Published: June 7th 2011May 30th 2011
Indeed I was flying solo again and just as I was getting used to the company too!
My first port of call was to be Tsumago which would be reached by several buses and trains and culminating in an 8km hike to reach the remote town by foot. As the train times scheduled would have me arriving at my accommodation some time around 7PM (and that was assuming I was walking quickly) I decided to take the rainy day alternative and forget the hike, this was a wise move as about half an hour into the first train journey the rain absolutely deluged down. Three trains and one taxi later I arrived at Tsumago and it was like stepping back in time. The scenic town was not blighted by a single telephone pole or modern development and the streets at night were lit by lanterns.
In hindsight I was glad I didn't hike as there was a leaflet in my room about hiring a bell if you were hiking to scare off bears(apparently they don't like surprises!- that makes two of us!)
My accommodation was basic but comfortable with a very traditional feel although the outdoor walk to the toilet
and the rather large spiders I met en route weren't to my liking.
On the evening I was sitting down to dinner in a large tatami room when I heard a voice from the other side of the screen asking me if I would like some company, as I was eating alone I thought why not.
An elderly Japanese gentleman opened the screen and proceeded to sit down. We had a long chat through the evening about Japanese history especially in relation to the Nakasendo highway and about the recent earthquake and resulting tsunami. It turned out that this 70 year old man was from near the quake epicentre and was looking to return to aid with the clear up operation and building work once he had finished walking from Tokyo to Kyoto, covering about 30km a day-( an pretty impressive feat at any age).
We parted company and he apologised in advance if he woke me up early in the morning as he was setting off walking at 6am again.
The next day the rain persisted and I headed for the bus to continue my journey to Osaka.
I was looking forward to spending some time in Osaka from
what I had seen of it from a previous brief one night stop over when myself and Martin ended up wandering round for hours looking for the airport bus stop. Luckily I was in the same hotel as on our previous stay which made locating it nice and easy.
I decided after a lazy start to the day to go to Osaka Aquarium given that any day trips out would be rushed with only half a day and I really wanted to go there last time, I was not to be disappointed...
The aquarium is built around a huge central tank which is home to a whale shark and two huge mantas amongst other species of sharks. You get an escalator up about 8 floors and slowly wind your way down around the tank and take in various displays of the ocean life at 8 different sea levels, pretty impressive stuff and it even manages to include penguins,dolphins, giant spider crabs and an intriguing display of jelly fish.
On leaving the aquarium I noticed a massive Ferris wheel which is said to be the biggest in the world at 112m high, I'm unsure of this claim but it did leave
me wondering exactly what the Japanese obsession with building giant Ferris wheels in the city was.
A quick stop was made at the Umeda Sky Building which is a very quirky addition to the Osaka skyline. I had planned to ride the lift to the top of the building but as soon as I got there the heavens opened and scuppered my plans and the festivities of the Hawaiian event going on underneath it- all that rain certainly dampened the Aloha spirit.
I spent the next couple of days indulging in days trips from Osaka namely to Nara, Arashiyama and Inari.
Nara was absolutely crammed with parties of school children visiting the many temples and shrines and also tourists there to view the sights and to feed the many deer that roam the town. Some of these deer have learned to bow in response to tourist bows but do expect a reward. The deer that I saw were having none of that and were solely after one thing- shika sembei (deer biscuits) and overwhelmed several tourists to get them. After witnessing this I decided not to feed them and risk injury and also realised why the old ladies selling the
biscuits had big metal sticks!
Strangely ( and I only found this out after leaving Osaka) I was spotted whilst in Nara by someone I used to go to university with and haven't seen for 10 years- small world eh?!
Arashiyama was a pleasant trip out especially the bamboo grove which had a very mystical air about it and felt like you could encounter anything round the next corner..and that is exactly what happened!
No I am not talking some mythical beast from Japanese folk tales or a samurai but a clown..Yes a clown! It was surprising, bizarre and terrifying in equal measures.
Nevertheless it didn't ruin a tranquil stroll through the temple gardens and the riverside walk nor did the near gale force wind! I decided to forgo the monkey park in exchange for paying a visit to Inari to see the Fushimi Inari Shrine.
This magnificent vermilion vision is truly one to behold.. The mountain trail in the shrine grounds begins with two dense, parallel rows of gates called Senbon Torii ("thousands of torii gates") which have all been donated by companies/individuals. As the trail goes higher the number and density of these gates reduce down somewhat but
it still is an impressive scene.
With the day closing in I headed back to Osaka to sample some of the night time atmosphere around Dotonbori.
This area is neon heavy,bustling with life and many places to eat and drink and whilst there it would be rude not to sample a local delicacy of takoyaki (octopus dumplings)- They are nicer than they sound.
It was getting late and with yet another early start an the cards I called it a night...
There are more photos below