Getting our Mountain Legs

After we left the Fuji lakes area, we followed the southern coast through Shizuoka. Continuing along the oceanside, we took the ferry across Ise bay, then turned inland and went through some small mountains to Nara and then Osaka. Kyoto was completely booked up – literally, the entire city except for a few love hotels – so we made the decision to divert to Osaka and visit Kyoto by train, instead.

Iwago port, from the ferry terminal.

The mountains and climbing have actually really grown on me. Everything in Japan is uphill both ways, which has given me a lot of practice. Suddenly grades that used to be sweaty, cardiovascular-redlining ordeals are more of an enjoyable, scenic workout.

Climbing through tea fields.

We detoured for an extra hour of climbing just to see the tanuki/ceramics village at Shigaraki, which would have been unthinkable a few months ago. That route was only plausibly a road because it was in Japan – it felt like an exceptionally switchbacked bike lane that we happened to share with the occasional Japan-sized van.

Artist’s interpretation of that bike ride.

I’m also adapting to the culture shock. This isn’t to say that Japan isn’t still constantly surprising me, but it’s less likely to do so while I’m taking care of the daily necessities – we’re starting to develop routines for shopping, navigating and finding lodging. We finally found fuel for our camp stove (which we couldn’t bring on the plane) and the world’s cutest tiny rice cooker, so we’re now able to cook for ourselves, too. Of course, the grocery store is also its own adventure; its odd to see that our touring staples of beans and oatmeal are actually quite expensive here. Brown rice has become a new favorite, especially たまご かけ ごはん (tamago kake gohan), stirring an egg  and soy sauce into hot rice.

After a few days up in the mountains, I’m a little surprised to see other European/North American/Australian  tourists – blonde hair or a snatch of English. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the nature of being a tourist here. Japan is small and well-traveled enough such that we’re not discovering anything for anyone other than ourselves. But Japan has a special way of making you feel like you are – maybe it’s the cultural differences, or the effects of being illiterate, but its easy to fall into an adventurous daydream, with yourself as the protagonist. Every corner or side street is hiding a shrine, a garden, someone dressed traditionally or ultra-fashionably modern… As we’ve moved back into the more popular areas of Ise shrine, Nara, Osaka and then Kyoto, it’s reminded me that I’m no more or less of an “explorer” than the next person with a Lonely Planet guide.

Japan is actually a really great place to be a tourist. Domestic tourism here is clearly very popular: we’ve yet to find a tourist attraction that wasn’t lively, even during weekdays.

The infrastructure is also very kind to tourists. The omnipresent convenience stores mean we’re rarely far away from a sparkling clean bathroom or a snack, which is the opposite of our long months in the American Southwest.

Now that we’ve reached Osaka, we’re researching where we might like to go next! We don’t have a specific goal in mind, but that seems like a good way to continue experiencing Japan.

2 Replies to “Getting our Mountain Legs”

  1. wowzers, you guys must have some crazy good fitness levels! Well done adventurers! Life is too short not to have a starting role in your own day dreams! Looking forward to pics!

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