Day 18: The Final Round up: 15th May 2017

With this sort of independent travel you nearly always win some and loose some. So far we had won them all but yesterday we felt we were about to loose this one.

We had decided to change our arrangements a couple of days ago. Originally we were due to move from Togura to Karauizawa for one night and then to Isobe Onsen for our last night on the road. Our original intention was to try to cross the Usui Pass which is the final part of the Nakasendo trail. But we could not find any trail information before we came to Japan. We knew this was a 14km hike. But we did not know if we could have our backpacks sent ahead. I knew I could not carry my pack that far with the gammy hip. So we decided to skip Karauizawa and go straight to Isobe Onsen. We managed to cancel our booking in the one place and extend our stay in the other. BAD plan!!!!

When we mentioned to our host in Togura that we were headed to Isobe for two days, He looked shocked. He asked “why”. So we said we liked the name Isobe Onsen.

We set off south from Togura to Ueda on a local train. From there we got the bullet to Takaski. This is a big train intersection. From there we got another local train to Isobe. On arrival we were confronted with the sight of a huge refinery! The station was fine if small and rural. We knew fairly well where our hotel was situated, thanks to Dr. Google. Off we set. Well this place is not like almost anywhere else we have ever been. There seems to be no one living here. The shops are all closed and very run down. We have hardly seen a living soul everyone seems to have packed up and left town. We did not spot our hotel so I saw a light in what looked like an office. I went in and there was several people sitting behind a long counter. When I entered the young woman at desk one’s eyes became huge and totally round. I do not think she had ever seen a European in her office before. However being Japanese she jumped up and offered to accompany us. It was, in fact, just back down the road.

The hotel is really nice but we are the only people here. There are about twenty pairs of red slippers lined up in the reception area. The owner does not have a single word of English and our Japanese is limited to “thank you” and “hello”!!! But she is delightful. We set off to explore the place. There is a gigantic hotel that looks like a Russian built hotel, reminded us of Yugoslavia in the 70’s or 80’s. Other than a man making biscuits in the window of a shop the place was devoid of human life.

That evening we asked where we could eat dinner. Our hotel owner showed us the only place that was open on a map. We had passed a rather seedy place on our way to the hotel and behold this was the place she recommended. So off we set. It was indeed very basic. A husband and wife team were running it. They did not have any English nor did they have pictures of the food, as many restaurants do. But, by now, we know many Japanese dishes so we were able to order two Udon with soba noodles. The food was fine if simple and very cheap.

Our hotel has a wonderful onzen which we have to ourselves.

We decided we had made a mistake coming here and wanted to check out what we had missed in Karauizawa today. With our JR rail passes we can travel about almost anywhere we want.

Back we went and discovered a totally different side of Japanese life. Karauizawa is a ski resort and extremely sophisticated and rich. The railway station was huge and modern, with a marble floor!! There was a big school group on our train and they alighted at the same station as ourselves. What amazed us was their discipline. There was about 250 teenage girls in the group. They all rose together  when given the signal by  a their teacher. They walked calmly and in line out of the train and along the station platform. Their English teacher was with them so we chatted to him. They were on a four day sports camp.

There was an information center right there in the station. We paid them a visit and tried to get information about walking in the area. The lady had only a few words of English but the map was great.

We followed a trail through a wooded area on the edge of town where we discovered where rich Japanese have their holiday homes. One house was bigger and more elaborate than the next. Many were very American in style. Most of the sites would accommodate ten families in Tokyo or Kyoto or in most of the towns we have visited. All but two were empty at the moment. There was a magnificent house under construction, not very big, modern style, but constructed entirely of cedar, you could smell it from all around. This in a country where most people live in miniscule accommodation, in places like Kyoto there are posh places but very few houses have a garden, maybe a little border, but no garden as we would understand it. So Japan has its ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. Also in this area we came across a very posh hotel called Cotswolds House!!

Needless to remark there was a Rolls Royce parked outside. The walk was about 7 km but we could not find anywhere to sit and have our sushi picnic lunch!!! Every square centimeter of this wooded area is privately owned. We eventually sat on a bench by a bus stop. We came across a posh shopping street, a Ginza, quite bizarre.

It was a really interesting day. These two places, the one where we are staying at called Isobe, and Karauizawa, are like night and day to each other. Yet they are only about 50 or 60 kms apart.

Off to Tokyo tomorrow, scheduled to arrive in London lunchtime Thursday 18th.