2014
06.22

SHINGU

SYNOPSIS:   Stuck in Shingu.  Another day in transit.  A few words and some images about food.

I had the choice to listen to a wise old monk who told me that the way to the Ise is to go North via Osaka, just the way I had been coming down here.  Boring but faster.   Or, I could follow the two girls who stood next to me this morning waiting for the parade, who suggested to go South along the coast of the Kii Peninsula.  Beautiful but slower.

Deep down I knew I was making the wrong choice.  But I so very much hate to retrace my steps if there is new territory ahead and if it promises to be scenic, then the better!

The parade had brought traffic in Koyasan to a standstill.  I waited for the bus to take me to the cable car for nearly an hour and then in desperation I stopped a car begging to be taken out of town.  Since car traffic was so slow it was hard for the car not to stop and it would have taken quite a heartless person to refuse.  I got picked up by a stoic driver and two chatty women.  They got me out of town and unloaded me at a bus which was operating at the outskirt.  In the few minutes we had, we exchanged some gifts — I got a bunch of Buddhist cards for safe travels and gave them one of the pottery pieces shaped in the outline of Michigan which I have taken along for occasions like this.

Just to get out of the Koyasan mountains takes a good hour.  From there it takes another hour just to get to the edge of the peninsula, to Wakayama on the West side, not counting any layover time, where you can transfer into a North-South train.  Layover at Wakayama was more than an hour and by then it was after 6 PM.  I had not even gotten started on the “real” part of the journey yet.  I got an express train to take me in 3.5 hours to Shingu, but there was no going further.  I was doomed.  And as far as the scenery, I got a mere hour of daylight and only a few glimpses of the shoreline and the impressive mountain ranges both left and right of the tracks, but hey, at least I did not retrace any steps.

Almost every Japanese town has “station hotels”  for people just like me.  All I had to do was literally cross the street to get a room in a run-down hotel — no English spoken.  It was all quite informal.  Hand over the cash and you get a room.  It was a smoking room; stinky and stuffy.  I opened all the windows and dearly paid for this as I woke up around 4 PM from the pain of about 10 mosquito bites on my face, the only exposed body part.  My eyes were swollen as the mosquitoes had bitten me right onto my eye lids; my nose had three bites — this was a miserable site.  But it got me up early and that is a good thing as I still have about 6 hours of transit ahead of me on top of the 6 hours I already did yesterday.  Well, the girls were way off in their time estimate.  But I had figured as much and today, at least, I will enjoy the scenery.

And since there is not much to talk about, I will say a few words about food.  First of all — I am not doing the Japanese cuisine any justice.  I refuse to go to a restaurant and spend $120 on a meal that, I am sure, would be memorable.  I could go and eat out for much less too, but this is just not the point of this trip.

I admit that my typical breakfast — if not provided by the hotel consists of this: a banana, yoghurt in a carton, milk-tea out of a bottle and orange juice — all purchased at the corner Family Mart or Lawson supermarket which you can find at just about every corner.   If I come across any of the bakeries I will pick up a piece of anything that looks good.  A croissant perhaps, or a roll.

Sometime in the afternoon around 4 PM when I get hungry I will go to any supermarket, train station, or department store again and pick up a box of Sushi and a can of Japanese beer for the evening.   The Sushi you get pre-packed is filling, affordable and comes in a great variety.  I have not yet gotten tired of it.

In a few places, like the monastery at Iwami Ginzan I got very lucky and had both traditional breakfast and dinner included.  Kyoro was knocking herself out to cook beautiful evening meals.  Every region here has special local foods.  At Koyasan it s a particular way of preparing tofu.  In Hiroshima it was a special kind of an omelette.  But I neither have the budget nor the company to enjoy sampling the local cuisine.  I will have to leave that to others.

Having said that, I look back at nearly a month of travel by now and I have to say that I have tasted quite an amazing variety of food.  I can’t ever tell you the names of anything I ate, but I will provide you with a nice array of images of the foods I have had.  To me the best thing of Japanese food is its presentation.  Not one single plate is used but as many little dishes as possible and as small portions as conceivable are put together on trays.  Lacquerware and ceramics, porcelain dishes and wooden plates all make eating in Japan a visual feast.  I am an indiscriminate and appreciative eater.  I have yet to come across anything that I did not like in Japan.  But yes, occasionally on my travels, there have been foods that I really despised: pig ear in Portugal comes to mind and camel paw in China…

It’s not quite evening yet, but after another day in transit I will catch up with my photos tonight and leave the sightseeing to tomorrow: Ise needs a full day of attention.

The scenery on the train(s) today was worth it.  The mountains around here are seemingly endless and the occasional glimpses of the rugged coastline dotted with mini-islands and industrial harbours are as rewarding as any train ride can be.  Many tunnels remind you of the difficulty to work this terrain.  And I was amazed to see how much progress the rice fields have made since I arrived here. Down from Koyasan it is hot and muggy here again.  Up there it was easily a full 10 degrees cooler.  It was nice while it lasted.  The rainy season is upon us and I am sure many more umbrella days will come my way.  Hopefully not tomorrow.

Good night.