Monday, 3 April 2006

Well, i'm back from my travels (for the moment...)

Hello! long time no blog entry...

My trip has been long and varied - nice to be away for 2 weeks... in Japan no-one ever gets more than a few days off, so 2 weeks is the sort of holiday you take in between jobs!

I started by going to Osaka by overnight ferry. After a 懐かしい couple of days in 京都, 鞍馬山 etc. with Mia, i took her to visit 平川節子先生 in 大阪, who served us お好み焼き. then I got the 夜行バス to 新潟県 and went for 6 days snowboarding in かぐら・苗場.

Charlie Brown the pension owner was interested to hear that the bearded foreign hitchhiker he'd picked up a couple of weeks ago was my brother! Staying in the same pension was a 65-year-old guy who was doing backcountry ski-touring, and training to do the Haute-route! Anyway, Kanbara-san invited me to go snow-trekking with him. He and Charlie showed me maps of the mountains, and where the risky areas to avoid were, etc., and although we didn't actually do any trekking together, we did meet up on the gondola, and a couple of times in mysterious hidden backcountry valleys.
Snow-wise, there was a little bit of fresh on the first day, but it was bright sunshine (and sunburn!-had to get factor 50 suncrm.) from the 2nd. So the snow got a bit sticky in parts, but the variety of terrain made up for it!
On a few days i hiked up from the top lift, from where can be discovered a whole load of valleys through which to descend to the pistes. Lots of people tend to gather on the peaks of the mountains, but when actually going down through the secret hidden valleys, there usually seems to be hardly anyone around! Magical! (one day the upper lifts were closed due to so i actually hiked for an hour and a half up the piste to above the top of the top lift - strenuous but most rewarding!) - the top lift was just under 2000m. high, so by the time you walk to the top you are feeling the altitude and can see for miles!
<-- This picture shows me at the top of the mountain (not the biggest!) with the friend or wife or daughter or someone of another retired ski-tourer i met up there - who was in Chamonix a few weeks ago! I reckon Kagura (including Naeba) beats ニセコ as an all-round ski-snowboard-piste-park-backcountry resort/ski area.

After 6 wonderful days, i went down to the coast in search of my host family - the 塚田 family in 直江津. I had sent them a letter in February, but it hadn't got through, so they had no idea i was coming... I arrived at their village at 8 pm, and couldn't find their house (a bridge has been widened, and there are a lot more houses than i remember) so i camped on a plot of grass between a road and a wind turbine by the sea, and in the morning, decided to search for the house for a bit before going to get on the train. Just as i was about to give up, i noticed a house set back from the road, and i could see through the window that the layout of the interior looked promising! I took my chances, and the door was answered by 隆平, the kid who was 8 when i stayed before, and is now about 12 or 13. He didn't really recognized me, but knew who i was when i said my name. He went and got his mum, who was surprised and pleased to see me - she thought i had already gone back to England. (she later said that her surprise was not so much the fact that i turned up, as the size of my backpack!) They invited me in for tea, and persuaded me to stay the night (I was not difficult to persuade, especially as the weather went from balmy and calm to snowy haily gale-force thunderstorms over the course of the afternoon!) The only things which have really changed about their place are Ryu's height, awareness and piano-playing ability (very inspiring!) and they have a dog (who we walked before the weather broke... haven't walked a dog for ages!)

Next day they were off to visit relations 神奈川県 (they invited me along, but i said i'd press on back to Kyushu)
so they put me on a train for the first day of 5 days unlimited local train travel.
I went to 金沢 where i visited 兼六園, one of Japan's three most famous landscaped gardens. Somewhat different to 屋久島, but interesting nonetheless. Living near Kanazawa is The, one of the other British CIRs who arrived at the same time as me. He was having a birthday party at his girlfriend's mum's house that evening, so i went along for a somewhat surreal evening ... i have never before petted and extremely small dog in a dress.... This dog (Candy) was one of 3 - only one of which was not wearing clothes - and the other clothed one (Chelsea) had disparately bulging eyes, an out-of control tongue (mostly stuck out at a silly angle) and slight paranoia (apparently Chelsea had "water-brain disease" where half of its brain is made of water...)
These dogs were highly expensive pedigrees (although the 3rd one, Ramune, was actually the offspring of Candy) and i can't help feeling that the deformed nature of Chelsea had something to do with the generations of inbreeding necessary to produce pedigrees...
The's girlfriend's mum cooked us all (5 - 7 peope) a huge pile of 天麩羅 and insisted we stayed the night (although The had work the next day, so we made our excuses).

Next day, i got back on the trains, and made slow progress to 鳥取 ... At one point i met a German guy - fresh off the Kansai plane - who was going to a Zen monastery to do a 6-month meditation retreat.
In the evening, strong winds delayed the trains (we stopped at 2 subsequent stations for half an hour or more - with announcements every 5 minutes that they would decide in 5 minutes whether the wind had calmed down enough...)

Found a cheap hotel and hot 温泉 in Tottori, and ran in the morning for the 6:30 train, as i had decided to try and get back to 吉富 that evening (thereby saving the extra 2 units on the railcard).

And i did get back, on Friday evening, ater a loooong tiring day with about 5 or 7 changes - almost too tired to appreciate the beautiful 山口 coastline we were passing.

The cherry blossoms are in full and spectacular bloom, so this weekend included 花見 in 犀川 with the takos and Mia.

As is normal for April, the office has changed a lot - my desk has been moved 2 spaces to the left making me much nearer to the 課長 and 係長 (i almost feel exposed!) and 2 new people have joined the office. Supervisor still the same.

The warm weather has started (again!) (although there is still a slight chill in the evenings).

1 comment:

Inge said...

Hey Sparky, don't know if you remember me but you & Mia had dinner at our house in Nishijin last December :-). I've been checking your blog and it's cool to find a new entry! Your trip in Honshu sounds wonderful, I'm getting itchy feet about exploring a bit more of Japan... Catch you later