A Travellerspoint blog

December 2010

From Rags to Riches

Why does where you sleep define who you are?

The next morning I woke to the sun, and I couldn't get back to sleep. It was simply just too damn cold, and I had to pee. The bathroom was again, quite welcoming, but I didn't want to stay inside and hide. I wanted to go out into the city and find something warm to drink, yeah, at like 5 in the morning. I left the small station and started wandering the empty village. First, to the glowing beacons from last night. There were vending machines down the street from the station, and I knew they just had to have hot drinks... but no. This town was so backwards from the bustling cities I'm used to traveling through! Then I tried walking up and down the streets looking for maybe an early morning cafe or market. But all I found were houses. I wondered around for nearly an hour, and still, nothing. How do these people function? They just have places to live, but no shops, stores, or even gas stations. The streets here were quite small through. I wondered if any of them even had cars? Now that it was almost 6, I decided it was time to give up my wondering and go wake up Joe for the 6:15 train. When I got inside he was gone as well. So much for being prepared to get on the train early. I settled down into the seats just outside the ticket booth and I waited. Joe came in to the station a little breathy and dazed looking. He went for a quick jog to get his body temperature up. Then the gates opened, and we were finally on our way to Toyooka.


The sun heated up the country quite immediately, and by the time we hit Toyooka it was already in the mid eighties, and it wasn't even 8 o'clock yet. Joe and I both agreed to not call Adam for a ride until at least 9 am since we got the impression that he tends to sleep in after closing his restaurant quite late at night. So into the town we went in search for some breakfast and please dear god a cup of coffee.


There were little rocks of this same face all over the place. He is the symbol for Toyooka because of the cool hexagonal rock formations they found just outside of Adam's place.


The first poster is the symbol for Nara (you know, the place with all the deer, hence the antlers), and the other poster is one in a series of my favorite train station posters. It is always these three same girls posing like statures in various places in Nara.


Yeah, even their candy is sexist.

We ended up finding a really sweet looking cafe that served pancakes. We messed up our order a bit, so it wasn't exactly what we were looking for, the quibble quarrel, and I convinced Joe to just eat the food and be done with it. Then we headed back to the station, got on a payphone and got in contact with Adam. He said he could come and get us in like an hour, and then we can tour around town a bit, and we said "Take your time, we are going to sleep." Then we laid out in the sun and took a nap just outside the parking lot.


When Adam came to get us he explained this modern statue that we passed on the way out of the station. Apparently Toyooka is the city that has the grand honor for the reintroduction for the Oriental white stork. Four decades ago the oriental white stork became extinct in Japan, the victim of rapid industrialisation and modern farm practices and heavy pesticide use that destroyed its habitat. Today, it lives in the restored wetlands around the small town of Toyooka in western Japan, now a showcase for an ambitious conservation effort called the Satoyama Initiative. And apparently, Shinobu (adam's partner) doesn't like them.

He took us back to his place first to unpack our things, then we went down for another nap (all 3 of us). Shinobu was already at their restaurant, Sticks, and we agreed that we should go there tonight after Adam's english class. He teaches two classes in the afternoon to children, and he invited us to come along with him and play with the kids. We thought it sounded like fun, and he teaches on the bay that leads out to the Sea of Japan, so if we ever got board, we could always go hang out on the water. But until then, we all acted like huge bums, and slept. And I say acted, only because we weren't really bums. We had a job we were all going to today, and we had a house to sleep in. We were just sleepy people, not to be confused with bums in the slightest.

The first class of kids were really cute. 2 girls, about 7 years old, and 3 boys. The littlest girl had the cutest hair style, like a really long wedge cut, shot in the back, and then just the bangs were really long in the front, and she would play with the long bits of her hair as she twisted her head around with a big smile saying quiet wipers in Japanese to Adam when she couldn't remember the english words to say. Adam brought a bunch of poker chips, and we would hand them out to the kids who answered first, or who spoke the best English. They let me try Japanese with them, and they were all quite happy to help correct me, but at the same time, quite gracious because they were so impressed with how good my english was. "My name is Kenji, and I like baseball." All the boys picked baseball. And the surprising favorite color was yellow for the girls. Adam thinks its because their school uniforms have the yellow hats. Favorite food, winner in both genders, was fish. I guess this town is a fishing town, and the children don't get many sweets here because it is not a rich town either, so when asked their favorite food, fish was natural. Adam made fun of my favorite food, "Green bean des ka?" He asked the kids to translate, I know I couldn't. "So des!" A kid got it right. "... Pizza desu yo!" Apparently when other American's visit they always say Pizza. All the children laughed. Adam was Canadian, practically same diff in my opinion.

Then for the second class Joe and I went out to the shore.


We got some snacks and decided to have a bit of a picnic, and we realized what everyone had been saying about the freaking bugs in Japan! They are loaded, absolutely loaded with bugs. It freaked me out so much as I went to climb up onto a black rock, and it started moving and wiggling away to reveal a slightly tan~ish orange rock. But the nice thing about the bugs here is that they don't like being around you, so we sat up on the rocks, away from the creepy clickies, and enjoyed the view.

Then Adam came and grabbed us and we went on the scariest road trip ever. He drives really really fast and erratic, like a crazy person pretty much (of this I have yet to fully decide, but he is at least a little crazy... but aren't we all.)


First destination, a shrine on the edge of the water.



Second destination, well, we were trying to find this one place, but I guess it got turned into a funeral home or something, of this I'm not really sure. This is what I get for sitting in the back seat trying not to vomit as Joe and Adam talk (wait until you hear the next video, he is so Canadian! This normally isn't so funny, but being in New Zealand at the present moment, and hearing all the crap aboot Americans... its nice to hear a good, old fashioned, strong Canadian accent to laugh aboot... aboot, it never gets old. ^.^*)


This was the closest picture of what Adam was trying to describe to us as we drove back and forth through and up the mountains. He said that just a few months ago the rice hadn't risen up above the water's surface, so all over Japan there are fields of these rectangular mirrors perfectly smooth and reflective giving you a clear inverse of the mountains and clouds. He said its one of the most spectacular things he has ever witnessed, and the Japanese for t he most part don't even notice. Its just that time of year. They find it pretty, but its nothing to get too excited about. Try to imagine someone from the tropics seeing leaves change color for the first time. Sure, we think its beautiful, but its nothing to freak out over... its just fall.

As we were heading back from the failed second destination we accidentally stumbled upon a graveyard we think for the Miko of the village. His grave stone was so large, and with a sculpture of him, that Adam believed he must have been the towns spiritual guru, and when he died they made a glorious resting place for him with the forest and mountains to his back, and the ocean to the front. Then when towns people died, they wanted to be buried in his same cemetery as their spiritual guide, probably to help guide them through the afterlife. None of this is certain of course, but it was interesting to come upon this site like an Archeological dig, and just throw ideas around like snow balls.


Last stop, as it was getting dark, Adam really wanted to go for a swim. "I would have joined you... but its getting too cold!" I told him. "No, no, no, this water isn't cold, it'll be fine." Said the Canadian. So we drove on the windy mountain roads looking over the ocean to his favorite beach.


When we got there I put my feet in, and after a few minutes of walking around they were numb... yeah, it was cold. Adam went in to his waist, but I think it was a little too cold for him as well. But he was right to pick this as his favorite beach, it was empty, dead, we were all alone, and it was beautiful! He said that as long as you come at the right time, the place is empty. The Japanese are really into tradition and doing things when you should do them, so on a Saturday afternoon there will be loads of people picnicking here and swimming. But once lunch is over, the crowd starts to fade away, and therefore the place is either full, or empty. Weird.

Next it was onto Sticks were we got some really great food (Shinobu is an amazing cook!) and we told stories and drank Japanese beer into the night. Adam was a bit displeased when it came out that the reasons some of the Mochan bus were going back to the bus was so we could drink cheep alcohol, then come back into the restaurant and hang out. I guess I'd be upset too if I found out I was opening my home to these strangers for a free place to stay, and bringing out some rounds of free beer and snacks, were going behind my back trying to save even more cash. I mean, he has a restaurant he has to run too. Oh well, me and my drunk mouth, or is it just my mouth in general? In any case, I think everyone is better for it in the end because it is true, and now he knows what to watch out for the next time a wish bus comes through (cheep backpackers).

Posted by - Rain 13:31 Comments (0)

Running Places!

OMG Randomness

Okay, so lets look at a map from Japan. Many of the cities are not actually labeled, that part you have to look up, but what is labeled is what the city is known for, often times not with words, but an adorable little picture.
"Hey, a castle, we haven't been inside one of those yet!"
"Okay, lets go!"
This was literally how we planned where we were going next that morning. With the Japan Rail Pass for only a few weeks, we were constantly traveling. It really didn't matter where we were going, just as long as we were going, because the travel was already paid for, weather we went or not. So we were going to go and see this whole damn country if it killed us (probably my idea more than Joe's, but he seemed to go along with it).

On to Kokura!


We actually didn't pass through the U.S.A. to get to Kokura, its pronounced: oo-sa

We made it to Kokura bright and early, got a map with directions to the castle, and the lady at the info counter said, "But in all honesty, if you are looking to the most authentic Japanese Castle, the one in Hakata is the best. It is just the next large town over on the train. It shouldn't take you more than 30 minutes to get there." Oh man! Joe and I searched each other's eyes for what to do next.

Well, we did come all the way here...
But we don't have that much time...
We could just spend a little time here...
I would at least like to see the castle from the outside...
Lets just go to the Castle, and then decide from there...

So with some sign language from the tilting of our heads and eyebrows, we took the map, then headed over to the JR Pass booth to book a train in an hour or two to Hakata. There, we also booked the trains from Hakata to several other cities on our way back to Toyooka! We had emailed Adam and Shinobu just after leaving Mochan and told them that we would be coming to Toyooka again about a week after we left the Wish Bus, and we were wondering if we could couchsurf with them. They agreed, and were very happy to get to see us again, this time with a little more personal touch to seeing Toyooka since we wouldn't be with a large group. According to the guy at the ticket booth, we had plenty of time to see both the Kokura and Hakata castle, and then make all our connecting trains this evening to Toyooka. Sweet! So with that we headed out into the city, plans and tickets in hand.

On the way to the castle we were one of the few tourists who did not stop to take pictures with this guy:


(point for us)

Moving on,


Now this next picture I took for Danielle. This jewelry shop doesn't just have a sign for Sex in the City 2, but they actually embossed in gold the name of the movie in their window glass!


(Joe couldn't believe how excited I was about that.)


Here, just before the castle, Joe and I hung out in this garden watching some guy splashing around. Yes, he had the appearance of a worker, and the big fisherman's waterproof overalls, and the fisherman's net... but he literally was just displacing water from one side of his body to the other. We watched for about 10 minutes, waiting to see him actually be productive so we could know what his job actually was for all the work he was putting into it. But, yeah, nothing much different happened.


Then from one surreal to the other...


(In this picture you can see the guy still walking around, splashing water.)

Kokura Castle, a revelation of time:


Then there was another shrine next to the castle, this one larger but with even less people than the little shrines from before.


Then it was finally time to go into one of these Castles, and Joe gets cold feet. It was a little pricy, but this was the one castle in all of Japan that we were planning to go to! But Joe was kinda set on the one in Hakata, even though this was one of the 3 best castles in the entire country according to our Japanese guide map. "You go in, take 5 minutes, see if its really worth it, then signal me at those windows if I should come in and buy a ticket." This plan sounded reasonable enough, so I went in.


Already, this didn't seem to be the inside of a caste... but a boat... my hopes are not high.

First exhibit, little town recreation of Kokura back in the day:


Not bad... but I want to see the inside of the castle, not a recreation of the town. NEXT!

Well, next I was ambushed by an animatronic theater! There was a recreation of a Japanese meeting house that you entered, sat down, and were given headphones for your preferred language. Then curtains opened, and a really fat wooden japanese child animatronic started talking to you about what it was like in Kokura back in the day, and then he took you on a really bad cartoon movie where he walked through the town, talking with villagers who's lips didn't move, but were more like paintings that were cut out and shuffled around on the screen. This went on for over 15 minutes! I was freaking out at this point, so I tried to exit the way I came in, but they wouldn't let me. "Ikimasen! Ikimasen!" "You can't go that way." "Wakarimas..." I grudgingly told them. "I get it..." So I filed out of the theater into a roped off through the castle. So much for getting back to Joe. Well, he'd probably figure it out.

The next level of the castle was a museum.


Then the level after that was some sort of science museum like interactive gaming area.


(he is playing the put the sushi out for the nobility properly game...)


So I am already disappointed and no longer looking for an authentic castle experience, so this next part I can take as being kinda cool now that I know what to expect. The next level started out with a video of silhouettes behind what looked like a Japanese paper window talking about ninja assassins! It was a pretty cool video, like you are actually eavesdropping on the people talking about the ninjas, and they you get to see the attack and watch the castle burn! And yes, you are kinda inside it, so the video cuts out with your vision getting all blurry and dark. (Awesome!)


They had a whole room filled with these ridiculous cutouts, and my awesome high was cut down. Luckily the views were still really nice from the windows.


And when I finally got to the very top, there were vending machines for ice cream and arcade like games! It was ridiculously stupid. The whole room was window fronts to the whole city, and yet most of the people were in the middle of the room putting coins in slots.

So yeah, all in all, major bust.

When I finally made it back to Joe he was a little put off by me not contacting him, but glad that we didn't both go through the castle. Then we decided to head out and try and see the Hakata castle.


On the way back to the train station Joe and I were a little hungry, so we stopped by the sushi place that the woman at the info desk said had the best sushi in town.


Yay for sushi trains!

This gave us a little skip to our step, and we hopped on the Shinkansen to Hakatta fairly easily.

Pictures on the train:




At Hakata we agreed to try and see the castle, and the most famous thing in Hakata (according to our picture map of the country), the Fukuoka Dome! So walking as quickly as possible, here are some of the shots we were able to get off on the way to the castle:


(Yes, the child is being pulled under and drowned by the turtle... vicious little things.)

Then we made it! The entrance steps to the castle! I'm so excited!


And! ...




This castle really was the most authentic castle in all of Japan, because it was never rebuilt. All the castles in Japan were made with wood, so the only thing that is authentic is the stone foundations... so that was all that was here. We could see squares and rectangles where the castle and the castle city once stood, but that was it... no castle. I need to get better at speaking Japanese. Ah well, it was turned into a nice little park that over looks the whole city, making what we can out of the trip I guess.


And hey, there's the Fukuoka Dome! "Good enough for you?" "Yep, thats a good enough view of the dome for me." Well, at least we checked that one off our list of things to do. ^.^*


On the way back we decided that we had enough time now to visit the free castle museum, so we got to enter that and see the archeological exhibitions.


Then on the way back to the city we passed some in progress archeology:


(I took pictures of the site through the fence... sneaky photography)

Then back in the city Joe was for whatever reason determined to get to the top of a building and take pictures. For the life of me I can't remember why. All I remember is that I had no intention of walking into one of these tall buildings, getting on their elevator for no good reason, and then trying to get out onto their roof. I guess I just suck like that. Maybe I would have done it if we were in the States, but naw, probably not even then. I just didn't see the point. So we agreed to meet back in one hour at this nice looking cafe that wanted to be Starbucks, but wasn't. And here is the product of Joe's quest:


Yeah... getting coffee was way better. But like Joe said, at least his hour was spent doing something free.
(slow motion fist into the air with a less than enthused "whooo")

Then we wondered the town a bit.


And yes, those fairy/ children are peeing on the clock fountain. So cool, and so very strange.


Then, the kudegra! These following pictures are for Corey. Japan is somewhat famous for popularizing the idea of using rooftop gardens to maximize a building's insulation, add more photosynthesis and oxygen to a city, and pure architectural feng shui.


It even had waterfalls!

Yeah, we never did end up finding that shrine we were looking for. But on our way back we found this really cool Greek pillar statue that was in some way a home for ravens (I picked up 3 really huge feathers just walking to the structure).


Then we made it a big open field right in front of the building covered in roof garden's.






When we were inside we figured out that it was a multi level building with the center all hollowed out and another large room for the symphony orchestra (wonder if the gardens help the acoustics...?) We tried going up the stairs and getting out onto the rooftops, but the few doors we tried were locked (I guess thats why we didn't see more people waling around the rooftop gardens).

Now it was about time to head back to the train station.


You are not allowed to smoke on the main streets in downtown Hakata! Which is crazy, b/c look at how they sell cigarettes just around the corner from thiese banners that hung on every street lamp:


(she actually works at the vending machines, moving from location to location... weird)

Then Joe talked me into making one more quick stop at a sushi train restaurant:


But then we really did have to go because we had to get to all of our trains to Toyooka. First it was a Shinkansen back to the main island, past Hiroshima, and all the way through Kyoto. Then we had to switch to local trains. This was always a pain in the butt, and slow as hell! Especially at this time of night, all the school kids were on the train getting off from their after school activities (which are actually required, so all kids have to do at least one), and all the workers were getting off from their jobs.

The twilight hours started to pass into night, and now I was starting to worry (who me?). We were supposed to get on our last train before 9pm, and it was getting close to 10 now... Joe was still unaffected.
"When is the last train?"
Confusion passes through both of our faces. I got out the time schedule the guy gave to me at the ticket booth. It was actually printed out and everything. We passed our fingers over times, and everything added up... except for our last train to Toyooka.

I stood up and went to the train driver... I showed him my paper, distressed, and unable to speak, especially not in Japanese. "Ee-eh" He pointed to our last connection. "No..." I agreed. "More trains tonight?" I asked in the worst Japanese possible. "No..." he answered again. "When is the next train?" My Japanese was looking up despite our circumstances opposing behavior. "6am" he said while pointing skyward. Yeah, 6 in the morning, I understood, the funny look was actually from something swelling up into my throat. Okay, don't panic. We just wouldn't make it to Toyooka today, this happens to us all the time, we'll just get a hostel or something. The train driver asked me if I had someone I could stay with in the next town since it was the train's last stop. "Ee-eh" I told him. He shook his head. "My home town" he explained to me. Sure. He knows the area. Good. "Hostel? Hotel?" "No..." he responded. You could tell he was searching for something in the back of his mind. An invite maybe, into his home for the night for 2 lost and confused travelers who got bad train directions... but it was beyond his ability. Maybe his wife disapproved of having strangers over. This wouldn't be the first time. It is very Japanese to do everything you can to help people, but their homes are sacred places, and thats why we had so much trouble finding couchsurfers in Japan. I went to sit down by Joe again, and I told him the bad news.

At the station we unloaded with everyone else. Then the train operator followed us around the station, explaining to all the night workers what happened to us. Unfortunately, I was the only bilingual English/ Japanese of the group, so while it sped up the process of having him explain our long story... getting helpful information back to us was close to impossible. "I don't understand" I found myself continuously saying. Finally one of the station workers laid down on one of the benches and mimicked sleep. "I understand" I said with a sigh of relief. At least we didn't have to sleep in the streets of this small, small, small, small, small, village. Joe started yelling at me that it wasn't okay, and sure we had a place to stay, but we had to tell Adam that we wouldn't be in tonight, otherwise he'll worry and stay up waiting for us to call him and tell him that we were ready to get picked up from the station! I had enough problems already, I was stressed out beyond belief, and even now my entire body aches just writing about it, and has ben just about 6 months to the date! "Excuse me, I'm sorry, thank you, but, my friend in Toyooka, phone, I speak with my friend on a phone, please, where is a phone?" Did that make any sense? "No phones" he explained to me. This village was so small they didn't even have any payphones. "Please, cell phone?" I was getting desperate. "Se-gu-ru-fo-nu ku-da-sai" Yeah, thats the best Japanese for cellular phone I got. "Ahhh, choto mate" Wait a minute, something I said got through! The little old man got out his cell phone and gave it to me excitedly. See, he could help us! (his thoughts, not mine... okay thats not fair, he was helping a lot, and it was a lot more than most people would do for us in other countries, no offense to other countries) "Hi Adam, its Rain. Yeah, I know, we got our times all screwed up and we are at the --- station. Yeah, I know its in the middle of nowhere. Yeah, we know its such small village that there are no places to stay. They are letting us sleep at the train station. No, please don't drive out here to get us. No two hours is not that close, and remember, then its 2 hours back. Yes, we are just calling you to let you know not to worry about us. Sorry, Joe is giving me the speed this up hand gesture so I should be getting off this man's cell. Yes, thank you so much, we are sorry, no, thanks, we're good, thanks, thanks, see you in the morning, don't worry about it, thanks, thank you, thanks again, bye, thanks." Yeah... I'm not shaking at this point... yeah, no, I was. I handed the little old man his cell phone back, and he gave me a hug, a smile, a pat on the head (yes he was shorter than me, so it was a bit of a struggle, I had to slouch for him), and then he was off, hobbling into the night with his little suitcase.

I wondered outside to see what there was to see. Joe went inside and made busy with laying out clothes for bed padding. Where was our tent, mattress, and sleeping bag when we need them?


By the time I got in Joe was already lying out on the bench asleep. I was hyperactive. I went to the bathroom and brushed my teeth, washed my face, and then went to work at layering up my body. The brisk night air swept through the station, and I tried to close some doors to make it at least tolerable inside, though people were still randomly wondering through the place. I couldn't sleep. I got out my book and started reading. About an hour later we were joined by another of the homeless. He was all dressed up in his business suit with his expensive leather purse, I mean briefcase. He sat down by Joe's feet. I felt uncomfortable, so I went to the vending machine to buy something warm... all cold drinks. This had to be the only vending machine in all of Japan that didn't sell both hot and cold cans of sugar water. I cursed at someone in my head and wished I had something better to direct it to. Joe was not comforting me, he probably never would again. He didn't even care. Wouldn't he realize that if he was cold, that I would be freezing? Maybe he did realize this. Maybe he didn't care. Maybe I wanted to burst into tears and go screaming into the night. I could forgo the screaming into the night part, but it would probably make me warmer. My head ached. I went to the bathroom. It was warmer in the bathroom. The door was thick and had insulating rubber. I pulled my pants down and popped a squat (thank god not for real, this one had real seats and even bidets). I sat there, warming up my body and my heart (the metaphorical one). I didn't want Joe to care about me anymore. I didn't care about him, so it was only fair. I don't know why, but these thoughts were comforting. Maybe it was because I was holding onto my last thread. Even the most insignificant thoughts, when you are grasping for anything, can be mountains. I pushed the button for the bidet and turned the temperature on full hot. I actually contemplated sitting there forever, warm/ hot water splashing on my under region. Then I gained some control over myself, and willingly pressed the stop button. I used the environment as an excuse to air dry so I could spend a bit loner in the warmth of the restroom. Then it was time to be brave, no, not brave... it was time to be complacent. Time to allow what happens to happen. It was time to be accepting. My wants became nonexistent. Wanting never did you any good when you were helpless. So in these moments of complete abandonment, all there was to do was abandon right back. I laid out what clothes I could spare on the bench above Joe's head. Then I made my backpack into a pillow, and my purse into my teddybear. Then I realized why I think lingerie is called a teddy. Because men want to hold them? No, that didn't make sense, but I wanted it to. I needed it to. When a man sees a woman in a sexy teddy, they just want to cuddle with them all night long. I pulled my purse into me tightly. The hug made me feel a bit more protected from the cold. It wasn't as good as a stuffed animal... but it would do. I wanted to be held, so I would hold. Abandoning abandonment and finding a duality of protection of my things, and of myself. I was tired now, and I let the cold enter my body as my breath and heart slowed and my mind slipped into the unawairment of sleep.

Posted by - Rain 22:16 Comments (0)


the volcano

First shot of the day:


This woman is getting her shoe repaired.

For todays trip we took the trains to Mt. Aso, and the day seemed to be a day for relaxing and peace. We sat across the isle from one another, and we enjoyed looking out the window, pointing out various things that we could only see from our side, and yes, we slept.


I kept nodding off, and then in the middle of a huge valley between the mountain ranges, I got a little nervous as we seemed to pass by one large and very impressive looking mountain.

"Sumimasen, demo, Aso Yama, asoko deska?" Excuse me, but is that Mt. Aso over there.
"Hi, so desne." Crap.

I ran over to Joe and explained to him that the amazing mountain we were trying to photograph before was Mt. Aso, and we missed our stop! Well, we would just get off at the next one right? Just then, as we were leaving the collapsed caldera into the forests of the mountains, the train switched to one lane. The pathway through the forest was so narrow, that they couldn't afford to make two rows of tracks, so they instead timed the trains so that there would only be one using the tracks through the mountains at a time. This was very bad, because that meant that even if the next stop was close, there wouldn't be another train going in the opposite direction for quite some time. So much for us getting an early start... again.

So we got of at the next stop, and prepared to wait.
"Iki!" "Go!"
The woman called to me as we got off the train. There was another train right in front of us, and she pointed frantically. "Joe! Movie it!" I called to him as I raced onto the train. The doors closed on his backpack, but we made it on, and we started to head back towards Mt. Aso. This train wasn't supposed to be here, but obviously was the earlier train, stuck at the station, waiting for us to pass through the mountains so it could use the tracks. What luck!
Joe: "Good luck, bad luck, who knows?"
This was one of his favorite stories to quote, about the little man in China who ever time someone told him he was having good luck or bad luck, he would answer "who knows" which would always prove to be right, because seemingly good luck would cause something bad and visa versa.

I thought it was extremely good luck b/c now we were only out less than an hour instead of several, and on a trip like this, the more daylight hours you have to travel, get situated, and move on, the better.

When we got to the city we realized it wasn't much of a city at all, but a small village. There was also one bus station that ran the only bus up to Mt. Aso right next to the train station... convenient. The bus ticket was of course outrageously priced, but we were here, and we were going to do this, so we paid the money, and then decided to get some breakfast while we waited for our tour bus. There was a really neat little log cabin market just down the road where Joe and I went around picking up random locally packaged goods. It was just like shopping in a supermarket, all the items were wrapped in bags or sealed shut in jugs, but at the same time it was all done locally. Locally grown, or baked this morning fresh from down the road, and then packaged right here in town, and now sold in this store. It was the neatest place. We got a pint of milk from local Mt. Aso cows all sealed up nice and stamped with a best if used by date, some really good whole grain bread with the little seeds still inside, and some fruits and veggies. We sat outside in the beautiful Japanese sunlight and made the most delicious sandwiches of my life with the best milk I've ever had. The day was always looking up.

We made it back to the bus with no arguments or tensions, and the ride up the mountain was absolutely lovely.


Here, after about 15 minutes of driving through the most beautifully colored red wood pine trees we came to our first lookout point. The driver got out and told us that we had 10 minutes to wonder around, in Japanese, and the cutest English. He asked me if I understood, and I told him in Japanese that I understood him, and thanked him for speaking in English to me since my Japanese was so poor. "Nonsense!" he proclaimed in Japanese, then he said a bunch of other crap I didn't understand, but nodded and smiled anyways.

At this lookout point there were several venders selling that bright yellow neon rock that I remembered seeing at my hike back in Taipei, Taiwan. One of the venders was a little, little old man, and he was struggling with his huge wooden sign, so I went over and helped him set it up. He was so pleased and delegated that I came over to help him, and he spoke absolutely perfect English! We talked for almost the whole 10 minute break about Japan, and why I came here, and why he learned English, and what he thought about New York City, and it was amazing for whatever reason. This conversation with this little old man really meant something to me, and I cannot place to this day why it did. But maybe that is the mystery's answer.

Back on the bus we continued towards the smoking monster, and just like out of the Wizard of Oz we began passing through these amazing fields of pink flowers. Joe exclaimed from the other side of the bus, "Rain, are you seeing this?! I've never seen so many pink flowers!" It was beautiful how these flowers were growing out of the rich volcanic soil.


Then we came to the visitors center where the bus dropped us off. "Last stop!" The driver called, even though there was much more road ahead. But from here you could pay to take the skyline up to the volcano... yeah, guess the busses started stopping here after that was built. But no matter, we simply got out and started walking along the street after the huge group of school kids all dressed in suits or those little dresses that remind me of sailors. But after about 10 minutes of walking, even along the grass next to the road, Joe's feet couldn't take it anymore. He started detouring off the road even further, and then he called up to me "Rain! You've got to see this!" I grudgingly tore through the rocky/ prickly ground in my sandals to this river where lava seemed to once flow. The sand was black and looked like it was still a flowing river. Truly neat. But the terrain was too rugged for me in my sandals, so I left Joe to his rugged running and climbing, while I went back up to the road. "I will meet you at the volcano then" he agreed, and we parted on our separate paths.

My path:


Then I climbed up to the top of this rook like cylindrical rock building, and I could see out over the whole valley.


And watch this wind monitor go friggin crazy with the volcano at its back.


Then I noticed something curios. A little black dot seemingly moving quite quickly up the ridge where I left Joe.



(Joe fucking with his camera)

Then I headed back down the path to meet Joe.

Joe's path:

He continued up the side of this ridge to get to the precipice looking over the volcano, but from quite a distance away, so don't get too worried.


We saw each other has he came down the final slope, and I told him that we only had 15 minutes to get back to the bus, and there just wasn't any time for him to go and see the volcano unless he ran all the way there and back. This, is quite a convenient skill to have on a trip with a tight schedule. Luckily for Joe, he preferred running and climbing to walking. I would have preferred to climb the mountain with him, and see the volcano, but I would not be able to do the whole running full speed for 15 minutes after climbing the mountain. So I quickly power walked my way back down to the bus to take us back into town, and Joe started sprinting up the hill to the volcano.


(Can you tell who had the better camera? I was quite glad he went up to see the volcano for me as well, so now I could have decent pictures.)

When Joe made it to the volcano however, he even got someone to take his picture.


Yeah, who was missing out now? - Jealousy

When I made it to the visitor center I realized that the bus would be picking us up on the other side from where it dropped us off. This concerned me because I had no way of knowing if I should wait for Joe here, or if he would figure it out too, and would already be down by the bus. Trust him is what he said. So, I went inside the visitor's center and stated browsing through their gift shop. I had a little less than 10 minutes to kill (I walk fast), so I didn't have too much time to look around. Thankfully just as I was about to leave to go on the bus, Joe showed up. I quickly showed him where the vending machine was so he could buy some water, and then we headed out to the bus. On the way we of course got side tracked, and I walked around this shrine for a few minutes while Joe regaled me with tails of his trip. Little did he know, I caught it on tape.


Then the bus started the engine, and we hurried over to it.


Back in town we checked to see when the next train was and we had a little over an hour to kill. This gave us time to find a cute little Japanese restaurant and have some dinner.


I think the waitress was a little amused by us as well because I kept asking "Mizo o onigashimasu" as I showed her our empty pitcher of water. We were both quite tired, and the food we got was delicious but a little salty. I got some sort of wonderment of curry and rice and a sunny side up egg without any frying (later I would discover that this is a form of making poached eggs, and it is my newest fav. way to eat them). Joe was quite jealous and ended up eating a bit more of my dinner than I was happy with, but we did have to start saving money again. We hadn't quite gotten into the swing of not eating again now that we were out of China. We were spending way to much money on food, and we needed to start living like we did back in the states. However, this trip you could see was bearing hard down on the both of us, and Japanese food was just so damn good...

At the train station we discussed (not argued) which way the train we wanted would be traveling (damn driving on the left side of the road countries!), and we finally decided that we should wait for the train on the side with the little black bear statues.


There, can you see my haircut now? Yeah... we really don't have too many photos of me do we?


Posted by - Rain 13:30 Comments (0)


A Town Steeped in Japanese Mythology

Takachiho Travel Guide

Click on that link above, and now you know as much as we did. Going into this all we knew was we had to go to this place that you could paddle a boat between the gorge walls streaming with waterfalls. It was going to be the experience I never got to have when we were in the Grand Canyon. But first, we had to get to the town. The train dropped us off early in the morning in a town about a hour and a half bus ride away from Takachiho. The bus fair was ridiculously expensive, and we even thought about turning around and skipping the whole thing. "We have paid almost $1,000 to travel around Japan! We can't afford to add on this bus fair there and back!" I told Joe, and then he reminded me that it would be a more of a waist of money to spend $1,000 to see Japan, and never get to see Japan, and then have to come back (probably another grand in airfare) just to see what we could have dropped the $50 bucks to see the first time around. He was right of course. We didn't have the time to waist just running around from place to place either. We spent plenty of time getting to this place, and damn it we were going to see it! So we paid the man for our bus tickets, and we took up our usual spots in the very back of the bus.


^ (Thats a waterfall ahead of us BTW)


And wholly crap, almost 2 hours later, we made it to Takachiho! And the driver finally informed me, after like the 10th time I asked "Are we there yet?" in Japanese, that we were the very last stop the bus made. The ride was fantastic, and it was like a tour of Japan in it of itself! I loved the bus ride. I loved the smiling locals getting on the bus, saying good morning, and then continually beaming as they enjoyed us enjoying their countryside. One woman called me cute in Japanese as I hopped from one side of the bus to take pictures to the other. Another older, more grumpy woman, said that I was an annoying tourist, or at least I got that she called me a tourist, and I used my context clues (her sneering face) to figure that she was annoyed. She also didn't like how loud Joe talked to me. I kept telling him that he was bothering her, but that only made him louder. Thankfully, she hobbled her way off the bus after about 40 minutes, so we didn't have to be together for the entire ride.

But now we were in Takachiho, and we had lost sight of the water... "Sumimasen!" I called out to a woman who worked at a travel shop. "Excuse me" I said in Japanese, "where is the gorge?" She gave me a map of the city, sketched out in color with anime cartoons like so many other maps I had received in Japan, and she basically told me to walk clear across to the other side of the town, and then wind my way back and forth along the side of the mountain road to find my way into the gorge where I can rent a row boat for about $10 for 15 minutes.

It was a hot muggy day in Japan, and the heat of the day was just about at its peak as we left the cool air-conditioned bus and travel shop. Joe and I were some of the only people walking around in this town, and we were definitely the only ones without a sun umbrella. "Here we go, lets get a move on!" And we were off into this small, adorable, Japanese village in the middle of the country side and their mountainous landscape.


We made a few pit stops in the local convenient stores (Japan loves these shops) to pick up some extra water and snacks, but then the big distraction came...


"The town of Takachiho is the site of one of the most important and well know legends of Japanese mythology. In the story, Amaterasu, the Shinto sun goddess, became so outraged by her brother's cruel pranks that she hid herself in a cave, refusing to come out and depriving the world of her life-giving light. All of the other gods and goddesses gathered to lure her out. They tried everything they could think of to no avail until one goddess performed an outrageously ribald dance that caused the other gods to roar with laughter. Amaterasu left the cave to see what all the fun was about, and in doing so she returned her light to the world.

Today this legend is reenacted as Yokagura (night dances) in a series of 33 episodes depicting the divine quarrel as well as other deeds of the gods. On winter weekends, people gather to watch all-night performances of these episodes at different locations each week, sometimes at private homes. The performances are held on Saturday evenings from mid November to mid February. A massively shortened version of Takachiho Yokagura is performed for tourists every night throughout the year at the Takachiho Shrine. The one-hour show consists of just a few scenes of the story, performed by masked dancers and accompanied by traditional instruments. It is held at the Yokagura performance hall, just a few steps from the shrine's main building."

We read this on the web site I put at the top of this entry, but what it didn't mention was that every morning they have a sun rise performance at 8am! Unfortunately, we had just missed the performance by about an hour and a half! "GRRRRRRARRRRRRRGGGGG!!!!!!!" But, we let it go, and decided that it probably wouldn't have been worth the money, and we settled on seeing the temple for free (Yay for free!)


This was hands down, my favorite shrine in Japan!


They even had little Shinto priests running around in Miko garb! It was absolutely lovely! I adored the settings in the red wood/ pine -esque forest, and the smell matched every sight and sound. Peaceful heaven came to mind as Joe and I separately wondered the many shrines this location had to offer. We did not have to wait for one another, or see what the other wanted to see. We just existed in this place any way the wind took our step.


But then before we left we of course had to do some kung fu filming, so here is the Bear Animal exercise out of Qui Gong:

When we both finished touring around we headed back to the street and continued towards the gorge. On the way we passed yet another gas station dedicated to Leo and selling his tires... so we had to finally breakdown and take a friggin photo.


Then it was down the curving/ winding road into the gorge.


Entering the base of the gorge, before we made it to the main water source we walked past this wall of waterfalls that flowed into the ground with little tributaries that filled up these small ponds with coy fish.


And then we made it to the narrow opening of the gorge that we saw just like in the pictures... except for one slight detail.


See how all the boats are sitting there over in the lake? Yeah, thats because they have the lake roped off so nobody can talk their boats through the gorge anymore! Some people told us this was for safety, and I don't doubt thats this was why they did it, but they should have at least dropped the price since now all you got to do is sit in a boat for 15 minutes, paying almost a buck a minute for the "enjoyment." Joe, had a solution. He plans to jump the rope.


That is me taking photos while Joe slowly makes up his mind. We also sat down an had lunch before he made his way over to the docks. I pointed out to him that there were people avidly watching to make sure nobody took the boat out of the roped area, but he didn't seem to mind. Thankfully, after he realized that I really was not going to go with him, he decided it wasn't worth the money or the possible legal prosecutions in a country where we don't particularly know the language.

We headed back to he little walk path next to the gorge, and Joe practiced some kung fu while I took about an hour to myself to wonder the park.


These hexagonal pillers reminded me a lot of Toyooka:


Wondering around the local Takachiho village I found a really cool fish tank:


And then just outside the village by some of the ponds there were little cabin things and water wheels:


In the little souvenir shops I kept finding these owls everywhere! A woman talked to me in Japanese/ English about how the owl is very good. She didn't particularly say why. They didn't seem to be lucky or wise or some sort of protection, but they were somehow someway special. I thought I remembered my older sister having a thing for owls at some point, but maybe she doesn't anymore, I didn't know. But I figured that since I haven't seen much owl stuff around her lately, that maybe this would be a good gift b/c maybe it would bring back that interest. I bought an owl bling chain for the phone (everyone in Japan has one, and just the one, no more, no less). The chain was woven purple, so if I got the animal wrong, at least I got the color right. And the eyes sparked this pretty black stone, so it sparkled, was purple, had some sort of special animal, and could decorate a phone. Sounded like something useful/ appropriate to me.

When I came back to see if Joe was ready to go, he was just about ready to film some more kung fu, so here is Intellectual Fist aka Xing Yi:

I was hoping to hitchhike back up to the town since everyone would be heading that way, so Joe and I went to the parking lot, and looked around for people leaving. "Konichiwa!" I called out to two girls opening their car. I explained to them we didn't have a car, but we wanted to go back up to the city, and could we go with them? Yeah, they at first pretended to not understand me, and then they just ignored me all together and got in their car. Well, that was all the push I needed to not try to get another ride. So we started heading back up the winding road, and about 1/3 of the way through I broke down and decided to try my luck again. I caught a man with a truck this time, and he understood me just fine, but he explained that he was turning left at the top of the hill, rather than continuing right to the city. I told him I understood, and thanked him anyways, and then watched his truck make it to the top of the hill before the fork in the road, and saw him turn right, continuing up the slope into town. Fucker. That was really my last ditch effort at hitchhiking (people with low self esteem really can't hitch). We made it into town exhausted, and I checked the time, we weren't going to make the bus! "Come on!" I told Joe as I picked up the pace. Now that we were on relatively flat land, we could power walk a bit

Joe was complaining that he was hungry, but we simply didn't have any time for that. Then, just a few minutes into town, he left the side walk and crossed the street. No, "I'll be right back" or "don't wait up, I'll catch up to you," absolutely nothing. I stared at him in confusion, and pain. He knew I wanted to make this bus, and he was really going to go into the restaurant and get food?! I kept walking. About 10 minutes later, when I assumed he would have caught up by now, I realized he was probably lost. Fuck! I kept going, what else could I do? I made it to the bus station, and the bus wasn't there yet. But a few minutes later, still no Joe in sight, the bus came! "Can you please wait a minute?" I asked the driver in Japanese. He told me he would be here for the next 10 minutes, and then he was going, and we would have to catch the next bus in an hour. I got of the bus and started running to the main road. I would have to pass Joe on the main road, or at least see him, to tell him to hurry up. I ended up running all the way to the restaurant he stopped in. "Did an American boy come in here before?" I asked in broken/ exhausted/ frantic Japanese. "Yes!" They told me. Apparently he had been there, and rushed out quickly about 10 minutes ago. WTF?! I ran back and the bus was gone! But there was Joe, sitting there, eating his dinner. I was fuming. I hated catching the last bus. It meant we would be getting back in the dark, and if we missed that one, we were well and truly screwed. Joe said it was all my fault for not trusting him. He said that he made it here while the bus was still here, and that everything would have been fine if I had only trusted him to get there on time. He did admit to getting lost, and that was what took him so long, and that was why I didn't pass him on the main road, but even that, and the fact that he was the one who separated from me without a word, had nothing to do with why we were not on the bus. It was all because I did not trust him.

I left. I gave him the courtesy to tell him I'd be back here in 45 minutes, but other than that, I said nothing other than I needed to be away from him. I walked the streets, I fumed, I tried to be a photographer to get my mind off of things.


I passed several beauty shops, and thats when I decided to go with Sauna's demands. I had to get a Japanese haircut. They were the best haircuts in all of the world. And that means a lot coming from a Chinese person. I entered the salon and asked for a "cutto." They loved sitting me down and trying to discuss in Japanese what we could do with my hair, and then excitement really buzzed when they actually got me in the chair, and the one girl in all the town who spoke english showed up. She studied in America for 4 years, but that was working on 10 years ago now, so she was a bit rusty, but we managed. I didn't end up getting them to do exactly what I wanted, but at the end of the day, I felt free. I felt changed, I felt marvelous. This was the shortest my hair has ever been. So what did I do with my extra time? I went to the bar next to the bus station and I got myself a nice, tall, cold glass of Sapporo beer. Then, nice and tipsy (I am such a light weight these days), I got to the station, got on the bus with Joe, and we headed out of the Takachiho gorge town.

P.S. Sorry there are no pictures, but I wasn't in the mood to have my photo taken. I was actually a little sulky on this bus ride home, and Joe wasn't offering to take a pic of me, so I wasn't going to ask. But Just imagine me with my bangs being almost as long and thick as the rest of my hair (yeah, no more side part, she gave me bangs that start at the crown of my head!)

Posted by - Rain 16:59 Comments (1)

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