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A night in a Ryokan – Kurobe Gorge
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Sun 4 Aug – day 86  When I awoke the following morning you would have thought that the Bon-Bon Festival had never taken place as the streets were immaculate with not a spot of litter anywhere; in the UK it would probably have taken days to completely clear up.

After another full English breakfast – Japanese style in the diner, it was time to check out and move on; however I again used the luggage forwarding service to send my suitcase on, this time to Hakodate where I would arrive in three days time.

I headed north aboard a local train travelling along the JR Oito Line on the way to Itoigawa where I would transfer to a train heading towards Toyama.  It was ‘all stations’ train that made its way along what was attractive route; the first few stations we stopped at were obviously towns from where commuters travelled into the city to work and so they had large ‘bike parks’ rather than a car park – so very ecological.  As we left the plain on which Matsumoto was situated, the valley narrowed and went between the mountains so there are tall snow covered peaks on both sides.  And once again the scenery was so vast it was difficult to take a photo that would do it justice.

Even though it was a Sunday the train was well used by both locals and travellers and it looked as if most of them were off for a day’s walking in the foothills.  On some of the lakes people were fishing or paddling canoes, so a very tranquil sight.

When the train arrived at Minami-Otari station, it was all change as the line ahead was closed for maintenance over the weekend and so we had wait for the replacement coach service.  As there was going to be an hour’s wait I explored the local area; right next to the station was a bridge over the river that we had been following all the way from Matsumoto.  This was a fast flowing water course, but just like on many rivers in Scotland, a fish ladder had been constructed by the weir.

The waiting room has a tatami mat area in it where you can rest after having removed your footwear; this was certainly an unusual sight and the only one I had seen so far during my travels.  Having finished exploring, it was time for an ice-cream and then write some more postcards.

 

When the coaches finally arrived, the station staff indicated that the first two would be going straight to Itoigawa without stopping at any of the intermediate stations and so I climbed on board and had the pleasure of plenty of room because once again no one wanted to sit next to a gaijin.

It took just under an hour to reach Itoigawa station as this was a fairly narrow road through the valley with few places where the coach could get up to top speed, but I was not really bothered as I just sat back and watched the countryside as we went along.

Once out of the mountains the built-up area and industry soon became apparent and the green fields and trees disappeared to be replaced by concrete and steel constructions.

We went under the new Nagano to Kanazawa Shinkansen line which because as the tracks are built to be as straight and as flat as possible in order to achieve maximum speed, could be quite intrusive as it marched its way across the countryside.

The existing station at Itoigawa was adjacent to the new Shinkansen line and although scheduled to be one of the new inter-change stations nothing had yet been done to upgrade the current buildings.

 

After just a short wait I boarded one of the Limited Expresses that ran to Toyama along the JR Hokuriku Line.  The trip took nearly 1¼ hours with views to the right across the Sea of Japanand to the left in the distance were the Japanese Alps.

At Toyama station I alighted and walked the short distance to the adjacent Dentetsu-Toyama station from where I would be travelling on the private Toyama Chiho Railway to Unazuki-onsen in the Kurobe Gorge.  As there was a little time to wait before the train departed I had a very nice pastry and coffee in the café in the station foyer.

The tracks of the private railway went through the suburbs before paralleling the JR Hokuriku Line until we reached Shin-Uozu station when the tracks turned inland.  We soon passed under the new Shinkansen line and then the rice fields disappeared as the coastal plain was left behind and the train started to follow the course of the Kurobe-gawa as the tracks climbed up into the mountains.  At point a Buddhist temple was very prominent as it was perched on a hill overlooking the valley below.

 

At Unazuki-onsen station a fountain spouts out hot water at 60° Celsius to a height of two meters.

I walked the short distance up to Unazuki station which was the start of the Kurobe Gorge Railway and on which I had planned to take a trip tomorrow, so I had to check the time of the trains and buy a ticket.

 

I then walked back down the hill heading for the Yanagitei Ryokan where I would be spending the night.  Having crossed the Okokage Bridge, an impressive structure spanning the river, it was than an uphill climb to the ryokan.  As I had arrived on the last of the afternoon trains, the next arrival was nearly four hours later, one of the hotel maids was waiting outside the hotel and as soon as I appeared she went and got the owner (a lady) and wearing traditional clothing they both came out to greet me; low bows given and returned.

By the entrance were written the names of all the guests arriving that day and this included me.  When I went to remove my shoes before I entered the ryokan I was told that this was not necessary and so having been ushered inside I was escorted to a seat and then offered tea.  No thanks but cold water would be very acceptable as yet again it had been a very hot day.

Having completed the check-in the owner asked me if there was anything that I did not want for dinner that evening and remembering the meal on the Alpine Route I said that I did not particularly like boiled fish and cold noodles.  No problem and I would be served extra of the other portions.

The owner spoke reasonable English, but the maid could only converse in her own language, just like me.

Although this was a modern concrete built hotel, all the individual rooms had been fitted out just as if you were in an original wooden ryokan.  The door was slid open to reveal the entrance hall and as there was a step up onto the tatami mats that covered the floor, it was obvious that it was here that you removed your outdoor footwear.  Having done that I was shown the rest of the rooms, the dining room with a yukata (cotton robe) ready for me to wear, the sitting room with a view over the gorge, the bedroom where my rucksack had been placed and finally the bathroom which I was glad to see had a western style toilet.

 

 

As I had arrived a little late there was not enough time to use the bath facilities before dinner, so I just shaved, then had a hot shower and washed my hair so that I felt clean.

The yukata was sized for a large Japanese man and was only just big enough to fit around my ample girth without revealing too much.

 

 

The maid (I never did know her name) served dinner in the traditional style, with the exception of using an electronic lighter to ignite the food warmers.  I had a couple of local beers with my meal; these were a pretty unique brew which had been made using clear water from the Kurobe-gawa and barley from Unazuki and therefore had a very rich taste.

Once I had finished the meal I spent some time writing postcards before the maid came back in and laid out my futon for the night.

Although it was still quite early I settled myself onto the bed and it did not take very long before I was fast asleep.