A&E on the World Heritage Train East 2009 travel blog

My hotel room in Towada-ko

Late afternoon calm of lake islets

Towada island shrine

The other view from my hotel!

Oirase Gorge waterfall

Acer over water

Branch and rapids

Flower of Oirase

Sun shines on Oirase water

Towado shinto shrine

Towado shinto shrine

My very nice Nikko host gave me a lift down the station this morning, even though it was before 7. A train to Utsimoye, then two bullet trains, one to Sendai, then change to another to Hachinohe. The bullet trains (shinkansen) are a real pleasure to be on. They go like the clappers and it is very impressive when you are in a station and one barrels through. It is quite clear though that if there ever was an accident there would be little likelihood of surviving it.

A few Japanese observations: you can use your mobile as an oyster card (i.e. for public transport fares) and you can also use either for the ubiquitous station vending machines (indeed they are everywhere). Lastly, Japanese schoolgirls all dress like they`re in the sixth form at St. Trinians, when you see them out in force in the early morning you half expect them to get the hockey sticks out and start a riot (or if you are familiar with the excellent Bsttle Royale films, start shooting and slicing).

At Hachinohe I got a bus to Lake Towada, getting there about 2, though I wasted another hour trying (and completely failing) to find a way to get to my next destination that didn`t take an entire day and involve several long waits in public transport termini in nowhere places. Bugger!

So after all that I checked in to my very Japanese hotel. It is very posh (little choice round here) and overlooks the lake, but best of all my `suite` has a whole seperate tatami mat dining area with low table, four chairs on the floor and a posh tea set so I can entertain! Fat chance. So with the rest of the day I explored around the edge of the lake, which is this dramatic forested volcanic caldera. It was very peaceful and lovely watching the sun go down over the lake illuminating the little Japanese islands. On the way back I wandered around the forest a bit in the dusk and found this fantastic Shinto shrine (Towada Shrine) that was straight out of a Japanese ghost story, hugely atmospheric. There are also signs with bears on everywhere, though I am not sure why, there is no English written or spoken anywhere here! (It later turns out that this is because there are bears around and they are to be avoided). The remainder of the evening was spent wandering around my room in my yukata - my Japanese dressing gown as provided by the hotel. The other guests wear them all over the hotel, but I don`t have the nerve to do this as I`m not at all clear on the etiquette involved.


It turns out that I am B&B in my hotel, and it was a fabulous-looking breakfast, multiple dishes and foods all arranged like in a paintng. I would have taken a pic but all my fellow diners looked so stern and Japanese, it inhibited me. It also turned out the hard-boiled egg wasn`t, and I still have no idea what it actually was I was meant to do with a raw egg. This is the first time on this trip I`ve not had to forage for my own breakfast and it was a fine start to the day, sitting after my impressive breakfast drinking coffee in the lakeside lounge watching the autumn leaves fall from the trees, while melancholic piano music played. It was great, like some kind of arthouse movie.

I took some photos with the early morning sunlight, and then took a bus to Yakeyama, the beginning of the Oirase Gorge, my principal reason for being here. Again, sadly, it is another few weeks till the Autumn colour kicks in, but the walk through the gorge was still very pretty and relaxing, all forested, various waterfalls, etc. About 10 miles later I was back at the lakeside, where I got a bus back home and explored round there in what was left of the daylight, mostly around the fabulous seventh century Towada Shinto Shrine, almost as atmospheric in daylight as it was last night at dusk, and extremely attractive, all bare wood with lots of carving. Returning home, I had what could be loosely described as fish and chips on a stick for tea, and now its nearly six and the whole town has shut down for the night! Last night I nearly ended up missing eating altogether from not having anticipated this. There are a lot of tourists here, but they all stay elsewhere, I think in some nearby spa resorts - onsens - there are lots around here.

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