Sunday, 27 February 2011

Ten Days Back to Hirakata II

Day 5: Journey to Dog Mountain
The distance between Suwa in Nagano prefecture and Inuyama in Nagoya prefecture is very large, especially when there’s only one train line through the mountains along the old Nakasendou, which is the old mountain pass that went from Tokyo to Kyoto. Hannah and I were determined to do this on the cheap again (unlike last time when we were charged extra to go on a faster train). It’s 10:20am and we’re at the station: So we asked the guy at the counter how much it was cost to get to Inuyama just by local trains. (Rough translation of what I remember)
Train guy: “So you’d like the fastest route down?”
Me: “No, we’d like the cheapest” He gave us a blank look and looked up stuff on his computer.
Train guy: “If you took the faster trains you’d get there by 3:00”
Me: “Ok, what if we took only local trains?”
Train Guy: “…You would get there at 5:00”
Me: “How much would it cost to get there by local trains?”Train guy: “7000yen”Me: “For one person?”Train guy: “No, two. So 3500yen each”Me: “Ok we’ll take those”Now at this point there are quite a few train guys watching us eagerly and snickering and after we buy our tickets and get down on the tracks they’re all laughing.
I can’t help but laugh with them rather then take offence by it. I mean I’d think it was weird too that two foreigners are wanting to spend an extra 2hours on a train even though they don’t have to and only want to take local trains through a mountain. I mean any sane person would rather take the fastest route possible, right?The train ride down was mostly uneventful although the views from the train as we went down were gorgeous! Especially going through Kiso Valley which is a place I want to hike in the summer (I’d really just like to hike through that part of the Nakasendou).
We arrived in Inuyama at a good time, about 4-5ish I think it was. And because we were feeling lazy we got a Taxi to the “Inuyama Riverside International Youth Hostel”.
It was…well for one I wouldn’t say it was an ‘international youth hostel’ a) because when I made reservations they didn’t reply to my English e-mail and seemed to only speak Japanese (even though their website was in English) and b) The only other people we saw were business men, not youths or back packers or whatever. The guy at the counter also didn’t seem to notice that we’d made a reservation even though I said in Japanese that we had one. *rolls eyes*But the hostel was really nice. It was kinda like a roukan style with a large tatami mat room with futons and a shared bath downstairs. Hannah was nervous about the bath but because we were the only two girls there we got to have the bath all to ourselves! (But used it seperatly). That night we even dressed up in the Japanese gowns they provide (don’t know what they’re called) and watched films.

Day 6: Gentle Lift, Seven Turns, Hundred Turns
The plan for day 6 was to Gifu and to see Gifu castle because Hannah had wanted to there from the start.
I’d heard about it from Areal who said that there were 3 ways up the mountain to the castle. The easy sky lift, the seven turn path, or the hundred turn path. He’d strongly recommended the hundred turn one and I was really looking forward to hiking up it. Thing was that the distance from the station and the bottom of the mountain was about 45mins by foom and when we got there Hannah was really adamant that she was taking the sky life….she was then really adamant that she didn’t want to go on her own -_____- So I dished out 600yen and took it with her .The view from the top was pretty impressive! And the short stroll to the castle had some really interesting stuff. Turns out the castle was built on a giant rock that had no water access so they had to dig into the rock to get water in cases of sieges. The castle itself was pretty tiny. Actually compared to British castles all Japanese castles are tiny, but Gifu castle was tiny compared to Japanese castles. There were also a lot of hikers on the mountain and one old guy was kind enough to offer to take our photo.We then went back down but down the 7 turn path, which was long but not that steep. On the way we ran into two ladies feeding birds peanuts on their hands. It was so cool! So they invited us to sit down with them and the bird actually landed on our hands!
When we got to the bottom we had a lot of time to kill thanks to the sky lift being so short. So we ended up wandering to as many temples I could find on the map. Also it was freezing because it started to snow again. Hannah was not happy. We then had to kill time before it got to a decent time to have dinner and then had to find a decent shop to have dinner. Hannah was not happy again.

Day 7: More temples castles and…dolls?
We didn’t really want to go anywhere far day 7 and decided to explore Inuyama. Inuyama has to be the prettiest place we’d seen on the whole trip. The town (meaning Dog Mountain after the mountain which is next to the castle I think) is located on the river which comes down from the mountains and into the lowlands. There is the castle on a huge hill next to the river opposite another similar hill.
When we went to Gifu and saw the view it looked like the whole area was similar to this with flat land and then random hills which make the landscape look like someone’s gone underneath and poked mounds in
random places.First we headed to the castle passing through this really nice little shrine on the side of the hill (yay stairs). Inuyama was the one castle I did really want to go inside because I’d heard it was one of the oldest remaining castles. To a point that was true. They had some of the original wall from hundreds of years ago inside but most of it had been rebuilt or restored. Japanese castles look very much the same. They have 3 (rarely 4 floors) which are square shaped and don’t really have rooms but panels which you can move or take out which create a corridor going around a central space on each floor. I don’t think the main castle was made for living but for political affairs. I think there must have been other buildings around to house castle members but at most castles those have been destroyed (although did have some towers and buildings at Inuyama and Hikone). Still, Inuyama castle was really nice and my favourite so far simply because the view was amazing and the layouts of the room were slightly different (it’s hard to have much variety in several square spaces which look the same). After the castle we wandered down into the town where they had a castle road, reconstructed to be more traditional looking and fit in with the image of the castle. There was even a few museums and the ticket for the castle let us go into those. But first we needed food and found a really nice little shop which sold baked sweet potatoes. They bake them in a clay pot which had coals at the bottom and then the potatoes sit in a pot over the fire. And they taste so
good ^^
The museums, which were after lunch, consisted of a doll museum and a floats museum. We went into the doll museum first which was just a room with displays of various dolls for the theatre and how to make them. The thing we didn’t realise was that the dolls are also used for the local floats. Remember when I went to the Aki Matsuri in Korea Town? The Danjiri they had were a kind of float. Each area has a different kind. Tokyo, for example, use ones which you carry. Inuyama had ones with wheels which you pulled but they were tall structures which often had the puppets performing ontop rather then people. The floats museum showed us the two different kinds of floats, one for spring festival and the other for the autumn festival which is done at night. The floats are linked with the local Shinto shrines and just like in Korea Town they go around marking out the different territories of the local shrine’s god.After exploring a lot more we went back to have a rest before getting food in a local department store that seemed to be the only place with cheap food in the area (first time we couldn’t find McDonalds! Not that we wanted any). On the way we stopped off at a large Buddhist shrine which I’d noticed before and wanted to stop off at. It was creepy because it was getting late and then we no one there except us and two other Japanese people.

Day 8: Into the Ice Lands
So I thought being in the mountains would mean we’d get a lot of snow. But nooo we only got a little bit of snow that didn’t settle. So you can imagine my surprise when we get out of the mountains and to Hikone, which is located on the north shore of Lake Biwa, and it’s snowing. A lot. And it’s freezing. We’re early when we arrive at the hotel so after dumping our stuff we go for a wander. Not far though coz it’s so freezing and resort to sitting inside food places in the department store opposite the station.
The evening was spent chilling and recovering in the nice warm hotel room.

Day 9: Hikonyan!We met up with a friend of ours Yuka who lives in Shiga prefecture and who had also taken us on the Kyoto tour at the very beginning of the year. So we met up with her and headed off to Hikone castle.
Interesting thing we found out on the way was that Yuka had NEVR been to a Japanese castle! 日本人のに!On the way to the castle after a brief look at another shrine (Japan’s full of them if you hadn’t noticed) we ran into a rickshaw man who said that Hikonyan was in the castle. Hikonyan? Turns out the mascot of Shiga prefecture, a boisterous cat with a bushi hat on, was doing a meet and greet kind of thing at the castle. It was sooo cute ^^The castle grounds were the most castle looking grounds we’d seen…I know that sounds random but most castles don’t have a moat, extra walls, bridges, towers, and buildings surrounding the main castle. AND IT WAS SNOWING! Full of snow! Was so cool! We played in the garden before going into the castle and we made
little snowmen and snow angels and had to explain to Yuka what snow angels were ^-^ The castle also had the steepest of the steepest castle stairs I’ve ever seen. Castle stairs are like ladders it’s ridiculous. After the castle we went down the tourist castle street to find food, but couldn’t find anything for less then 1500yen until we went to the very end and down a back street XD Then wandered to the lake which looks like the SEA which is SO COOL! You could barely see the mountains on the other side or the little islands in the middle of the lake. We then grabbed a coffee and just wandered back to the station where the hotel was ^o^ It was an awesome day

Day 10: Figurine Museum of Nagahama!!!

Final day! Yuka had suggested we head on a train up to Nagahama which is even more north on the shore of Lake Biwa and was slightly more snowy too! It snowed practically all morning and was foocking freezing >_<>th castle in less then 2 weeks).

Had a brief look at the lake which was right behind the castle and then wandered back to the other side of the tracks where there was a shopping distract. On the way I saw something amazing! The roads had some kind of anti-freeze being sprayed on them automatically! Sooo much better then salt and grit! And then we saw a shop clerk building a snowman ^^ LOL! The shops were actually really nice old styles. We even found a fandom British coffee shop and being that a little market thing that smelt of burning wood. I then wanted to go to the figurine museum but Hannah wasn’t really into it enough to spend 800yen on the entry fee and I don’t think she was in a great mood anyway, so she went back to the hotel and I stayed. I have to say I think the man regretting telling me I could take photos inside the museum when I asked him if I could >8D I took photos of almost EVERY figurine of interest in that museum! Half of it were figures of animals and the other half were (of course) anime ^___^ Almost every kind of figurine that was ever sold in gashapyon (like toy vending machines) and stores. I was in heaven! (I plan to put the photos of the figurines up on my other blog at some point after I organise my other photos which go before it.) After the museum I wandered around and found a really random shopping mall which the figurine museum merged into. It wasn’t very big but had some really nice shops, like one which sold various kinds of music boxes, and others which sold hats, old clothes, second hand kimonos.

Upstairs there was a museum for a TV show which I think was based in the area. I ended up getting a cheap music box which played the theme to Spirited Away. Then I wandered round to the glass museum…which was basically a glass shop. It was packed but had the nicest glass items I have ever seen. Vases, jewellery, boxes, but my favourite items were the glass flowers. They reminded me of Stardust and I really wish I’d gotten one! But everything in that store was breakable and expensive. I felt like I should have stayed in Nagahama a bit longer but I couldn’t think of anything else to do, so I headed back. Thanks to the heavy snow though it took a lot longer then I thought and didn’t make it back in too bad timing.

When I got back to the hotel it turned out Hannah had already had dinner…ok…I had said that I wanted to go to an Okinawan restaurant that we’d seen earlier in the week…well I was a little annoyed…ok very annoyed. So I went to the restaurant anyway on my own. I don’t think I would have done that if I hadn’t been so fired up. When I got there I was surprised to find that it wasn’t a restaurant but a bar, and they had a live and the entry was 1000yen. Unfortunately that was all I’d taken with me for food. I embarrassingly explained this but being the lovely Japanese people they were they let me in for free! The atmosphere of the bar was just…amazing! The customers were all hippies, the guy playing was a hippie playing the most interesting music I’d ever heard (I wish I’d taken my camera!!!). I got talking to the bar owner and some of the customers (mostly the guy at the bar) and asked for his opinion and ended up getting this random Okinawan meal. It was like an omelette with ham and really, really bitter green things, but I was so hungry I ate it all! I then sat and watched the music and chatted with the guy at the bar. When the first performance was over the woman next to me (who had been sewing the coat she was wearing the whole time) gave me this random paper with a sweet wrapper sewn into it as a gift! So nice! The second performance was really…weird…I can’t describe it without the performers sounding like nut-jobs, but it was the most entertaining and wonderful thing I had ever seen! The guy played the digaridoo and the woman, while wearing random hats (such as a frog hat) would sing songs and play percussions and with hand puppets (such as…frogs). It got to about 9:00 and I felt like I should have gotten back after being in there for 2hours. I felt like I could have stayed til 3am and would have had an amazing time with all the resident hippies. I am defiantly going back there and if anyone is ever in Hikone, you HAVE TO go to the Okinawan Bar Pavaiso (Open 6pm-3am).

Day 11: HIRAKATA!!!

When we got up in the morning it was blizzarding! Really, really, snowing. There were people outside trying to clear the path with shovels just to have the path get covered again 5mins later, and school kids hiding in the train station for cover and then flocking out when their school bus arrived. It was kinda funny when we were sitting inside the warm eating buffet breakfast (hmm choco cereal ^^). But by the time we’d gotten our gear together the storm had cleared and we got on the train back to Kyoto and from there Hirakatashi. I can’t tell you how happy I was to see the familiar sights again and it felt so good to be back in the dorm and with familiar faces. It really did feel like I was home.

And that was the end of my Winter Adventures in Japan.

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