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Page history last edited by Phil Baraona 14 years, 9 months ago

Saturday, Oct 3

After another decent breakfast at the Saikan, we had the morning to explore Mt Haguro-san. It had been raining pretty hard all night, but the clouds broke while we were eating breakfast so we stayed mostly dry as we walked around. Haguro-san is famous for the >2400 steps that lead from its base up to the temple where we had spent the night. Mike R, Greg and I set off down the stairs together and decided to go straight to the bottom without stopping at too many sites along the way. These steps are actually somewhat challenging since they aren’t very tell or very wide, but we made it down without any problems and without seeing any other people.

At the bottom, the school children arrived. There were at least four busloads of 9th graders plus who knows how many busloads of kids from other grades. The 9th graders in particular seemed to enjoy saying “Ha-low” (i.e. hello) to us as they walked by. They were actually quite nice. One of them even gave us each a piece of candy as she walked by. I can’t imagine school kids on a field trip in the U.S. would treat foreigners quite the same way, but who knows.

Some of the more interesting sites along the way included a waterfall, a pagoda and a tea house. The waterfall is only a few minutes from the gate at the bottom. It’s probably about 100 feet high and it looked really neat. We speculated there was more water flowing through it than normal because of all the rain in the past 24 hours.

Just beyond the waterfall are a 1400 year old cedar tree and a 5-story pagoda. The pagoda is over 600 years old and looks really nice from the trail. Unfortunately, it’s showing its age so it is a little less impressive when you get up close. Still picturesque. A little ways beyond the pagoda and up a bunch of stairs is a Japanese tea house. It’s really just a place to buy some refreshments as you climb up those stairs! The best part here: there was a bench with a nice view of the valley below.

We made a couple of other detours on the way back up. The first was down a little path that led under a red tori. Based on the map, it looked like it led to a neat little clearing, but the trail was somewhat steep and quite muddy so we turned back.

The second detour was to the Minami-Dani or southern valley. The trail here was also really muddy, but mostly flat so we made it all the way to a beautiful clearing without too much trouble. This was a very nice site and apparently a temple had been built here in the 1600s. As we were getting ready to leave, Mike R (who we have taken to calling Tuna Danish based on his experience in Nikko the other day) noticed a different path leading away from the clearing. We had no idea where it went but it seemed to be heading in a good direction (and we knew the area was bordered by the stairs on one side and the road on the other). We decided to follow it. After a very pleasant walk through the woods (for about 15 minutes), we saw a bus ahead and knew that the road was upon us. We were just a short distance from the parking lot near the summit where the bus had dropped us off yesterday.

After a soft serve blueberry ice cream cone, we meandered through the temple grounds at the top and into a couple of buildings. Unfortunately, it was unclear which parts of the buildings we were allowed to go into and there were a couple of ceremonies of some kind going on. Thus, we didn’t really venture too far into any of the buildings except the Dewa-Sanzen-Rekishi-Hakubutsukan which the pamphlet said was a historical museum. For 200 yen, you got to see various Buddha statues, samurai swords and other artifacts. The only downside: everything was in Japanese and there were no English pamphlets so I have no idea of the exact historic significance of most of it. But it was nice nonetheless.

By now, it was time for our bus to leave so we headed back to where we had stayed to pick up our bags and use the facilities. I don’t think I’ve written about the Japanese “super toilets.” As you sit down to do your business, the first thing you’ll notice is that the seat is heated. There is also a control panel with up to 10 different buttons you can press depending on just how “super” this particular toilet seat model happens to be. After you finish, you press one of the buttons and it shoots a stream of water upwards to clean off your behind. Another button causes some air to blow to dry things off. Apparently, other buttons cause noises to be made or scents to be emitted to cover up any embarrassing things that you might be doing. I’m not even sure I want to know what the rest of the buttons do, but I did try the “water stream” and “drying” buttons since they actually seemed useful.

We took our bags back up the hill and boarded a very crowded bus to Tsurouka where we had enough time to run out to the S-mall for some supplies. There were quite a few teenage girls walking around in what looked like school uniforms. I assume this means they had just gotten out of school – on Saturday. I picked up a bento box for lunch and we boarded a local train down the coast to Niigata. There were some nice views of the Sea of Japan along the way. I was sitting next to an older Japanese woman for this trip. We tried to talk but neither of us spoke enough of the other’s language so I mostly just wrote in my journal. As we approached Niigata, I offered her a piece of chocolate which she happily accepted. She returned the favor with a mint-like hard candy. A nice little moment.

We had a quick change to the Shinkansen in Niigata. A little more than an hour later, we reached reach Takasaki, our destination for the evening. We’re staying at the Toyoko Inn (for 3500 yen/person, breakfast included). This is our only “Western style” hotel of the trip. We could actually leave our shoes on to walk up to the room and it looked very much like a chain hotel back home. They have three sets of coin operated washer and dryers in the lobby and all of us needed to use them. I put my clothes in and headed out with the group for dinner.

After being turned away at two places because they were full, we finally got a table at a place about a block from the hotel. This was a neat experience that might best be described as Japanese tapas. They had a huge menu and it was very chaotic ordering from it. Each of us ordered a few things that we wanted and then shared with the group. I think we eventually got everything we ordered and most of it was quite tasty. We even ordered seconds and thirds of a few of our favorite items. The wait staff was very efficient. Each table had a remote control with a button on it that you pressed when you needed something. Within 30 seconds, someone appeared to find out what you needed. One other unique thing about this place: you had to take your shoes off as you walked in the door. Quite a change from the “No shirt. No shoes. No service.” policy back home!

After a brief stop back at the hotel to put away my laundry, Mike L, Greg, Eric and I headed out to see what kind of night life we could find in Takasaki. Our first stop was a little, somewhat dingy dart bar. Our waiter was very nice in explaining how to use the dart machine – though he did take awhile to get us our bill because he was playing darts with a couple of cute women. Guess I can’t blame him for that. After a couple of dart games of our own (minus the cute women), we decided to move on.

We stumbled across a place that said “Life is Carni Bar – Bird’s Eye View.” There was noise coming from upstairs and when we went up, we emerged into what seemed to be a little local bar. A lot of the people apparently knew each other and many of them also knew the wait staff. We sat down at a table which, like the place we had dinner, had a “sunken area” area for your legs even though the height of the table made it look as if you were sitting on the floor. Our intention was to order a beer and head back so we turned to the beer page and pointed to four different items.

Shortly after that, the waitress brought an appetizer sized dish featuring a really good tomato. This seemed strange, but we didn’t think much of it since she had also brought us a gelatinous thing when we first sat down that we definitely did not order. Next, some pickled vegetables appeared. Then some really good potato wedges. Still no beer. At this point, we realized our mistake: we had not ordered beer at all! Just four appetizers that appeared on the same page as the beer. Oops. Lesson learned. We ordered a beer and actually did a pretty good job finishing the four appetizers we didn’t really want. We headed back to the hotel laughing about what fools we had been. We are definitely not in our culture!

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