To Kyoto and not beyond

To Kyoto and not beyond
Kyoto, Japan

Kyoto, Japan

A fabulous day dawned. Once I was out in it, admittedly at 10 rather than the heat of midday, it felt like a home summer’s day – gone the smack-you-in-the-face heat and the feel-free-to-swim humidity, replaced by sunshine, warmth and brightness all around. I was up well before I left, Dr Dre – no, sorry, to pack – and booking flights. I was obviously tired last night and my credit card saved me from myself, as I had been declined while trying to book a flight using a 3rd party site. This morning I went straight to the airline and booked straight away and more cheaply. Twit. I threw in a booking from that flight’s destination, Bali, to Brisbane for good measure, along with some hostels in Osaka and Hiroshima (there may be no hope for me on the no booking front now) and emerged into the sunshine.

Sandy plot in front of the large sphere and glass-fronted buildings that make up the museum
Nagoya science museum.

My mood hit that perfect nexus of weather and emotion, perhaps helped on the way by yet another bit of Japanese smiley customer service as I left my bags at the hotel. I suppose I shouldn’t have expected anything else, but thought they might have turfed me out to the quite fair lockers in the metro, given that I had picked up such a bargain rate. Daft. I took the chance to try the spotify playlist ’50 best tracks of 2013 so far’ which tended towards the ethereal easy – listening side of life but again hot the mood quite nicely.

A red three-legged abstract sculpture
Art.

Again I failed with the museums. The city science and art museums are just up the road from Ohsu plaza, but the former is reviewed as more for kids, the latter closed. Bah. Pictures in the sun and I contented myself, and with high contentment, as you might guess, wandering to Sakae and Central Park. Same sort of area as yesterday, then, but it’s not an area to tire of. The park is a pun, it being both the Central Park and providing some central parking (and the subterranean mall I’d wandered through yesterday). A small boy was transfixed by the fountain outside the science museum. Another was interested in me later at the railway station though shy when I waved – his mum took his arm and waved me off, though. It was that kind of day. I discovered that on a water fountain with a tap it is perfectly possible to shoot yourself in the face, too, which entertained me as much as the squirty toilet bum cleaners.

Temperature reading on the side of a building
Check the temperature.

A day for new trainers, too. My running shoes started the trip on 300 miles, so they’re a little long in the tooth now. ABC mart have a sale on Saucony kinvara 3s, and I managed to find some size 9s that fit. Though I am usually a 10, shh. But after a smiling torrent of Japanese the assistant made me understand there were none at this store but some down the road. I don’t think he realised I understood, though, and definitely spotted that he wouldn’t be able to give me directions, so off he ran to pick up a pair in each colour. Shiny, but probably for short sharp stuff, so my hole-in-little-toe-spot Progrids will last a little longer.

Busy four-lane highways surrounded by tall buildings
View from a bridge in Nagoya.

The Shinkansen whizzed me to Kyoto in a blink and you missed it 50 minutes and I was there. It felt cooler, though the 32degrees on the readout suggested not. Blah blahs humidity, change, etc. I explored a little in the daylight, gratified that my hostel was near the river (Kamo, or kamogawa) that I’d seen recommended as a traffic and crossing free zone on a couple of sites. The welcome here was fabulous, too. The staff member on duty shares my birthday, to her excitement, though I suspect I am winning by having had several more than her, and was most impressed I was off for a run. Are people getting lovelier through Japan? I am not sure, but certainly if theres a cumulative effect on me it is all good. At its best, in the simple things (clearly ones that matter to me), Japan is all the things Britain nearly consistently is but overall fails at – respect for others, from keeping mobile phones silent, to service staff backing out of a room, people having polite-offs moving out of each others’ way and so on. In Britain after a while I get militant, fed up of moving out of so many people’s way when it is obvious few others are going to, here it’s just the right thing to do, without arrogance taking advantage. Need I add that here if you hold a door open for someone to come through from the other way, no one walks from behind you as if perplexed why anyone would open a door and not walk through? Students in London in particular, take note.

Rocks in a stream, and a suspension bridge stretches towards the city
I never promised you a rose garden.

My great plan of saving my run till the evening, despite Meiji park in Nagoya looking like a lovely spot (but a bit short) worked well, in that I went out for a run in the evening, along the river. It was a bit dark, though, especially for a tempo run, but I coped – at least you can rely on the surface being well maintained here, and if a cyclist doesn’t spot you at first, it’s not with any attitude or invective. Exactly 45mins for a bit over 10k, including a warm up/down mile, I’ll take that. I took it indoors, in fact, for a chat with guests – one was feted as the first Chilean ever to stay here, though he’s now been joined by another. Not feted as anything, though a kindred spirit to me, having given up a job after 10 years to see something more. Last night I booked hostels. This morning I booked flights. This evening, tickets. Days 2-4 of the first Ashes test. Exciting.

Kyoto riverside, weeping willows hanging to one side
Kyoto riverside, picture taken before I ran here later.

Ran: 45:00, 10.43km “History is moving pretty quickly these days and the heroes and villains keep changing parts”.

Ian Fleming, Casino Royale. Now on to Lies Inc, Philip k Dick. I just can’t get enough D… of that particular author.

Typhoon stopped play

Typhoon stopped play
Nagawa-machi, Japan

Nagawa-machi, Japan


Today, Nagoya will be mostly closed for a typhoon. After a quick trip to the castle – closed -I  found myself at the main station for a ride to the railway museum. But that (museum) was also closed; at least I found out before getting there, thanks to a member of staff jumping on my uncertain pause in front of the Aonami line. That was actually due to my subway day pass not working there, since that’s not a subway line, but it saved me the journey and the expense. The station has wifi, so I could check the list of sights and spot that the JR (Japanese railways) towers, built in 1999, were right above my head, with restaurants and beauty parlours on the panorama deck, floor 51.

Two people eating, view from high up over the city behind them
JR Tower.

I took a ride. The lift goes straight from floor 13 to 51, and I emerged feeling slightly nauseous. A ride in itself. The floor itself is small, and you can only get a peek at the view through the windows of the businesses up there. I decided I wasn’t coming without a look, so went for lunch. Lunch is generally the reasonably priced meal – seen as the time when people pay for themselves rather than on expenses – so although more expensive than other restaurants, it was perfectly okay at ¥2400, including fizzy wine, though this is nouvelle cuisine rather than a hearty fill. I amused myself halfway through, realising that it felt a little odd. I noticed then that the places were set with cutlery – I did just use it, but I double-took as I did so. After a burger (Japanese, but still) and now a meal with cutlery I probably owe my Japanese karma another pick at random from a menu I don’t understand. As for lunch, good food plus the view – totally recommended. After another ride down in the lift to floor 13 had left me a bit discombobulated, I let the escalators take me down through 2 floors of restaurants, French, Italian and more, and more shops. Nearer to ground are the ladieswear ones, though unlike Tokyo I managed not to ‘explore’ an entirely female floor, which had left me looking like some kind of Western lunatic. The basement, just like a mall I’d browsed in Asakusa, is full of food stalls selling weird, wonderful and fabulous smelling foodstuffs. It’s a sight to see all of its own.

In the afternoon, with most museums shut, I took the subway down to the port. Or it took me, potato potato. Cricket seems to be big here, every station pointing the way to the South and North Wicket. A big port, big ships, big container area, and all quite festive. Sea train land had a Ferris wheel-another one for me to eschew – as well as zombie panic and other rides. I pondered the wisdom and freshness of the ‘global seafood restaurant’, wondered why McDonalds was hidden behind the aquarium and looked at the pictures in the maritime museum. I watched a video, too, which combined with the large map of the port area to show me where everything was, and pictures too, and told me loads more about the sport fishing area, golf course and container port, none of which I understood. The weather had brightened, at least, so the wind that kicked up was only blowing odd bits of sand at me, not rain and everything else. I followed a tsunami exit route to find the subway and head back into town, feeling I’d had a day by the seaside, though the only beach is a long way from the subway, in the maritime park. It is a big port.

Tall, and thin, the castle rises behind trees
The Castle.

I still had a couple of hours of daylight left, so headed for the central shopping and eating district, Sakae. The (old) TV tower is here, offering elevated views, but I settled for photos after my 51st floor vision. The tower is set in a parkland strip (Hisaya Odori) that runs between two roads (and is itself crossed by other roads, so it’s not quite the running paradise it might be) which is lovely, and the usual stealth shopping rules in Japan apply. Above ground, shops, glitz and glamour of Gucci, Apple et al. Below ground, a mall, leading off the subway station. And tucked away on the 2nd, 3rd and other floors; other shops and restaurants. No suggestion they’re hidden, but there seems to be a virtue in putting your business wherever and then they will come. Shopping on a budget is a bit futile, so I rode back out to the castle and park. The park has an obvious running route round and was covered in runners of all speeds, but also plenty of sights for a non runner-even a windmill. The castle looked glorious with sun on, and I realised the day had become a lovely, by my standards that can’t cope with 30 degrees, sunny day thanks to the earlier rain and wind. I walked some of my running route from last night, glad to see it in daylight, before heading back, footsore and better disposed toward Nagoya than I had been the day before.

Bonus, dude

Bonus, dude
Nagoya, Japan

Nagoya, Japan

Shinkansen! I met a Japanese traveller/staff member (hi Takumi!!) late on last night, and we’d compared notes. He’d been to the UK this year, London and Liverpool, and European mainland, but also travelled though Japan, giving me some useful info along with leaflets on Hiroshima. When I mentioned my train ride and potential destinations we got bogged down in fares, and the pity of not having a JR rail pass for a while before he turned and gave me a grin, commenting on my upcoming journey – “and you get to travel on the Shinkansen!” He was right to emphasise it, it’s a fabulous way to travel.

Red with white detail, a large multi-storied pagoda style temple
Osu Kannon Temple.

So I did. The standard tickets had sold out, so I’d paid an extra ¥1000 for the green car-sort of like first class – which was very roomy and very empty with only two other people in it. The train fair whizzes along, and this is the older kodama version which I think must be slower as well as multi-stopping, judging by the extra time it takes. Heading out of Tokyo I noticed it had leant right over; smoothly, like, this isn’t a ******* pendolino. Acceleration and deceleration are also smooth, the latter accompanied by nice shhh noises from the brakes. I snoozed and before I knew it we were at Nagoya and I could stroll.

My sense of direction hasn’t improved by being used more, and I confused myself as to which side of the station I’d come out, not helped by attempting to use the grand hotel as a landmark and there being at least two. I worked it out without walking too far and then, as per the directions found I “can watch our hotel on the left hand side”. There are apparently other hostels in Nagoya, but none that made Hostelworld so I was left with what reviews assured me would be a spot in a hotel room converted to a dorm. The smiley receptionist, though, told me I was the only one so was on my own. I wondered what a large room would be like on my own. When I got to 705, though, I found they had put me in a single room to myself. Hotel rooms can be a bit isolating, but I’m bang up for this – a quiet night, and I’ve the chance to chill out in what looks an unlovely city, and book some of my onward travel.

Bonus.

An overcast sky, seen from a grey railway bridge
Weather looming, leaving Tokyo.

Hotel Ohsu plaza is right next to the Osukannon temple, itself next to a sprawling district that seems to contain a fusion of mall and flea market. Not the spartan, air conditioned malls elsewhere, more like a British market but with fixed shops. I wandered, discovering as I browsed the running shoe bargains that I am outsize here – I think he even used that word, though it was in isolation rather than a sentence so I may have misheard. Certainly they only have up to uk size 9, though, so I’ll need a better stocked shop to replace my now ageing fast Sauconys.

Sign says What Does Seria Mean in English, but the explanation is in Japanese
Glad to have that sorted out.

I ran later, in the dark-the sun falls below the horizon as if someone has cut its strings, on a nice day it can be sunny and glorious at 5.20 and have the sun setting 20 minutes later. As a result, if you lose track of time, you’ll have to run in the dark. Nonetheless it was straightforward to find the castle and the edge of Meijo park. The park is apparently lovely, but I skirted the edge in the dark and rain, sticking to the paths, many tree shaded/protected, doing three laps before heading back to another lap of the smaller park in which the science museum sits and then back.

The steps leading up to another temple. Open-fronted, the inside is lit and looks cosy even in daylight
Temple Town.

My evening took in dinner from the local 7-11, though even shopping there is a pleasure here, with the cashiers smiley and polite and with a range of foods I have never seen before (though that becomes a little less true as time goes by). A bit of telly, sumo, baseball and some football, and I flaked. Nagoya is nice enough, too many things to see even a few in one day but I’m helped by the fact that Monday is the day many attractions close for a rest after the weekend.

Casino Royale, Ian Fleming.

Ueno park, relay for life

Ueno park, relay for life
Taito, Japan

Taito, Japan

I’ve not stayed in a duff hostel in Tokyo, and I’ve moved around a lot, staying in five here and one in Nikko. But Toco Tokyo Heritage hostel still stands out. Khaosan annex is cheap, with a good common room and plenty of space for stuff. Near the river, I’d have been happy to stay there throughout, but had to move, to Toukaisou on the other side of the river. This was more traditional, with a lovely common room and a roof terrace for the smokers. Being more centrally located I decided that maybe here was a place to stay for longer despite being 25% more expensive. But when I came back from Nikko I was back at Khaosan, this time round the corner at their ‘smile’ building. Another bargain, and this time I lounged on their roof terrace while my washing dried. Only two days available there, and I moved to Toco.

Curved sign saying relay for life, with registration gazebos nearby
Relay for Life.

The front room doubles as a living room and bar, with locals joining us from 7 onwards. The hostel itself is an old building out the back, Japanese style with paper thin walls, glorious. But the staff. Welcoming at the start, and they made the effort to remember my name. I was one of only 4-5 westerners there, and it seemed like that was typical – many more at Khaosan, with the others more Japanese, perhaps with the exception of Toukaisou. Perhaps just luck. Whenever I went for a run the staff at Toco were impressed, more or less cheering me in yesterday. Ryoko took the time to introduce me to her friends and generally was a sweetie, but the others would go out of their way to say hello, and as I sat in the kitchen updating the blog last night I was urged into the living room. Then this morning I was leaving, sat around for a while in the joint area, and they insisted on a photo. A Korea guest got us to make ‘tears’ out of tissue for a comedic photo and then I left. Ryoko and her illustrator friend – Yuki? – waved me off so energetically that the old man across the street joined in! Way to feel like a VIP. I turned halfway down the street and they were all still waving, and as I reached the end… yes, still all three waving me off.

That has to be a highlight. I spent the rest of the day moving stuff to Retrometro backpackers, which is small and lovely again, then lazed in Ueno park. Way over 30degrees again – still 31 at 5, without sun – but entering the park it was noticeably cooler so I stayed. I thought yesterday when I saw the “relay for life” arch in the park, with gazebos behind it in a square, that I was missing a race, but today as the event was going it was obvious that this was a walking relay, almost certainly a charity one in aid of cancer research. With some bands in the middle to keep people motivated; the lady doing Whitney sounded like she’d belt it out but couldn’t quite hit the sustained notes. It was only Whitney Houston music, mind. Lunch was a decent fill in a local restaurant, nice and early to avoid a repetition of yesterday. Learning as I go.

Mad dogs and Japanese men

Mad dogs and Japanese men
Bunkyo, Japan

Bunkyo, Japan

Lounging about in my top bunk after last night’s chat fest, I realised I had made all sorts of tentative plans for October and November, but nothing for today. Running round Ueno park had reminded me that the museums are there, and I’m only round the corner from them. Funny how things work out; when I stayed in my first Japanese hostel, Tocumaiso, I’d wondered whether I should run round the park but opted for the river, an area I have sat in at night several times, enjoying the warmth and watching the runners. But here I am near Ueno again, so I opted for Tokyo National Museum.

Slim statue, holding up one hand as if presenting something
Is this your ball?

The museum is huge. Cost is just ¥600, and then there are 3-4 (two are linked) big buildings to explore. They give the exhibits plenty of space to breathe, and the place has national finds from as far back as 10-6000bc, to give an idea of how life changed. The warrior era is incongruously represented by the tea sets; those with the best china had the best status, and it was a mark of a levelling playing field when more common folk had tea sets. That said, once you’ve been round one building you end up revising what you’ve seen, so once you have seen the Japanese swords in the main building, for instance, you can appreciate those on the second floor in some sort of context. They’ve done a good job of having similar exhibits around different themes.

National Museum building; beige, low, manicured green grounds
National Museum.

I had run earlier in the day. But not early, just before midday, and it was roasting; officially a high of 30 or so, but I’m sure it was warmer. Frankly, I struggled, and after 7 miles didn’t need to wonder where the hostel was. I’m sure I asked the GPS to take me back to Toco, but it got excited by proximity and took me to the nearer Tocomaiso instead. I knew the distance it was telling me to home was too short, but allowed hope to get the better of me. Still, made it, but then under ate, such that it was a tired and dehydrated trip round the museum, then an indecisive visit to Ueno looking for food. A section of the park is marked on the map by a big lake, and so it is, but one filled, absolutely filled, with plants. People do tend to stop and take in the scenery, perhaps as a corrective to the busy streets.

I had a quiet evening with dinner at bar 369-pick a small diner at random and the food has always been excellent so far-and a beer in the garden. The garden here is beautiful, fish swimming in the pond, and a mini mountain of rocks. Apparently “the old people” carried the rocks from Mt Fuji so they wouldn’t have to trek all the way there. A case of the mountain being moved by Mohammed, trust people to find a third way. I think the meaning is more that our ancestors did the labour than that they roped in the local geriatrics and set them going with the promise of a cup of tea and perhaps a biscuit if they carried an extra rock, but who knows?

I line of 7 fountains by twilight
Ueno park fountains.

Last night the room was busy late. Tonight everyone seemed to have checked out in favour of people who were out till after I’d fallen asleep and gone before I woke up. Cheers, whoever you were.

Reading: Philip K Dick, A Scanner, Darkly.

Okinawa party

Okinawa party
Taito, Japan

Taito, Japan

A return to boiling hot weather and sunshine today. It had been cool in Nikko, which I attributed to the surroundings, but it turned out to be cool in Tokyo yesterday, too. Which was a blessing as I ran with Namban Rengo again in the evening. This time I looked like a local in my new club vest – Japanese size medium, which made it just barely long enough not to be a crop top. Otherwise good. The session was a tough 2×1200, 2×1000, 2×800, with an abs workout afterward that I still feel two days later. As for the session, the coolness suited me, I was less modest about my start time and so managed to keep the piece of elastic between me and a Michigan American and, once it turned out I was passing him on each rep, to a Frenchman beyond. Great session, followed by a disappointing meal – I’m normally paying ¥1000 for a full feed, this was ¥1800 for a small pizza. The view, though, was stunning, and they are limited to restaurants that can easily take 10-30 people with warning rather than a booking.

Bright coloured and high shopping district in Japan
Akihibara.

Today I had to move hostels, so contented myself with walking to Tokyo station to see about booking a cheaper ‘puratto kodama’ ticket from here to Nagoya (Shinkansen, but a stopping service). The travel centre were ready to sell me the standard £70 ticket till I mentioned the magic words above, and I was then sent to the rail company ‘tour’ section. Fab, anyway – I am booked to Nagoya on Sunday, on to Kyoto on Tuesday and saving about £20. From there I headed to the Imperial palace gardens; the main areas were closed, it now being past 4:30, but the rest was stunning. Tokyo Station itself sits in a business area, skyscrapers abounding and none of the gaudy neon lights of Akihibara (electronics shops) and Shibuya (mad crossing they’ve copied at Oxford Circus) where I’d been the day before. It made a nice contrast.

The Imperial Palace, a huge courtyard, outside
Imperial Palace.

The new hostel is in an old (92 years, but that’s old enough to make it wooden with paper thin walls, and a main area that is divided into three rooms, all of which lead into one another) Japanese building, with reception doubling as a bar. Dumb luck meant I was there for the Okinawa party; that island was under US administration for 27 years after the end of WW2, so its cuisine is an interesting mix, and we were served noodles and Japanese taco mix (no taco shells, salsa more citrusy, otherwise similar). Better, I had been for a recovery run just before so was extra hungry and this was a “come back for more” deal, and I did. ¥500 (£3.20) particularly well spent, ignore the extra spent on reasonably priced beer. Guests included an Austrian dj and Taiwanese architecture student, but best were the locals, happy, if not almost honoured, to chat to guests and from two of whom I got some good travel tips. All that to come, with my onward destinations taking some sort of shape, but for now I’m glad to have Nagoya and Kyoto on the horizon.

So much to do in Nikko

Nikko-well worth your time
Nikko, Japan

Nikko, Japan

One of the reasons for booking an out of the way hostel was the idea of spending more time lounging than moving. In fact, I’ll confess; I had no idea Nikko had so much to offer, and had assumed I’d be seeing a lot of the surroundings of Zen Hostel, and with a river, small beach, outside area (to be turned into a bar, given time and money) and indoor common room, that would have been lovely.

Three people by the side of the road, mountain behind
Dan, Julia, Scout, Mt Natami.

But it turned out that my ¥4400 ‘All Nikko pass’ gives you free bus travel for the good reason that buses are very useful in taking you up the mountain to explore, and fantastically expensive (a two day pass will cost you ¥3000, just under £20, and save money on just a couple of trips a day). There is just so much to see, with the world heritage site only a small part of it really, though that is probably the place you’d go if on a day trip. It is obviously a tourist destination in that prices are a bit higher – think ¥950 for a meal that might be ¥800 in Tokyo – but much of it is pretty quiet, once you’re up in the hills.

Tree log, covered in moss
Fell soundlessly.

Today I’d thought I’d go for a long run then lounge, but Scout had no one else booking in, so was going to drop the others and then tour around, and therefore not be able to drop me at the station for the half five, or any other, train. He decided, in fact, to take us up the mountain for some bear spotting away to the west of Ryuzu falls, where I had started the day before, dropping Sandy at the WHS first, then taking a slightly confused but rolling with it Julia, Aussie dan and me up to the falls to start walking.

Girders on the lake shore, mountain behind, wreathed in cloud
Lake Chunzenji.

Little aside for any runners. I am sat, at 10 in the evening, by the river eating, drinking some weird grape ‘sangaria’ and reading. The path behind me is sand over concrete, or something similar. Lots of runners have come past. None at any great speed but all scuffing a little – looking at them, I see they have scuffed because they have *all* been shuffly forefoot strikers. Adharanand Finn is making his next project (after ‘Running With the Kenyans’) Japanese running, I’m curious to see what he finds.

Trees and ground, with a monkey
Monkey.

We started on the same route I’d taken yesterday, the red one on the map below, then headed west, into bear country. Dan got right into it once we were off a road section and Julia had split to walk to the springs for her fill of rotting egg smell, dropping to the ground, soundlessly checking for bear, peering at the marks on the ground and divining that the bear had been heading down the hill. Scout’s map didn’t have one trail on it, and we took it in preference to the road, ending up on a roller coaster ride (slowest ever), up and down and round. I was starting to run out of time, in that the estimated times put on the map suggested I would now make it to the bus stop at four. I suspected I’d beat the suggested time, but not if I hung around and did another section with the trackers, so said goodbye and hustled, my route now taking me along the north edge of chuzenji lake before heading back to Ryuzu falls. I was there just after three, in fact, time to bump into the second large school group of the day, who had a lovely time with the more confident yelling out “hello!” and then laughing when they got a reply. Fabulous. Bus down, dinner in Nikko square and then the train back to Tokyo, arriving at 8. Nikko, and the pass to make best use of my time there, fell into my lap, lovely bit of serendipity. Tokyo was still warm where Nikko was cool – I was out of clothes so in a long sleeves Bam top all day, but only hot when the sun came out and glad of it at 4.00. Tokyo at 8 is still mid 20s.

Reading: Two for the Dough, Janet Evanovich.

Scout and Dan, talking about a mushroom growing wild
Discussing a mushroom

Bear spotting

Bear spotting
Nikko, Japan

Nikko, Japan

We didn’t see any. Confirmed they **** in the woods.

A large dragonfly sits on a white post, shot taken from above
Wildlife

Hiking Oku-Nikko

Hiking Oku-Nikko
Nikko, Japan

Nikko, Japan

Yesterday, the rain. Today, sun. It was perfect. We had all agreed to get going early so Scout could drop us all off in time for Vera to catch a train at 9.27 and Sandy and I a bus up the mountain at 9.35. He thought my plan of heading out for a run at 7 so as to be back for breakfast at 8 a little optimistic, but I set off at a little before 7, aiming for a mile jog, 6 tempo and then a mile at the end.

Ryuzu Falls, a cascading fall down rocky 'steps'
Ryuzu Falls.

The sun toyed with me and then popped out after a couple of miles. On an out and back, heading up to start and down for the second half, that might have made it hot, but in the hills it was a lovely temperature. And after yesterday it was a bonus. My calf was very stiff to start with and I was glad not to be racing, but that’s the idea of a warm up – when I pushed, a mile in, everything worked. I ran round the other side of the shrine that marks the 4.2k spot, just so I’d circumnavigated it, and headed further up into the hills. I realised I’d have to turn after 30minutes if I was going to get an hour in, because of the downhill, and kept adding 100m until I hit 4.5 miles. Great – a 9 miler and, though I didn’t realise it till mile 6 clocked up, 7 miles at tempo effort. I was still thinking in would be 6, forgetting my added half mile before the turn. I ended up running for a bit over a minute more than yesterday for a mile more.

Sun-dappled trees line the river
Route follows the Yu Kawa River.
Japanese signs; be careful of wildlife. "Here is wildlife habitat"
Bears will look at you like this and be this big.

I was back at 7:58, and went straight to the river, in up to my waist, for a cool down and because not getting in at least once would seem a waste. Breakfast was fabulous again, and we just made the train, with just a few minutes before the bus. That took us up the winding mountain road to Ryuzu Falls, from where there were a multitude of potential hiking routes. Sandy fancied soloing her walk so she went in search of batteries to give me a head start. Scout had talked about wildlife encounters – he has seen a poisonous snake, and warned that monkeys near roads tend to be used to stealing food from cars and are a bit more aggressive, but apart from that, if we spotted a bear, make sure we mark where on the map so he can go looking. Most important, that part. The signs were slightly off-putting, pointing out the size of bears. Saves you getting confused by a particularly fluffy bee or something. Slightly more worrying were the instructions; “make noise to avoid surprise encounters”. I soon realised (clever, me) that the Japanese walkers were jangling down the paths, their I’m-coming-bear-and-boar bells banging out a rhythm.

Two signs: Foot bath, and 1,487m above the sea.
Public foot bath, come on in.

The surroundings were glorious. “Do you know about Ramsar convention?” Well, allow me to enlighten you; “an intergovernmental treaty.., we, Japan (so that’s where I am) have 33 wetlands designated for inclusion…it is our ethical responsibility to keep it healthy.” So it’s not shit. I started through woodland, past the waterfalls. The path yesterday was “just water” and Vera reckoned she only saw four people, achieving the goal of solitude away from Tokyo. As the sun spread through the trees, though, today was a bit busier, and my day was brightened by the sing-song “arigato” (thank you) and konichiwas of a group of smiling women who hurried to get through the gap I’d left for them before I found some sign language that worked for “don’t rush”. Day made. The trails were busy, and I got to practice sounding off my own konichi-waaaa. Dominic and I had remarked on that being our one word and how no one seemed to use it, but here I was sated.

A lone deer pauses, startled, by the waterside
Oh deer.

Arriving at Shakunage-bashi bride I decided to take a detour via Odashirogahara and veered away from the river, passing through grassy woodlands. Near to what I assumed would be a settlement, perhaps a spot for an early lunch, I caught a group of four, last man jack calling his wife to move her out of the way. My “it’s okay” got him talking – he joked about there being no mountains in England while here we were looking at Mts Toyama (2204m) and Shirane (2577.6m, it says here). He spent a month in England, including Snowdonia, and his son was at Cambridge. Best, though, he’d asked where I was from, I thought I’d said “London, England” already, so when he said “what is the name of your town” I went for more detail and gave him “Ware”, at which point we pulled off a neat ‘who’s on first’ skit. Next stop Vegas for us two.

Looking out over water to two mountains, one behind the other, under heavy cloud cover
Mount Mitsudake left, Mount Nantai right.

Rounding Odashirogahara plateau I rejoined the river course and found lunch near Yutaki falls. A small cafe, with sign language they pointed out the machine where I paid and chose, though to my disappointment the food didn’t drop out of the bottom, instead I gave the ticket to the staff and they called my number. They also have a shop of delicacies, such as the nicely explained more-cheese-than-cake: “It’s the delicious cheesecake made from the Camembert of rich flavour”. From there it’s a climb up the “steep stairs!” and a circuit of lake Yunoku to Yumoto, where there are hotels, hot springs and a slight air of decay. Oh, and the stink of rotten eggs, you can see clouds of vapour coming off the springs in a few places. Course, I missed the steep stairs the first time and did a little extra loop of Yutaki falls, but that wasn’t a disaster.

My feet in the hot spring
Hot footing it.

I eschewed the springs, but was drawn in by the public foot baths, great after a longish walk, and sat with toasting feet with a podcast in my ears before hopping on bus and train back to the hostel.

Brilliant. Reading, no. Podcasts, though. Running: 1:03:25, 14.49km, 8:56, 7:10, 7:06, 6:52, 6:42, 6:14, 6:29, 6:29, 7:16.

Nikko World Heritage Site

Nikko World Heritage Site
Nikko, Japan

Nikko, Japan

Breakfast included. Hostel owner, and ex stoner (it was just a guess, but confirmed on my ride home this evening), Scout makes bread at night, then today made his version of French toast with small bacon, fruit and some juice. Plus coffee, but I demurred – in restaurants I’ve been drinking tea whenever it’s put in front of me, but coffee is a step too far. After fabulous breakfast Scout gave Vera and I a lift to town. I have no idea where anything is, so when they set off in pursuit of the bus that has just left, I stayed in the car, and in answer to the question “do you want to hop out at shinji bridge?” I said yes, assuming that was a good place to be. Next to the world heritage site, as it turned out, so that at least made some sense. There are several temples here, and the names refuse to stick in my head, so having entry and location explained doesn’t do me much good. I left to find my own way round.

Two storey pagoda, outside covered by a sheet carrying a picture of its normal appearance.
Renovation, that’s what you need.

I bought a ticket for Toshogo shrine, though I’ll confess to not knowing whether that is a major one or not. There are renovations taking place to some of the temples, so they’re not selling joint tickets, though why not just reduce the price I don’t know – you can still go into the renovated areas, just not see everything. Wandering in to a temple with “special opening for public” I sat in the back of a ceremony. Now my total ignorance of what is going on is embarrassing, though the thoughtful/conciliatory side of me thinks that part of the power of any cult or group comes in having arcane rituals, the secrets of which are slowly revealed as you are drawn in, and that’s a transparently exclusive thing to do. Stuff the club that wants to hide its members behind a cloud of “oh no, we do it like this, because that is how it was once decided it should be done”. Nonetheless, in a bid to not be gratuitously offensive (this time – nothing wrong with a bit of offence), the following is brought to you in curious incident of dog in the nighttime style.

Ornate gateway of a temple, gilded  edges everywhere
Temple.

“No photographs please. Okay. I walked in to the darkened temple interior, to find it wasn’t so dark as it had appeared from outside. Spectators were ushered to the right, and took a seat. All was calm, one monk facing a fire and chanting while his helper smiled and looked beatifically upon the crowd. There were about 10 people in the congregation, behind some railings. Now the back to me monk picked up wooden tear shapes and moved his other hand once across, once up and down while raising his voice and getting a bit angry with it. That piece was put down after a final “shto!” noise, while the fire cracked and then he got angry at a new piece. Meanwhile the other monk smiled at the people so they wouldn’t get nervous about him being so angry. Each of them came to the spare monk to receive their own wooden bit with kanji characters. One each, then back to their seat to sort things into their carrier bag. After a while the monk ran out of tear things to be angry with and started commentating on a horse race none of us could see. Once the race was over he waved his arms rhythmically and got a bit cross again, before moving to sit a little further from the fire, but still with his back to us. The other monk disappeared then, with one of the blue men who guarded the door running over to him and talking urgently. Probably claiming his winnings from the race. The main monk did some more commentary, though I’m sure he couldn’t see the screen from where he was, so perhaps he was just redoing some of it for the highlights. Then he turned and stood up. Now the main monk made sure people had their head down as he came to them in turn and waved his hand left-“shto!”-right-“shto!”-and up in a final stroke of “see how easily I could take you if they would only give me a sword”. For some of the people, once he had for angry with them and pretended to cut off their heads, they were moved by the spare monk to seats off to one side, their spirits found wanting. Others would not go to the other seats and stood at the back. When he had done everyone, the main monk calmed right down and talked normally, I think he said something like “and let that be a lesson to you all”. I managed to slip out with just a little bow, no one seemed to be angry with me at all.”

I emerged and went into the temple proper. Several buildings, lots of stone lanterns and greenery all around. Sadly by now that greenery was being nourished by heavy rain, so I sat and read for a while, with plenty of company. Eventually I seemed to wait them out, as the crowd waiting were not replenished even though the rain hadn’t stopped or slowed significantly. No stamina. Or it was lunchtime. I used another portion of the ticket to see the ‘Sleeping cat’ and had the chance there to really feel like a tourist – here there was plenty of the activity known as ‘walking, only slower’. This was not for the view, you understand, but for the climb up some steps. Lots of steps, I’ll grant you, but the people involved weren’t all aged or infirm. at the top I saw what it had to offer but by now it really was raining heavily. Many of us sheltered and I again had full benefit from the kindle. This, then, I read later, is Tokugawa Ieyasu’s Mausoleum, the point of Toshugo shrine.

From there the last major sight was the inner shrine (Yakushido). Shoes off and in you go, fantastically pretty. In the shrine proper was a monk, who I thought was there for crowd control, but actually he was to be my second guide. The second of whom I understood not a word, of course, but there was one very cool demo that was only improved by not knowing what he was up to. I’d heard a loud chinking noise on the way in, now he wandered away from the centre of the shrine and banged two big pieces of wood together (no more 10 inches long, inch and a half wide, I’d say). They made a satisfying clink noise, as I’d heard before. Then he came back to the centre and banged them again. This time the noise reverberated round the whole place. Fabulous. At this point, given the option, I’d have switched on my ability to understand Japanese, mind, to learn what this was for, but as an acoustic demo, brilliant.

Sign on a rock, saying 'World Heritage Site'
World Heritage Site.

There’s only so much religion I can take. I end up with a combination of irritation, annoyance and nausea. 150 years since the Enlightenment… I’ll leave that there, and move on, which is what I was minded to do. I did walk up to a couple more of the temples as the location is stunning. But I then walked back to Nikko itself. The hostel site bills it as the third largest city in Japan, working against the tourist image they portray, that Nikko is a small town. It is sprawling, for sure, with a lot of greenery between settlements (all of which are part of Nikko), and barely a building over 3-4 stories high. I’m not sure what I’d make of it. The train from Tobu-Nikko to Shimo-Imauchi takes 9 minutes, and the latter is the centre of Nikko – this is a huge yet sparse city, all at the same time.

After a wander round the slightly crumbly centre, I hopped on the train, calling Scout for my lift and dived back into peaceful hostel life, with the river roaring past, for the evening. Zen hostel is the name, in the middle of not very much up in the mountains, so the deal is that you travel to a nearby station and call Scout to let him know where you’re arriving while he drops everything to come to you. The place is stunning, perched above a river (hence the roaring) and with a shrine 4.2 km away. I had chapter and verse on the distance having mentioned my intention to go for a run last night. I got out for one eventually, in the last of the daylight, but ran past the shrine in daylight and decided to push on to the 30 minute mark. That allowed me to overcook it on the time front, running back in the gloaming on a barely lit mountain road. It wasn’t actually anywhere near as precarious as that might sound, with cars approaching from both directions only once. I decided to hop off the road. Carefully. I was still glad when it was done, 8 miles in and shower time. The shower ‘rooms’ are enormous – the place is built on hot springs as were, so the entire 10 ft high basement is divided into two with showers either side. The acoustics were treated to whatever songs I could think of, quite the treat for them.

The Great Gatsby “Everyone suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues” “…peering toward the bleared windows from time to time as if a series of invisible but alarming happenings were taking place outside.”

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