Friday, August 30, 2019

Finding Accommodation Bargains


When I am walking around Japan I am on a serious budget. For accommodation, I often sleep out, called nojuku in Japanese. Under bridges, in bus shelters, shrines, etc, I settle in after dark and leave before light. Sometimes I want or need to pay for a room, and I will always try and find the cheapest option. Because I'm walking I don't have a lot of leeway with location, so choices are often limited.

I primarily use two methods to find a room in advance, one is to use Rakuten, the Japanese shopping site that has a much wider range of accommodation establishments than the other hotel booking sites, and more importantly in the remoter areas where I usually travel. Often, if you look carefully into the details you can find special deals, maybe for specific dates or if a place has recently changed ownership etc. A case in point is Guesthouse Suzukaze near Shibushi in southern Kyushu.

It is among a group of new houses that were purpose-built as guesthouses. There is a hot spring nearby that has no accommodations. They were advertising a room for one without meals, sudomari in Japanese, for 3,500 yen. Not a bad price, but they offered a reduction for people traveling by cycle, AND a huge reduction for anyone who was walking, a price of just 1,000 yen. The owner had spent a lot of time backpacking around the world and wanted to offer help to similar souls.

For that price, I got a six-tatami room with AC and wifi, with a shower room next door. However, the owner was really into chatting so gave me a couple of cans of beer to drink while chatting. He also drove me a few miles to visit a shrine as I had expressed interest in such things. Next morning he gave me some toast and eggs with coffee. Not a bad 1,000 yen.

The other method I am fond of is googlemaps. If you zoom in then obviously more details emerge, and this way I have found many small, independent places that have limited web presence. While searching around Ajimu in the middle of Oita Prefecture I came across Musica B&B. It seemed to be an eatery housed in a barn. By typing the name into google and searching I found a bunch of blogs that talked about the place. It is primarily an eatery that offers big, tasty meals at low prices, but is also a Rider House.

I had never heard of a Rider House before, but apparently, there are quite a few scattered around japan offering budget accommodation to people traveling by motorbike. I phoned them up and booked one night for 3,500 yen including two meals!! The cafe was closed that day but the elderly couple opened it up just for me. They fired up one of the pot-bellied woodstoves that heated the cavernous and very funky interior. Dinner was tasty and filling and came with a couple of free beers. Both the husband and wife had their evening meal with me and were very chatty and inquisitive. Breakfast next morning was also substantial.

I slept in a large room that had a heated carpet. There was wifi, TV and a computer to use. The walls were covered with flyers for other rider houses around the country and snapshots of previous gusts and their bikes.

If you are willing to do some searching, there are still amazing deals to be found with older, independent businesses that go way beyond the robotic hospitality that is the norm.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

The Start of the Saigoku Pilgrimage

Saigoku Pilgrimage

Saturday, March 5th, 2016 and I leave Seiganto-ji, the first temple on the Saigoku Pilgrimage. It was not originally the first temple. That was, I believe, Hasedera up in Nara, but I'm guessing because of the popularity of the pilgrimages to Kumano it was changed.

The first 8 days or so of the Saigoku Pilgrimage follows the same route as some of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage routes, and this section from Nachi up to Homgu is called the Nakahechi From the temple stone steps climb up through the forest.

After a while it opens up and become Nachi Kogen Park and it's possible to look down over Nachi and further south. Just as I'm leaving the park I meet a young Frenchman walking in the opposite direction. He has come from Tanabe, where most people start, and after Nachi he will walk the Iseji route up the coast. He complained about the paucity of places to sleep out on the route, having spent a rainy night in the disabled toilets of a park on his first night out.

He was the last person I saw that day. The path continued to climb through the forest and from the site of a former teahouse there are even more expansive views. When the Kumano Kodo was a popular pilgrimage route there were many teahouses along the way offering refreshments and respite for pilgrims, but now they almost all just marked by a sign.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

A Walk Along the Japan Sea Coast part 4 No-Name Cove

Japan Sea Coast

Leaving Shiota I walk through the tunnel that carries route 9. The "sidewalk" is about 20 cms wide. Fortunately, they have opened a new By-Pass and the traffic through the tunnel has been reduced by about 95% so it was not so dangerous. Immediately after the tunnel is a small cove down below. There appears to be a path, used by fishermen I suspect, but it is well overgrown so I give it a miss.

The road winds and climbs and at the pass, a small lane leads off. There are no signs. The road winds down to a small car park and a wonderful little cove. No maps have a name for this place but it seems to be an official swimming spot. there is a little toilet and also a shower. The flag is flying saying no swimming today.

The tide is high and the onshore wind makes the sea rough, but a half dozen or so surfers are out. There are a bunch of small boathouses though I have never ever seen a boat on the water. I think they may belong to pleasure fisherpersons.

I get my feet wet scrambling over the rocks and pass through a couple of small beaches, but at the final rocky outcropping the sea is too high and I can't get through to Asari Beach, so climb back up to the road and head home. Years ago we were here when the sea was much calmer and the tide lower,  and we were able to get through. Some pics of that can be seen here on my Marine Day post.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

A Walk Along the Japan Sea Coast part 3 Shiota

I suspect the fishing harbour at Watazu was busier in days gone by. It was big enough to have an ice-making facility, though it is possible that it was used by all the small fishing boats that come out of Gotsu around the corner on the banks of the river as I don't think there is an icemaking facility there.

Leaving the harbour there is then about 900 meters of narrow beach with the almost obligatory lines of concrete tetrapods just offshore.

Ahead is a headland that offers no possibility of walking around. The sand is piled high behind the beach, naturally as far as I can tell, and this embankment offers protection for the hamlet of Shiota in the hollow behind it.

Shiota, like my hamlet, is not a place anyone passes through. You either pass  by it, or go into. it. The lanes are narrow and most of the houses are older.

Route 9 and the Sanin rail line pass by somewhat enclosing Shiota before both of these main transportation arteries punch through the headland with tunnels. In the old days the Sanin -do, the ancient highway, passed over the hills a little inland from here.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

A Walk Along the Japan Sea Coast part 2 to Watazu Port

At what I would say was the point where the Gonokawa river bank ends and the coast begins is a large rocky cliff and several smaller rocky outcroppings. As I passed the first rocky outcropping I was very surprised to see some surfers. There were three vans with license plates from Hiroshima and Yamaguchi, and I must admit I had never visited this spot before and had no idea it was a known surfing spot. The conditions were good as a series of waves continued to roll in....

Here was also a tetrapod farm. You cannot go many kilometers along the Japanee coast without coming across one of these. There are billions of tetrapods along the coast and rivers all over Japan.

From here a long concrete wall juts out into the sea and dog legs around to provide protection to the tiny fishing port. The seaward side of the wall is piled with tetrapods of course. Today is a national holiday so as well as the surfers there are also plenty of fisherpersons out fishing from the wall and the tetrapods. The wall is a little over 900 meters long.

Inside the wall is a small beach, with no waves obviously, and then begins the small port, with its own walls of concrete. There are only half a dozen small boats, and nothing is going out today with the sea swelling like it is.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

A Walk Along the Japan Sea Coast part 1 the Mouth of the Gonokawa River

For my latest walking exploration I have decided to stay somewhat local and explore the coast of the Japan Sea. How long is the coast of the Sea of Japan?..... the closer you look at it and measure it more details become apparent, so its length tends towards the infinite. Standard fractal logic, so I intend to hug the coast as closely as possible and explore the nooks and crannies.

As I live on the banks of the Gonokawa River about 15k upstream from the Japan Sea that seems like an obvious place to start my first leg heading east. The Gonokawa is the longest river in West Japan, but it is a relatively young river. It literally comes out from the mountains at the coast. There is no alluvial deposits, no delta.

The West bank is dominated by the chemical factory that process wood pulp and cellulose. The East bank does have some beach. During the Edo Period the river marked the boundary between the Hamada Domain and this side of the river which belonged to the Shogunate being the extent of the Iwami Ginzan territory.

This side of the river the settlement is called Watazu and I have been told that in the old days there was no intermarriage across the river. Tomorrow is the Gonokawa Matsuri and the huge firework display will be set up on this side so that the majority of viewers in Gotsu will see them reflected in the river.

These photos were taken in mid August, just after sunrise at around 6am.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Clam Digger

I believe this gentleman was digging clams, but it could have been some other type of shellfish or creature. It was in the Fukushima River, an obviously tidal river near where it entered the sea in southern Miyazaki.

What was quite remarkable was that this was 3:30 in the afternoon, the hottest part of the day, in the last week of July, the hottest part of the year, in what is often the hottest part of Japan.

Of course he was dependant on low tide, a factor outside his control, and you can see he is dressed for the conditions...... notice the reflective sheet covering his back and shoulders,.... but I can tell you it was blistering hot

I had left Obi castle and the surrounding samurai district and caught the train back to where I left the pilgrimage and I was heading to Shibushi, a little further west along the coast.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Nishiyama Inari Shrine, Sakate, Shodoshima

By the afternoon of my first day walking the Shodoshima Pilgrimage I had done a loop around the peninsula, passed my ryokan, and crossed over a narrow isthmus to Sakate where a group of mountaintop temples awaited me.

This line of vermillion torii led to a small Inari shrine. If you only consider shrines big enough to have buildings, then Hachiman shrines are the most common in Japan, but if you include smaller shrines then Inari is the most common.

Inari shrines became popular relatively late, in the Edo Period. Inari is not mentioned in the so-called ancient chronicles of Kojiki and Nihongi, but in the Meiji period it was decided that the identity of Inari was Ukanomitama  and so officially that is the identity listed although in reality Inari has countless forms and associations.

The tunnels of red torii and statues of kitsune, foxes, are two common things associated with Inari shrines....

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Obi Samurai District

Around the old castle ruins in Obi is an area of former samurai residences. Closest to the castle were the highest ranking samurai, moving down the ranks further away from the castle until you reach the old merchant district.

Being somewhat off the beaten track the area has retained many of the buildings and the basic layout of these former times and is registered as a Historic Preservation District of groups of Traditional Buildings. There are more than 100 of these districts scattered across Japan, and while some are in major tourist areas, many are not.

I've come across quite a few on my walks in the backcountry, and in my experience some of them are quite delightful, being non touristy and ungentrified. Links to many of them Ive visited can be found at this index over at Japanvisitor.

On this trip I was in a hurry to carry on with my pilgrimage, but recently I revisited the area and spent time exploring in the houses open to the public and can recommend it to visitors to Miyazaki

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Some topical Isshiki Kazari

The first prize winner at this years Isshiki Kazari competition in Hirata near Izumo was a tableau representing the Horanenya festival in Matsue. This boat festival is one of the top 3 boat festivals in all of Japan and is only held once every 12 years. It was held earlier this year.

The vast majority of Isshiki kazari artworks use ceramics as their raw material, and the three pieces I show today are no exception.

Coming up in a few weeks is the Rugby World Cup, being held for the first time ever in Japan. Actually, I'm quite looking forward to it though I am not particularly a big fan, but it will be a nice change from the usual boring sports that dominate the airwaves here.

It is still a year to go until the Tokyo Olympics but already I'm sick of hearing about it. Seems like not a day has gone by since before the Rio Olympics that we are not inundated with media about Tokyo Olympics. It was inevitable that the IsshikiKazari competition had one piece with the theme...