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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.

Journal Entry:

Sunday, August 14, 2016 02:26:32

Asia 2016: 7 - Shima-Isobe to Nagoya, Japan

Friday, August 12, 2016

Our first train of the day was the 16 stop one to get back to Iseshi. As we were not able to get reserved seat tickets for the trip to Nagoya, we got to the platform early. It is first come first serve until the seats are gone, everyone else stands. As this was the initial station a seat was no problem. On this train no signs or announcements were in English.

At Nagoya we also had non-reserved tickets, but the platform was clearly marked as to where the two cars accepting non-reserved passengers would stop, and lines had formed for both. In many countries I can imagine the mad scramble to cram through the door to get a seat, but the Japanese queue well. When the train arrived everyone boarded in an orderly manner and we were in time for comfortable seats for the 3 hour express train ride to Kanazawa on the west coast. There was one stop along the way where everyone stood up. A Japanese fellow seated across from us explained through hand signals that the train would now be going the other way, and showed us how to turn our seat to face the opposite direction.

Kanazawa has a big, modern terminal, so we went to the Japan Rail ticket office to see about our tickets back to Narita which has 3 of 4 connections slated for standing room only. There were 8 or 9 agents on duty, so the line moved quickly. We were able to explain our problem to an agent who spoke a little English, and he banged away on the computer for awhile, and then smiling, announced that he had arranged reserved seats on all 4 trains that we would need to take. Reserved seats are more expensive, so I asked the cost. He said "No charge, the tickets were a mistake of Japan Rail and it is fixed."

We taxied to the Oka Hotel, a disappointment to the driver as it was only two blocks away. We could easily have walked, but didn't know where it was. We are in an area of restaurants, some with English menus. After finding no bars or restaurants open (it was 4:30 and nothing opened until 5 or 6) we walked to a convenience store a couple of blocks from the hotel, and on the way back stopped at what looked like a small bar in an alley. The owner spoke reasonable English, and told us we couldn't have dinner as it was only by reservation and they were full, but we were welcome to sit at the bar and have a drink. The other side of the bar was the food preparation area, so we chatted to him, sampled some dishes, and Marilynn took photos of come of his gourmet creations, all of which were destined for diners in the eating area upstairs.

The next stop was a promising looking restaurant where we had a couple of bottles of sake and some appetizers. They were good, but the service was so bad we left and went back to the hotel.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The morning pickup was in another well equipped 7 seat van by our driver for the day, Taku. We drove to the Botanical Gardens of Toyama, a city about an hour away. They had a golf style bus for a half hour tour of the whole gardens. Marilynn was happy as she could hope on and off for photos. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of flowers this time of years, but lots of greenery.

We then visited the Toyama Municipal Folk Museum, housed in what was Toyama Castle, built originally in 1543 by a warlord. He was attacked in 1568 by the family of a neighbouring ruler and lost. In 1572 the castle was attacked and lost again, although through another attack it was recaptured in 1573. In 1585 during another attack the castle was demolished. In 1605 it was rebuilt, but it burned down in 1609. In 1639 a full scale reconstruction of the castle was done.

In 1873 the area come under the rule of a new government and the castle was ordered torn down and the moats filled in. New buildings were build on the site which became a center of politics and the economy. In 1954 an industrial exhibit was held celebrating the reconstruction after WWII, and the existing castle tower was built.

We stopped at a steak restaurant for lunch that had a good salad bar, but my steak was done to a crisp and Marilynn's chicken was raw. Our driver headed north up the coast where mountain ranges drop right into the sea. The road was either inside the mountain in tunnels, or on pilings over the ocean. Once we turned inland into high mountains, the road was either in tunnels or snow-sheds, covered to protect against avalanches or landslides.

Our hotel tonight is at the 2010 Olympic Site of Hakuba, the delightful Morino Lodge. The lodge is owned by a fellow from Scotland and his partner. Matt visited while travelling, was enchanted so got a job teaching in the area. He married a Japanese lady and they are raising 2 children in this beautiful environment. He and his partner were able to purchase the property and renovate it a few years ago. Their prices are reasonable. If this area is in a trip plan, contact Matt at 090-9380-8817 or

Hakuba has a lot going on winter and summer, everything from hot springs with snow monkeys to outdoor sports to the wintertime skiing and snow boarding. There is a gondola that is 2,013 meters long and a second one not quite that length, plus 11 chair lifts with seating for 2, 3 or 4 people depending on the lift. All year long there are tours to a snow monkey reserve near here, with hot springs where the moneys bathe. We are sad to not have time to experience it!

Matt gave us a ride to a shrine in the nearby village, where there are more giant trees. A few minutes walk away was the Maeda Restaurant, recommended by Matt, for drinks and a great meal at a very reasonable price. We headed off to walk back to the hotel, and were standing on a corner trying to figure out the correct street from the map provided by the hotel when along came a taxi. That made the decision easy - we made the short ride in comfort. We made an error by not staying at least 2 nights at the Morino Lodge.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The weather has been amazing this trip - we have had virtually no rain. The heat has been intense, but this morning in the mountains it was a bright, sunny, clear day. The hotel provided a good western breakfast, which was included in the room rate. Unfortunately, I had not checked the program. Today was the only day we were to be picked up at 8:30 instead of 9, so were enjoying breakfast when our driver arrived. In hindsight, I have no idea why there was an early pickup, but we scrambled to get ready in 15 minutes.

Marilynn tried to buy juice and water at a Lawsons, but the lineup was about 15 minutes long so gave it up. We took photos of the ski runs carved into three different mountains, and of the massive ski jumps. Our driver today was a wipe out. He spoke no English, had no smart phone with translation and no idea how to use Marilynn's. He would have been a lousy partner at charades, as he could not figure out any gestures. Marilynn wanted to take a photo, so used the Japanese words for "stop" and "photo" to no avail. Finally, Marilynn got him to pull over to indicate that when she said stop, that is what he was to do. Well, that caused a problem.

He phoned his office, and handed me the phone. The fellow on the other end had a very few words of English, and kept saying "what photo she want"? I passed the phone to Marilynn and she didn't do much better. I had the driver call poor Anthony, who was trying to get a Sunday off, and he had someone from his office call. That person not only did not know what we were supposed to be doing today, she didn't even know what hotel we were to go to. We then asked Anthony to instruct the driver to take us straight to our hotel, 33 km away. We had already wasted over half an hour with phone calls. What is really stupid is that Marilynn desperately wanted to see the snow monkeys, and there is a reserve for them with hot springs not far from where we were, and I didn't think of using the driver to take us there. At any rate, we ended up at the excellent Metropolitan Hotel Nagano far too early to check in.

The plan was to find an English speaking tour, a tour bus with headsets that could be set to English or an English speaking guide. Our hotel was connected to the central train station that has a large tourist information area. It turned out that the only thing to see is the centrally locate Buddhist Zenkoji Shrine. The information people told us how to get there by bus for $1.50 each from the train station.

The shrine really is worth seeing. It is a large complex of buildings, with the main shrine packed with worshippers being holiday week. We couldn't get in to the large Buddha, but did pop in and out of the various surrounding temples, including a Japanese pagoda containing the ashes of Japanese killed in various wars. Leading to the shrine from the bus, and within the shrine gates, is a pedestrian street lined with food and souvenir stalls, where an ice cream cone was welcome against the heat of the day.

Lunch was at one of many restaurants in a narrow lane across from the train station, then back to the hotel where we had been upgraded to a fabulous suite. It really is among the best places I have stayed - the hotel apparently rates four and a half stars. I had a siesta before getting onto the computer.

We will have no more drivers for this trip, it will be back to riding the rails on our own.