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To Nikko and beyond



sumazu nari keri
ame no tsuki

The man in the moon
Has become homeless;
Rain clouded night

Matsuo Bashô (松尾芭蕉) ripped the first two lines from the Tale of Ise.
Sumazu is a kakekotoba meaning either homeless or unclear.

This blog page has been completely replaced by the photoblogs:

We've managed to pick up another free wireless internet connection, so here's another slide set of some of our pics of Kawagoe, Nikko and the road north to Aizuwakamatsu.

Nikko Rinoji Shrine

We set off from our little canal bridge in Kawagoe and drove into town to photograph the old merchant houses. The journey took all day winding through soulless small towns on the fringes of Tokyo valley. Finally we entered the gorge that leads up to Nikko and about mid afternoon we arrived at Nikko in the pouring rain. This misty atmosphere added a sense of mystery to the shrines of Nikko. These are the most beautifully ornate in all of Japan. They include a Buddhist temple Rinoji and the shrine to Tokugawa, the warlord who until the Meiji restoration conquered and unified Japan. This happened at considerable cost to his family as to preserve his strategic supremacy he found it expedient to have his wife and eldest son executed.

Having explored about half the shrines we set of up a winding hairpin road to lake Chuzenji-ko in pea soup fog exacerbated by us not realizing the air con was off and the windscreen was almost totally opaque, which made navigating the tunnels a nightmare.

Driving around the lake edge we found a secluded tree-covered entrance to a disused walking track and camped the night by the lake in the pouring rain. Next day we visited the Tokugawa shrine and after a cooked lunch in our camper - a Mitsubishi "Town Box" kei van spacious for two with only 4400 kms on the clock, we took off north again for Aizu Wakamatsu. This took a lot of navigating twisting in and out of side roads to avoid the very pricy toll road that led to a local spa. The road wound up a precipitous valley with small towns perched on the cliffs falling into the ravine on either side, punctuated by strings of hydro dams which left the green wilderness somewhat devastated in places.

Aizu-wakamatsu Castle

Finally, as we neared Aizu Wakamatsu there were richer valleys with rice fields and stylish traditional farm houses. In the evening we drove up to another lake and stayed the night in a side entrance to avoid the $50 NZ (Y4500) fees for a simple no frills camp site.

Today we went to the reconsructed castle and 17th century tea house and walked up the mountain where 20 young white tiger samurai bar one disemboweled themselves when they saw the rice fields burning below when the town backed the Tokugawas in the face of the successful Meiji restoration.

We're now off further north in the spirit of Bashō, who is famous for making the Haiku into a Satori, although rumours are rife that he was actually a Ninja agent of the government, reporting on any disaffection in the provinces. Anyway, his most famous work was "The Narrow Road to the Far North" an account of his travels through Tohoku in 1689.

Lake Inawashiro

It's very hard to understand the free wireless internet with unlimited bandwidth as a cell phone costs the earth even for a local call. Japanese cell phone coverage is incompatibile with all gsm frequencies, and our loaned Japanese prepay costs Y1000 for about 10 minutes with a 20 day time limit.


Out of Tokyo to Kawagoe and beyond

An annular eclipse at Kawagoe on the first night out.

This is completely insane! I am sitting in the night by a canal outside Kawagoe North of Tokyo watching the lunar eclipse beside our little Mitsubishi Kei van. On the spur of the moment I decided to try to log onto the wireless internet. The computer very politely told me my trusted service I had linked onto by chance in Tokyo was inoperative, but asked me if I would like to join the free service called "milky" and at the press of a button I was back on the net in the wilderness and able to blog and receive all my e-mails.

One of the things you learn from traveling is that it isn't just the inexpensiveness of the funkiest guest house that is an advantage but also the irreplaceable advice and help you get from the people you meet there. I had struck up a conversation with a European guy who is a long term Japanese resident and he had managed to get a much better gentleman's deal from a auto mechanic firm about six years ago and spoke Japanese, so he phoned up and found the 70 year old proprietor was still there and after a spirited conversation at the pay phone down at the "Family Mart", we were engaged on a long term informal lease for only about half the daily costs from a brand name rental firm.

This swept away all thought of simply going down to Nippon Rentals in Oizumi Gakuen and hiring the Kei van we had arranged by e-mail from New Zealand for Y5400 a day, which itself was far below the Y9500 they would have charged for a town ace. However it involved a rather complicated train journey half way to Yokohama and one of those extraordinary meetings, standing beside a silver sphere at the Hiyoshi station waiting for a man to appear who spoke only Japanese. In the event we have a gentleman's agreement with no contract except for a down payment of Y37,500 for the first 15 days and headed off into the magnificently complex roadways of peripheral Tokyo. Our friend even pulled a Japanese prepaid mobile out of a box which he had a duplicate of and we also have a phone for emergencies if we can decipher the Japanese menus!

We spent the rest of the day crawling round Tokyo at abut 15 km per hour, stopping to pick up a Japanese mattress and food to cook for the night on our meths stove, managing to reach Kawagoe on the northern tip of greater Tokyo at about 8 at night, and suddenly discovered this street filled with old Japanese merchant's houses and ducked into a side alley where we found this road to nowhere and are now parked on a bridge over a canal for the night.

Christine feeding fish at our Kawagoe sleeping place

In the morning, having wandered around Kawagoe we drove up into the mountains to the famous shrines at Nikko through a misty cloudy day.


Tokyo One

Senso-ji Temple Asakusa Tokyo
So we can have lots of images, this time around the slide shows are on flickr while the blog is on blogspot. This means we have essentially unlimited free image space and a quick flexible blogging facility.

Extended photoblog with many chapters:
We arrived at Narita airport after a 12 hour flight starting at 5.30 am and arriving at 4.45 pm local time (7.45 pm to us NZ time) to find it very hot and humid. We whisked through customs and immigration and figured out the cheapest way to get to our funky guest house Yoshida House way out the other side of Tokyo at was to take three trains. Firstly we took a Keisei limited express (the slowest and cheapest at Y1000) to Nippori interchanged to the JR Yamanote inner circle running to Ikebukuro where there was another crazy interchange, this time with no English titles to tell what we should do.

The ticket machine in Japanese with the hole in the wall

After bashing our heads against a brick wall trying to figure out the money machines, we noticed a red button with a little sign in English saying "Help" and pressed it. Almost immediately a head peered out through a little trap door and waved at the machine to put money in for two and press 230 which we did. Then there was the uncertain question whether this train would stop at Oizumi Gakuen, the little surburban stop where Yoshida was located.

When we arrived we found the little neighborhood didn't resemble anything the internet map said. But a kind young woman led us a block towards our destination, which began to make sense except the 7-11 was in the wrong place. Then another kind friendly Japanese man told us there were several 7-11s and sent us further towards our destination in the dark residential streets. Finall I began to explore up alleyways and finally stumbled on Yoshida House in the dark almost unable to be seen because it is so heavily covered in vegetation!

Yoshida House

This is a truly far out watering hole, frequented by long-term expatriates, which we discovered on the internet when our Japan Lonely Planet had only uncharacteristic upper class accommodation. We have a double bunk room for only Y3500 a night for both of us which is well under Tokyo rates. We get free air con, free internet and a kitchen we can use to cook for free. A washing machine we can pay for and the wonder of wonders, I tried out wireless on my laptop and have free international coverage from somewhere - goodness knows where, so using my computer is virtually as if I was sitting in the house at home.

Cos-Play Girls at Senso-ji

Yesterday we struggled back out through the metro and went to the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. This takes three metro rides adding to Y580 each each way. If you want a comparison $1US is about Y116. The temple was full of Japanese tourists and also a very colourful throng of cos-play zoku girls or costume play gangs who are largely teenage girls and their boy friends from the suburaban gulags acting out their disphoria and love of visual pop groups creatively by donning rebellious suggestive costumes and wigs.

We ate noodles and walked miles through Ueno park to the Yanaka cemetry which was desolate and refreshingly wild. We descended through the railroad tracks to Nippori and struggled back totally overheated to our funky island of quiet sanity at Yoshida House.

We have managed to arrange a rental Kei van - a 660cc box van designed for confined Japanese conditions - a Daihatsu Hijet to pick up tomorrow, which is only about half the cost of a town ace or other small van we could use as a spontaneous camper. We plan to drive this into the mountains and north to Hokkaido. But there is an acquaintance here at Yoshida House who knows how to contact a firm that hires out vehicles destined for export because their insurance and warranty is a month short of expiry who may be able to get us a deal for only a fraction of the rental cost. This is part of the advantage of finding the funkiest place to stay in Tokyo, but we have to wait until tomorrow morning to see if this is a realizable option because the 70 year old proprietor is away today!

All the services here are very pricey and things like fruit are very expensive and of ridiculously flawless quality. I saw an apple for $4 the size of a small pumpkin and grapes that look like they were stage set models. However technological stuff and imported Chinese textiles are competitively cheap. There is almost no such thing as bread and butter and cheese although we have found how to find a Supermarket which has some small stocks.

Christine with Kashiwa San at Hiyoshi

Well the van is great. We had to rendezvous at a silver ball at Hyoshi station Kawasaki where an elderly but sprightly Japanese man appeared and took us to his little auto shop where we agreed to make a down payment for 87,000 yen and take the vehicle purely on he basis of a gentleman's agreement with no rental contract on the basis that we would confirm we had purchased the vehicle, if we were stopped. Kashiwa spoke no English and we spoke no Japanese, so all this was conveyed indirectly through our Italian friend by cell phone. Kashiwa politely explained that he had our Italian friend's bank account as a guarantee if we disappeared.