Day 14: Further along the Nakasendo by train and then north west: 11th May 2017

We were continuing our train trip along the Nakasendo. So up early again to find some breakfast before our train trip. We passed a lovely bakery on the way so I decided we should buy some buns in case we did not find an open cafe that would serve something simple. I have to admit although I love Japanese food I cannot do noodle soup for breakfast. Another thing that surprised us, a little, is that these small post towns do not rise too early in the morning. In fact it is hard to find anything open before 10 o’clock and they are all closed up by 5p.m. So much for our impression of very hard working Japanese! However we did find an open ‘cafe’. I put this in parentheses as it resembled someone’s front room more than a cafe and the tiny yappy dog really did not want us to enter. Granny came to the rescue, banished the pooch, and made us a mean cup of coffee. One of the best we have had. I am feeling a little green tea(d) out!!!! We did not dare bring out our buns – we had already tested the wrath of the dog we did not want to offend Granny…

Then we had to find an ATM machine. We had been warned that very few places accept credit cards and this has turned out to be true. Another strange thing is that despite alerting our relevant banks of our trip it took almost a week before Barry’s bank took this on. Then we discovered that only 7 Eleven supermarket ATM machines work with foreign debit Irish cards…. Other machines, despite being marked with Visa signs, only accept our French credit cards. I wonder would it be possible to find out, when we return home, why this is so. Then again will we have the will to pursue this.

After this aside we set off for Masimoto on a fast train. We said goodbye to two lovely Australian people we had met en route. The only thing we learned about Masimoto is that the railway announcement of its name is made by a lady with the most annoying voice. She elongates the ‘o’ for about a minute. But the take away lunch of semi fried fish and noodles and rice was lovely. It was served in a plastic bowl. We ate this with relish to the dulcet tone of the announcer.

We rang the owner of tonight’s Roykan who had promised to collect us at the station. He is American, married to a Japanese lady. As always in our travels being lucky is better than being rich. There was only two trains to our destination, Obsute, that afternoon and we were just in time for the first. It was a two carriage local, one man, train. But we hit the day that the driver was being tested/inspected on this trip. This involved him and the inspector sitting in the glass cabin, up front. The driver then proceeded to roar out all the checks he was making before we moved off. The roaring was accompanied by very precise hand signals. As we moved along at quite a clip he continued to shout out his movements and, what seemed to us, salute to every tenth poles on the way. He also had to shout out the name of every signal point. It was hilarious. But we did arrive at our station after about ten previous stops. We had to exit through the front door as these tiny stations are devoid of personel and the trains are one man operated so the driver has to see when everyone has alighted from the train. In our case that meant us two and a young lad!!

Our host arrived in about 5 minutes. We was about 7 foot (2 meters) tall. That’s tall anywhere but here in Japan it’s enormous. He unfolded himself from a tiny car and we got in with our backpacks. He set off down a tiny narrow road towards the huge conurbation below. En route our host pointed out the rice paddies which are just ready for planting. The seedlings were there in blocks. This will be harvested in September.

Togura Onsen, where we are staying, is a ‘quartier’ of the big town of Chikuma It has natural sulpher springs. There is that weird odour of sulpher around the area. It reminds me of working in the laboratory. Our Roykan, guest house, is one of the originals. It has its own natural spring which is used as a hot bath (onsen). The guesthouse is beautiful with a lovely tiny garden squashed in between other houses. The owner is really helpful, maybe a little too helpful!

He did supply maps and loads of advice for which we were very grateful. We set off to walk up to an ancient Castle on the hill behind the town. This is a very wide part of the valley. It is a skiing area surrounded by high mountains, some with snow still on top. Our walk was steep but worth the view from the top. Another thing that surprised us was that smack behind an ancient Japanese shrine there was the ugliest solid concrete shell of an abandoned hotel building. Not something one expects to find here.

Back down the hill we were ready for a beer and then an onsen. Its sulpher water and was HOT… but it is a wonderful way to end a day and prepare for dinner. We had decided to have dinner in our guesthouse. There was only four guests. It was a culinary experience, thirteen dishes. There is no starter and for the main course there was a mix of small dishes, meat, cooked in steam at the table, raw fish, beautiful veg, tofu, a sort of custard, a piece of perch in a lovely sauce with tofu and fruit. Wonderful.