In the middle of nowhere by accident.

Trip Start Sep 17, 2010
Trip End Oct 18, 2010

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Flag of Japan  , Tohoku,
Thursday, October 7, 2010

We checked out of the hotel and bought sandwiches and coffee before hopping on the next train, with Aizu-Wakamatsu as our destination. We wanted to stay in a smaller place before going South towards Tokyo and after flipping through the guides, we settled for this small town with a samurai past and famed for Aizu lacquerware and cotton. I had, too quickly I have to add, read about the town and the accommodations, as I was very excited about taking part of the trip by steam locomotive (or is it steam train?), only to realize, after bothering quite a few people with absolutely no English, that the train only runs at weekends, the tickets go on sale about a week in advance and are usually sold out within a day, so no steam locomotive this time.

We took the local train a few kilometers and changed to a very local train for Aizu-Wakamatsu. Between us and our destination was maybe 100 km, but with this train, 27 stations and 2 hours. The train was an old version, with windows which could be opened, great for tourists, who wants to take pictures. Some of us thought it was very relaxing sitting through the beautiful scenery, others thought it a pain in the ass, shut their eyes and probably wished they were on the bullet train.

The route went through villages with small vegetable- and rice patches, stations with only gates and a waiting room, pine forests and riversides. As the train was moving so slowly, you could smell all the flowers and bushes on the way. At one station a butterfly had made it onto the train and was very confused flapping against the lights, so as it fluttered low enough to be caught before one of the stations, I threw it back out and still wonder if it knew where it was or maybe butterflies don't care that much and just flutter on.

When we finally reached our destination, we dragged the suitcases to the tourist information, well, it was a desk and a chair in the corner of the station, but the very helpful and very detailed (to the brink of me totally losing my patience with her repeating everything twice, writing everything down and checking our guide, her map and her notebook a million times, we weren't going to the moon, just a youth hostel in the countryside...) woman rang the youth hostel we had spotted in the guide and arranged for the owner to pick us up when the next available train would arrive. What? What train? We're here, are we not? Yes, you are, in Aizu-Wakamatsu and you want to stay at the hostel at Aizu-Takada (also called Hakadata (?)), yes? Yes, of course we want to (haven't we showed you the address already three times..?) Reading ALL the text in the guide book one more time, we realized flickering through something is not always so good, as we were suppose to take the train another half an hour onwards, where one of the youth hostels would be (there's none in Aizu-Wakamatsu, that's why the lady was so confused and we we're getting annoyed...our humble apologies, but of course we didn't show any of this to her, but just continued being ever so polite and gathered..)

As we had a few hours to kill and didn't want to call the hostel owner back to cancel our reservation and just stay at one of the business hotels around the train station, we went looking for a coin locker for the suitcases. I found some and locked in the suitcase and went to fetch The Man for him to do the same. The only thing was that his suitcase was about 3 cm too big for any of the lockers, so after giving it a brief thought, to just lift the suitcase up on the shelf or hide it in the back of the lockers, we decided to ask the woman at the tourist information if we could store the luggage some other place. She bent over the desk and eyed the suitcase, before taking out her notebook and calling somebody. After some explanation and thank you very much frases on the phone, while we we're standing like question marks on the other side of the desk, she told us to follow her, so we did.

She took us through the small park outside the station and across a set of traffic lights to somebodys house, opened the door to the garage and called out we we're arriving. Down came an elderly woman, who had worked for JR before and she would be happy to store our suitcase until 16.30 for 500 YEN. She would not be home before that, in case we wanted to pick up the suitcase, as she has a dentist appointment today. Well that's all fine by us, yes, 16.30 is perfect, as the next train leaves at 17.01 and no, there's no money in the luggage. Ok, 300 YEN will do. Domo arigato, thank you very much, that's all very kind of you, we'll be back at 16.30 and now we're going to find some restaurant for lunch.
The lady took us back over the street, into the lobby of a hotel/shopping center and showed us the escalator for the 2nd floor, where we should find Chinese noodles, which she probably thought would be the most sensible thing to do, as it was close by, we had our backpacks on and only 1,5 hrs before we had to be back at the station. We thanked her very much, took the escalators up, read the menu and took the escalators back down..

We took the direction which looked more like it would have a lunch place for us and started walking. We stopped to buy fruit and an old man with no English, asked us where we were from, as most people do as their second sentence after saying hi to you. We told him we we're from Finland, which he seemed to approve of and went to fetch a box of clingfilm wrapped mushrooms, showing them to us with a very interesting explanation of either the mushroom being from Finland or maybe he wanted us to taste them or maybe just buy them for dinner, but as the whole leangth of explanation regarding the mushrooms was in Japanese, we couldn't do anything else than nod along, smile and thank him for the fruit and move on. The town itself looked like it was built up by drawing two lines between the surrounding mountains and the main roads through, seemed to go on for kilometers. We walked pass a small shrine, various hairdressers and fashion shops for eldery ladies while looking into the windows for some food. We settled for some pasta this time, had our lunch and headed back to the garage to pick up the suitcase. The doors were open, so we went inside and brought out the suitcase. The old lady came down from the house, so we slipped her a Finland card, thanked her and walked back to the station.  Here we took the local train with a bunch of school children, who seemed in a very shy way, to be highly excited about our presence and checking our every move, under the fringe. When we gathered our stuff at our station, the girls opposite us couldn't believe we were getting of HERE?! I asked the girl who seemed more confused if she lived here, which she did, so I told her we didn't, funny as I am..,as it might come as a shock, but we look a little different than the locals :)

The man from the hostel was at the station to pick us up and took us to the hostel. He and his family lived in one part of the huge house and we shared the other part with an elderly local man. We settled in, checked out the amenities and went back to him to tell him we forgot to say we also wanted dinner, as well as breakfast. Dinner was served at a big table for 10 persons at 18.30 and the choices were chicken, salmon or horse. The dinner was nicely laid out, like it usually is, in different bowls and on small plates. There was fresh cucumber, pickled vegetables, green beans, meat rolls filled with vegetables, miso soup and a wooden round box with rice topped with salmon and something yellow I really can't say what it was. This all was served with strong tea and cold milk, very tasty, except for the miso, which was a little watery in my taste.

Back to our room packing the backpack for pick up at 19.45 to go to the local onsen for a bath. We checked available accommodation in Tokyo, but didn't book anything yet. The Man stayed at the hostel and I went with the man to the onsen. He would pick me up in 50 minutes, could I please wait inside the onsen. Yes, this is fine by me, thank you very much. I hopped out of the car and walked into the hotel looking building, took my shoes off and paid the 500 YEN at the reception. There was long corridors to both sides, a cafeteria and a few shops in the middle and different gymnasiums/excercise areas to both sides and not one single word in English, so I took my bag and started walking along the corridor, looking back at an old lady sitting on the floor at the reception area, while pointing at each door so she might nod when I'm suppose to go in. She showed with her hand that I should walk along and after stopping at about four doors, she nodded for me to go inside.
There was the changing area with tables and mirrors and baskets to put your clothes in, which I did, only to realize the basket doesn't fit into the locker where you should put your other belongings. Stuff out of the basket and into the locker, out into the onsen area with shampoo etc with me. There was several baths, with or without bubbles, hot or cold and even a sauna. The normal ritual, wash yourself, jump in the bath you fancy, eyes close and relax. After trying all the baths, except the cold one and the ones for children, I decided to round up the bathing in the bubble bath and just as I had got in, a lady hops into the same bath and very interested comes sitting nearly in my lap asking me where I'm from. She was very nice and when she had established where I had been, where I was going to and that I did have a husband and wasn't travelling alone, we talked about Japan and Finland, onsen and sauna and as time was running out, her two friends, who had joined us, only got a short briefing in who I was and what I was doing there, before I had to get up, change and go and wait in the lobby for pick up.  Btw, for sitting in the sauna, there was a basket outside the door, with mats, which looked like carpet mats, on which you were suppose to sit or have your feet, this is not something I just think should be done, I checked with the two ladies in the sauna...No stove to throw water on though, so maybe it was 45 degrees.

The guy picked me up at exactly 20.50 as agreed, he bowed to the reception lady and we left for the hostel. A quick check on the internet and then lights out and head on pillow, as breakfast would be served at 7.30-08.00 and the ride to the train station would be at 08.30 :)
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