domenica 22 ottobre 2023

The festival of soulful sounds

After leaving Osaka we have moved to Kashihara for the following step in our trip.

When leaving our guesthouse we were surprised by being greeted by the owner of the grocery shop in front of us, even though we had bought fruit from him only twice.
Once in Kashihara we did a visit to Nara, walking through the deers, then the next we have started helping with the preparation for the Ontamasai festival.
Setting up the stage, mounting tents, laying cables, preparing food stands, mounting and decorating the o-mikoshi... and when there was time, rehearsing for our performance. 
Then Saturday the festival started and it came our turn to perform on stage. Even though it was raining when it was our turn, all the public just opened the umbrella and didn't move from the grass.
Sharing the stage with the masters, in front of such a large audience, has been a thrilling experience, giving us lots of energy. Even though the temperature was chilly, we were not cold.

A warm shower once at the guesthouse was the deserved prize before a night of deep sleep.

lunedì 16 ottobre 2023

A day of surprises

Yesterday it has been a day of surprises. 

It has started in the morning, when upon walking in a park I have seem people sitting on the grass to play shogi. I have stopped to watch them and have started talking with some of the bystanders. I told them I knew shogi through 3月のラヨン, and their eyes lighted up, since also they liked the anime. A little kid invited me to play a game, but I had to refuse not knowing all the rules. Before leaving they gifted me a paper fan.

We then moved to visit a taiko maker, Taiko Masa, where we found that not only the benches at the bus stop are shaped like a taiko...
but also that the bus stop has the score of a small taiko piece.
Before dinner we have visited the local sento: an old style bath, visited only by locals and where tourists like us are a very rare sight.

After relaxing in the hot bath, we have gone for dinner to a small okonomiyakiya, again a local place where we have been object of curiosity while enjoying a tasty dinner.
On the way back we have heard a familiar sound, and we have found a group of high schoolers practicing a piece for taiko and atarigane which they will play at the local matsuri next week.
The funny thing is that the temple is practically in the back of our lodging, so we had this experience home delivered.

Too bad that we won't be able to see the matsuri in person!

domenica 15 ottobre 2023

Matsuri in Hiraoka.

We didn't have any special plan for yesterday. We had just some rough plan of visiting some tourist spot, but nothing defined.

On Friday morning we left Harashiyama and moved to Osaka, where in the evening we had a taiko class.

Our lodging is located in a shopping street in a not touristic part of the city, where foreigners are a rare sight.
After the class our teacher told us that in Hiraoka there would have been a festival in the weekend, and that it would have been a good chance for us to hear some original taiko.

So Saturday morning we have hopped on the train to reach Hiraoka. Once there we have started roaming the streets until we have stumbled upon 3 o-mikoshi departing for the ritual procession.
We have followed them until they have met other processions, where we have been given an explanation of the ceremony: 21 altars are carried on the shoulders of worshippers from the surrounding of the temple along the roads of the village up on the mountain where the temple is located. 

There are altars carried by men, by high school girls and high school boys, each of them accompanied by loud shouting and by a slow paced and imposing beat given from a taiko located at the center of the altar.

Seeing how these people are able to lift and carry these altars on the steep snd narrow road leading to the temple, and then shaking and twirling them once in the square in front of the tori sends shivers down the spine.
It didn't even matter that it was drizzling: they just protected the altars with plastic sheets and carried on with ritual.

We left before the ceremony was over, but the taiko beat still rumbles in our body.

giovedì 12 ottobre 2023

3 days in Kyoto

Back in Japan, and back in Kyoto for the third time.

First time was in 2017, during the golden week. Not exactly the best time of the year to visit a touristic hot spot, especially after having spent weeks in the quieter Shikoku. 

Second time was in 2018, just an overnight stay while touring in Kansay, with a quick greeting to the police and a visit to the bamboo forest. 

This year, instead, we have stopped here 3 days at the beginning of our trip, staying again in Arashiyama.

We have visited the Fushimi Inari Taisha, the Kiyomizu-dera and enjoyed walking along the Kamogawa, visiting the imperial Palace and the narrow streets packed with izakaya and karaoke bars.
This time, with no rush, we have been able to experience the city better.

Despite the obvious abundance of tourists, the city is more chill and relaxed than Tokyo, and sitting on the riverside is an amazing way of relaxing during a warm afternoon in October. Adding the nice bonus of practicing the shinobue in the shadow made us blend better with locals.

Once again, closing the day in the onsen close to the hostel was a magnificent way of relaxing our muscles after a day of walking. And Arashiyama at night, with no crowd on the streets, gives off a completely different vibe.

lunedì 10 giugno 2019

Day 17: back to Osaka.

The bad weather we had yesterday is gone, and today the sun will shine, according to the weather forecasts. However when we leave the hotel the sky is still gray.

We have decided that we will reach Osaka not from the North, along the rivers Kizu and Yodo, but first going West and then, after the pass, going North. First we reach road 105 in Kashihara and then start following it. While we are on it, we notice a suggested cycle route, and we immediately deviate on it.

It goes in our same direction, but hops from temple to temple along canals and trees, way better than a busy city road. All the three temples we visit are practically deserted, except the last one, where an old woman is praying when we arrive cycling through the high grass growing in the back of the temple. Finding the entrance is not immediate, since the cycle path has a small detour leading into the precinct, and it goes hopping above the small moat surrounding it.

As a pleasant intermezzo, while we are in the parking lot of a combini, we see a white mini car with a car on its dashboard, busy fighting a fierce battle against a fly, while its driver is inside the shop to buy something.

We stop for lunch in the park along the Yamato river where, while we are eating our onigiri, a couple of youngsters are practicing sprinting.

From there we take route 25 to reach Osaka. Apart from a bridge over the railway which is forbidden to bikes and that we take extra care to avoid, the road is not that bad as it might look on the map. There is not too much traffic, the lane are spacious enough that the traffic can avoid squeezing us on the side and also the slope is not bad.

We discount it when we reach the crossing between the 25 and the 165: we manage to take the right path on the pedestrian walking only at the second attempt, and after a loop that takes us back to were we starting from!

After a short section next on the bank of Yamato river, we head North on the 170: for a good length it is a pretty anonymous, semi-rural road, not too crowded but also not that panoramic, though on our right side we have the hills bordering Osaka. At a certain moment we reach a very large building, which we learn is a recently built temple.

It doesn't have the vibe of an old temple, but it surely stands out in the neighborhood.
Immediately after a rail crossing, the road turns into a commercial road: pedestrians all around, shops and their goods on the sidewalk, music coming out from the speakers. And as suddenly as it appeared, as suddenly it vanishes, returning back to the road we were on before.

At the end of our route on the 170 we pay visit to the 2600 years old Ishikiri Tsurugiya Shrine. After a short climb, we reach the road were the temple stands, surrounded by small shops selling sweets, amulets and where fortune tellers make their days with the money of the visitors.

The temple is a refreshing variation to the menu of the day, and we indulge in the visit for quite some time. The place is really relaxing, and the buildings are really impressive.

After leaving the temple we head West: on a straight line we should end up to the castle, and from there to the shop to return our bikes. The surroundings are all but fascinating: the road is packed with traffic and has no decent shoulder nor sidewalk for us, so we try, as much as possible, to zig zag in the neighborhood on the banks of the Daini Neya river, which however are full of small industries. We rush just to get out of it as soon as possible.

Nevertheless we manage to reach the pedestrian bridge on the O river (which Google maps hides), where we have started our trip 17 days ago. A quick stop at Tenma Itoya , the same guest house where we have slept at the beginning and where we leave our panniers, and then to Globalwheels to return our bikes.

We exchange some impressions about our trip with Gareth, change our shoes and walk back to the guest house, where we can finally take a relaxing shower before going out for dinner.

The tenant is happy to see two returning guests, and considering how nice was our stay the other time, we really had no reason to not return here.

We have our dinner at a tonkatsu restaurant not too far from the guest house. On the way back to the lodging, we savor the satisfaction of having completed the trip.

domenica 2 giugno 2019

Day 16: rain and a sleeping bear.

When we went to bed yesterday we already knew that today would have been a rainy day. Therefore our main intention is to chew as many kilometers as possible before the road, and us on it, gets wet. We will use, for most of our route today, the cycle route 1, which we have already used when we have reached Hashimoto from Nara and starts exactly here in Wakayama.

The only little problem is that it starts on the sea side, while we are already in the city, therefore we head North for the shortest path to the route, which lays on the North bank of the Kunokawa river, hoping that whoever designed it had in mind that not necessarily everyone uses it from its start.

Once we pass the bridge on the Kunokawa our hopes are crushed: we see the cycle route 1, but there are metallic fences everywhere, and the only two options seems to be either zigzagging in the neighborhood or, like most of the students do, using in the wrong direction the one way road packed with cars. Neither of the two seems appealing, and at a closer inspection we find prove of the Japanese flexibility: someone has placed a metallic ladder to help cross the fences!

I take the two bikes across, and we finally can freely cycle! We cycle for about half an hour when it starts raining: luckily we are taking a break at a combini to use the toilets, therefore we have the time to wear the rain gear without getting wet. And then we move on. The wet path is practically only for us, we seldomly meet someone, and when we do is usually some old man trying to fish in the river. Only when the cycle route merges with the main road we meet some car driver.

Along the road we find a service station, and we stop to buy something to drink and get some rest from the rain. The same idea has occurred to several motorcyclist who are parking their vehicles next to ours. None of them can avoid a surprised face upon seeing the two blue bikes and the two bright yellow dressed cyclist next to them.

After the break we immediately get on the saddles and move on. Once we reach Hashimoto the road is known, but this time we won't take the route in the mountains via Yodo, but will proceed along route 24. Few kilometers after the Yoshino river, which this time is less flabbergasting due to the gray sky, we stop for lunch at a combini.

From there we continue on a slow and steady rising slope, but at least it stops raining. In one of the cities we cross, some students are cleaning the road, and as soon as they see us we become, as to be expected, their main attraction.

After Gose we leave the main road on proceed on the small roads next to it: it's a blessed choice, as we get to see nicer landscapes and less cars. We cycle along a small canal surrounded by cherry trees, which in the right season must a mindblowing view.

Before heading to our hotel, we take a deviation South, to visit the mausoleum of Emperor Suizei and Emperor Jimmu. The rush hour for the visitors is already gone, and there are few people in the temple. The most noticeable is a little girl in a kimono, who was probably involved in some religious ceremony: she is running around laughing and shouting, and just stays quite for a moment upon seeing us. Then, once assessed that those two yellow creatures are not dangerous, she continues in her playful activity.

We continue our visit to the mausoleum: the precinct is really large, but what strikes most is its emptiness, even for the Japanese standards. Just pebbles, nothing else, covering the area comprised among the buildings.

There is also a small pond next to it, but we see nothing attractive in it, and we get back to the main building.
Accompanied by the sound of our shoes on the pebbles, we slowly reach the exit, where our bikes are parked next to guardian building. We thank the man working it for having taken good care of our bikes and move toward the hotel.

When we reach the Yamato Kashihara City Hotel we find a normal multi-story building, where we park our bikes in the back, under a ladder. But the room is tidy and decent, and after a day under the rain this is more than enough for us.

After a refreshing shower we decide to have our dinner at Burger Craftsman. The place is at walking distance from the hotel, and for a change it is not traditional Japanese food.

From the outside our attention is captured by the large teddy bear sleeping on an hammock next to the entrance, and once inside we get a delicious hamburger and a double serving of beer.

On the way back to the hotel we stop in a shopping mall, just to give a look around. We are the only two non salary men in the premises, and surely also those with the most relaxed face.
From there we go to our usual combini for the traditional good night ice cream, and then to the hotel.

Tomorrow we return to Osaka!

venerdì 31 maggio 2019

Day 15: a rest day in Wakayama

Today it feels strange to wear our "civilian" clothes and walk on the sidewalks, but after 14 days of cycling, a day of rest is surely deserved.

After breakfast we walk to the bus stop and take the bus heading South, stepping out to visit the Kishu Toshogy shrine and the Wakaura Temmangu Shrine.

They are built atop of two adjacent hills, and of course to reach them there are steep stairs to climb. The first one has a nice tree tunnel shading the stairs from the sun, and we are the only visitors in the morning. The shrine staff is busy cleaning up the area and for the rest the place is silent. Only sound we hear is a shouting coming from some nearby dojo.

When we get down from the first temple we cross the small Mitarai Pond before climbing to the other temple. The shining sun pleasantly warms our skin, and for a moment we just enjoy this feeling.

The stairs leading up to the second temple, however, do not have any tree shading them, and are made of crude stone. The heat is sensibly different, and together with the uneven surface of each step, it makes the climb more challenging.

Once on the top we see that this temple has been damaged by the typhoon: part of the roof is collapsed, various trees are broken, and a handwriting apologize with the visitors for the inconvenience.

When we leave a small offer, one of the priests comes forward and thanks us for the gesture, gifting us a small print in exchange. After few moments of contemplation we descend the stairs and decide to dive into the small and lively roads of the neighborhood, ending up at the bottom of Tenguyama.

From there we decide to take the bus back in the direction of the castle. Actually we stop few kilometers South from the castle, and have to walk in the neighborhood to reach it. Doing so we have the opportunity to discover the Senkyoyama Sango Temple, which pops up all of a sudden in its majestic mole while we are finding our way through the small houses.

We stop for lunch in a Mos Burger, and from there we enter the castle and its park. On the path leading to the castle we meet a Japanese family: father, mother and daughter. The daughter is wearing a traditional kimono, and from the effort she puts into walking, it must be really heavy. We exchange some greetings with them and the father, being an English teacher, is more than happy to talk with us. They are visiting Wakayama and its castle as part of their plan to visit the less known castles in Japan.

Since we have already visited the castle few days ago, we focus more on the park: we reach the small tea house built on a island inside a pond, which was used by the daimyo when he resided in the castle. To reach the house there is a small roofed bridge, which is really fascinating and that we are lucky enough to walk alone.

Upon reaching the other exit of the tea house we stumble in a class taking some footage for a school project. They stop to let us pass, and the teacher asks the reasons for our visit to Wakayama. We explain him about our trip and wish good luck to the class for their project.

From the castle we walk back to our hostel, where we take a shower and then head out for dinner. This time we decide to try a small curry restaurant, Bara Honten, and we do the right choice also this time.

The curry is delicious, and since the place seems to be open for quite some time, as suggested not only by the signboard but also by some black and white photos hanging from the wall, it must be a family business.
The owner seems to be happy that two foreigners are enjoying his skills, and when we ask him what is the nice music playing in the background he tells us that some friend composed and played it specifically for his restaurant, so it is nowhere to be found but eating there.

We leave the place with a good impression and a satisfied stomach, and while we cross for the last time the shopping street, we savor its quietness and feel our energy restored. It has been a good idea, having a day of rest.

giovedì 30 maggio 2019

Day 14: back to Wakayama

The sky is clear this morning, and while we are having our breakfast in the hotel restaurant, we are evaluating the path for the day. We will reach Wakayama, and along the way we have the option to hop on a train, should we need it for any reason. But we also have plenty of small coastal roads to enjoy, meaning that we will have no traffic pestering us.

Few hundreds meter after the hotel we stumble in a small ceremony: in the yard in front of a garage, there is a group of people, no more than 20, dressed in traditional clothes, with flags and a sort of sedan chair. It looks like some matsuri is going to start soon, so we stop to see what is going to happen.

And this is what we see, and how we interpret it: 4 kids, wearing demon masks, sit on the sedan and start chanting while hitting a drum with a block of wood they hold in their hands, like they wanted to cast a curse on the village. Immediately 16 men lift the sedan and start shaking it, to stop the demons from chanting, and indeed the demons collapse for the shaking. Then another man negotiate with the demons: they will stop the shaking only if they turn the curse into a blessing. Once the demons agree, humans and demons start chanting, while the sedan is carried around in the village.

The same ceremony is happening in all the neighborhood we cross along the way, as we understand from the flags scattered around and by chants we hear here and there. Once we are out of the city, the landscape suddenly changes: rocky cliffs high on the sea, deep blue waters and blue sky fill our eyes, with here and there the green of the trees.

On some rocks scattered in the sea we see some people with a fishing line, probably transported there by someone with a boat. It must be a funny experience if the weather should suddenly change!

When we reach a small fishermen village, we see that the same thing is going on here, but instead of using rocks, people are sitting on square rafts floating in the bay, enjoying the sun and the quietness, while on the beach someone is setting up some stands to sell food.

From there the road goes back onto the coast and reaches again a slightly bigger village, where there is also a coast guard base, with a broken helicopter stationed in front of it. We are not able to tell if the damage is recent or not, and to avoid any problem I avoid using my camera to zoom in for more details.

On the side of the road we start to see signs pointing to a coast park, which should be few kilometers ahead. Before reaching it we are flabbergasted by a white rocky arch, cast into the sea right in front of us, while in the distance the same white rocks paint the coast line for as long as we can see.

From there we reach a short tunnel where we get a surprise: the coastline was, so far, shielding us from the north wind blowing today, but now that we are crossing to the other side, we are whipped by a strong head wind that makes it hard to pedal. And to make things worse, the tunnel just channel the wind to make it stronger. Immediately after the tunnel there is the entrance for the park, which unfortunately is closed today.

While we taking a short break we evaluate how to proceed, and we decide that, once in Yuasa, we will hop on the train to Wakayama: our knees are aching, and the head wind for the coming kilometers is not going to make things better. But until then we have to bike: first the cross some tunnels that allow us to avoid some climb, then we go inland where at least we are protected from the wind.

While we are checking our maps in Yura town we are reached by a group of three Japanese cyclists, two men and a woman, who start climbing the hill in front of us. We have to take their same road, thus we start chasing them. The two men are way ahead, while the woman is proceeding more slowly; when I reach the pass and stop to wait my travel mate,  they are also waiting for their companion to catch up. While they are smoking a cigarette we exchange some words, I explain them about our trips and they are quite surprised. They also check the panniers, and observe that make the bike heavier.

My travel companion reaches the pass before their, so we greet them and move on, reaching Kurao Bay and then the outskirts of Yuasa. We reach the train station, check for the next train and decide we have time to buy our lunch. We reach for the nearest combini and then back to the station, where we pack our bikes and take the train to Wakayama. Few days ago we were here heading South in a chilly morning, and now we are heading North in a warm noon.

What we see from the train windows hints that we might have taken the right decision: it looks like the coast between Yuasa and Wakayama is mostly industrial, with factories all around, thus not the most pleasant place to ride across.

Once we step down in Wakayama, we are struck by the difference between the two cities: while Yuasa was, at the end, a calm countryside town, Wakayama is a much more busy city, with people running around, traffic and noise. We manage to find a corner where we can assemble back our bikes, and then reach Tsukiji Hostel Wakayama where we will stay. The place is located on a small side road of a shopping street, which at the time we arrive is crowded with people. The room are cozy and the staff really friendly, it will be a pleasure staying here.

While the tenants is showing us around the house, I spot on the door of another room a name which is strangely familiar: I give a better read, and indeed it belong to a person we know. When in 2016 we cycled around Shikoku, we prepared our trip also by watching the YouTube video about his experience posted by I.B. We meet him on the door, while we are going out and he is coming back in: we introduce ourselves (of course he doesn't know who we are), and explain him about our present and past trips. He has been to Koyasan, too.

We don't bother him any longer and proceed to the close by onsen, which has been recommended by the tenants. It is indeed the best we have visited so far, and soaking into the hot waters is really refreshing. There are many choices of waters, and we try them all, except the cold one. Actually, I just pour some cold water on my legs, but I don't dare sitting down until my neck.

From there we move on to try the local specialty: Wakayama style ramen! We find a place called Chukasoba and when we are walking there we are deafened by the loud noise of birds going to sleep on the trees in the middle of the road. They are so loud that we can barely ear the cars engines! Once we reach the place we take a table: as we were told, boiled eggs are available for consumption at leisure, but we want to try the ramen. While we wait for our order, a group of four people sits next to us: they must be mother, daughter, son and his girlfriend. They are served after us with our same serving, but by the time we are barely halfway through our bowl, they are already leaving.

If I will ever get to date a Japanese woman, I need to learn if eating at super-speed in a restaurant is appreciated or not! 😅

We stop by a conbini, buy an ice cream and something for our breakfast, and then take a slow stroll until the hostel: the shopping road is now silent, only few people are walking back to their destination, while someone calmly play a guitar.

Tomorrow we will take a day of rest from biking: we will just visit the city and relax. But today has already been a good day.