Sunday, June 23, 2013

Memories of Golden Week

I spent several days in Nagano which was very refreshing. It was nice to sleep on a bed and not in the back of my car. As this blog serves more as a reminder of where and generally what I did as opposed to very specific details, I don't have many pictures from Nagano. I just didn't take that many. I did, however, make soba for the first time near a famous shrine. That was fun and it was even better to eat it.

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The walk up to the shrine itself is great. I love the tall trees.

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The shrine itself was completely underwhelming. The bamboo and soba flavored ice cream I ate after that was great. For some reason those flavors had an earthiness that plucked the green ivy growing around my heart.

I had a nice time with Yoko's family. They treated me very well. I made brownies for them, even though I kind of failed somehow. They were still happy. We had a nice cook out my next to last day there. That was also very good. I made pizzas for everyone and they all were very happy.

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The next morning we visited a flower festival.

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I spent most of that day contemplating my entire week. I'm not sure if anything changed in me or if I felt more sad to leave Japan. One thing was for sure though. I'm happy just to keep living life no matter where I am and what I do.

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Now on to the backlog of things and places that have been patiently waiting for a voice.

Monday, June 17, 2013


This is perhaps the most famous and biggest site of the gassho style houses. I was glad I stopped in at Ainokura before hand and had a more personal time viewing the houses. I was met by tourists buses and throngs of people milling around. I was surprised how many Chinese tourists were around as well. I didn't want to park in the main parking lot because I was afraid they would charge me by the hour or too much. I planned to stay at one of the gassho houses that night and wanted an affordable option until I could park my car wherever I was staying. Luckily, someone was renting out the lot across from their house for 500 yen, for all day. Score on that. Before taking a longer walking around the village I stopped for lunch and had the recommended dish, hoba miso.

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You get to cook your own vegetables and miso on top of a leaf over a small little flame. It's quite fun and entirely delicious. The smell of burning miso at the end flooded the shop but I didn't feel bad. I'm sure that is just how it is. I love Japanese set meals like this. It's one thing I will dearly miss. They are usually such good value for what you get and I'm always satisfied.

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On a full stomach I took the "hard route" up to the look out platform. This iconic view is probably best anytime other than when I was there. The winter had just ended so the snow was gone and spring hadn't come through enough yet. The pictures of it in other seasons made me wish to be there another time yet I wasn't going to let such feelings get me down. I had risen through rain and made it all the way there.

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The following guy was repairing a roof. The roofs eventually have to be replaced after so many years and it looks to be a long task. They shove the woody branches in and then trim them down to size.

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These roofs abound everywhere. I read that people help each other out to repair the roofs. There must be some kind of fund or government program as well. It looks like slow and repetitive work that would end up being expensive.

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Earlier in the day I walked up to this gassho house, which also serves as a inn of sorts. I inquired if they had a room and I was pleased to find they had a single one available.

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When I was checking in I met a Japanese magazine writer who has lived in America for many years. We talked over the wonderful dinner which was probably well worth the cost of staying at the place by itself. I couldn't believe the tubs of rice they put out for each individual. I didn't take a picture of dinner for some reason. But I made sure to grab one of the breakfast which was equally splendid.

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I spent the night in a little room that had a view of the river. I think it was the best view in the entire place. As we ate dinner someone sneaked in a back door and laid out the bedding. I slept very well that night with the sound of the river rushing by outside.

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In the morning I took my new acquaintance to Takayama because I was driving through their anyway. We spent a few hours walking around together and trying some different kinds of mochi. It was nice to meet a friend after having spent so much time talking to really no one.

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I was more interested in moving on to the final destination though. But the timing was perfect. I enjoyed the remaining drive through the mountains and valleys until I landed several hours later at the door step of my friend's house. If I had turned back home then I would have been completely satisfied but it was even better to take my shoes off and sit on the couch reflecting on how far I had come.

One more brief post to follow this one and close up a Golden Week that in every way was golden.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Gassho Country

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This was the final view of Ainokura that I forget to include in the previous post. The main road that runs through the valley has a number of these houses nearby in random locations. I can't remember the name of the next spot I stopped at though.

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This place was relatively quiet like Ainokura. I started to wonder if I would tire of these houses rather quickly. After you have seen a few they all start to look the same. Yet, I enjoyed looking at them a lot.

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Most of the houses have been converted into shops, restaurants, or places for people to stay. Many houses have been relocated from other locations in order to preserve them.

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Maybe you can help me ascertain what is in the next picture.

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I really don't know.

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I don't trust buying things when the description is written on a plastic meat tray.

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There was a fancy tunnel with elevator to an overlook that I made full use of.

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I wish I had a suit like this. I wanted to wear it.

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I kept wondering if I had left Japan.

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No, but everything felt just right.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


I woke up to a dreary and wet morning on the outskirts of Toyama. I slept well even with the painful pounding of rain on the car top. It was all that driving around the peninsula. I buzzed through Toyama as quickly as possible. I wanted to get to Gokayama early just in case Golden Week brought more of my favorite companions, lots of people. As I approached the rising mountains, the rain started to abate. This was very promising.

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For awhile I thought I had arrived back in Kochi where I often hug the mountain sides in my car and pass dam reservoirs endlessly. The scenery felt the same except for the faint traces of snow hanging on for dear life. But it still had a feel that was not of Kochi. That is best. Kochi will always stand on its own merits in my mind. I soaked in the mountain scenery and arrived at Ainokura unexpectedly and was greeted with a few cars in the parking lot. Even better was the rain that was slowly choking itself off.

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This is a world heritage site but is probably less visited than it's more famous sister/brother? 20km south. If there is any reoccurring theme on this blog it's clearly my agoraphobia. Or it's just a sign I lived alone too long.

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These houses eschew roof tiles for thick thatching using a local woody plant. Long ago it was impossible to carry heavy tiles into the deep mountains so the locals improvised with what they had. The steep angle is to allow the heavy snow fall to slide off during winter.

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I couldn't have been happier with the stopping of the rain. The clouds and fog began to swirl around the distant mountains making me forget it was still early spring even though the muddy ground told me otherwise.

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 In dry weather the roofs are highly susceptible to fire so they have extensive anti-fire measures in place all over the villages of this kind.

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It was such a peaceful morning there. I didn't have to dodge anyone for my pictures. I'm spoiled with that when I'm in Shikoku most of the time.

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I would have been completely happy if nothing else had happened that day. But that all changed when I came to following house.

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I was standing out front snapping pictures when an old lady stuck her head outside. I quickly said, "Good morning." She quickly fired back, "Where are you from?" With a few short exchanges and having proved my Japanese competence she opened up the white sliding doors so I could see into the house. She told me how it was the oldest house in the village at over 500 years old (on a secondary search when I got home, it was said to be over 400 but either way it's old enough). I already felt privileged that she had opened it up for me to take a look. Yet, she could do much better.

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I was beckoned inside to see the large first floor living room area. Was this really happening? Had I just been pulled in the oldest house in the village?

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She showed me a room where the emperor's son had stayed twice, along with pictures hanging outside the room. The emperor's son loved Ainokura and wrote, "It's one of my favorite places in Japan. I came here once when I was a student. I came with my wife. One day I'll bring my children here." I found this particularly endearing. He was right to appreciate the value of the place. The bear rug was a different story though. Some farmer had been mauled across the face, supposedly, and he took his revenge by turning the bear into a piece of furniture. Maybe that was just a convenient place holder for a tale but I'll buy it.

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She told me again and again how old the house was and that the emperor's son had stayed. She brought me coffee and we chatted about life. I had to coax her into the picture because she wouldn't believe she was beautiful enough. Women never change, am I right? She kept telling me the same few bits of information over and over. Clearly the signs of some Alzheimer's setting in. Maybe that was why she invited me but I just like to think it was because friendliness really has no barrier in this world. 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Round the Noto

The coastline northwest of Kanazawa is nice. I felt like I was driving somewhere in Michigan. I guess this happened several times throughout my trip. The sandy beaches and pines give me good memories. The rest of my larger family is more attached to Pentwater, our past annual vacation spot, than I am. Everyone remembers and loves different things. I like many things about those times. But it has never been hard to let go.

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I had pictured the Noto Peninsula having more mountains. It wasn't exactly lacking them though. They were more gradual and sloping than anything. This little spot was nearby the main road on the western side of the peninsula.

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I took the most pictures I would all day around this area. I think I was more set on driving than photographing that day. I kind of regret not shooting more pictures of the coast. I'll reflect on that in a moment.

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I saw so many tourist boats during my trip. I almost thought about riding on one each time. Why did I refuse? I figured my feet would take me where I needed to go. Terrible excuse. Someday I'll ride a boat to see whales in Alaska. Rocks are in wide abundance from many vantage points not involving boats. Okay, so that's another silly generalization.

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The rocky shores felt volcanic here.

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I loved the algae and little pots of trapped water among the rocks.

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Not sure the purpose of these...

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A little bit farther up the shoreline was the following rock formation. I can appreciate it.

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After this I just kept driving and driving. I almost stopped in a few towns but I wouldn't let myself stop except for some dried tomatoes. I was starving and the evening was approaching which meant any source of food would soon close up. I had to keep my eyes open. In the meantime I enjoyed finding these seawalls along the coast.

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The one thing I had wanted to photograph were the roofs of all the houses. They are lacquered black to help the snow slide off during winter. I don't know why I have don't have a single picture. Well I do know. I couldn't find any houses I felt looked good or worthy for a roof shot. What a waste. Then again roofs are roofs. Eventually the road ascended a steep line and I found a small cafe.

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I wasn't sure if they were closing up soon and asked if they were serving dinner still. Thankfully they said yes and I ordered the sashimi set meal. When the old lady brought it out she proclaimed, "today is ikemen sabisu." Or in other words, cool guy service! She gave me a great spread of food. I'm not sure if I believed her or not. She might have just wanted to use up the remaining fish and side dishes. I'll just imagine I'm handsome and cool. Before I left the lady told me not to forget that Suzu-shi is suzushi. What an awful joke in the best of ways!

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This shot is at the very northern end of the Noto looking kind of northwest. I wanted to find a hot spring to take a bath as I had left my deodorant at home and the warm car and driving gave me a lovely aroma. I managed to purchase some roll on stuff that kept that smell at bay but I still needed the bath.

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Then there was this tourist trap on the eastern side of the peninsula. It was the last one to snare me that day as I headed south to a hot spring town. When I arrived I found it was essentially large hotels and they were packed with people. I didn't even know which to choose. Feeling dirty and tired I steered the car south toward Toyama. I found a parking spot near the shore and laid out in the back of the car. The rain hitting the metal car roof wasn't the best lullaby for sleeping. It was painful. Rain wasn't quite what I was hoping for the following day in Gokayama but sometimes rain is a blessing more than you know.