the Noto Railway, which is, in two words, very stylish.
And then, by 15:45, I finally arrive at Wakura-Onsen-Eki (和倉温泉駅 "Harmonious Warehouse Hot Spring Station"), where I would contact my next host by phone and inform him of my earlier-than-expected arrival.
Fifteen minutes later, he shows up to pick me up, and I am en-route to…
The 2nd Hideaway: Nanao26-Aug-2018 – 2-Sep-2018
Distance from Nozaru Hostel: ~140km (kinda safe)
As I already mentioned, Nanao is located on the Noto Peninsula, which is the logical extension of the same fault that Sadogashima lies on, separated from it by the Toyama Seachannel.
This is a geographically very interesting area where three connected bays – which are creatively called Nanao Minamiirie (七尾南湾 "Seven Tails South Bay"), Nanao Nishiirie (七尾西湾 "Seven Tails West Bay") and Nanao Kitairie (七尾北湾 "Seven Tails North Bay") – surround Notojima (能登島 "Ascending Talent Island"), which is tied to the mainland by means of two great bridges. Meanwhile, Wakura-Onsen, where I’ll be staying, is located on a smaller peninsula between Nanao Minamiirie and Nanao Nishiirie.
Anyway, with this, I have now officially arrived in…
This place has acquired its unusual name from the seven mountain ridges that can be seen from Jouyama (城山 "Castle Mountain"), those being named Kikuo (菊尾 "Chrysanthemum Tail"), Kameo (亀尾 "Turtle Tail"), Matsuo (松尾 "Pine Tail"), Toranoo (虎尾 "Tiger Tail"), Takeo (竹尾 "Bamboo Tail"), Umeo (梅尾 "Plum Tail") and Tatsuo (龍尾 "Dragon Tail") respectively. It's here that I should find…
My Own Secret Base
The place I’m staying in is a little hostel literally called the "Secret Base Freedom 2", and is situated on the side of a hill overlooking the spa town of Wakura-Onsen.
There, I have a nice little private room, which unfortunately lacks proper WiFi…
…but in exchange boasts a really nice view of the town and bays.
Fortunately, the stylish downstairs common room has significantly better WiFi, and hence this would be where I would set up my workspace in this secret base.
Apart from that, this very rustic place also features a little kitchen, its own tiny private Shrine, as well as showers and a laundry room in the basement with a dryer. I am especially happy about the latter one, even though they are both coin-operated. However, they are actually quite cheap, to the point where I accidentally feed the drier three times as much as I need to, having gotten used to a rate of 100¥ for 10 minutes as opposed to 30 minutes as with this one. Fortunately, I realize my mistake soon enough and manage to recover my toasty warm clothes before they shrink to hamster size.
One thing that instantly comes to my attention is the exquisite use of advanced Engrish at this place. There are so many example that I can’t possibly paste them all, so here’s a best-of:
One night, there should be a nice little fireworks display in town. I somehow get the expression that those are significantly more common here in Asia than in the western world. Unfortunately, the wind conditions are a bit inauspicious, and as such part of the nightly splendour is obscured by airborne clouds of cinder.
Since I’m staying here for a full week, that naturally broadens my culinary options a bit. For starters, it means that I should regularly pay visits to the local supermarkets, the cheap Gyoumu Suupaa (業務スーパー "Business Supermarket"), and the significantly closer 7 Mini Super.
To my great personal pride, my Kanji knowledge has by now reached the point where even without the telltale "スーパー", I would be able to figure out that the former is a Supermarket by reading the caret of advertised goods, those being (starting from yellow and going clockwise) sake (酒 "alcohol, spirits"), something (青果 "blue ?"), meat (精肉 "something meat") and fish (鮮魚 "something fish"). Experiences such as this are a great motivational factor for going through the effort of mastering all these Kanji, and serve as an incentive to learn the ones that yet elude me.
For breakfast, I purchase a whole bag of Müsli and gradually chip away at it over the course of the week.
And staying in a single place for this long also means I can prepare a week’s serving of tasty Inari-Age…
…to enjoy with my favourite lunchtime meal of Yakisoba.
As for dinner, I should prepare a variety of tasty dishes, such as Naleiayafero, Gamm Ligeral, Togitsune, and on a single occasion also a humble serving of tasty cup noodles (to account for me always cooking for two nights, and 7 not being divisible by 2).
And then, there’s this one very interesting ingredient on which I miserably fail both my saving throw against Curiosity, as well as my Common Sense check. It turns out this thing is even more dangerous than the already infamous Kaitaia Fire from New Zealand (see Book I ~ Chapter 25 ~ Wonderful Waipaoa).
Finally, on one occasion I also get treated to a free desert by the staff. What a thoughtful gesture!
In fact, probably the only thing that’s missing to make the food situation in this place perfect is an oven to prepare some…
Unfortunately, pretty much all six full days I should spend here would be at least to some degree rainy, some more so than others. In fact, flood warnings are issued for the Nanao area as what is known as the autumn rainfront hits us. Fortunately, the Secret Base Freedom 2 is located on a ledge halfway up a hillside, so the only thing I have to worry about is that the ledge might give way, and the entire place goes skidding down 10m to the ground level.
Oh well, that just give me so much more time to work on my Blog, as well as the opportunity to sew up by pants, which by now are getting holes again.
However, there fortunately should be a number of breaks in the rains that would allow me to explore…
Okay, so this is going to require some explanation.
Or maybe it doesn’t. Either way, thanks to the practice of boiling eggs in the hot water springs of this place, the mascot of Wakura-Onsen is an egg, and the design can be seen all over the place.
Be it on traffic stands…
Originally, this place was naught but a sandbar and some rocks in front of the shore. A number of distinctively shaped rocks from near which bubbles emerged were believed by the locals to be a giant man-eating tortoise, and people made a point not to get near it. It was only when a married couple observed an egret landing on Tortoise Rock and putting his injured leg into the water for some time, only to later fly away, cured, that the true nature of this place was discovered: It turned out to actually be a hot spring with curative properties, and ever since the shallow bay has gradually been built over by Onsen resorts, until today only a small pool around Tortoise Rock remains.
Today, most of the various hot springs are claimed by Onsen resorts, but there’s also a public spring decorated with the folkloric egrets…
…in which boiling eggs is explicitly allowed and encouraged (you need a bit of patience though since the water is not quite boiling).
And finally, there is also the Shichifukujin Tour, which takes you all around Wakura-Onsen to little statues of the seven Buddhist gods of good fortune placed in Temples, Shrines, or sometimes just by the roadside.
And unlike the 9 Onsen of Yudanaka, this time around I should definitely have time to go and find all 7 Shichifukujin. In fact, since most of them are located around Temples and Shrines, I don’t even have to go out of my way. With that, I present you the seven Buddhist gods of good fortune, going from left to right, top to bottom:
Benzaiten (弁財天 "Speech Property Heaven"), goddess of art; Ebisu (恵比寿 "Blessing Ratio Longevity"), god of fishing;
Daikokuten (大黒天 "Great Black Sky"), god of craftsmen; Bishamonten (毘沙門天 "Helping Sand Gate Sky"), god of exorcism; Hotei (布袋 "Linen Bag"), god of carefreeness;
Fukurokuju (福禄寿 "Fortune Allowance Longevity"), god of wisdom; and finally, Juroujin (寿老人 "Longevity Old Man Person"), god of longevity.
And then, on a single day, the weather would be willing to let me go on…
The Wakura Walk27-Aug-2018
Distance: 15 km
Ascents: 190 m
Duration: 5 h
5⛩ (1🦊); 13卍; 1/2🎁︎
My declared goal for this specific stray should be to walk all the way over to Notojima – not a big challenge per so, but thanks to the rainy weather, I should only have half a day available, which should make it somewhat more interesting. Either way, I should embark on a stray east and then northeast onto Notojima, then to the south to visit a number of Shrines and Temples, then west across the landscape, and finally back north again to my secret base.
Naturally, there are also some Shrines and Temples to be found in Wakura-Onsen, but compared to Nagano, the amount is within reasonable margins. However, I do get stopped by a policeman who shows me how to properly pay my respects at a Jizou, and won’t let me pass until I do.
My first stop is the waterfront, where I get a good panorama overview over Notojima and two of the three bays from a nice little (and kinda windy) pier.
From there, I can already see the bridge that I should eventually cross to Notojima, which looks like it was designed by a drunken architect or something.
My way there leads me through the back roads of Wakura-Onsen…
…as well as through a park along the waterfront.
And then it’s up and across the drunken-architect bridge, also known as Notojima Oohashi (能登島大橋 "Ascending Talent Island Great Bridge")…
…and onto Notojima, if only for a short bit.
Now this is the point where having a bicycle would have made a huge difference. With a bike at my disposal, I would not have hesitated to explore all of Notojima and then make my way back west across the Twin Bridge Noto, going all around Nanao Nishiirie. However, on foot, that is a little bit too much to handle, and so I only make a brief stop on the island before heading back across Notojima Oohashi.
It is not long after returning back to the main (is)land, that I should finally get to witness one of the infamous screaming birds that I have only heard thus far in glorious action, going all out as he competes with the road traffic below.
I also really like this sign that reads "Caution! Sea ahead!".
And that sea is apparently populated by crabs and octopuses that are angry about all the garbage people throw into it.
Anyway, back to the main reason why I chose this route above any other, and that is (naturally) Shrines and Temples!
Incidentally, this area’s main industry is fishing, which naturally means there are quite a few cats around to profit from the byproducts.
Eventually, I cross over the railway line and into the rice fields, watching a Tokkyuu (特急 "Limited Express", the second-fastest class of train in Japan, approximately the equivalent to Intercity or Eurocity trains in Europe) pass by in the distance. In these trains, the front-most car usually contains the expensive green seats (the equivalent to fist class), the next two cars moderately priced reserved seats, and the rest of the cars the cheaper unreserved seats.
Moving from there into a secluded alcove-field, I should unintentionally startle a flock of egrets, which immediately takes a flight upon spotting me.
From there, I follow a… let’s very generously call it a "road"… through the forest, ducking beneath twigs and cobwebs, and hoping there are no bears around to feast on me, or snakes to inject me with their deadly poison. Once again, the sounds of the insects around me crying out for love is quite cacophonic.
Fortunately, I make it through in one piece and on the other side I discover a Supermarket with yet another different name. This one is also special thanks to having a USP that sells it apart from all those supermarkets that sell rotten food with a tendency to explode on contact.
Now all that’s left is the way back north, which should not be without it’s share of cats…
A particular curious construction I come across is this terminal-like roofed walkway, which I can only assume leads to a pension or guesthouse and was built to keep arriving Okyakusama dry if it rains and the bus can’t negotiate the turn and/or incline to the guesthouse.
Anyway, after this walk I'm pretty much done, and my hunger for culture is satiated. The universe, however, decides I could do with, say, seven dozen more Jizou, and serves me the contents of Nagomi-no Oka Kouen (和みの丘公園 "Hill of Harmony Park") on a silver platter. It's at this point that I decide to stop counting the Jizou individually, because that would simply be getting absurd.
My mind now finally being overwritten by Jizou instead of foxes for a change, I finally retire to the hostel after doing some shopping in the nearby Mini-Supermarket, taking the barely-trodden shortcut from the nearby Shouhikona Jinja (少比古那神社 "Little Compared Old What Shrine") back to the Secret Base Freedom 2.
It might not have been one of my longer strays, but I sure feel exhausted afterwards. However, that should not be the last activity I would do here. Another day, I should find some time to explore…
The Haunted Hotel29-Aug-2018
Overlooking the city, there is the majestic shape of the Naoki Hotel, a grand building with a spectacular view, and only a single flaw… it has been closed for a few years already. Exact details about why a locale in such a prime position had to close down are hard to come by, but it can probably be attributed to either bad management, too high prices and too little customers, or renegade pianos spontaneously materializing out of nowhere and violently crushing hapless Okyakusama.
One way or another, it has ever since become a prime attraction for courageous adventurers, willing to brave the dark corridors in hopes of finding treasure chests… or maybe just getting a nice view.
Well, I might be lacking the "courageous" requirement, but eventually my curiosity gets the better of me, and so one day I make my way up to the Naoki Hotel, which conveniently happens to be just on the rise behind the hostel, on the end of a slightly overgrown path.
My first approach is through an open side door, which turns out to lead into the basement. Unfortunately, that place is quite dark and I didn't bring a torch for once, so I eventually decide to turn back and look for another way in. Pragmatically, it's not ghosts that I am wary about, but rather wild animals – such as bears – that could easily have made their dens in this easily accessible and sheltered location.
I eventually find another entrance in the form of an emergency stairway leading to an intermediate roof, from where I can gain access by means of a bathroom window. Since that involves a little bit of tricky (but low-risk) climbing, I am reasonably sure that no bears could have come in this way.
On the inside, there are many dark corridors to be explored, but at the very least there's a modicum of light around.
Nonetheless, I take the precaution of equipping… well… a wooden shoehorn. Okay, so maybe it only has 3 ATK, but it's still better than nothing. What I'm afraid of this time are again, not ghosts, but rather humans intending to playing pranks or pursuing more harmful goals.
Anyway, parts of the hotel are still in surprisingly good shape. You'd think it was only yesterday that this place was vacated.
Other parts meanwhile clearly communicate that this establishment has been out of business for a while.
And then there is this clear evidence that this place has been visited by members of the ancient philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras… what, you think that's not the case here? I have no idea what youRe talking about! This is clearly a pentagram, the simplest regular star polygon and prime representative of the Golden Ratio.
Eventually, I manage to make my way through the winding dark corridors and derelict stairways past flying medusa heads all the way to the top floor, where I fight Count Dracula… or maybe not. Still, nice shades of red, and it would probably make a nice battle arena for a spectacular showdown, including plenty of windows to crash through.
Anyway, it's probably for the better that there's no climatic boss fight up here. It means I can enjoy the view without having to dodge fireballs and lightning strikes.
As I said, my main concern is that pranksters might be trying to cut off my way out (I for my part identified a number of bottlenecks on my way up here that would be ideal for trapping someone inside), so I do not spend too much time in here and leave the hotel as I found it: in shambles. Having had quite enough adenture for one day, I return to the Secret Base Freedom 2 after only a short detour trip to the supermarket via the other – equally overgrown – road to the Naoki Hotel.
Now, after a week here in Nanao, it is time for me to move on. Incidentally, I had not even originally planned to come here. At first, I had booked a stay with a host in Tonami (砺波 "Polished Billows"), southwest of Toyama, but that arrangement got cancelled, and instead I ended up here. I certainly don't regret it though. My time here was absolutely wonderful! But now, I have to get ready to…
Escape the Region!
For once, I do not depart at the crack of dawn. This is mostly due to the fact that my next destination of Nagahama (長浜 "Long Beach"), is pretty much located down a straight route. it's still a railway journey of about 250 km, but this one should much more direct. In fact, it should turn out to be considerably more direct – even more direct than I anticipated – but more about that later. For now, it's time to clean up my room…
…and say goodbye to Tomohiro, the guy who runs this place.
He's been a great host these past few days, and continues to be a great host to the last minute by giving me a parting gift of original Wakura-Onsen milk cookies (though I'm pretty sure that eggs have also been involved).
In exchange, I leave with with a little piece of art and a message in original Zeritij on the Wall-o-Messages: Nanao'ye, Tyftagye'fel, Eky! It means "Thank you for a great time in Nanao!"
Oh, and I also get to set a new flag on the map of origins. While there are already a number of flags in Germany, I appear to be the first person from Munich to have made his way here.
With all goodbyes said, Tomohiro generously offers to drive me to the station from where he picked me up, but I gracefully decline. Since today's a nice day, and I still have plenty of time, I decide to walk the 2.5 km to the station. It also helps that the way to the station is mostly downhill.
However, along the way I should come across a tragic scene: A little kitten with his face smashed lying on the road, limp and lifeless, the mother sitting nearby, clearly struck with grief and unsure what to do. No amount of licking will bring back her kitten, which went out of its way to prove that apparently cats below a certain age do not always land on their feet.
Regrettably, there is nothing I can do here, and so I have to walk on in solemn silence until I reach the station of Wakura-Onsen.
There, something rather directly affecting my plans takes my mind of that issue: For some reason (possibly the heavy rainfall, but I can't be sure because the notice does not mention that), the regular train service south has been interrupted.
Fortunately the Tokkyuu is still running, and so I inadvertently end up with a whole bunch of tickets to get to Nagahama aboard not one, but two different Tokkyuu, as well as a printed version of a travel plan that conveniently is written partially in English.
I had originally planned to leave Nanao at 11:23 aboard with the Noto Railway, and then continue all the way to my destination aboard the cheap Futsuuressha (普通列車 "Normal Train"), but now I suddenly have time until 13:25, that's two extra hours I have to kill here at the station. One thing I do during that time is prepare a makeshift fix for my old satchel, the strap of which broke on the way to the station. This is, in fact, the second time the strap broke, the first having been on the way from Chitose to Tomakomai prior to my cyclonic crossing to Hachimantai (see Book II ~ Chapter 8 ~ An East Side Story). This time around, however, the strap is broken for good, and so I end up making a makeshift fix with a piece of string that I wisely carry around on my travels, and add "New Satchel" to my shopping list.
After that, I still have plenty of time to sample the Wakura Onsen milk cookies (with satisfaction guarantee)…
…and also eat my lunch in the form of a tasty Yakisoba Roll and a not-so-tasty pizza bread (note to self: should probably start avoiding Japanese pizza).
Before I finally leave Egg Utopia, I get the chance to take in some more egg-citing designs in the form of Jidouhanbaiki and matching garbage bins…
…and then I get aboard the Noto-Kagaribi Tokkyuu, which will take me all the way to Kanazawa.
My route today will take me down south the last relatively straight bit of Japanese coast on Honshu, and take me past Kanazawa to Nagahama, and then actually one station back north aboard the local train (because the Tokkyuu don't stop at small local stops) to Torahime (虎姫"Tiger Princess").
The tracks lead me south parallel to the coast, and then inlands, through the mountains for a bit, and finally to Nagahama. Ironically, the only shore I should see along the entire way is that of a lake in the mountains near the end.
Aboard the Tokkyuu Noto-Kagaribi, I discover an type of bathroom facility rarely found aboard trains in Germany, and while it certainly is convenient and saves space, you have to make sure to choose a straight part of the track to use it… or face the consequences.
In Kanazawa, I should subsequently change to the Tokkyuu Shirasagi. This station is notable for obviously having been designed by Dracula Ltd. Constructions, for not the slightest ray of sunray reaches into the depths of the station, which is especially remarkable considering the building is actually situated one full storey above ground level.
The Japanese people also clearly have a fondness for giant statues that seems to date back hundreds of years, as the enormous Kaga Ookannon (加賀大観音 "Increasing Joy Large Outlook Sound") of Kagaonsen (加賀温泉 " Increasing Joy Hot Spring") clearly proves.
After about two more hours, I arrive in Nagahama, which should be the trial by fire for my unlocked (?) Pasmo card. I have only two minutes to make it to the connecting train, which is definitely not enough to buy the ticket that I need. So I go out through the ticket gate, volunteering my tickets thus far which readily get accepted, then make a 180° turnaround and hold my Pasmo card (which I readied in advance, having made an educated guess that Nagahama would be likely to have one, being a part of the greater Kyoto Area) onto the IC card reader… and blissfully, it works! I run down the stairs to the platform as quickly as by heavy luggage will allow me, and make it onto the JR Hokuriku Line just in time.
I got off at Torahime-Eki, which is already quite a bit more rural than you would expect from a station one stop outside the main urban station.
This time around, no Host is there to pick me up, so I have to cover the 1.6 km to my next stay place on foot. Good thing I had ample time to rest my feet by now (not counting my sprint in Nagahama-Eki).
I can already tell that I'm going to get my fill of Shrines and Temples here, for even just the walk from the Station takes me directly past two Jizou, and within sight of a number of Shrines and Temples that I elect not to visit until I have shed my heavy burden.
For now, however, I am faced with a problem of sorts: We have already established that the Japanese address system is inexorably horrible, so while I do have the address of the place I'm supposed to go to, the best I can narrow it down to is "somewhere in that village".
And for once, there is neither a map nor a Kouban around from which I might be able to procure the required information, so I just decide to walk around the village for a bit and see if one of the houses can provide me with a lead… such as a house number or something. Fortunately, I manage to look sufficiently lost that a friendly local young man approaches me and asks me if I'm looking for what appears to be the only guest house in town.
It is thanks to his help that I manage to arrive, without any further complications, at…
The 3rd Hideaway: Nagahama2-Sep-2018 – 6-Sep-2018
Distance from Nozaru Hostel: ~250km (pretty safe)
Although it's a little bit out of town, I still consider this final segment of my escape to be a logical part of…
Nagahama is one of the major cities along the shore of Biwako (琵琶湖 "Glissando Lute Lake"), which is the biggest freshwater lake in Japan with a surface area of 670 km²- Despite being significantly closer to the somewhat inadequately named Wakasa Irie (若狭湾 "Young Narrow Bay") in the north, it instead drains to the bay of Osaka in the southwest through a river that changes its name approximately once every 40km.
Also, I have now made my way over to the next area, namely Shiga-Ken (滋賀県 "Luxuriant Joy Prefecture") within Kansai-Chihou (関西地方 "Western Connection Region"). However, since this should only a brief stopover, I will wait with giving you the trivia about this region until my "official" stay here, which will probably happen around the turn of the year.
Anyway, in relation to Nagahama, my stay place is located about 7km to the north, in a little rural village by the name of Kohokuchou Koima (湖北町小今 "Lake North Town Small Now"), which officially is still a part of Nagahama City, but then again, the Japanese administration is usually pretty generous when determining the area of influence for a city.
Anyway, I arrive here to find my stay place for the next few days unlocked, but with no host to show me around, so I decide to just drop off my bags and depart on what should regrettably end up becoming known as…
The Shopping Stray Soaking2-Sep-2018
Distance: 5.6 km
Ascents: 11 m
Duration: 1.25 h
It should start as a harmless "Let's just quickly walk to the Konbini in Torahime because I kinda want to have something to eat tonight", and indeed, the distance should not be the problem, even considering that I would take the scenic route back.
It begins as a harmless stray into the evening, back across the fields, and past curious watching cats – although a faint rainbow in the distance should be an early herald of the soaking that is soon to commence.
I am about halfway to the station when the first drops start to fall and I accelerate my steps ¬– for once not having packed my emergency rain jacket. However, it is no use. The rain gods are obviously angry that I have not yet found their Shrines, and decide to punish me with a torrential category 4.5 downpour that within minutes soaks me to the bones, and makes the roads glistering wet within a manner of minutes. At the very least, I don't feel so bad for having neglected to bring my emergency raincoat. Against this volume of water, it would not even have lasted 30 seconds.
And naturally, it only stops when I reach the Lawson Station, which is fully air conditioned with fresh cool air. Mmmmh, cool air and drenched clothes, pneumonia here I come!
However, all this should be offset by my return stray home. Not only is the air nice and warm, allowing my clothes to dry as I walk, but I also spot a really nice sunset reflected from the window of a nearby factory hall.
Actually, scratch that! Why should I content myself with a mere reflection if I can just walk a few meters further down the road and observe the real thing in action?
And indeed, I make it just in time to behold a spectacular red sunset, the likes of which I'd probably need HDR to capture adequately. To my eye, the sun is a brilliant orb of impossibly saturated red peeking between the clouds and the mountains in the distance like the eye of the sun goddess Amaterasu (天照 "Heaven Illuminator"), but the camera only registers this as "AAHHHH!!! BRIGHT!!! BRIGHT WHITE!!!", even with the "sunset"-mode enabled.
It only lasts a few short minutes before the sun disappears behind the horizon. And since I'm still about 2km away from the guest house in a rural area with limited nocturnal illumination and did not bring my torchlight either, this implicates a logical course of action.
Right, so detour it is! after all, there is some nearby Shrines that I still want to check out, and I'm reasonably sure I'll still be able to return back before it gets too dark even with an extra kilometre on the clock. Also, I really don't like walking the same way repeatedly, and I have already taken the direct route from and to the station twice today. Time for something new.
And my plan almost works. By the time I reach Tsukigase Jinja (月ヶ瀬神社 "Moon Rapids Shrine"), there's still a good amount of daylight left.
However, after that, things go south fast, and by the time I reach Hiyoshi Jinja (日吉神社 "Lucky Sun Shrine"), there's barely any daylight left, and as such I should have trouble properly appreciating this Shrine, and its Side Shrines and Jizou.
Fortunately, the latter Shrine is only two steps away from my stay place, and thus I should have no trouble finding from there to…
This place is a nice two-house property, one house of which has been turned into a comfortable three-room guest house. Unfortunately, without seeing the name written in Kanji, I have absolutely no idea what this could mean. There are 38 Kanji that can be read as "Ki", 47 for "Shi", and another 10 that for "Da", making for well over 9000 perfectly valid names that can be constructed resulting in this reading. Here are my personal favourites: 毀死田 ("Destroyed Death Field"), 奇紫唾 ("Strange Purple Salvia") and 喜脂汰 ("Rejoicing Fat Luxury").
I've got a nice, big Washitsu (和室 "Japanese Style Room") on the ground floor right next to the kitchen and living room, which is really convenient for quickly getting things, even if it does get a little bit loud at night.
Also, I have a nice little terrace with a garden, not that I would ever use such a thing, being the busy fox that I am.
As for the kitchen, it's a really nice little kitchen equipped with the first cooking field I should see since departing from Tokyo in May. From then and up until now, it has only been gas stoves for me.
It's a real shame I should only get to use it to cook for one dinner, but since I only stay here for four nights, on the first of which I ate simple (yet nonetheless delicious) cup noodles from Lawson, that effectively limits me to one meal lasting for two nights, as well as one more meal of cuup noodles on the last night.
However, I should also get to use the kitchen to prepare a total of two lunches in the form of tasty Yakisoba, this time around with store-bought Inari-Age.
And on breakfast time, I default back to Lawson sandwiches on the first day, followed by good olde Müsli, though I should find that eating a whole 600g bag of cereal within three days is somewhat of a challenge. My learning from that is that a 150g of Müsli are enough to feed one hungry fox in the morning. The tasty green tea, by the way, is delightfully complementary.
Incidentally, me and the other guests are not the only inhabitants of this place: There is also a number of tiny frogs who frequently make themselves at home on the crossbars of the compound windows, or even on the windowpanes themselves.
And here's one more piece of glass art that reminds me of the Once Upon A Bottle project that I worked on during my stay in Germany last year.
Not happy with how my previous fix handled, I should also take the time to craft a new and improved strap for my old satchel. Nonetheless, I realise that it's days are numbered. As soon as I get to a reasonably large shopping mall the next time, I will go look for a new one.
So far, so good. Since I am staying here for exactly three full days, I should employ my tried-and-tested 3-day explore-work-blog time allocation tactic™, and since of those three full days exactly one is forecasted to have reliably good weather conditions, I use the very day after I arrive to embark on…
The Greater Nagahama Exploration Stray3-Sep-2018
Distance: 21 km
Ascents: 136 m
Duration: 9 h
54 ⛩ (10🦊); 35卍; 4/6🎁︎
This one should be my longest stray in Japan so far, even longer than the Longest Stray in Tokyo (see Book II ~ Chapter 4 ~ Action at Akihabara). It should also be the single one stray with the largest number of Shrines and Temples visited (89 in total). My route should take me all the way to Nagahama (with a good measure of detours understandably), and all over the city afterwards in pursuit of Shrines, Temples and Geocaches. I plan for this to be a one-way-walk from the beginning, intending to ride the train back to Torahime in the evening so that I have the entire day to get to Nagahama and explore it thoroughly, and the Divine Dragon knowing, I should need that time!
I begin with exploring Kohokuchou Koima, which includes seeing Hiyoshi Jinja at daylight.
Also, now that it's light I get to appreciate the cute "Stop, look left, look right"-pandas on the streets.
I climb a nearby riverbank road to get an overview of the really idyllic rural scenery.
…and subsequently proceed to visit the local Jizou and Temple.
Afterwards, it's east across the partially harvested rice fields and across a railway crossing. And let me tell you, there are many, many of those in Japan, more than I've seen in any other country. They are a part of the natural scenery. You'd think there would be many accidents, but surprisingly there are not. Maybe that's because there are so many of them around, or maybe it's kust because the Japanese are such a rule-abiding people. Here, you have to stop your car at level crossing – even if there are gates – look into both directions, and then continue., and you'd be surprised about how faithfully the people here practice this. It's almost like a sublime ritual: Even in rush hour traffic, where one car follows the next with little gap in betwee, each and every car stops at the level crossing to obey this rule before proceeding, leading to an interesting stop-and-go flow ahead of these crossings.
Incidentally, with the rice harvesting still in progress, that means I should also get to see one of those cute little rice harvesting machines up close. Their limited size is probably related to the narrow country roads on one hand, and the fact that larger machines would sink into the muddy rice field ground far too easily on the other hand.
Subsequently, I enter the northern reaches of Torahime, and quickly come across the first few Jizou. There sure are many of those around here.
My first goal for today, however, is Toragozenyama (虎御前山 "Honourable Mountain before the Tiger") on top of which a geocache is allegedly hidden. Allegedly, because I would never find it. I should, however, discover a nice Shrine and a little Temple along the forested road. And by the way, please don't ask me where the distinguishing line between a mere Jizou and a fully-fledged temple is drawn. All I know is that this place is apparently considered a temple, because it says so in its name (Iwayaji, 岩屋寺 "Boulder House Temple").
Along the way I come across an observation tower that is part of an elaborate piece of landscape art: Sown into a nearby rice field are flowers and grasses that, when viewed from this precise angle, align to form an image of the region's mascot character, and since it's made of different kinds of plants, the colour composition of the image changes gradually over the course of the year.
I know that my destination is precisely the other way, yet curiosity drives me further up the mountain, and eventually I come across a row of what I assume might be ancient overgrown grave mounds.
It is only upon reaching the location of the broadcasting tower – and with it what I surmise must be the peak of Toragozenyama, before it neatly transitions into the next mountain – that I decide to turn back and slowly head towards Nagahama.
Not liking repetitions, I choose an alternate path down the mountain that I took note of on my way up. A good decision, as it should not only lead me past a completely out of the way Buddhist graveyard, but also two previously undiscovered Shrines, one of which even features a little lone foxie.
The next phase of this long stray should be the exploration of Torahime, which naturally includes its unique manhole cover design which, surprisingly, features not a ferocious great cat but a cute little bird.
As I already observed earlier, there is quite an astounding amount of Shrines and Temples to be found here, so just trekking through the tiny town of Torahime takes tremendous time.
One interesting local variant here are the open-air shrines, which have abdicated the need for walls and provide and unrestricted sight into the Shrine building. I wonder whether they keep the Shrines like this year-round, or if the install walls in the winter.
Another thing that I can't recall having seen anywhere else before is the addition of clocks to Shrines. Maybe the people here easily get lost in their prayers and need these clocks to tell them when it's time to leave?
One thing that's not related to Shrines and Temples, yet still equally interesting, is this cute little home-made water pumping contraption using exclusively the force of the water from the roadside gutter to deliver part of said water to bed of flowers planted on a ship in the water. Nothing of it is particularly complicated or intricate – it's having an idea like that in the first place that I find truly remarkable!
And then, I finally leave Torahime behind as I cross over Anegawa (姉川 "Big Sister River"), again inadvertently startling a group of Egrets who take a flight from the distant gravelbank as I turn to shot them… with my camera.
From here, the Shrine and Temple density slightly recedes, and occasionally I should get as much as 10 minutes of walking done between two such cultural places. Make no mistake though: There are still a lot of them, and with enough time I could easily have walked to Nagahama three times using different routes and visiting different Shrines and Temples along the way each time.
On two counts I get the chance to observe the cute little rice mowers in action along the way. Apparently, there are two different schools here: Harvesting the rice field row-by-row, and harvesting it in a spiral fashion. I'm sure they both have their merits.
There's no clearly defined boundary for where the actual city of Nagahama begins – the fields just gradually make room for houses, until there are no fields left at all. The point where I personally would say that I've officially arrived in the main part of town would be the pedestrians' overpass across Route 8, from where you get a nice view of the 1,377m high Ibukisan (伊吹山 "That One Smoking Mountain") to the east.
And that's when the Shrines and temples start for real. That's right, compared to the cultureligious density that awaits me here, everything up to this point has been idle banter. Now, there's one Shrine or Temple after the other, many of which prominently feature foxes.
And that was just the Shrines and Temples I should find before making it to the city centre. Incidentally, I also find a metal plate depicting a motif of the Takonami Usagi (凧浪兎 "Kite Wave Rabbit") that I last beheld as a painting on a playground wall in Tokyo (see Book II ~ Chapter 4 ~ Akihabara Adventures) . I'm still not entirely sure about its background story, but it might be related to Inaba-no Shirousagi (因幡の白兎 "The White Hare of Inaba"), who is said to have crossed the sea from Okinoshima (隠岐の島 "Hidden Crossroad Island") to the mainland by tricking the sharks into forming a bridge. He did so by challenging the sharks to a contest to see whose clan was bigger, and had the sharks swim and lie in a line from the island to the mainland, so he could count them as he jumped across.
And then there's the quite impressive Daitsuji (大通寺 "Large Road Temple"), which for some reason I feel like nicknaming "Marcus-Ji".
Moving down the main street, I quickly run into a super-cute foxy café, and the only reason why I don't go in straight away is bad marketing: Since there's no menu outside, and since I'm the sort of person who really likes to have at least a rough idea of what I'll be eating and how much I'll pay for it before entering a venue, I regrettably have to leave this vulpine place behind.
A little bit later, I come across the smallest Shrine I've encountered thus far…
…as well as a Rabbit-Pizzeria. However, the dishes are exorbitantly overpriced, and I'm pretty certain I made a note about avoiding Japanese pizza somewhere in the chapter, so thanks, but no thanks.
By the way, regarding the temperature… right now, it's as high as 27°C, in the shade, mind you! Good thing I didn't plan any strenuous activity like hiking for about 20km today, right? =>,<=
Naturally, Nagahama also has its own manhole cover design. This one features traditional Japanese Hisago (瓠 "Dried bottle gourds, used as drinking flasks"), in both round and a square shapes.
And then, there's the Kurokabe (黒壁 "Black Wall") Glass Workshop…
…the Kaiyodo (海洋堂 "Ocean Foreign Hall") Figure Museum…
…and one of those rooftop shrines that I'll definitely not get to visit. It's a real shame though: Guessing from the red Torii, it might just be an Inari Shrine, and is it only my imagination or can I see a moderately-sized fox statue sitting in front of it?
Anyway, by now it's already way past lunchtime, and I still haven't eaten anything. Fortunately, by now I've arrived at the Nagahama-Eki, so there's lots of interesting restaurants around.
…unfortunately, they are all closed, since in a fit of marketing-strategic genius, they have all coordinated themselves to have their Teikyuubi (定休日 "regular closing day") on Getsuyoubi (月曜日 "Moon Weekday" = "Monday"), which just so happens to be today.
All of them? No, one small ramen shop still holds out against the Mondays-closed-cartel. It is in this little shop – which in an act of ominous foreshadowing is called "Taifuu" (たい風, which could mean "Typhoon", depending on the intended meaning of the unspecified "Tai"-syllable).
Since it's still inexorably hot outside, I don't really feel like a hot meal. Fortunately, Shokudou in Japan are quite familiar with that desire, and usually offer a selection of both hot and cold dishes. I for my part use this opportunity to try out the Hiyashi Tsukemen (冷やしつけ麺 "Cold Dipping Noodles"), which are served on a characteristic wooden grill plate with the sauce in a separate bowl. Now, for the inexperienced traveller, this is a prime opportunity to embarrass oneself by pouring the sauce over the noodles and the formerly perfectly good wooden service. Instead, what you do is take a bunch of noodles with your chopsticks, dip them in the sauce, and then eat them. Fortunately, I have already been served this dish during my stay with Seina and Kouji in Sapporo (see Book II ~ Chapter 7 ~ The Sapporo Strawberry Stay), and thus know how to handle this culinary experience.
Refreshed after a tasty meal (and plenty of free refills of good old cool water), I am ready for the next segment of my stray, where I scour Nagahama for more Shrines and Geocaches. So far, I have already found one in the city, but there are still a total of four more to attempt. And as for what Shrines and Temples are concerned… let's just say that Nagahama still has plenty to go around. Very plenty.
My way leads me west across… or rather beneath the railroad tracks by means of a very interesting tunnel that eventually joins a road tunnel halfway through, and follows it along a gallery-like balustrade…
…and then I arrive at Houkouen (豊公園 "Bountiful Park"), where I should not-find yet another Geocache. However, the majestic sight of Nagahamajou (長浜城 "Nagahama Castle"), which nowadays – like many other old Japanese castles – functions as a museum, makes more than up for it.
Continuing from there. I finally arrive at the shore of Biwako, which for reference is about four-and-a-half times as big as the Principality of Liechtenstein.
Along its shores, I find an unusual bench that was probably an advertising gift from the Kurokabe Glass House.
As I move south along the shore in search of the farthest Inari Shrine I have vowed to visit today, my eye falls on a small structure in the middle of the lake. I can't make it out exactly, nor is it marked down on any map, but it looks like the tip of a partially submerged tower. I wonder what its purpose is.
Anyway, we've already established that the Japanese really like their giant statues (and monsters, robots, etc…), so I'm only partially surprised to find myself running into yet another one. This one is simply known as the Biwako Daibutsu (琵琶湖大仏 "Lake Biwa Large Buddha"), and should become a fitting landmark for the southern turning point of my stray, since the southernmost Inari Shrine just so happens to be a Side Shrine of the Temple this giant statue is attached toa.
On my way back north, I have to duck through one of those infamous underpasses that Japanese people on bicycles can easily fit through…
…and also find a number of Geocaches, such as this Japanese standard-issue cache in front of the Yanmar Museum (which is currently undergoing renovations).
There's also this place selling a rather interesting speciality, so if you ever feel like trying Japanese Roman beer, then you know where to come. In fact, they could probably make it even more obscure by opening a branch office in the USA, using ingredients from Australia, and having it run by a manager from the Republic of the Congo. Then it would be Congo Australian American Japanese Roman beer!
Now, while I don't like beer or alcohol of any kind, the consistent searing heat has still left my throat quite parched, and I have long since emptied my trusty drinking bottle, even with all the free water I got in the Taifuu Ramen Shop. Thus, I use this opportunity to try out a typical Japanese beverage that I've wanted to try for some time. This drink with its kinda risky sounding name is actually an ion energy drink and tastes… well… just like your typical ion energy drink: Not bad, but nothing special either.
Near the end of my stray, I pass by the old Nagahama Station Building, which is the oldest station building in Japan that is still standing. In front of it, there is what appears to be the matching oldest pair of railroad tracks.
Afterwards, I return to the modern Nagahama-Eki, where a photo cutout of the region's mascot that I beheld as an organic motive in a rice field earlier today stands ready to greet visitors. Incidentally, he appears to be going by the name of Sansei-kun (三成くん"Three Becoming Boy").
The modern station square of Nagahama is particularly noteworthy since it consists primarily of elevated walkways with plenty of nice greenery to serve as decoration, so I should spend some time just walking around them…
…and as a result, I should unexpectedly end up finding a semi-hidden route to the rooftop Shrine I beheld earlier. Just as I suspected, it is an Inari Shrine, and there are foxes watching over it.
As a fitting finale, my vantage point should also give me an excellent panoramic view of the city, the landscape, and the mountains (not the lake though, since there are some buildings in the way), so I let my gaze wander past all the land that I have walked today, as well as the even vaster expanses that I did not cover.
Before I head back, I go shopping in what actually is the closest Supermarket to Kishida House, so I'm kind of glad that I don't have to do many shopping trips while I'm in this place. Naturally, this Supermarket, too, should be one-of-a-kind, this one going by the name of Monde Kuuru (モンデクール "Monde Cool").
And then, I'm finally on the train back to Torahime. This time around it's not quite as full as the last time.
However, that should not quite be the end of my stray. I still have to lug my shopped supplies all the way from Torahime-Eki to the Kishida House. Incidentally, while doing so, I notice two more interesting things right in front of the station: One being yet another Shrine, named Tora-Myoujin (虎明神"Tiger Gracious Deity"), and the other a fountain by the name of Tora-no Chikaramizu (虎の力水 "Tiger's Strength-Water").
Walking through the fields as night slowly falls, I look east to see Komizenyama, which I scaled earlier that day…
…and west to see the sun set over the mountains just as I close the last bit of distance between myself and my home here in Nagahama.
I have strategically chosen this day for my stray, for while I have tried to avoid it, my time and place should tomorrow place me directly…
In the Path of the Storm4-Sep-2018
On this day, Japan Typhoon N°21, also known as "Jebi", should hit Japan with the force of… well… a hurricane. It is the most intense instance of Ocean Death to make landfall over Japan ever since Typhoon Yancy in 1993, causing a significant disaster in the Kansai region. At least 11 deaths should ensue, and over 600 people were injured., The Kansai International Airport – which is constructed in the middle of Osaka bay as an artificial island – had to be completely shut down because of flooding, and a Sky Gate Bridge R was swept into the Sky Gate Bridge R, redirecting several of its lanes to Davy Jones' Locker. It also set new records for the highest 10-minute-sustained wind speeds at several weather stations, with the highest sustained winds measured being 199km/h, and the strongest gusts at 209km/h. The estimated damage from the event should accrue to 257 to 502 billion Yen.
Fortunately, I am not in the zone of greatest destruction. My plan to keep the central mountain range of Japan between myself and the Pacific Ocean as a barrier during the typhoon season still holds true. However be it by chance or fate, this one hurricane should manage to hit the single weakpoint of the inter-island empire, where the only barrier it has to cross is a thin ridge between the Kyoto Valley and Biwako, that is only between 150m and 600m tall.
And thus, I am left trapped in this little house, trying my best to do my work while the fearsome gales tear at the wooden structure, shaking it violently, and digging their fangs into the trees in the yard as if attempting to rip them out. You might think that the winds of a hurricane are a constant torrent going one way all the time, but what I experience here today is quite different: There is consistency neither to the strength nore the direction. Instead, the winds rise and fall unpredictably, and moments of complete stillness can erupt into violent gales without a moment's notice, changing direction at a whim, battering the house and trees from north, west, east and south while serving to give me an elevated heart rate for a full six hours as I ponder which of the following things is going to happen first:
- Power fails
- House comes crashing down
- Trees in the garden come crashing down
- Trees in the garden come crashing into house
- Something else comes crashing through the window
- A previously airlifted train comes crashing through the window (unlikely)
Fortunately, the house and my room should turn out to be sturdy enough to withstand the mighty fangs of the roaring ocean sky dragon, but nonetheless, sitting around inside and working alone at a time when I'd rather be huddled up with someone in the safest corner of the house proves to be quite difficult. At least I get a good view on the roaring tempest outside, and should realize that capturing the atmospheric uproar on film proves to be quite therapeutic. As such, I should empty an entire magazine on this spectacle. Here's just a brief impression of the mighty Typhoon that I was forced to endure.
After the Typhon gradually dies down, I dare to go outside and take a look at the damage it has done to the neighbourhood. Fortunately, the only casualty at the Kishida House was a gutter that came down on the upper floor, and is now dangling across a window.
The rest of the neighbourhood isn't in too bad shape either, and there are already more people outside investigating the damage and starting repairs on things like knocked-over fences and trellises.
You might have noted that I pointedly avoided saying that none of the things on the above list happened. It is around 15:00 that the power fails (which is admittedly later than I had expected), meaning the internet connection and with it my means to continue working is gone. Also, since the lack of daylight saving time means that the sun sets roughly around 18:00, that means that eventually the natural light fades, and I am left sitting in the dark.
And so, in this place where I finally have an electric stove again, I end up warming up the leftovers from last night's dinner in a gas cooker that my host thankfully managed to procure on short notice. Judging from the precautions she heeds me to take, you'd think all of northern Japan would have blown itself up using their gas stoves by now.
The subsequent dinner should be eaten in a strangely solemn atmosphere, the roars of the storm having died down, and the main sources of light being a quietly hissing gas lamp and the emergency exit sign. It should take until the morning hours of the next day until power is finally restored.
I shouldn't be doing much else that evening, apart from writing a quick emergency update on my blog using my tri-Comm's mobile data to let everyone know I'm alright in the wake of this horrific disaster that caused more destruction than the legendary Kaikoura earthquake of 2016 (see Book I ~ Chapter 10 ~ The Island Hills Miracle). With that, my thirst for adventure is positively satisfied, and I hope no further terrifying things happen to me as I proceed to…
Escape all the Way!
I have one more day here to recover from the excitement of the Typhoon and write my blog, and then it's time for me to move on. On the night before, I have a good time hanging out with my host Mayumi, a friend of hers who happens to be a local politician and goes by the name of Michinobu Oohashi, as well as Yoo Yong Geun, a long-term resident of Kishida House who originally is from Korea.
I also do not neglect to write a short thank-you message in the guest book, specifically mentioning how happy I was that the house held strong in yesterday's turbulent tempest.
This time around, I'm off to one of my infamous early starts again – and as usual, that means my personal internal alarm clock should not let me sleep past two hours before I actually have to leave the house, and thus I end up getting up at 4AM that morning. Enough time to have a king-size breakfast in which I make a heroic effort to finish the rest of the Müsli and yoghurt which I purchased, along with the vegetable juice.
Having already packed my things the night before, I head out in the morning light to behold a wonderful lying crescent moon in the sky above…
…and the break of a new day a short time afterwards.
Since there's still some time left, I walk to the nearby Shrine and say goodbye to the Lord of the Land…
…before vinally vacating this sturdy house in the middle of nowhere.
Despite the early hour, Mayumi offers to drop me off at the station, saving me a long walk with heavy luggage. She even offers to take a photo of me at the station square.
I thank her one more time for the wonderful days I had here, and then we part ways, her returning to her home, and me continuing on my journey. This time around I'm headed to a place by the name of Daisen (大山 "Large Mountain"), which lies significantly further to the West. Planning my route to this place was an outright headache, mostly because I specifically want to go along Japan's north coast, but all route planning services consistently tried to direct me through Kyoto or Osaka. In the end, however, I managed to plan a route using only the inexpensive Futsuuressha and Kyuukou (急行 "Express Train", the equivalent of Regional Expresses, still the lowest price category, but does not stop at every station). This should result in what I call a pinball trip, during which I should have to change trains for a total of six times, and thus ride on seven different trains:
- From Torahime to Tsuruga (敦賀 "Industry Joy") with the JR Hokuriku Line (32 minutes ride; 6 minutes to change)
- From Tsuruga to Higashi-Maizuru (東舞鶴 "East Dancing Crane") with the JR Obama Line (112 minutes ride; 12 minutes to change)
- From Higashi-Maizuru to Fukuchiyama (福知山 "Lucky Knowledge Mountain") with the JR Maizuru Line (43 minutes ride; 43 minutes to change)
- From Fukuchiyama to Toyooka (豊岡 "Bountiful Hill") with the JR San-In Line for Toyooka (80 minutes ride; 30 minutes to change)
- From Toyooka to Hamasaka (浜坂 "Beach Slope") with the JR San-In Line for Hamasaka (71 minutes ride; 7 minutes to change)
- From Hamasaka to Tottori (鳥取 "Bird Fetching") with the JR San-In Line for Tottori (45 minutes ride; 55 minutes to change)
- From Tottori to Daisenguchi (大山口 "Great Mountain Entrance") with the Tottori-Liner (this would be the Kyuukou) (88 minutes ride)
Also, in case you're wondering about the strange dent in the route between Higashi-Maizuru and Toyooka… while there is a train line operating there, it does inconveniently not start from Higashi-Maizuru, but rather from Nishi-Maizuru (西舞鶴 "West Dancing Crane"), which is a few kilometres and one stop further down the road, and since obviously JR West could not find it in their heart to have the JR Obama Line run that additional one stop, that would mean that in order to take that alternate route, I'd still have to change trains in Higashi-Maizuru, ride one stop, and then change trains again, which would mean that even though the route is technically shorter, I wouldn't save any time with it. On top of that, that route is (naturally) operated by a different company, which would get making the right ticket even more difficult than it already is, speaking of which…
The good news is that the little station of Torahime indeed has a Madoguchi from which one can purchase tickets.
The bad news is that it doesn't open for another hour or so.
And the worse news is, that while it is technically possible to build a Jidouhanbaiki with this many buttons (or even less) from which you'd be able to purchase a ticket to any station in the system, the designers have once again chosen to focus on the local area network, and thus getting a ticket for where I want to go here is not even remotely possible.
So instead, I chose to try out something new, and that is the Seisan-system (精算 "Fare Adjustment"). Basically it means that people who purchased a ticket to a station but get off at a different station that costs more to travel to than the ticket covers can have their ticket adjusted accordingly at the exit gate by paying the difference at no extra cost. Naturally, that only works at major stations, but since I have a 53 Minutes stop in Fukuchiyama, I decide to give it a try and simply purchase the ticket for the farthest station available from Torahime at the Jidouhanbaiki, with the intention to have it adjusted at Fukuchiyama. Let's see it this will work!
And thus, with a bold plan and an underpriced ticket in my hand, I make my way to the platform…
…where I spot another tiny frog – this one desperately clinging to the timetable – while waiting for the train to arrive.
Once again, the journey should mostly take me through valley and fields, and I should only see the ocean a few times, even though the majority of the voyage should take me parallel to the coastline at some distance. The highlights of this trip would be the great Maruyamagawa (円山川 "Round Mountain River") of Toyooka, the Amarube Kyouryou (余部橋梁 "Surplus Section Viaduct") – a historic railway bridge dating back to 1912 that has been replaced with a newer model in 2010 – and Tougouko (東郷湖 "East Village Lake") in the Tottori prefecture. Over the curse of my long journey, that should last from seven in the morning till half past five in the evening, I should cover a total distance of almost 400km.
The JR Hokuriku Line is pretty full with students apparently on their way to school, so I shouldn't be able to grab a seat in there. Fortunately it's only for half an hour.
However, unfortunately, the JR Obama Line is equally full for most of the journey. This makes me wonder just how far these students go to get to school. And here I thought that with 45 minutes through the city, I used to have a long way to school back in the day.
The JR Obama Line, by the way, is not named after a famous American president, but rather after the following station that coincidentally shares the same name (小浜 "Small Beach").
And then, a few stations down the line, I spot a decommissioned steam engine serving as a decorative attraction these days.
In Higgashi-Maizuru, I change from the modern train I've been riding up until now…
…to a much more rustic little Wanman headed for Fukuchiyama (where I also finally manage to grab a seat).
And then, in Fukuchiyama, there's the awful moment of truth: Will I be able to adjust my ticket properly at the Seisanjou (精算所 "Fare Adjustment Office"), or is the station attendant going to slice me in half with his Hattori-Hanzou sword for daring to travel this far using only a meagre 580¥ ticket? I should soon find out!
Fortunately, it all works out. Using way more words that I probably needed, I explain that I want to go to Daisenguchi, but couldn't purchase the right ticket at the Jidouhanbaiki. For the attendant, this seems to be a routine operation, and after he asks me a number of questions to make sure he's understood correctly what kind of ticket I want and where I want to go, he gets busy preparing the ticket for me. This turns out to be a rather time-consuming process, for I should end up waiting several minutes while he does something on his computer, before I'm charged the remaining fare of 5900¥ (which combines with the 580¥ I paid thus far to dd up to exactly the 6480¥ I calculated this trip would cost), and I get my improvised but perfectly valid ticket. As of this moment, this procedure should become my default fallback plan for what to do if I can't purchase the right ticket at a station.
Since the station is a bit bigger (and not exactly intuitively signposted), it takes me a while to find the correct platform there. Fortunately, I have all the time in the world here, easily enough to walk to the far end of the platform and take a look at Fukuchiyamashiro (福知山城 "Lucky Knowledge Mountain Castle") in the distance. I'm sure this town would also be a nice place to stay at.
On my next stop of Toyooka, I should finally devour the lunch that I brought with me all this way, and I think I've now found my favourite combination: Melon Pan with Chocolate Chips for energy, and a tasty tasty tasty Yaskisoba Roll.
And then it's onward with the rustic Wanman of the San'In-Honsen (山陰本線"Mountain Shade Main Line"), which is the longest single continuous railway line in Japan at 673.8km, reaching all the way from Kyoto in the east to Shimonoseki (下関 "Lower Gateway") in the west (although I'm not sure just how they determine what qualifies as a continuous railway line, seeing as how there is not a single train that runs the entire length of it, and there's several places where other liens branch off).
In there, I spot this banner reminding people not to forget anything in the train. Why thank you, JR! I had planned to forget my tri-Comm in here, but after seeing this banner that illustrates how sad my cellphone would be without me, I change my mind and choose not to forget it after all. And on a related subject: Whenever a train (or ship, or bus) approaches a major stop in Japan, a part of the announcement always goes "Please make sure you didn't forget anything".
At my final stopover in Tottori, I not only get to see what must be the world's largest umbrella…
…but also the mystic train running to master Yen Sid's magical tower. Unfortunately that's not where I'll be heading today.
Instead, I board the Tottori Liner, which is going to take me all the way to Daisenguchi...
The End of the EscapeDistance from Nozaru Hostel: ~470km (safe at last)
After two weeks on the run, I have now finally reached a distance at which I feel I'll be safe from Anna Morita. Time to relax and look back on the time I spent running. For example, the temperatures, while tapering off ever so slightly, should still remain pretty hot overall, so I'm gald that each of my retreats had air conditioning. Also, as was to be expected, September here in Japan is a good deal hotter than back in Germany… and a great deal hotter than New Zealand.
My next stay place is conveniently located right in the middle between Daisenguchi-Eki and Yodoe-Eki (淀江駅 "Pool Creek Station"), which means that no matter on which of those I'd get off, I'd have quite a bit of walking to do. Fortunately, my next host is kind enough to pick me up at the station, and so I arrive in my new home without any additional physical challenges.
I'm quite beat after this lengthy journey, but I'm also happy and satisfied that everything went off without a problem. I'm going to miss the reliability of the Japanese railway system when I return to Germany. For now, however, I am still here, and amazing new adventures await me here in Daisen. Want to read all about them? Then stay tuned for the next Chapter of the Travelling Fox Blog!