After a somewhat weighty last blog post, here is one which is simply a little bit of what I’ve been up to during the last leg of my time in Japan!
With about a month left in Japan, I decided it was time to do some travelling. Although I’ve done a lot of going between Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto this year, Japan is such an amazing place to travel, I wanted to go somewhere a bit further away, and whilst I didn’t make it as far as Hokkaido or Aomori (where I’d really wanted to go), I did manage to get a good bit of adventuring round some other places.
First up, Okayama!
I actually went to Okayama once during the Autumn Semester last year too, and since I really enjoyed it had always been hoping to make it back again. As luck has it, my now boyfriend is actually from Okayama originally, so this August I got the chance to go out to where his family lives in the countryside south of Okayama-shi (shi = city).
Before heading out into the countryside, we caught up with my classmate who has been studying in Okayama this year. We went to a really fantastic izakaya, which felt very traditional apart from Lady Gaga playing in the background, and tried some locally made beer. I’m not a big beer drinker, but it definitely tasted a lot better than what you usually get in izakaya! It was great to catch up too, and I think my ears enjoyed the rare chance to hear another Scottish accent. I’ve come across very few Brits during my time here and absolutely zero Scottish people apart from people I already knew from back home. That’s one thing I’m looking forwards to about going home!
After saying goodbye to my classmate, we jumped on the train to where my boyfriend’s family lives. Unlike in Nishinomiya, where you don’t usually have to wait more than 5 minutes for a train, we had to wait a good 20 minutes or so for a train that then travelled at a snail’s pace until we arrived at a station which was basically just a narrow strip of tarmac by the railway. No staff, no waiting room, no ticket barrier…all comforting signs that we were far from the big cities!
Having been in built up, urban Kansai for so long, it was hugely refreshing to escape into the countryside a bit. There were mountains, forests, lakes, rivers…and some excellent islands – one of which, Naoshima, we spent a day on.
Naoshima is a really great place to visit – especially if you like art – as it is dotted not only with art museums but also with sculptures such as these two:
Owing to a late start which ended up with us missing the last bus back to the ferry terminal, we had quite a long trek back from the other side of the island, but it was actually really good to get some exercise. I probably cycled for over 2 hours that day!
We were only in Okayama for 2 nights, so I’ve come back once again feeling like there’s definitely a lot more to explore. I had to come back however, as it was then time to head to Tokyo! Since I hadn’t been able to work out my travel dates until the last minute (due to jobhunting – more on that to come…), I unfortunately didn’t manage to meet up with as many people as I’d wanted to. The last couple of times I’ve been to Tokyo we’ve had big gatherings of former exchange students, people from the Japanese department at Edinburgh and so on, but this time I didn’t have time to organise it 😦 Will definitely be more organised next time!
After spending one night in Tokyo, my old flatmate from 1st year (who is from Tokyo) and I got on the train to Nikko, a place up in the mountains in Tochigi Prefecture – not too far from Tokyo. It’s somewhere I’ve wanted to go since hearing stories from friends who’ve been there before, and it turned out to be very much worth it despite slightly dreary weather.
A few hours later and we arrived in Nikko. After tucking into some soba with yuba (a sweetish tofu product which is a speciality in Nikko), we headed off to the see the shrines and mausoleums which it is so famous for.
The biggest attraction, Tōshō-gū, is a mausoleum in which Tokugawa Ieyasu is enshrined. Being cheapskates, however, we decided not to pay the 1300 yen (about £7) fee to get in, which we somewhat regretted afterwards, but in our defence it did seem ridiculous considering most of the other shrines were 500 yen or under. I guess being that famous they can afford to charge that much though! Will maybe go back one day when I have read up a bit more on Tokugawa Ieyasu…
One mausoleum we did make it into was Taiyūinbyō, the mausoleum of Tokugawa Iemitsu, the third Tokugawa shogun. I’m not nearly knowledgeable enough to make any comments about the mausoleum other than that it was very beautiful and in a lovely setting set deep among the trees, so here are some photos:
We met a deer!
After making our way back to the station, where our host for the accommodation we’d booked through Airbnb came to pick us up, we headed up into the mountains.
The place we were staying was quite bizarre, with dormitories made out of old train carriages. I’m not sure how the train carriages got there originally, but the place itself was a former bathhouse up in the middle of the mountains, bought by the current owner when the pipes for all the hot water stopped working. Fortunately they were still working just about enough for us to shower, but the actual bathing area was very different from how it must have been before. There was no water in the big bath – just showers – and it had what I suppose can be described as a very natural aesthetic, with plants growing through cracks in the tiles. Still, it was much more interesting than a normal hotel!
One of the best things about Nikko was that it was only about 20 degrees most of the time we were there. This, compared with mid 30s in Tokyo and Osaka, was a very welcome break! It also meant that on our second day, when we went for a walk round Lake Chūzenji, that we could do so without drowning in our own sweat. Yay!
The area up round the lake was really beautiful, with several waterfalls and – best of all – an area full of onsen (hot springs) for us to relax after our walk. Being right by the source, it was very sulphurous, meaning we smelt a little strange for the next day or so, but it was definitely worth it!
I would love to continue writing this just now, but if I don’t go now I will be more than fashionably late for a farewell party at my friends’ house.
Keep an eye out for Part 2 (In Which Elly Goes to Kyuushuu)!