Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.
|Friday, August 12, 2016 03:50:54|
Asia 2016: 6 - Takamatsu to Shima-Isobe, Japan
Tuesday, August 9, 2016
The pickup this morning was on time in another identical 10 seat van as we have had in all locations. The driver spoke no English, but soon has us on the expressway moving rapidly north. It was my impression that we would have to take a ferry to leave Shikoku Island, however we came to a long, high bridge spanning a channel with ocean water churning through it at a great rate There was a high observation platform overlooking the narrows and bridge.
From there our route was across another island and over another big bridge to the City of Kobe. Kobe is a place where everything is massive. Buildings, steel mills, oil refineries, a web of overhead highways two or three levels high, amusement parks and pretty much everything else including smog. We had to crawl through heavy traffic to get on the road out of town, so had an opportunity to see some of the city from the ground and from highways above. Our driver pulled in for a lunch break at a truck stop attached to one of the upper level highways - it too was suspended over the city. He held up 3 fingers to announce we had 30 minutes, then left us on our own. Like other Japanese cities, Kobe is full of golf driving ranges with nets soaring up several floors and multi-level buildings where people stand to drive their golf balls - we could see several from our view point.
The cafeteria had a large list of offerings on the wall in Japanese with prices. The idea is you pick what you want to eat, deposit the correct amount of money and it spits out a ticket, then you then go to a counter to put in your order. We had no idea what anything said, but there was a little stand selling tiny dyozos (potstickers), so we had some.
We expected a scenic drive along the south east coast of the peninsula, however there was little to see. The road goes from one tunnel to the next, about 80% of the time the van was in a tunnel, although the last 25 km was along the coast at beach level through picturesque fishing villages. Marilynn tried to get the driver to stop so she could take a photo, but he didn't notice - he finally stopped about a kilometre passed the photo site. It took a total of 5 1/2 hours to get to the Kushimoto Royal Hotel perched on the hill overlooking the town and offshore islands.
Kushimoto is a small town of which greater things were hoped for. There is a nice sandy beach, but a big hotel on the waterfront has been abandoned, and the Royal Hotel where we are was built to be a 5 star, but shows signs of skimping on maintenance and upgrades. The room was large, with a beautiful view, but towels and carpets were worn.
There is a Japanese restaurant that opened at 6 PM, so we were there early having not had much lunch. The menus were not the picture type, but the only photo showed a whole lot of dishes so I had that one, and the waitress understood the work "beef" so that did Marilynn. Mine was mostly raw seafood, including octopus and fish, plus some tempura, It was quite good, and Marilynn's turned out to be beef and vegetables that she cooked herself at the table on an iron skillet.
Kimonos with jackets were supplied in the room - I wore mine around to room but the majority of guest wore theirs to dinner. There were only two other couples beside us who where not identically attired, including children.
Wednesday, August 10, 2016
The driver was early and so were we. Anthony called 5 minutes before departure time and we were already in the van. Anthony talked to the driver to be sure all sightseeing was included. Our van today was 7 seat, and even more comfortable than the larger ones. Before we left Kushimoto we stopped at our favourite convenience store, Lawsons, to pick up breakfast sandwiches, juice & yogurt. Convenience stores are common in Japan. The other big chains are K and 7/11, with the later the best for ATM machines.
We also stopped at a local bank that opened at 9 AM where they quickly changed dollars for me. They are definitely not used to foreigners in the area. There is a beautiful chain of peaked rocks going from land into the ocean, so we stopped so Marilynn could walk around and photograph them. Nearby was Japan's shortest river, a crystal clear spring that produces a considerable volume of fresh, cold water, creating a stream that runs for 13 meters before joining a river.
Unfortunately we had a misunderstanding with the driver, who spoke no English but was adept at using his phone as a translator. He thought we wanted to walk up to Nachi Falls and the Shrine overlooking the falls. We didn't know it was a 2 km steep climb through virgin forest with massive cyprus & cedar trees. When I could walk no further, and sat at a small shrine along the trail to wait for Marilynn. She was back shortly to say our driver and vehicle were another 300 meters up the trail! She told him to go to the bottom and meet us there so we could drive to the shrine and falls! The very high falls were worth seeing and the Shrine complex was Shinto.
On our way to the Kumano shrines we were driving through the Kii Mountain range, a world heritage site. This is another beautiful area with miles of good winding road through forested mountains along clear fast running rivers. Not everyone's idea of what Japan would look like! There was a lunch stop at a restaurant overlooking the river in the Town of Hongu. One could easily get lost in this area - each road has side roads leading off through tunnels to get to the next valley. We turned off into one of the tunnels to followed a river that was soon full of people in deep water. There is a hot spring pouring up under the river here, warming the water. Unfortunately we didn't have time to swim in Kwyou Spa River. Many people had parked their cars and put up tents along the riverbank. I counted 18 world heritage sites in this part of Japan.
After a visit to the Kise Nagi Mi Koto Shrine to the father of Ise our driver proceeded a visit to another shrine near the coast to Ise's mother. Our next overnight will be to explore the Ise Shrine, apparently the most important Shinto shrine in Japan.
I had trouble when booking hotels to find anything with a vacancy near the Ise Shrine, so booked in the small village of Shima-Isobe which has a train station, at the Resort Inn Isobe MIE. Marilynn had made a comment that we had done well on hotels to date and I said if things go wrong it will be when we have a 2 night stay, as we count on that for laundry.
The driver pointed out the hotel as we drove into town, and we were immediately apprehensive, as it looked quite shabby, although the price was not! Expecting a problem, we had the driver stop at a convenience store to pickup breakfast essentials.
After saying goodbye to our excellent driver and guide we took the elevator to the 2nd floor where reception was manned by one elderly fellow. We found the hotel had no internet, no laundry, no restaurant, no bar and that there were no restaurants in town except one that sold only eel. He did say there was a laundry across the road that closed at 7. As it was 6:30 we piled everything into a bag and headed there. The reception fellow was shouting directions from his second floor window as we hurried down the street.
A young fellow was manning the laundry. It seems the price for everything was $3.80, T shirt to pants, so we paid him, got our laundry slip and a pickup time of 5 PM tomorrow. He then directed us to the eel restaurant. About three blocks down the street we looked back at the sound of pounding footsteps, to find our laundry man running up the road with our laundry bag in one hand and money in the other. He managed to get across that the laundry would be closed for a week starting tonight, so gave us the money and laundry back.
He also signalled that the eel restaurant closed in 10 minutes, so beckoned us to follow him, which we did even though I had trouble with his brisk pace. It was a good thing he led us, we'd have never had found it. At the restaurant he pressed a bell, as the door was closed, and began a rapid fire urgent conversation with the lady owner while we stood there bedraggled, sweat soaked clutching a transparent bag of dirty laundry. She eventually smiled and let us in, so we gave since thanks to our laundry man for having saved the day.
We were the only people in the restaurant, but the meal was good and we were not rushed. The quantity of food was far more than we could manage. When we left we found the cook outside with a car to drive us back to the hotel.
Thursday, August 11, 2016
In the morning we did laundry in the bathtub, then walked the short distance to the train station where it took us a long time to get the very thick train clerk to understand we wanted a return ticket to Iseshi where the Ise Shrine is located. Almost no English has been spoken in the areas we have been the last few days, including in the train stations. This is a private train line, and eventually it was made clear they do not accept credit cards, only debit, so we paid cash. When I asked about our ticket to leave tomorrow he was completely at a loss so I gave up. Rail companies in Japan do not sell each other's tickets, even though their lines connect.
Our express train was quick and we missed our stop, something drawn to our attention when a woman got on and said we were sitting in her seat. When the conductor came he signed, sealed and initialled our tickets for the ride back to the station we missed. Going back was on a local train so it was not one stop, but 10.
Back in Iseshi we were delighted to see that there was a JR (Japan Rail) station, as I though we had to go 60 stops with the private line to Nagoya to transfer to JR . If we could find our way back in the morning we could travel JR tickets to tomorrows destination. My plan was to purchase other tickets we needed, but there was only the one ticket window, little English was spoken so everything took a long time, and a line had formed behind me so we decided to do it later.
It was a four block walk down a street we were delighted to see was lined with restaurants to get to the smaller of the Grand Shrines, called Geku. These are also Shinto shrines. Rituals and ceremonies held here are for the benefit of the imperial family, the nation and world peace performed by the priesthood of Jingu. The annual rituals are based on the cycle of rice cultivation. Shino Shrines do not have all the glitzy splendour one might expect from large Hindu, Buddhist, Christian or Muslim places of worship. The architecture is unique, but the facade is very plain and blended into forest. Worshippers do not go inside a temple, but worship to a drawn curtain across the front of the structure. Before worshipping hands are cleansed in a trough, usually with clear spring water, using a dipper to pour water first in one hand then in the other. A little water is sipped from one palm, not from the dipper.
After walking around we caught a bus across the street from the entrance to the larger Naiku part of the Grand Shrine. As usual in Japan, the bus is entered from the rear door, and the fare is paid on leaving by the front door. In this case it was $4.30 each. There were masses of people in this part of the Shrine, some sitting along a bordering river cooling their feet. There are miles of wide gravel paths between the various shrines within the complex, and not a single bench or seat for the weary, however there are many enormous trees that would take four or five people holding hands to circle. By the time we had explored the main aria of the complex my legs were shot, so we took a taxi back to the street leading to the station - that was a mistake, as the cost was $17. As we have found with almost every taxi we have ridden in, the driver was tuned to a station reporting high school baseball.
After strolling back to the train station we found the ticket lines prohibitive so we retreated across the street to a suchi restaurant where the friendly owner was happy to keep us in wine and beer. Yes, I decided I was going to chance my first beer in days, and did it taste good! After a few drinks we had a very good meal before returning to the train station where after a lot of hand signals I was able to purchase tickets for Aug 15 and 16. Some involved standing room only train cars, which I'm not keen on and will try to have changed at another station.
Anthony had warned me that it would be holiday time, but what I didn't understand is that this is Japan's equivalent to Golden Week in China, where most of the country shuts down and goes on holidays for a week. That explained a lot, including why I found so may hotels already full when I tried to booked them. Now I find most trains are sold out, and we have to take what we can get. I'd recommend travel planning around both these week long holidays, not during.
It was the 16 stop local train to get back to our station where I bought tickets to get us to Iseshi in the morning, after which we visited our local Lawson's to stock up for breakfast. Eating or drinking will be chancy tomorrow. Bed felt very good!