The colorful wolf

02-10 Meron no Tabi

Location: Ibaraki-ken, Japan. (Fukuroda station, Yamagata station)

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This is the fantastic tale that tells of the travels of the melon bread and the banana. It was a long weekend this weekend, and I didn’t want to sit around Atsugi doing nothing. Junko thought the same way, and after a long planning and cancelations of several people it was only her and me left when we disembarked on an almost unplanned trip on Sunday. We failed to get a hotel, failed to find interesting destinations, and basically failed to find stuff to do for most of the time, so we just decided to go north πŸ˜€ The goal: a waterfall in Ibaraki-ken, kind of north of Tokyo.

img_7762.jpgIt turns out that it took many hours to reach the waterfall, and the train line connecting to it only had one train every one and a half hours. Local indeed! On the way we stopped in Mito, where Junko found the mother of all evil Japanese food: NEVER NEVER DON. A rice bowl filled with rice, and all of the most disgusting Japanese foods put together: Natto (rotten beans), Fish eggs, Raw egg, White slimy stuff, Green slimy stuff and other green slimy stuff. I tried one bite, which confirmed what I already knew after living 2 years in Japan: Japanese food is great! But it’s better to leave some things alone…

On to the waterfalls, where we finally arrived late in the afternoon with not that much time before sunset.

We made it there to find the waterfall half frozen! Trust me, a waterfall that takes in your entire field of view, at some points frozen in beautiful patterns of ice and snow and at other points flowing and splattering off rocks is absolutely a breathtaking sight. A recommendation for everyone. We tried some hill/mountain climbing after that, but the snow made things kind of difficult so we ended up going down again quite soon.

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Since we didn’t book a hotel yet we decided to walk back to the station in the hope of finding a hotel on the way. By this time it was getting dark, and because we arrived by bus we didn’t quite remember the way back >_<. Long story short: we took the wrong way and ended up having to walk back 15 minutes back to the right direction.. Didn’t find much hotels either, but just when we arrived at the station we found a hotel that wasn’t insanely expensive. Random and lucky!

img_0810.jpgThis is quite countryside, so for dinner there was exactly one place in the entire area, and it was already closed. It was run by an old lady, who opened the doors especially for us, since we were kind of late for dinner. After all, it was already 19:00, and countryside people must sleep early (WTF!). The food tasted absolutely terrible! Take natto and raw egg for example, they are notorious for their ‘peculiar’ taste, so it’s easy to dislike. But this old woman made even the most delicious types of food taste terrible.. We found ourselves on the way to the conbini not too long after that.. although the baa-san (old lady) tried to keep us from our mission by talking about the times when she was young, and how round the world was if you could see it from the top of a hill…

Hotel was fun. Only one public bathroom, no toilet in the room. I love it ^_^. It was a typical Japanese-style budget inn. The hot spring water bath inside was an actual onsen, and the minerals inside were quite nice, even though the hotel manager urged us to hurry up with our bath, because it was already 21:00 and sane people should have been in bed hours ago.. We ended up being late and tasting some local ume-shu (plum wine), which helped keep us warm for the night, since the stupid heater just turned off after a couple of hours. This was not too bad, since it was a petroleum heater. We could have used the airconditioning, but it required us to insert some coins..

img_0895.jpgThe next day we had a nice/natto breakfast (pick one or the other) and went back a couple of stations to Yamagata, where we found a cool castle-like structure on top of a hill, which gave us a crappy view of the surroundings and some history lessons inside. After that we ended up walking uphill for half an hour to find a ‘nearby’ temple. It wasn’t that nearby, but we found it to be way better than we initially expected. The temple was located at the top of a hill (more of a small mountain) in a small park. We had to climb quite a way up to reach the temple, which in fact, wasn’t that impressive at all (IMHO). Fortunately there was a truly wonderful lookout point only a slight bit higher, which gave as a beautiful view of all the surrounding mountains (and the golf course nearby).

img_0941.jpgI also finally had time to eat the melon pan (bread) I bought the day before at the conbini. A melon pan is supposed to be round, but after putting it in my backpack it appeared in various states of flatness before finally deciding that it should look like a tiny green pancake. Amazingly it survived though, and it was a good meal after all πŸ˜€

From there we had to catch a train back to Mito, but there was only one every one hour and twenty minutes o_0. img_1009.jpgWe walked back, but because the way back was so long we tried to hitchhike. Most people ignored us completely (I wonder if they actually know what the thumbs up sign means..), but finally a nice obaasan (old lady) stopped for us, and she took us to the station in under five minutes. Countryside people are great! Because we arrived at the station too soon we decided to check out a (really) local shop, and bought some food. After talking a bit with the owner (another obaasan!) she offered us some green tea and candy while we waited for the train to arrive. Such wonderful helpfulness.

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The way back was as any good Japanese trip should be: relaxing in a local train back to Tokyo. We wandered around in Shinjuku for a while looking for something to do, and eventually we settled on a cool looking dinner offering an all-you-can-eat buffet of all kinds of food around the world, while showing some entertainment at the same time. From the peace of the countryside into the chaos of Shinjuku. This must be the two most extreme places of Japan.

One thing happened that brought me back to cityside reality though. After Junko went back home, I walked to my station to get back home from Shinjuku. I took an escalator up, but almost tripped over a woman lying on the floor at the end of the escalator! There was a man lying next to her trying to get her attention, I guess her husband. I managed to evade them and ask him if he needed help, and soon a station attendant arrived as well, which was good since the woman, or the man, was bleeding! And what do the city people do: absolutely nothing… They look in disdain at the people inconveniencing them when they are trying to catch their train. They carefully and quickly avoid them and don’t even give them a second glance. Just rushing to their train. That’s city life. That’s city people.

Why was this trip fun:

  • Countryside people are nice
  • Great sights without too many people
  • First time hitchhiking in Japan!
  • Super flat Melon pan
  • Junko, of course! πŸ˜‰
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