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Published: April 1st 2010
I was prepared for the day, pack loaded and feet taped. I arrived at Ueno one of the Japan Rail stations to ask advice for the most efficient route between Tokyo and Matsumoto, my next destination. Tokyo Shinjuku station is a rat maze and everyone is on a mission and you better not get in the way. From across the office Mena and I spotted each other, as it turns out she was late and arrived 5 minutes after id left. Every station has 6-7 exits so it was very unlikely we would cross paths after I left anyway. Cest la vie! I was told to go to Tokyo station and take the train to Matsumoto from there. When I was in Tokyo I thought I may as well find an internet café and arrange a bed for the night. I couldn’t find anything to I went to speak to the National Tourist Office for help on finding accommodation. I had checked availability the previous night and was laughing as far as I could tell but couldn’t face going upstairs to get the credit card and back down to pay before going up again to bed. Unfortunately the next morning everywhere was fully booked. After chatting to the woman at the desk I found out that this was a long holiday weekend which explains why id been finding things harder the last few days. We looked through hotels and hostels and found only one in 3 of the towns I wanted to visit in the next few days. I didn’t mind changing my plans if it saved me money. We finally found one but it cost as much for 1 night as id spent on subways, accommodation and food in the last 2 ½ days, that said the room had a shower and aircon but most significantly the power boat noise were missing so I could get a decent kip. . Being left with no other options I reluctantly took the booking and spent the next 3 hours on the train from Tokyo to Matsumoto. The hotel was a moderate (Ha Ha) business hotel near the Takayama station, so near they called it Station New Hotel, original I know, but I was pleasantly surprised when I heard they had an ones on the top floor and also wifi internet access so I decided after exploring and a bite to eat id use the net to sort out the next few days in hostels- I’m not making that mistake again. The panic of not knowing where you will spend the night or what will happen to your gear. I think most travelers inevitably spend one night in a train/bus station but I wasn’t there yet but with limited resources and 7 countries still to visit I was being cautious. I dropped my gear and decided to reconnoiter the area and find Matsumto castle and take some pictures at night but also to make things easier the following day because if I timed things properly I could see Matsumoto and get the hour bus to Takayama, see the Hida folk village, museums and also the untouched streets surviving the Edo period. After finding the castle I was now in search of some grub. Pone small alley I wandered down showed some signs of life. Standing outside one of them was a man enjoying a cigarette. I asked him if they served food inside, his answer was simple. No food, only good drink! What the hell, I’ll have a pint before I eat. As soon as I opened the doors I loved the place, it was called Strange Bar, inside they had posters from movies like North By Northwest, Blues Brothers, they played blues and rock music and behind the bar had every whisky known to man. I loved it, I wanted to ship it home and make it my local! The smoker I met returned to his drink and for a few minutes there was silence between the five of us in the bar until I started with small talk. Within minutes I found out that the smoker and his friend were Naoya and Nobiyuki both in their 30s, Noaya had a wife and two kids, they both worked at epson factory down the road I spent another hour talking away to them. When hunger struck I asked again about food and they decided to join me, in fact they led me to an American style bar serving Japanese noodles with American toppings and played karaoke tracks from 50’s and 60’s bands. We sang along to the Stones, Byrds and Mammas and papas while we ate. Naoya and Nobiyuki would hear none of it when I went to pay my part of the tab; they were on the way to see friends but gave me directions to the hotel I was staying in where I headed straight for the Onsen. I’d never tried it before and there’s a strict routine to follow - thankfully id read up on it so I knew exactly what to do. When I was ready (wearing only my birthday suit) I went in, it was empty so I was more relaxed straight away. About 5 minutes later another person came in followed by another 2 separated by a minutes gap. All 3 spent about 5 minutes there and headed off. I don’t know if it’s because it was 11.45, they were offended I was there or a case of penis envy. I’ll never know. After relaxing for 20 minutes I retired to bed for the night to recharge for the busy day ahead.
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