this cutie was taken by Crazyegg95 in 2005 and is from flickr

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Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Day 9, Onuma - Towadako

About six a.m., September fourth. The entrance to the train station from the youth hostel side. Just as well the sign is large and easy to spot, right? Lucky I knew where I was going.

Being artsy at 6.05 at the Ikedaen Station, waiting for my train to Hakodate, and then from Hakodate to Kikonai, Kikonai to Kanita (Honshu) and Kanita to Aomori

Robot arms. 6.10 at the Ikedaen Train Station

6.15 a.m.! Two carriages, too, for the early morning students and workers.

Some time after 7.10 a.m., a station a few stops after we had left Hakodate

Way down south. I guess we were nearing Kikonai, the station where those with seishun juhachi kippu had to get a limited express to be able to get to Honshu (no local trains available).

A poster at the Kikonai train station. We arrived here before nine. I remember, because I used the bank ATM once 9 hit (no, Japan does not have 24 hour ATMs). Misogi festivals are basically where guys strip down to fundoshi (loin cloths) and purify themselves by plunging into water in the midst of winter. The Kikonai version, dating from the 1800s, seems particularly severe.

Kikonai station

Torii over the ocean. A few people were reading a sign to the right, but I can't read kanji. A Dutch ship sank here, again in the 1800s, 1857 . Maybe it somehow reflects that.

On this ticket I found it a great idea to get out and stretch when you could, considering how long you spent on the train, or actually waiting, therefore, coin lockers were a blessing, though, in these towns, the Japanese staff of the shops in the stations and so on didn't mind you leaving your bags nearby and they'd keep an eye on them. Usually there was something to see. Like this statue of this boy, though what story it represents, I do not know.

The train arrived at 9.31. We'd been waiting since 8.00 or 8.30. Two trains left at 9.31, which is highly unusual at the smaller Japanese train stations, or any of them, actually. So, my fallback of double checking the time to make sure I was on the right train almost had me foiled. There are only five limited expresses a day from Hokkaido to Honshu, so I really didn't want to miss this one. It goes through the tunnel, pretty long, pretty deep, and there is a station at the deepest point of the tunnel. If you book ahead, you can get out and have a tour, but that would mean waiting a couple of hours for the next train. I don't think I could do it. Imagine all that ocean overhead. Still, I had saved my obento (packed lunch) for this part of the journey, so that my 50 minutes of luxury could be enjoyed to the full

We arrived in Kanita at about 10.30 and were shipping out at 11.30 or thereabouts. I'd already explored the shrine opposite the ferry port on my way to Hokkaido, and it was a little far and a little humid to do it again, and so that left me plenty of time to look at the lovely displays in the JR station. Oh, by the time we got to Kanita, on Honshu, toilet paper once more seemed to be a feature of the public toilets.
Every JR station seems to have small displays, created by the staff, I suppose, illustrating the highlights of the area. To be less than accurate, I am not sure if this small display, obviously promoting the benefits of drinking sake in outside onsens, was actually in Kanita or Kikonai

Another poster. Click on it to enlarge. This one is urging commuters to mind their manners, which is fair enough. It is interesting that it is in English. We foreigners are notoriously bad at not adhering to social customs and mores. Rest assured, there were Japanese versions around the place, too

Well, after I'd eaten too much, and done some yoga exercises and stretches which did a little to alleviate the aches and pains brought about from too much sitting and too much lugging around of baggage, the train pulled in and we could sit on it , waiting until it pulled out again (with us on board!, just in case that sentence confused you). This local was going straight to Aomori. It would still take an hour, I think, or maybe a little less. Many more carriages than the local trains up in Hokkaido and further north in Tohoku. You could feel that you were drawing closer to a city centre.

Someone famous came in off one of the other trains. The ladies in my photo were waiting for him. A big guy. I think I'd seen him on the television. I wasn't sure if he was Japanese or not. I'd definitely seen the interviewer. We were told not to take photos. They, camera crew, talent, back up, all went into the small waiting room to film, I guess. The ladies were definitely giddy and fascinated

My second view of this Aomori bridge, or my second time to come into the city, walk along the path towards the turnstile in the train station, to look out the window, and see its elegant arches sweeping the edge of the city

The bus to Towadako, or Lake Towada, left at 1.30, or a little past. Maybe 1.40. I bought my ticket, and again, had an hour to kill. This lunch was delicious. Hotate, or scallops, were in that big omelette-like thing on that huge shell, and the miso soup was full of asari, (clam). I think it was a speciality of the restaurant. Again, relatively cheap, below ¥1000. I went to get an ice-cream (Baskin and Robbins) but the place was under-staffed, and the one girl too busy to serve me. The bus ride to Towadako was going to take three hours, which always seems ridiculous for 76kms, but then, I forget it is a windy road and a lot of it is urban at first, and that the speed limit is not the crazy 120km plus per hour that the Omanis drive.

It was quite a beautiful ride, for which I was pleased, as I had spent ¥3000 on the ticket. The seishun juhachi kippu does not cover bus rides. It went through the Oirase valley, passing waterfalls and the stream, along the way. Also, outside of Aomori, it passed hot springs and rope ways and had lovely views from the mountains and up to them. Of course, the first view of lake Towada is quite breath-taking, or pretty, at the least.

I'd booked my accommodation in Ikedaen by phone. I'm not great at Japanese on the phone. I can do the basics, but it's best if I know where I'm going to beforehand, or I have some kind of map so that I can listen and reinforce what is being said with a visual prop.

The woman had given me the name of the minshuku, and how much it would cost, but I had no clue where it was. I was hoping it was where the bus stopped at Yasumi-ya, though considering the price, I doubted it. The lake is 46km in circumference, though, and I didn't know how I would get there if it wasn't in this centre. The buses really didn't run that regularly.

I went to the visitors' centre (had half an hour to spare before they closed) and they directed me to a very nearby minshuku with a name very similar to my own. I was surprised because it was so close to the lake and the centre of town, how could it be so cheap? (¥3700). It wasn't the right minshuku. The guy looked up my name. Nothing. Then he put in a call to somewhere else and I was picked up. The minshuku in town is called kokuminshuku, the one I was going to is called kokuminshukusha. Koku is the kanji for country.

An older bloke picked me up in not the newest of vans. At first, I was really disappointed, thinking I'd be miles from everywhere. But then, I really wanted to walk the track along the Oirase stream, and this was much closer, and later I discovered that the bus actually stopped pretty nearby.

As I checked in, they assured me that they could drive me into the small town so that I could catch my bus out on Sunday (I was continuing south) and they also asked if I wanted to attend a big festival the following night with three other people. Sure, why not? (post, day 10, in the works).

Anyway, my answer as to the cheapness was because it wasn't the newest, as seen by the photo above. I actually got called up on this phone, and yes, it still works. But it was big (the minshuku). It was a faded glory. It had tennis courts, and a good view of the lake, a huge ofuro (bath). The rooms were large, too. I just guess that Yasumi-ya is the place where people want to stay, but perhaps, in the past, this place had been popular.

What the minshuku didn't have in newness, it did have in small touches. It had a male and female version of the yukata, and it had the heavier brunch coats that you need to wear once it gets a bit colder, and wear it I did.
The other way that they minshuku and so on make money, aside from providing accommodation, was obviously through breakfast and dinner. The breakfasts and dinners in minshuku or ryokan are nearly always worth it, but I could afford one ¥2000 dinner, but not two. The ¥2000 was relatively cheap for what I got, too, which was fabulous mountain vegetables, and delectable serves of fish and seafood. Really, I would have loved to have eaten it the next day, but I was being a little bit careful with money in some aspects.
Additionally, having the set meals means that you are limited to a time frame. If you are the only guest (as I was on Friday, or the only one eating, but I have the feeling that I was the only guest bouncing about that great huge building). I think dinner was served at 6.00, or maybe 6.30, but either way, I wouldn't have minded wandering around the bit of Towadako lake where the minshuku was situated for just a bit longer, but felt I had to return for dinner. Ryokan and minshuku are usually run by family, and you don't really want the whole family to wait around for your return.

Likewise, for breakfast, I often wanted to set out before the 7.30 serving time, and I don't get particularly hungry in the early mornings. And of course, an onigiri (riceball) was and is still cheaper than a set breakfast or dinner, but not as delicious.

Another touch that the minshuku had which hinted at former glory, was that the water in the ofuro came forth from a lion's head spout. Rrowrr. Never mind the falling apart, chipped tiles and so forth. It was clean, and once it had been grand. It also provided pumice stones for scraping your feet, in the same way that the Fuji business hotel in Asahikawa (the ¥3200 one, including breakfast) provided disposable razors. Small touches that were not a part of a youth hostel, and often not seen at all in the more modern business hotels.

Before dinner I wandered down to the lake (past the sign which said DO NOT ENTER! BEARS!)

I wandered past some houses, including one where some small kids were playing with a dog. A mother with them looked at me with some suspicion as I walked by. Though a website I have just found describes Towada as 'A city bustling with foreign visitors' (and I was surprised just how many there were for the festival the next day), I don't think that too many came to this neck of the woods. Perhaps.

Later, the small girl who had the dog came down to the waterfront as I was taking pictures. She had a chat to me and declared that my Japanese is very good, but my pronunciation and faking skills are actually pretty good. Still, we got by and she urged me to come to the festival the following night. Absolutely. Zehi! Everyone was looking forward to it.

I said that I would go, and moved on to admire the lake some more and snap a few more pictures.

Walking back I took note of all the bus-stops, including the one with the minshuku's name. I could have got off there and then when we had been heading to Yasumi-ya, but at least I had some knowledge of the layout of the main town, and where I stood in relation to both it and the beginning of the walk along Oirase Stream (smack bang in the middle, I'd say, though closer to the start of the walk, so, perhaps not). Then this cosmos waved at me from the road as I walked by. Things are a lot wilder in Northern Tohoku than in lots of other parts of Japan.

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this cutie was taken by Crazyegg95 in 2005 and is from flickr