We’re back in Japan and immediately being made to feel like honoured guests. In Nagoya we revisited Iizuka-san, with whom I stayed back in May, and her daughter’s family came to say hello. The seven of us piled into the late-model people mover, decked out with dashboard navigation system and TV. Kiyomi said drivers are forbidden to watch while driving, pointing out a car in front. The driver was alone with the TV on and as we passed we saw just one hand on the steering wheel, holding a cigarette, the other was operating his cellphone. We were heading back to the eel restaurant, the best in Nagoya, and once again we sailed past the queue outside and got our usual table. I’m glad to say Tania enjoyed the meal as much as I did.
After my first visit to Nagoya this year I walked north a few days towards Tsumago and the night before I arrived I was given ¥10,000 by a stranger to stay in a minshuku when I got there. I thought that was a bit extravagant for just me so I saved the note until now when I could share my good fortune with Tania. We stayed at Magomechaya, in the old post town of Magome. We had been planning to walk the trail that day but thick grey clouds were flowing over the pass and thunder began to toll the end of the walking day. The cracks became louder and were approaching from all sides when the rain finally came, so we wisely sat out the afternoon in our new, and rather charmless accommodations.
We walked the 5 miles of postal route (the Nakasendo) in the morning. No interesting Australians this time, hardly anyone actually, until the very end when we reached Tsumago and heard the tinkling of bear bells on some walkers. Bear bells? Here? It’d be like wearing your anti-moa spray when walking in the Waitakeries.
Still not eligible for a JR Pass, we’ve been traveling by local trains so far. They’re neither comfortable nor fast but at ¥10,000 for five day-passes we’ve saved a lot. Emi said she paid that much for a single Shinkansen ride from Nagoya to Tokyo. 1/3rd of our time but five times our cost. We took the slow route to Nara and checked into the youth hostel. It’s got a similar feel to most other JYH buildings, that it’s from the 70s but still holding together by virtue of tough materials. As soon as we could we headed back to my favourite Nara restaurant, Kotaro, on the road north of the Women’s University. Ohashi-san was sitting inside and the slow realisation of who was standing at his door was priceless. He’d read my last blog entry and expected me to still be be in America.
So Tania and I sat at the front and we talked with him a little. My Japanese has not improved as much as it should have done in the time since I was last here and there’s nothing I can say in his language that he can’t say in mine.
A friend of his turned up, perhaps called in on request. Yoshimoto-san was introduced to me last time as being ‘the boss’ of the area. Not in a mafia way, more a village elder. He spoke a little English too and asked where we were staying. He was strangely insistent that we were in room 23, eventually I showed him the key and he accepted we were indeed in 21. I say accepted but he immediately set out to change it. Calling a contact at the hostel and having us upgraded to a room with a view. Then suddenly he was gone and when he reappeared he was holding two museum tickets for us. I’ve no idea how he got these at 8pm at night but they were a gift we could not refuse.
In the morning we met Ohashi-san outside the Daibutsuden building which you may remember is the largest wooden building in the world but only 2/3rds of its original size. It houses the largest enclosed Buddha and is a good change from many of the other temples I’ve seen so much of. On the way out of the complex we looked in a building I had missed other times to see statues from the 8th century. The paint had faded on a most of them, and no photography is permitted. Then we headed south to Horyo-ji, the oldest temple in Japan. Featuring buildings from 607CE that are reportedly the oldest surviving wooden structures in the world, and we’re not talking huts here. Yoshimoto-san had used his considerable influence here too and we picked up our passes from his sister at a nearby shop saving us 1000 yen each.
Ok that’s enough for one day. We had to say goodbye to Ohashi-san, promising to visit again, Tania got mobbed by deer in the park, we found a great lake that was lantern-lit at night and we ate good ramen. The end