Hakodate–I just noticed that more than two weeks have passed since I wrote my last update. Apologies for the recent dearth of entries; most of the places I’ve stayed since Fujiyoshida haven’t had readily available internet, either in the hostels themselves or in the towns surrounding them.
That’s not to say that Jason and I haven’t visited any big cities since we left the Fuji area. Tokyo is the biggest city of them all, of course, and even Akita in Tohoku is pretty sizeable. We only spent two nights in Tokyo, though, leaving just enough time to see what we wanted to see (or a bit less, in my case–I’m planning on returning there at some point in the near future); and, since we weren’t able to book more than one night at the Akita Youth Pal hostel, that city ended up serving as little more than a rest stop between train rides.
We’re staying a good four nights in Hakodate, though, thus giving me not only the time to find an internet cafe but the assurance that I can spend several hours there without missing out on the city itself. I am, after all, in Japan; I’d rather see the sights where I’m staying than spend my time surfing the net.
Of course, if there isn’t much in the way of sights to see in a given town, staying shut up in a room isn’t so bad. We’ve resigned ourselves to that not-so-unhappy fate on several occasions throughout this trip. More on that later.
I promised at the end of my last entry that I’d share the story of how Jason and I wound up in Fujiyoshida. The series of events that brought us there led us to decide to send our camping gear back to the states and spend the rest of our trip traveling by train instead of on foot; in case you couldn’t tell, I’ve written only of staying at youth hostels since I started this weblog. We can laugh at our mistakes now, but at the time it wasn’t terribly funny. Well, at least not until about four in the morning that fateful night. But everything’s funny at four in the morning.
Our adventure began when we set out from the Osaka area for Kofu, a city several miles north of the Mt. Fuji area. It was a long train ride, made longer by our decision to take the cheapest route. (Local trains, which stop at every possible station, are cheaper than express trains; they are also less likely to travel straight to your destination, making transferring a necessity.) We had originally told the proprietor of the Kofu youth hostel that we were going to arrive in Kofu at 3 PM. I had to call him three times after first making reservations: once to tell him that it would actually be 6 PM, once to tell him that it was looking more like 7 PM, and once at 8 PM to let him know that we’d arrived. Fortunately for us, he was, as it turned out, an extraordinarily kind and patient man; he had wanted to know a ballpark time of arrival so that he could pick us up and take us back to the hostel. We were the first foreigners who had stayed there since he’d taken over, and his staff was quite willing to work around us.
Since we were planning on doing a lot of hiking and camping in the coming days, we payed extra for both breakfast and dinner at the hostel. Consequently, there was a massive dinner waiting for us when we finally pulled in at around 9 PM; this was fortunate, as we hadn’t really eaten all day. We slept well, ate a big breakfast, and departed, our gracious host once again offering his services by driving us back to Kofu station (but not before taking us to the site of a famous waterfall on the same mountain where the hostel was located). We had told him of our planned mode of travel from Kofu to the Fuji Five Lakes area, and I think he dropped us off at the train station in the hopes that we would change our minds. From there we set off for our next destination.
Oh, that’s right–I don’t believe I mentioned our planned route. If you have a moment, pull up a detailed map of Kanto on your computer. Kofu is located in the southwestern edge of Kanto; south of it is Mt. Fuji. Now, if your map has roads on it as well, you should be able to see a road that passes through Kofu and winds its way through the national park area before arriving somewhere in the vicinity of Japan’s highest mountain.
Our brilliant plan was to walk from Kofu along that road until we arrived at Fuji Five Lakes, camping along the way. It looked totally feasible, at least on the map.
Boy, was that a mistake.
We struck out on what we thought was the main road. Our compasses indicated that we were walking in the right direction, and the mountains loomed in the distance. It was rough going; our packs were heavy, and we were walking on a concrete sidewalk in the heat of the day. On top of that, although Kofu is very close to some places of natural beauty, the city itself is ugly as sin. Still, it wasn’t all bad; Jason and I found a gravel path to walk along for part of the way and managed to distract ourselves with a fairly lengthy argument concerning, appropriately enough, the place of pain in humanity’s creative processes.
After a couple of hours it was clear that we’d left the city proper and were headed into more rural territory. The road we were walking on narrowed considerably; rice fields, rather than buildings, lined its edges. It also became evident that our road wasn’t the main road through the mountains, although we didn’t really think about that at the time. It forked several times, and we were forced to choose the direction that, off in the distance, looked to be in keeping with the direction we wanted to travel. Still, our spirits were high: we were out of the city at last and headed for the great unknown.
It was around 7 PM that we reached a point on our path where the road split off in three different directions, all of which appeared to lead into private property. Obviously, we had taken a wrong turn somewhere along the line or perhaps hadn’t ever been on the correct road at all. The latter seemed the more likely scenario; as we’d been traveling all day, this unfortunately meant that we’d gone a considerable distance in the wrong direction. We were stuck in the middle of nowhere with little clear idea of our exact location, and it was getting dark. A choice was before us: we could find someplace to camp in the surrounding area, or we could return to Kofu that night.
I must admit that I was mostly at fault for what happened next. I pushed for us to make the trek back to Kofu that night; the idea of camping illegally in a residential area didn’t exactly appeal to me, and even the most out-of-the-way places we found to camp seemed just a bit to close to civilization. What was at the heart of it, though, I think, was that the enormity of what we had decided to do on this trip–walking from town to town and sleeping wherever we could find shelter–had never really hit me until that moment. Faced with having to decide between sleeping in a park and walking back to the city, I thought the latter to be the lesser of two evils.
Unable to make a fire where we were at yet also out of range of any restaurants or convenience stores, we ate what we later agreed was the worst dinner either of us had ever had: raw potatoes, peanut butter, and a can of mikan. We packed up our stuff and headed back the way we came.
The inevitable came, I believe, about 45 minutes after we had started walking again. We came to a fork in the road and couldn’t quite remember which way we’d gone. Both Jason and I had the feeling that turning right would keep us on roads we had already traveled; the nearest road sign, however, indicated that staying straight would take us directly to Kofu. We stayed straight and quickly realized that this was not the road we had taken originally; nevertheless, we stayed on it, figuring that it was simply a more direct road to our destination. Along the way I stopped a pedestrian and asked him if we were on the road to Kofu, and he answered in the affirmative; it appeared, then, that we were going in the right direction.
When another hour had gone by and we still weren’t in Kofu, though, we started to wonder. Directionally, we were going the right way, or so we thought, but the city lights still looked awfully far away.
Finally, I stopped another pedestrian and asked her how close we were to Kofu. This was how we learned that Kofu was 29 kilometers in a different direction.
Walking back to Kofu that night was the wrong decision. I’m man enough to admit that much. In any case, we were fortunate in that the woman we stopped was kind enough to direct us to the nearest train station, which we found after some trouble.
Most train stops in Japan, no matter how small the town, have an information booth, and map of the line, and a ticket dispensing machine so that you can purchase your ticket before departing. This town didn’t even have that. The trains on that part of the line therefore worked the opposite way: you take a ticket upon entering the train and pay after reaching your destination. The train station was thus little more than a waiting room on a platform next to the train tracks. It had a windows and a sliding door and some benches, and that was it.
And that’s where we spent the night. I’ve never seen so many spiders in my life.
The next morning we took the 6 AM train back to Kofu and decided to find a place to recover. We made reservations over at the hostel in Fujiyoshida, which seemed like a worthy candidate, ate some breakfast, and took the train south along the route we were originally planning to walk. It was a long walk from the train station to the hostel, and it was extremely difficult to find, being conveniently located in an alleyway; fortunately, a kind stranger (there seem to be a lot of these in Japan) helped us out, and we made it there ok. We slept well that night.
I’ve been in this internet cafe for too long. It’s time to get out and explore the city. You’ll hear more about my adventures later.