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Japan trip day 3: Things are Weird Sometimes

Another day, another plan changed. Originally, I had planned to go where I went today yesterday, but as per my last post, I didn't. Originally, I had planned for today to visit Shiojiri-shi (means salt butt city in Japanese), but a 5 hour detour for a cheap joke is probably outside of my shenanigan tolerance.

Slow, but stressful morning

But first, I had a bit of a problem. I did my laundry in the shower yesterday. It seems I had severly underestimated the time it takes for it to dry, it was still wet when it was time to go. I found a coin laundry just a 4 minute walk from the hotel, but the bus would depart only half an hour after I checked out from the hotel.

I ran for it, stopped by a convenience store to print out the reservation confirmation for my next accomodation, bought some breakfast and took a brisk walk to the laundromat, waiting patiently at the red lights like a good boy. It seems Takasaki likes scramble crossings where all traffic is halted when pedetrians cross.

I make it to the laundry, exchange a few words of Japanglish to find out which is the dryer and an OK to eat my breakfast while I wait. 2 rounds of 7 minutes later and my clothes are still damp. Oh well, I have to make a dash for it right now, so it'll have to do. I'm sure they'll smell wonderful tomorrow.

And I still missed the bus. At that point, I figure out I still have time to go if I take the next bus in an hour instead. So I take a leasurely stroll to the ticket office to do some seat reservations for my ride out of Takasaki, and some later parts of the trip. Unlike previously, she asked what kind of seat I wanted, and thus made 4 reservations with window seat. Nice. After that I just walked around the station a bit while waiting for the bus.

To the Mountains!

And then I got onto the bus. And by the way, don't bother looking for the number ticket when you get aboard at the starting point, you won't find one. I found that out the confusing way. If you don't know what I'm talking about, google for pictures of inside japanese buses. You should see a consumer of potentially a significant portion of the worlds 7-segment display output.

And what a ride that bus was. It sneaks around the suburbs on bumpy road, until it eventually starts heading up the mountain on equally bumpy, but highly snaking roads. It was terrifying at 40 km/h. Beautiful, but terrifying.

And I noticed two curious things about Japanese busses. First off, at a rest stop where the bus would wait for a few minutes, the driver left it running when he walked away for five minutes. Secondly, he has a litte openable hatch by his feet, about a foot by a half. When open, you can quite clearly see out the front of the bus, no net or mesh inbetween.

Surprisingly enough, the bus was quite empty, on the way there, there was at no point more than 5 people on the bus, and only 3 left when I, and someone else got off.

Haruna Jinja

The gate towards Haruna Jinja. This place a bit of a theme park feel to it at this stage

Figure 1 - The gate towards Haruna Jinja. This place a bit of a theme park feel to it at this stage

As I get off the bus, I start to realize that there is quite a lot of people here. It's just that they didn't take the bus. I guess they'd find it too expensive/inconvenient.

Well, it's Japan, there will be pagodas.

Figure 2 - Well, it's Japan, there will be pagodas.

I can't remember what fortunes it grants you to rub his belly, but it seems many count on him

Figure 3 - I can't remember what fortunes it grants you to rub his belly, but it seems many count on him

Figure 4 - One of many views of this river running in parallel with the trail to the shrine

No shrine is complete without a purification well/spring

Figure 5 - No shrine is complete without a purification well/spring

It's hard to get the scale and length of the walk, it:s easily takes 15 minutes from the bus stop if you try to enjoy the surroundings. I don't have any pictures of the main shrine (except for one, but I'm in it), so I guess you'll have to go there yourself ;)

(...or just google for images, but what's the fun in that?)

A Surprise in Takasaki

After returning from Haruna Jinja, I had two things on my mind, one of which was lunch. I remembered seeing an udon place in the food court of Takasaki station, so I headed there. That's when I see a group of 3 foreigners. I was about as shocked as they where. After staring at them open-mouthed for several seconds, I walk up to them exclaiming "foreigners, here!?". They where just as surprised to see me as I was to see them.

When they asked if I too was on the JET progam, they where almost horrified when I told them I wasn't. I couldn't hear them clearly, but I think they said they had been there for a month or two without seeing any other foreigners. They also wondered why on earth why I was in Takasaki, where there wasn't much too see. They accepted my explanation and got curious about Haruna Jinja, saying they might check it for themselfs this Friday. Well, they where sliightly put off when hearing the bus there was ¥1100 one way, but who knows, maybe they'll go there. And as it turns out, just around the corner was more JET ALTs. It is quite possible that every foreigner in Takasaki were collected there in a single location. THey asked if I wanted to hang out, but in the span of a few minutes, their plan changed from "studying and eating" to "all-you-can-drink" at a nearby izakaya, at which point I had to wave them goodbye, since I had a train to catch an hour later.

I bumble down into the basement and find the Udon place. I stare the menu for probably several minutes, with a major problem being a lot of to me unknown kanji compounds I couldn't pronounce. And when I finally gather enough courage to order something, the guy shows me an English menu with things to point at. I've heard most places in Tokyo doesn't have an English menu, so I was very surprised to see that this place had one. I went with the Curry Udon, becuase it seemed like an absurd combination. It was alright, and I managed to eat it all with only three new small stains on my trousers (slightly above a bigger, fainter one from hastily eating that teriyaki sandwhich this morning.) I guess all that chopstick practice payed off.

With about half an hour left, I started seeking out my second target. Namely, my first proper souvenir. I started off with the big souvenir shop before the ticket line, I could see the item all over the place as decoration, but I could not find it for sale. I gave up and entered the ticket gate. As I was about to take the escelator up to the platform, I spot a small gift shop, and it's selling them! I am now the proud owner of a probably not so authentic and massproduced Daruma doll. And it was mine for only ¥620. I immediately proceed to make a fool of myself by spilling all my coins over the counter as I have a go at the coin game (= get as little shrapnel in change back as possible.) With that transaction over with, I can finally head to the platform with plenty of time to spare.

Also, I think an old lady in seat across the corridor has been staring at me the entire 1½ hour train ride. That's kinda funny. As I'm riding the train I see a message scroll past about trains between my destination and tomorrows destination being canceled due to a typhoon. The weather's been pretty good so far, so it might strike back at me in a big way. I guess I'll find out when I'm there.

Arriving in Kanazawa

I decided to walk to the hostel. It didn't look very far on the map, but it took over 30 minutes. My compass saved the day again in a big way. Eventually, I reach it. After some confusion about how to check in, some other people staying there, who were just heading out, helped me. The hostel is in a fairly traditional house with the sliding doors and tatami floor in every room, so that was interesting.

The common room

Figure 6 - The common room

After doing a quick bit of unpacking to get some charging going, I went downstairs to configure wifi on my Pandora, intending to write a little on my blog in the common room. While standing in the hallway, a woman sat down in the common room. She didn't really speak English, and I don't really speak Japanese, but with a lot of trail and error, we somewhat communicated and talked about travel. Apparently, she visited the nordic countries two years ago. While talking, she invited me to have a pieces of her shrimp sushi. I don't like the idea of sushi, and I generally don't like anything that lives in the sea.

It wasn't the best thing I've ever tasted, but it was a lot better than I expected. I guess the chances that I'd go to a sushi resturant somewhat increased. She also suggested we go to a nearby onsen. Of course, it's gender segregated, so we'd meet up again at the hostel, but since I hadn't been to an onsen before, I took the chance.

It was hot, but not as hot as expected. I don't know if I stayed there for just a few minutes or of it was longer, but eventually I got dizzy and had to get out. It was nice though.

Back at the hostel, I read the weather forecast. It does not look good, a typhoon is just drenching the japan in rain causing train disruptions. And it's heading my way. Are my plans in danger? I guess I'll find out tomorrow.

Other notes

My OpenPandora is starting to show the purple screen of death in some screen angles, so I'm not sure how much longer I can keep up with these posts. Also, I had severely underestimated how little RAM this thing have, I usually have to close almost everything I have open to have enough RAM to downscale pictures...

Additionally, I've noticed a weird bug with my phone. I'm using a data SIM with it, but with a foreign 3G phone. As a result, I only have coverage on one of like 5 bands in use. As a result, I often lose coverage when I head out of the city center. The strange thing is, it never reconnect on its own, I have to restart my phone when I'm in coverage again. Annoying, but I can live with it.

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