31. December

I don’t have a detailed plan for today. There is no plan at all. First stop is Yushima Tenmangu. Then I walk to the Sumidagawa and to the shrine. I was carrying the Miskoshi two years ago. I make an observation: Tokyo is more dirty than I remember. And the number of hoboes seems to increase.

Next stop is the Sky Tree. This thing is tall, really tall. The foundation of the tower is a big shopping mall. I need some time before I understand how it is working. You have to queue to get a place on the waiting list. You get a “waiting ticket” for 4:30pm. And it is just 11am. With the ticket you have to queue again at the printed time to buy the real ticket. Judging from the queue I will stay here at least 30 minutes for the waiting ticket. This is to stupid. I will kill the whole day by waiting. I will postpone the ticket.

Tokyo Sky Tree

The walk to the metropolitain garden I wanted to visit is wasted time. The garden is closed during the days around New Year. Therefore I walk to the Sumida bridge to Tokyo Eki. Now I am standing at the knot of the express ways that built be backbone of the traffic in Tokyo. It is just a east of Nihonbashi. The express way is stacked in several levels. Here I get a feeling how compact Tokyo is.

Now on my fifth journey I visit the old Tokyo station building. It looks like a combination of German and English architecture. And the tourist office I ask for things I can do within the next day. Which temple I should visit tonight. Looks like I know more about Tokyo the the ladies behind the desk. Will say: My question are too special. I am beyond the average tourist. But I learn two things: On January 2nd is a dragon dance and a tea ceremony here in Marunouchi. This I can combine with the visit of the emperor palace.

The day is half gone and was not really successful up to now. Place 2 on the worst-day-list behind Inuyama. I get the train to Shinagawa to visit the grave of the 47 ronin. The temple is nothing special. A unspectacular standard one. But the graveyard is well frequented. Hundreds of incense sticks are burning everywhere around the tombstones. The 47 ronin are more important figures in the Japanese culture than I thought.

At the late afternoon I take a stroll thru Akihabara. I want to buy special souvenirs and visit some Maiden Cafes. Pictures are not allowed. And I also will not report about this places here. Just: You are called “o-sama” or “Master”. This is a very strange place, even for Japan. It is part of the Otaku subculture. Totemo hen.

At 6pm I am back at hte hotel. The lady at the reception desk promised me to ask the hotel owner for a good temple. Senno-ji and Zojo-ji will be a very impressive place tonight. But the chance to ring the bell will be zero. And many gaijins are there too. His suggestion is the Kane-ji at the northern end of Ueno-park. I never heard about this temple; the Lonely Planet neither. My chances to ring the bell seems to be good.

Impressions of Tokyo

I kill some timein the shopping streets of Ueno. Here it is like on a farmer’s market. I have dinner in a small place I found by accident. Kariage. Then I stop in the english pub next to the Ueno park. I meet an british guy. We talk until 10pm. Then I start to the temple.

This place looks empty. Am I at the right place? The bell is prepared. And a tent is there too. I observe a lady buying a ticket with a number. This looks promising. I try the same. Wow. The monks writes my name into the temple book. I get the number 10. Now it is official. I will ring the temple bell !

A few minutes after 11pm all guest are pleased to enter the temple. We are sitting here with 10 people but they are getting more. At 11:30pm the monks arrive and start the chanting followed by prayers. I hear drums. I suck in this moment with all my senses. It is one of the moments where you left behind the tourist and dive deep into the Japanse culture. It is as special at the Mikoshi-carrying in 2010 or the moon viewing in 2004.

Then the moment gas arrived. We walk to the bell. At midnight the head priest is doing the first strike. The other monks follow. Then we civilians are allowed to ring the bell. Number 10. My turn. I walk up the stairs, grab the rope, haul off and strike the wooden log against the iron bell. I stop the log so that no second strike will happen. That’s it. That’s all. While the other 88 complete the 108 chimes (108 in total – 10 monks – 9 before me – myself), I drink some sake and talk with other guest. Two observations: I am the only gaijin. And the older the person the louder and powerful the strike of the bell. It really is loud. It gives you a jerk.

New Year at the Kane-ji

After the 108 official chimes we add some more inofficial. Everyone who was helping the temple staff is ringing now. And I ring the bell again. Twice. This time with more power. After a few more cups of sake I walk back to the hotel. It is 2am. All the time it was a Tokyo night like any other night. No fireworks, no party on the streets. So completely different from Germany.

Only at Yushima Tenmangu this night differs from a usual night. It is crowded. The police has blocked the road for cars. There is a at least 200m long queue in front of the shrine. A strange way to celebrate New Year: Queueing to throw 100 yen into a wooden box.

For me it was a very special start into the new year. I always celebrated this way a little bit different. This time I outclassed myself: I am 1 of the 108 people who rang the bell at Kane-ji to start the year 2013 (Heisei 25).

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Shibu Onsen

Today I will leave the old Japan (Ainokura and Kisodani) and enter the modern Japan (Tokyo). The only question is where I stop today. Inuyama part 2? Hmm. I don’t want to go back. Matsumoto is not really on my way to Tokyo and the castle is closed today. Nagano? Maybe there is snow. It would be simple to travel from there to Tokyo. Nagano is connected by Shinkansen. Lucky that I decided for the complete JRP. This would me give the change to bring the thank-you-letter to Kiso-Fukushima. I have to change there anyway.

Breakfast is at 8am. Then a short taxi ride to the train station of Nagiso. It is raining and all the snow is gone. Lucks like I was lucky again. It is difficult to deliver the letter. The language barrier is working again. All the words I need are not really part of a basic Japanese class. Who is learning “The station officer who was on duty yesterday”.

Here in Kiso-Fukushima the decision is made. The Ltd. Express to Nagano needs 90 minutes and departures soon. So Nagano it is. Then I have a crazy idea. Shibu Onsen. It was my plan to return in 2014 (my 2004 reloaded plan), but it also was an idea to visit Shibu via Kusatsu. This idea I had to gave up because the pass is closed.

Nagano Gallery

In Nagano I check the time. 90 minutes until the last reasonable train to Shibu. This should be enough for a brief visit at the Zenko-ji, the big temple von Nagano. I store my luagage at the train station.

Hm. Thereis no snow in Nagano. There was less and les during the train ride. Strange. The olympic winter games took place here in 1998. The temple is not as impressive as in 2004. May be temple overdose. Or a Japan overdose? There is a pathway underneath the temple. Completely dark. But tiem is too short. I will write this on my 2004 plan.

I hurry back to the train station. Departure at 3pm. The train is called Snow Monkey. It is funny how they pronounce the name: “Snoo Moonkii”. The way is totally different from what I remember. Wasn’t there a change in direction? In Yudanaka a known picture. Total Recall. Maybe I can visit the Monkeys. The taxi arrives the entrance at 4:25pm. That was close. But too late. I forgot that there is an additional 1.5 miles walk thru the forrest. This is not possible in 5 minuntes.

Even here in the mountains is not much snow. Some ice on the street is the evidence that it was snowing a few days ago. Now it is rainung. This is Inuyama all over again. I walk back to the city. I need some onsen. I check the next souvenir shop for the stamp towel. While I pay for the towel I learn that the key to the onsen is only for hotel guests of Shibu and Yudanaka with a vaild ticket. Damned. I totally forgot about that.

But the shop keeper is nice. I can enter bath #9 on the other side of the street. Ohh boy. This was worth the trip. After the cold rain the onsen is like heaven. It is so relaxing. Exactly like I remember. The wood in the onsen is old and partly black. The moisture is take its toll. The water is brown and opaque. I can smell sulfur. This is nothing you would show or describe in a travelguide. But it is so relaxing.

Shibu Onsen Gallery

It is my plan to take picture of all 9 onsen. It is raining cats and dogs. I mount the umbrella on my backpack to have two free hands for my camera. Then I try something: I have a towel around my neck and the stamp towel at my backpack. Beside the missing Yukata I look like a hotel guest. I just wait for a guest with a key and enter the onsen. This is totally against the rules and a little bit dangerous. But I want to have this towel. I could just put the stamps on it but this towel has to be real. I want to have some good memory of this day.

I can enter all nine onsen. In the meantime it got dark. And I still have to go back to Nagano and further to Tokyo. I walk back to Yudanaka. The way is longer than I remember. A quick picture of Uotoshi Ryokan for my collection. Looks like the Dining With does not exist anymore.

I need 90 minutes for the short distance to Nagano and another 120 minutes for the long way to Tokyo. The speed difference between a local train and the shinkansen cannot be more obvious. I arrive Ueno late in the evening. The wheels of my trolley are finished. After the check-in I take a short stroll to the Amusement district. Back in modern Tokyo. It is much warmer than in Nagano. And it isn’t raining.

[Update: In the following clip you will not see much of Shibu Onsen but listen: This is the sound of an japaense onsen in summer time.]

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Kisodani

After this exciting events from yesterday evening I need some rest. After a long japanese breakfast I start for a walk. At the door a Shiba Inu is waiting that doesn’t belong to the ryokan. He always tries to stay behind me. I turn quickly around. He doesn’t like it and instantly try to get out of sight again. He is following me a a few yards while I walk downhill to Tsumago.

After less than a mile I arrive the first houses of Tsumago. The road is covered with ice and not easy to walk. There os some snow, but not as much as in Kisofukushima. I arrive the old post town area at  9am. I am more or less alone. The shops open in one hour. I enjoy the quiet tourist-free atmosphere.

Tsumago

The old Tsumago is a long street with old houses. A remote place. There is no special house that sticks out. It is the complete ensemble. The perfect place for a samurai movie. This place covered with fog must be awesome.

The street splits into two ways. I decide for the stairs down. That was dangerous. The stairs are tilted and covered with ice. Something I didn’t expected. After a few meter the way goes up and meets with the second path. It is not easy to walk. Again there is ice. Now I am followed by a cat. Today I am haunted by japanese wildlife .. and there are bears in the mountains. I hope they hibernate.

I walk down the street passing the old rest places for travelers. At the end is a small water mill and a big ancient newsboard. I spot a small temple. Maybe I can take some pictures during the magic hour.

Now I want to start to walk the Nakasendo to Magome. On the way I will pass the ryokan. Until there the way is boring. It is part of the national road. I pass the houses behind the ryokan. I meet the Shiba Inu again. Now the Nakasendo is leaving the national road and enters the forest. Here there is less snow but it is easier to walk.

Nakasendo

This will be a peaceful walk. It goes uphill. The path is crossing the road several times. But I never recognized how close both ways are all the time. This Nakasendo is somehow a place half way to nowhere that exist outside of time. The weather is cold and sunny. This I call holiday. Now the way is splitting. Nakasendo to the left and a path to two water falls to the right. They are not far away. A minor diversion seems possible without any time problems.

The only thing that worries me is this tiny bell next to the signs. “Ring the bell hard against bears” and a phone number below. The bell I know from Hokkaido where you should wear a tiny bell on your backpack. I wonder if this stationary bell is also successful. And why the phone number? If I face a bear I will definately do not call for help and wait for help. Or shall I give the phone to the bear, say “it’s for you” and run?

The water fall is 5 minutes away. There are not very high but here in the middle of the forest they are well placed. The edges of the waterfall are frozen. That reminds me on the blog I found about people climbing up frozen water falls.

Next stop is a 250 years old cherry tree. The forest ended a dozen yards before. It goes steep uphill. Passing bamboo. This is the Magome pass. It is the border between Gifu and Nagano prefecture. This confused me while I was looking for a Ryokan. Magome and Tsumago have different predial numbers and post codes.

From this point on it should go downhill until Magome. But this part of the Nakasendo is boring because it follows the mainroad. At 2pm I arrive at the upper end of Magome. Here again is a big news board and the bus stop. The next leaves in one hour. That should be enough. Magome is not that big. But beautiful. In my opinion even better than Tsumago.

Magome

A 300m long paved way. Old houses on both sides like in Tsumago. Souvenire shops and ryokans everywhere. This city (like the complete Kisodani) is famous for Honoki wood. During the time of the samurai it was forbidden to the normal people to use this kind of wood. This law was intact until a few decades ago. That is the reason why the cities along the Kisodani are so old, weathered and run down. Many cities were given up and got lost. Tsumago and Magome survived and now are a living evidence of the past. Back to the souvenir shop. I buy some honoki sake cups.

A walk the street down to the water mill. Inside is a small generator and a display that shows, how much power the generator is producing. A nice approach towards green energy; speically after Fukushima. The street takes a left turn and a right turn before it ends. This side of Magome is not as beautiful as the upper part. Therefore I go back. I have a small chat with owner of the souvenir shop from before. Then I rush to the bus stop.

Looks like I have luck twice. While I was waiting for my ride back to Tsumago a bus is stopping and dozens of Japanese tourist are entering Magome. And the weather is changing. It is getting windy and cold. Looks like perfect timing and that I have used the best time of the day for the walk. I stroll thru Tsumago until it is getting dark. But I cannot find a good scenery. And after 5pm cars are allowed in the street and ruin the mood.

Tomorrow I travel back to Toyko. Therefore I embrace this remote place as good as I can. First I take a relaxing bath on the onsen of the ryokan. At 6pm I walk to the dinner room. Wow. A feast. Grilled fish, sashimi, vegetables, soup, tempura. I am full. Some nihonshu and another stop in the onsen before I go to bed … I mean futon.

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Inuyama 1/2

Breakfast at 8am inclding many things I usually don’t want to see on a breakfast plate: fish, different kind of pickles and other strange stuff. A highlight was rice and miso. But in Japan this is ok with me. All I really want to change is: coffee instead of green tea.

The owner of the roykan is giving me lift to the bus stop. The way back to Ogimachi bus stop is well known. The bridge is much more iced than yesterday. Mean. My tracks from yesterday are still visible. The bus to Takayama is leaving in a few minutes. Timing. The Japanese guy from the Ryokan bid me farewell with the word “Bis dann“. I am confused, for a moment. Right, his former girlfriend was from Germany.

Inuyama-jo

240yen and several tunnel later I arrive Takayama. Now the train hopping starts. Takayama>Mina-Ota. The connecting train is waiting at the same platform. Why this never happens at the Deutsche Bahn? Mina-Ota>Unuma. Now I change the train and the train company. The train station are next to each other and connected by a pedestrian bridge. Unuma>Inuyama.

I ask at the tourist information for a coin locker. The officer takes a brief look at my Tatonka bag. (too big) and escorts me to the Station Office. I can store my bags there. A short view on the station clock. I am behind my schedule. I am rushing to the castle, thru Castle Road and thru the rain. Many old houses, a pedestrian area. But all the shops are closed. Looks like the wrong day for Inuyama.

The castle is worth a visit. One of the oldest wooden castles. The architecture is amazing. And: it is earthquake-prove (more or less). From upstairs I have a good view on Inuyama. Next to the castle is a small shrine, also worth a visit. The park of Inuyama is closed. It is past 4pm. On the way back to the train station I got lost. Damned.

Unfortunately there is now japanese food available at the train station. All I can pick up are burger at “Lotteria”. This is not my day. Now the second part of my train hopping starts. Inuyama>Mina-Ota.

The train to Tajima is delayed. A Delay! In Japan! The display says, it will take 45 minutes. Just after I talked to positive about the on-time-capability of Japan rail. In Tajima I am confused. The train should end here but no one is leaving the train. My mistake? No. I was right.

Schrein am Inuyama-jo

Looks like all train types (from Local up to Ltd.Express) stop in Nagiso. Therefore I jump on the next train that arrives. In the train I am greeted with “Welcome to Super Limited Express …”. Super? Why Super? Looks like I got the only train that doesn’t stop in Nagiso. The next stop is not on my travelmap. 40 minutes later and 18 miles too far I arrive in Kisofukushima. Snow. A lot of snow. Looks really nice. But it is the wrong place. The last and only train back leaves at 10.37pm. Not good! The curfew at the ryokan is at 10pm and it is a long way uphill too. This is a big problem. Taihen.

I explain my situation to the station manager. It takes some time because of the language barrier. The he informes the ryokan manager by phone about my problem. He will wait for me … if the train is going. Wait a second. If? I learn that the snow is causing problems already. All the snow outside was falling within the last hours. There is a chance that we get snowed in within the next two hours. A nightmare. Why did I got into this damned train. Now I need some sake. I can leave my luaggage at the station office.

It really is snowing. Wonderful. If this place would be Nagiso. I find an open Izakaya. The lady behind the desk is strict. I am not allowed to enter the room before I remove all the snow from my jacket. 2 hours, a few sake and many yakitori later I walk back to the train station. In this time the fire department was driving by and was warning the citizens by speakers about the snow. This heavy snow fall seems to be very unusual. I start to understand the “if” of the station officer, and the delays of the trains in Tajima.

Kisofukushima im Schnee

On the way back to the train station I take some pictures. All this snow. At the platform I take some pictures too, using the snow as a tripod. But I cause some trouble: There is a gaijin down on his knees, in the snow. Looks like the station manager didn’t saw my camera on his monitor. I can solve this situation within a few seconds.

I get on the last train to Nagiso. Arriving there a taxi is waiting for me. “You are Mr. Boller? Hanaya Ryokan?” This is something I like about Japan. The taxi was organised by the ryokan manager. Check-in at midnight. I excuse my behaviour and for causing all the trouble.  (I also write a short letter to station manager to thank him for his help.)

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Shirakawago und Ainokura

A taxi is driving to the train station. I hope my reservation is working. Where is the bus? The driver tells me that I had to pruchase a ticket. Looks like I have a problem. But at least my seat is reserved. After a short discussion between the driver and the platform conductor I can pay cash. This was close. With every mile the bus is driving there is more snow in the mountain. Maybe I can see some snow in Shirakawa. Until now I always was one month to early.

Ogimachi is a white dream. The temperature is around the freezing point. But the snow is melting in the sunlight. But there is plenty of it left. This will last until tonight. I cross the river by using a extremly thin concrete bridge that is swinging with every footstep. On he other side the old houses are covered with snow. It looks like they sunk into the snow. I walk thru the old houses. (This is how Gothmund may look like after heavy snowfall.) I find the hiking trail that leads uphill to the view point. It is closed but I try it anyway. The way is covered with ice and snow but I manage to get to the top. From here I have a perfect view down to the postcard like scenery. The perfect view is only destroyed by the street that cuts the town into two peaces.

Ogimachi Gallery 1

Back in the valley I have some time left to walk thru the snowy streets. But with a look to my watch every few minutes there is no real holiday feeling. Too soon the hour is gone and I pace back to the bus station to pick up my luaggage. And than again over this strange bringe to the other side, because the bus is leaving there and not at the arriving bus station. Lucky for me that I can read Kanji and lucky for me that I spotted the bus stop earlier. It is not easy to pass the bridge with a heavy trolly. At the end of the bridge is a small step segment. I need three attemps.

At the bus stop I still have two minutes. Time for a coffee can and some postcards. The bus is on time. Like always in Japan. There is only one other passenger. After a few minutes I am in a conversation with the bus driver. I am “Doitsujin”. We stop several times on the way to Ainokura without a bus stop. The driver shows me old temple and houses. He opens the door so that I can take pictures. Cool.

In Ainokura I am lost. After the bus is gone there is just me, the bus stop and the street. But no village. I spot a sign that says 300m. OK. Not easy with a trolley and the half molten snow. At the beginning of the village is a big parking lot. The guard gives me a small map; nice. The Choyomon is one of the first few houses. Lucky. Because the snow is 1m high.

Ogimachi Gallery 2

I open the door and go inside. “Sumimansen”. An older women appears. The owner. We enter the central living room, without shoes. My room is just next to it behind a sliding door. The temperature inside is 45°F or less. I can see my breath. Then we go back to the central room an sit down next to the open fire. Fresh green tea is prepared. Cozy and cold at the same time. A small heater is spending a little warmth. A small sign says: “Do not use petrol. Only use kerosine.” This I call a bold statement.

At 2:45pm I feel the urge to go outside again. Taking picture. Ainokura is very small and in the middle of nowhere. I should cover everything including plenty of time to enjoy the scenery. All hiking trails leaving the village are blocked by snow. I visit the small museum that is located in one of the old houses. Not much to see but I can climb upstairs to the second floor. The roof construction is amazing. There are no nails. The beams are put togehter by ropes. Reed is applied in two layers.

I try to get uphill to the siteseeing spot. A lot of snow but I can manage, somehow. The view is nice. All I have to do is to wait for the magic hour. The way is leading further uphill and returns down on the other side of the village. My attempt is stopped after a few meter. Up to my knees I sink into the snow. Not easy to get out.

Back to the village. Btw. The weather is perfect. The sun is shining, no clouds. I roam thru the houses and stop at a small shop. Here I warm up with some hot nihonshu. I also buy some souvenirs. At 4:30pm, dawn is beginning, I go back to the sightseeing spot. The moon is just appearing above the mountains. It is not possible for me to catch the mood. Not without a tripod and HDR.

I built myselft a small camera platform with snow. I believe that one or two pictures are very nice. Downhill I stumble into a problem: It is dark and all the snow is white. No contours. Where is the pathway. I walk slow and carefully. If the snow is going up to my knees I am offroad.

Ainokura Gallery

I am back in time at the Choyamon for dinner. Fish is already broiling over the open fire. A second guest appears. The mother of the owner also arrives; this is a real obasan. Lucky for me the the other guest can translate, without him I would be lost after 4 words.

The TV is showing „Sasuke’s Rising“. The reminds me of Takeshi’s Castle, but the obstacles are really difficult. You need a lot of strength and endurance. After the show it is time for a hot bath. In the meantime the kerosine burner is heating up my room.

Before I call it a day, I go outside for another stroll thru the city. We are close to full moon. The snow is reflecting enough light to orientate. It is dead quiet. No birds, no wind in the trees, and no cars! Nothing. A few meters laters I hear water. The runlet is small and a couple of meter away, but I hear it. Amazing and relaxing.

The night is interrupted very three hours. The heating has a safety shutdown and needs to be restarted. Without it gets pretty cold within minutes. It is like a wakeup call. I just press start and crawl back into the futon for another three hours.

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Kanazawa

It was snowing over night. Not much, but now there is some kind of winter feeling. First stop today is Kanazawa castle. It is not complete and a reproduction too. It is worth a visit. I enter the inner place thru the big and heavy gate. The castle wall is white with black wooden beams and roof tiles. With the snow, everything is black and white, but the sky, that is grey.

Kanazawa Castle

On the outher side of the castle lies the famous japanese garden Kenrokuen. It is one of the famous three. In summer it must be awesome. Even now in winter time the view is stunning. The central garden and the grass field. Like always they represent different landscapes. Even mountain regions with a river. It looks funny. All the branches of the trees are tied to ropes that are connected to a central pole. From distance they look like cones. I don’t know, why the do it. Maybe to influence the growth direction or to pretect the leave against the weigth of the snow.

I stop at the tea house. I order some green tea and rice cake (the fluffy stuff not the cracker) and enjoy the view from the padio into the garden. I could sit here for hours. Every position offers a unique perspective. It is cold and snowing again. This is how a winter holiday should be. Relaxing.

On the way to NishiCchaya I stop at the Noh theatre museum. I admire the mask and kimono. They even have a noh kimono to put on. This is something I love Japan for: They have many things to participate. Lucky that I am used to this type of cloths. Thanks to Kendo and Iaido. I don’t know how they can perform a full play with this stuff. The kimono really is heavy and it is hard to breath with the mask on. No I really have respect for the actors.

Garden

Nishi-Chaya is only a short street with a few old houses. They are in good condition. But I expected more. There is no resto, no souvenir shop. The search for Ninjadera is hard to find, but this is not the reason for its name. In this area are many tiny temples. I walk around a little bit. This area is a typical residential area. I walk around a little bit. Next stop is Nagamachi and old samurai houses area. Here you can shoot a samurai movie. The high garden walls are covered with bamboo mats.

I totally forgot about the Oyama shrine until I stood right in front of it. The gates is unique. It was designed in 1599 by a dutch architect. It is a mixture of japanese, chinese and european elements. OK, you don’t have to like it.

Now a brief stop at the famous fish market. Lobster for $160, 40″ long octopus tentacles of deep red color and so many more strange stuff. Surprising what is considered as eatable (and some of this stuff really is tasty). The smell is very faint and fresh. This is how fish should smell. Almost not at all. Here I am the same opinion like Automatix (Asterix). But, for lunch I go for caree in a resto next to the market.

Nishi-Chaya and Higashi-Chaya

Higashi-Chaya is definately worth the walk. It is like a small version of Gion. There are two streets with old tea houses. In ancient time Geishas were bookable all over this places. Two streets are not much, but it is a lot bigger than Nishi. It feels like entering an old part of Japan when I entered a tea house. Pictures are not allowed, but the couldn’t catch the feeling anyway. A guest room always is a set of two rooms: one for the guests and one for the geisha and the equipment.

On the way to the train station (have to take another picture of the wooden skulpture/gate) I discover a small shopping street and a temple with a nice mon. In one of the shops I buy a curtain for my kamidana. But I am not able to find a tanzen (kind of haori for the winter) in my size. Neither at the train station. There is also no evidence of an Oosaka style haramaki, that I am looking for too.

Suddenly snow is falling. No. Arare. Like yesterday the streets are white within a second. This would be a perfect set up for pictures in Higashi-chaya or Nagamachi. But I am too far away. A minute later the sprinkler on the streets wash away the scenery. On the pedestrian the arare is 3cm high. I enjoy this fading view and moment.

Kanazawa

Back at the fish market I find a tiny izakaya in the basement. I order kariage, tine wooden sticks with breaded fish, meat, vegetable and other “stuff”. Here this days ends in a comfortable atmosphere. In the Ryokan a short visit to the onsen and then I fall into the futon.

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Hikone and Eihei-ji

Today is the first real tavel day; with two brief stops. And after the Asuka-Yoshino-Day I am not that sure that it was a good idea. An early check shall me buy some time.

Hikone castle was easy to find. After a short walk I am in front of the castle wall. The way leads upstairs, underneath a bridge an the over the bridge into the castle. Inside is empty. The main tower is still there. All the other buildings are gone. Only some stones and the footprints are remaining. The tower is one of the oldest orignal castle towers in Japan. Its structure is completely built from wood. Impressive. But cold. I have to take of my shoes. From the tower I can see Hikone and Lake Biwa.

Hikone

While I am leaving the tower there is a performance of the castle/town mascot. A white hamster(?) with a samurai helmet. This is too japanese for me. The japanese garden seems to be beautiful in summer time. But now in the winter there are no flowers and half of the garden is a construction side. But I could manage to take some pictures without a digger.

Castle Road is filled with old houses; black wooden beams and white walls. A nice view. Here I stop for breakfast and lunch: coffee and cake. But the prices are … pricy. A whole cake in the size of an small pizza costs 3600yen. If I resize the cake to a german standard size I end up with approx 7000yen ($100). I am in the wrong business. By the way. This place is sooo cheesy: Baroque silverware, chair cushions and art noveau furniture (like in anime). I may be the first male customer.

On my way to Tsuruga I have to change in Nagahama. This was not planned. But the tracks are blocked because of an accident. I am already one hour behind the schedule. Where was the accident? Behind me? In front of me? A train arrives from Hikone. This tracks are free. I am getting nervous. Then the Ltd. Express to Fukui arrives. That is all I need.

In Fukui it is snowing. The next bus to Eihei-ji departures at 3:20pm. And the last one back leaves at 4:20pm at the temple. This means to wait more than one hour to only have 40 minutes to visit on of the biggest and oldest temple in Japan. Shall I take a taxi and kill my finances? $50 at least. I discuss my option with the bus station clerk  and decide for the bus. I can store my complete luaggage at the office.

Eihei-ji

I use the waiting time for lunch. Karee. After that I am escorted to the bus and introduced to the bus driver. I am the only guest. VIP. The streets are funny. There is a sprinkler system on the centerline to melt and flush the snow from the street. Interesting system. But what do they do if temperatures are below 14°F?

We arrive at the temple in a magic atmosphere: Snow, some fog. A little bit like Koyasan. Inside there are monks everywhere. I pace thru the halls and hallways. The temple is really beautiful and 40 minutes are far to short for a visit. Because of the weather many hallways are covered with pastic planes. It hard to get  clear view into the garden. Monks are praying in big hall. Some of them walking around and carrying things. They walk like robots on rails: high speed straight, then stop and a 90 degree turn. Acceleration. The things they are carry are held above head. Looks funny.

After a last short visit to a chamber with hundred of golden plates a run back to the bus. The bus stops is down the street. It is slippery. I have to buy the ticket in a small shop at the opposite side of the street. The bus drivers is so kind and waits for me. VIP. Again.

On the way back we pass a construction side. Concrete piles. They built a shinkansen track. Soon Kanazawa and Fukui are connected to Tokyo. This will change the location on the map. In the past monks travelled for weeks to get here. I have to spend a day in trains and changing several times. In a few years tourist can visit this place on a daytrip. I am not sure if this is good. Eihei-ji will lose some of its mystic aura.

Another stop for dinner before I enter the next train to Kanazawa. I decide for a cafe where the coffee is boiled in a all glas coffee maker. They have 20 different blends. I decide for the European Blend and watch the waiter preparing it: Hot water in the lower bowl, coffee grain into the upper. Heating the water and it goes up. Looks like I need a more powerful bunsen burner at home.

Kanazawa: On the way to the Ryokan it starts to … it is not rain, neither snow. The Japanse call it Arare. I think we would call it graupel. I am surprised by its sudden intensity combined with heavy wind. Within seconds and without any warning the streets are completely white. No time to take cover. After a few minutes the show is over. I was hoping for snow but it was planned differently.

Kanazawa at Arrival

Where is the Ryokan? That shall be the right street. Even the guy I ask doesn’t know anything. Nice. But a colleage is helping. The Ryokan is somewhere close. Idead. A closer look shows it 30m away on the left. What a benefit if you can read Kanji.

After check-in I visit a izakaya around the corner, the was recommended by the staff. The place is part of the fish market. Here even for Japan the fish is really fresh. I order the sashimi plate: squid, shrimps, tuna, salmon, octopus, sea urchin. All fresh, all raw, all yummy. It is a fine, distinguished taste. Hot Nihonshu (sake) makes the evening perfect. I heard that sushi and sake doesn’t match. But the waiter says, that it is ok for sashima, because there is no soured rice. Back in the ryokan some onsen. Why? Because I can.

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