Kamikochi

I sat on the far back of the bus, away from most people. It was going to be an hour and 5-minute ride from Shin-shimashima bus terminal to Kamikochi— the Japanese version of the Alps. I kept on fidgeting as I wait for the bus to leave.

It was a Facebook post in November by one of my colleagues.  The scenery in the photo amazed me.  I wondered in which country she went.  I looked at the comments under the photo to find some clues. Surprisingly, the place isn’t abroad.  It’s just here in Japan.

It had almost been eight months and I was reminded of the Alps.  I wanted to go somewhere for my birthday weekend.  I’d been attempting to book a flight to Taiwan, but I was torn because the view of nature in Kamikochi was something I could not wait to see.  In the end, I chose to travel domestically.

It was around 10:35 am when the bus finally arrived in Kamikochi.  I must have drunk a lot of water before the journey because right after getting off, I just had to run to the restroom.  I knew I was going to walk for several kilometers in a forest, so I just had to stuff myself with food.  I looked around for a place to eat at the arrival terminal.  I had ramen for lunch and then I was off to find the most important thing in my list — the bear bell.

I scolded myself for forgetting to bring a jacket.  The place is situated on a high ground so it felt cold to just wear a simple blouse which doesn’t even have long sleeves. In the end, I did manage as the long walks kept me warm. In situations where I couldn’t see a single hiker in view, my heart rate would go faster and I made sure my bear bell tinkled louder.

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How To Get There:

From Matsumoto Station, take the ALPICO Line for SHINSHIMASHIMA and get off at SHINSHIMASHIMA station.  It takes 30 min and costs ¥700. From SHINSHIMASHIMA station, take the bus bound to Kamikochi.

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Tulips

I hadn’t seen a field of tulips before, so I decided to visit my favorite garden in Mie which is Nabana No Sato.  This place changes the flowers depending on the season.  I remember in autumn it had cosmos festival.  And I think by the end of May,  a new set of flowers will be planted as soon as the tulips have withered.

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Go to Meitetsu Bus Center just somewhere at the back of Nagoya Station.  Buy a ticket to Nabana no Sato.  Here’s the bus schedule. (*Schedule may change without prior notice.)

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Shinjuku (新宿)

The moment I stepped out of Shinjuku station, I got struck with homesickness. Seriously, I wanted to hop on the next train bound for Gifu. There’s just something about the Tokyo area that always makes me want to go back to the town where I live. Shinjuku is a place you won’t fall in love in the daylight. There’s trash everywhere. Of course, for some people this is a typical sight. But for someone who lives in rural Japan, it is rare to see piles of garbage in the street. It’s not the Japan that I know of. It just lacks the warmth of the people in the countryside. And I don’t like the feeling of being vigilant again. But I wanted to give Shinjuku a chance by choosing to stay here for a 3-day vacation. It had a negative impression on me considering that my only idea of Shinjuku back then was Jackie Chan’s bloody violent movie ‘Shinjuku Incident.’ Although I still don’t have a positive view of this place, it is fair to say that it has a beautiful nightscape.15800793_10209279358353228_6561047697626030977_o15774820_10209279358713237_2078689694697924809_o15774634_10209279360513282_9019011874566161408_o15874912_10209279359913267_2319753117971210950_o15874808_10209279359713262_7282708808739589289_o15874780_10209279360393279_3432140022357176171_o15844570_10209279359433255_2667903837648344134_o15776832_10209279361153298_7710787402555857259_o

Thoughts on Walking

I put on my white Adidas shoes as this is the only pair of sneakers that goes fashionably well with skirts, dresses, and suits.  I hurriedly went down the stairs of my apartment trying to make it to the main street before the school hymn of the nearby school came to an end.  It’s normally my cue to leave the apartment already or else I’d be late for work.

My workplace is a 30-minute walk from my apartment.  I’ve been walking to school for more than a year already, so I usually make it one or two minutes before my log-in time.  And that includes grabbing lunch and snacks in the supermarket next to my workplace.  My apartment is situated uphill and my workplace is located in another uphill ground.  It’s like going from one valley to another valley.  On regular weekdays, I walk a total of almost 5 kilometers.  I’ve walked in different seasons and I’ve realized that the different seasons play a big part on what I feel and what I think while walking.

SUMMER

Summer is unforgiving.  The heat is intense and the wind does not even let its presence be known.  I start to pity myself.  My upper clothing is drenched in sweat.  And because of that, I usually bring a towel and an extra blouse.  There seems to be no point wearing make-up.  By the time I arrive in the workplace, I look as if I’d just completed a morning workout.  My hair is messy, which is enough to be stressed out for the day.  Walking in summer feels like never ending especially if it’s an upward slope.  Every turn I take, I would wish it were the last.  And in every step, I’d repeatedly question why I placed myself in this situation.

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Summer – Shirotori Garden, Aichi Prefecture

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AUTUMN

Autumn is the beginning.  I’d like to think of autumn as the start of good things to come.  It’s much more comfortable walking in autumn.  It is when the feel of the cold temperature seems so much more inviting.  The color of the autumn leaves is striking—- may it be yellow, red, or orange.  There is a gingko tree with dark yellow leaves alongside the street I pass by.  I used to hate that tree not knowing what it was because its fruits would fall all over the ground and smell so bad.  Sometimes I would see its owner cleaning up the ground with a broom and I used to pity her.  It made me wonder why she would go through the hassle of sweeping the ground early in the morning.  Sometimes she’d collect a total of four garbage bags full of rotten fruits.  I didn’t understand then that that tree is like a shining star in the autumn daylight.

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Autumn- Tachikawa, Tokyo Prefecture

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WINTER

Winter is depressing and lonely.  That’s when all the dark thoughts occupy the mind.  It’s five in the afternoon and the light has retired early.  I shiver in cold as I walk my way uphill with nobody in sight.  Sometimes I daydream I am in the setting of M. Night Shyamalan’s chiller movie The Village.  On rare occasions, I see some students on their way home.  It sometimes boggles me how the female high school students can manage the cold in their mini skirt uniform whereas I, completely bundled up in my coat, scarf and gloves, can still feel the biting cold.  But if I’d have to choose, I’d pick winter over summer because I still look exactly the same as when I leave the apartment—- make-up intact and strands of hair still in place.

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Winter- Shirakawago, Gifu Prefecture

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SPRING

Spring is salvation.  The light after the dark.  It’s the season that constantly makes me want to freeze time even just for a minute, so I could appreciate the beauty of cherry blossom trees that line the street.  There are times when the wind would blow and the cherry blossom petals would rain on me.  And in my mind I’d be doing a twirl in my cute dress.  Or sometimes I wish someone would film me in slow motion as I gaze up completely amazed at the falling white pinkish petals.  But, nope.  None of that as I need to hurriedly get to the workplace. But my hopes are still high as I know there are two more blossom trees on the way.  It’s only in spring when I wish that the traffic lights would remain red, so I could enjoy the view of the cherry blossom tree standing near the stop lights.  And as I completely enter the compound of my workplace, another cherry blossom tree lifts my mood up.

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Spring- Kakamigahara, Gifu Prefecture

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Walking throughout the four seasons allows me to think of different things.  It’s not just a routine to reach my destination.  It’s a process that allows me to talk to myself and solve my worries.  Sometimes I’d go home filled with problems that only people living abroad would face.  In the whole 30-minute walk, I’m usually able to analyze the why’s and how’s of my situation.  By the time I reach home, the negative thoughts don’t linger anymore.  Walking is an invisible friend.  It’s solitary, yet, it brings me solace.

Atsuta Jingu Shrine, Nagoya

I approached a man near the stairs of a subway exit.  He looked as if he was unsure of where he was.  I walked toward his direction and got a closer look at his face.

“すみません。遅くになりました。携帯電話は家で忘れちゃった。間違い電車を乗りました。ごめんなさい,”I said apologetically.  He didn’t look pissed or disappointed at me.

“何時に来ましたか?,” I asked.

“10時” he replied.

I checked my watch and it was almost 11:00 am.  We were supposed to meet at 10 in the morning, but I forgot my cell phone at my apartment.    Since I mostly rely on my cellphone to find out what train I need to ride here and there, I got on the wrong subway train twice.  I wasn’t expecting him to still be at our meeting place, although I hoped he would be just so I could explain myself.  After I made my way pass the non-optical turnstile at the subway station, I looked for him, but he was nowhere to be found. It was then that I decided to just go through with our initial plan of exploring Atsuta Shrine.

The weather was the opposite of the sunny yesterday.  It was cold and raining.  I crossed the street and that was when I found him.  I actually forgot his real name, but I had no intention of asking him again because it just seemed awkward. And so instead of calling him by his name, I managed to say すみません – which means I’m sorry or Excuse me. It sounded perfect especially in our situation. 

We went around the Atsuta Shrine vicinity while getting lost in translation.   He is at N3  level and I am at N4 in terms of Japanese ability. He couldn’t understand English and so we both communicated in a language that neither of us was highly proficient at.  After sightseeing, we had lunch at a Korean restaurant that I frequent at Kanayama Station.  We were beside a Japanese couple and I just felt uneasy speaking in Japanese beside the natives. While waiting for our food, there were episodes of silence between us, but I didn’t mind.  I just wanted to eat. Probably because of the limited vocabulary that we possess, the question and answer portion was filled with questions one doesn’t normally ask on a first date — the worst was when he asked me how much salary I make!

I felt like the whole situation is just a preview of what dating life would be in case I’d ever date a Japanese man.    After he paid the bill for our lunch, he asked me where I wanted to go next.

“今から帰ります。大丈夫?洗濯をしなければなりません,” I told him just so I could excuse myself.

We parted ways at the station.  I didn’t go home and do laundry as what I mentioned to him.  Instead, I spent the remaining afternoon naked in a big indoor bath tub called onsen with the obaasan in my town.

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This is a ‘yorishiro’ – an object considered sacred.  This sacred tree has a rope called ‘shimenawa’ tied around it for ritual purification.

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Empty sake barrels called Kazaridaru 

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Temizuya water pavilion. You have to rinse your hands and mouth before entering the shrine to purify yourself.

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Atsuta Jingu shrine is the second most important Shinto shrine in Japan after Ise Grand Shrine in Mie Prefecture.

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Matsumoto Castle

I waved my hand at the Indian man across the street.  He was wearing a huge backpack and his wife and three kids were trailing behind him.  He stopped and crossed the street again to my direction.  “The bus stop that I was referring to is here,” I said pointing to where I was standing.  “We’re actually planning to just walk there,” he uttered.  Seeing that he has children with filled backpacks strapped on each one of them, I managed to make him decide to wait for the bus going to Matsumoto castle. As the bus had not arrived, yet, his family walked to the Mos Burger restaurant which was just a few steps away from the bus stop.

I sat on the bench while waiting for the bus. I felt impatient.  I was already running out of time.  I still needed to go to two museums and it was almost three in the afternoon.  I might not make it before the closing time.  I checked the bus timetable and realized that it was a better idea to walk.  I would even be like ten minutes ahead of the scheduled bus bound for the castle.  I crossed the street heading in the direction where the Indian man was supposed to go before I waved at him.  I walked hurriedly as a skift of snow was already falling.

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This is the facade of the Matsumoto station.

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This is a Yayoi Kusama bus.  Yayoi Kusama is a famous Japanese artist from Matsumoto City known for the polka dot trademark in her artworks.

 

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Matsumoto Castle late in the afternoon

 

 

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The Former Kaichi School Building — the oldest elementary school in Japan

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Within the Kaichi School premises

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Matsumoto castle at night

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Early morning view from my room at Richmond Hotel in Matsumoto

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Resident swans at the castle waters

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Matsumoto Castle early in the morning

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