One of the things that never fails to make me have to stop and think things through in Japan is disposing of rubbish. Bins are usually divided into recyclables (usually PET bottles, glass bottles and cans, though it varies by municipality), burnable rubbish, and non-burnable rubbish, but precisely what’s burnable is what gets me. In my mind, burnable rubbish is paper and wood and maybe food scraps, while non-recyclable plastic – bags and food packaging and such – should go in non-burnable, but that’s not the case in Japan, where non-recyclable plastic goes in the burnable bin. Fortunately, if you’re standing by a bin with a handful of rubbish looking confused, there’s generally someone nearby who’ll come over and point out the right bin.
Decided to have breakfast today.
After breakfast, it was time to pack, because today I’d be leaving Japan (oh, woe!). And… I may have bought too many books and assorted souvenirs, because I needed to partially kneel on my suitcase to get it shut, even with the expansion unzipped. That said, as per my standard practice, I booked a flight leaving in the evening, so I still had all day to sightsee. In fact, the plane would be taking off at 10pm, so I really did have all day.
(Side note, the Toyoko Inns in both Ichinoseki and here in Kamata used card-keys, but they didn’t use my member card as the key like they had in other hotels. My guess is it’s because I arrived prior to checkin time – they couldn’t make my member card a key, because then they’d have to retain it until the time I could enter my room. I know at least Ichinoseki had the member-cards-as-key-cards system because I saw one woman use hers on the elevator scanner.)
So, I headed out, leaving my suitcase in the care of the hotel. First stop, the Todoroki Ravine. Located in Setagaya Ward at the southern edge of Tokyo, and billed in various places as Tokyo’s only ravine (which I find a little suspect, given how much of Tokyo there is), it’s a ravine cut by the Yazawa (river), and it’s filled with original wilderness forest, but head up to the lip of the ravine and you’re right back in full-on Tokyo residential and commercial areas, including some major roads. Stand one block away from the ravine, and you can’t see it at all. It’s quite similar to Fred Hollows Reserve in Sydney in its… ravine-ness, but also in its completely hidden wilderness…ness. And luckily (because I sure didn’t plan it), it’s a half-hour train ride from my hotel. Well, two trains.
Instead of taking JR today, I caught the Tokyu Railway – the Tokyu Kamata station is in the same building as the JR Kamata station, but at right angles. I’ve gotta say, though, for some reason I quite like these little terminal stations, with the concourse across the end, and two platforms per set of tracks, so that terminating trains can empty on one side, and then refill on the other. Two lines terminate here, the Ikegami line and the Tamagawa line, and while both headed in pretty much the same direction, Google told me I’d be better off taking the Ikegami line, so I carefully checked which platform I needed to be on… and in a haze of photo-taking, I somehow managed to board the other train.
No biggie, though. The Tokyo Tamagawa line is a mere six stations long, and I realised my error at the fifth station. However, all it meant was I needed to change trains one more time than I was originally going to need to, and on the plus side, it gave me another station I could admire. So at Tamagawa Station, I changed to the Toyoko Line (yes, that’s the same one that goes to Shibuya) rode two stops to Jiyugaoka Station, where I could change to the Oimachi Line to Todoroki Station. Much up and down of stairs – many of these stations have the tracks intersecting at near-right angles, so it makes for some interesting station geometry.
Hopped off at Todoroki Station, and I must say this is the kind of tiny suburban station I really quite enjoy – almost as much as the tinier rural stations. The entire station is between the train lines – one island platform with the ticket gates and station office at once end – and all at ground level, so if you stand at the station entrance, you’re standing between two level crossings, with the up-line trains on one side, and the down-line trains on the other. And if you’re lucky enough with timing, you get trains passing on both sides simultaneously.
Anyway, I left the station and headed for the gorge. I walked down the nearest street, but it turned out to be just a residential street – the green “park” area on Google Maps actually extends a block further north than the real thing (I should have checked Pokémon Go instead). A guy popped out of his house to set me straight, in English, which was quite nice (though I confess I’d already worked out where I’d gone wrong).
A block further south, I came to the correct park entrance, alongside a bridge rather incongruously named “Golf Bridge” (one information sign implied it’s named such because there used to be a golf course in the area, if I understood it correctly). Headed down the stairs and into the ravine, and… boy was it lovely and serene. More than a few people wandering around, but still nice. A small groups of boy (and girl) scouts that I ran into a number of times.
The path is apparently an old towpath, and it crosses the river here and there on little bridges – some of them very little. Surprisingly not much evidence of flooding, though I guess it’s been two weeks… and I guess perhaps Tokyo’s flood mitigation infrastructure is better than Utsunomiya’s. There’s also some historical ruins nearby – signage pointed the way to three ancient cave tombs, though I could only actually spot one of them.
There’s supposedly more than 30 springs within the ravine, and the water quality in the river leaving the ravine is actually better than it is when entering – by the time it reaches Golf Bridge, the Yazawa has already flown through about five kilometres of residential streets. In 2003, the Tokyo Metropolitain Government declared the Todoroki Ravine one of “Tokyo’s 57 Best Waters”, though I honestly have no idea how they decided there should be 57 of them.
Near the downstream end of the ravine, at the top of the cliff, is a temple, Myo-o-ji (aka Todoroki Fudoson – either way, it enshrines Fudo). At the bottom of the stairs to the temple was a little structure that looked a bit like a Shinto shrine, but which Google assures me is a hall of the temple enshrining a bosatsu (= one who has reached enlightenment but vows to save others before becoming a Buddha), next to a very nice-looking pool with two little water falls flowing through stone dragon heads.
Clambered up the stairs to the temple, and it was clear I was coming in the back door – the front door faces the street. It was quite a nice little temple, with a big platform from which you could gaze down over the forest – though while I could juuuust make out a red wooden bridge through the trees, mostly all I could see was trees. There were also a few people here celebrating Shichi-Go-San (I was amused to see one girl, dressed in full ceremonial kimono, taking a photo of her parents, rather than them of her). And, slightly incongruously, a little café. And also a little display of chrysanthemum, same as Choson-ji back in Hiraizumi, including a few bonsai… same as Choson-ji.
I headed back down the stairs into the ravine, because at the bottom of the stairs was a more traditional tea house that I’d decided before climbing that I would eat at upon my return. It’s named Setsugekka, which literally means “Snow, Moon, and Flowers”, but figuratively means “the beauty of the four seasons”. It’s got a few benches to sit on out side, quite like an old Edo-period roadside teahouse, but also benches and a tatami-mat room inside too. I was a little torn on whether to sit outside or inside, but eventually decided on inside, and fortunately entered just as a couple sitting by the window left.
I had kuzumochi, with kinako (roast soybean flour) and brown sugar syrup, which I also had back in 2018, but which I failed to mention at the time is made from the starchy root of the kudzu vine. I find it kind of interesting how kudzu is respected in Japan, but overseas it’s so invasive that most places have an “eradicate on sight” order. (Side note, it’s “kuzu” in Japanese – not entirely sure where the extra D came from in the English version. There is a sound that’s similar “dzu” in Japanese (depending on dialect) – the word meaning “scrap” used to be pronounced “kudzu”, for example, though not any more – but this is not it. “Adzuki beans” get the same treatment – it’s “azuki” in Japanese.)
After finishing my mochi (fortunately without inhaling a lungful of kinako) and sipping my tea while contemplating the view, I headed on. First I followed the river past the end of the ravine park just to see what was there, then I came back and strolled through a Japanese garden which ran up one side of the ravine. It was quite nice, and at the top was a grassy area with a number of picnicking families, and a fairly nice view over the Tamagawa (river) into Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture (the Tamagawa marks the border between Tokyo and Kangawa).
I pondered walking back to the station through the ravine, but signs had pointed to a nearby park which contains a big burial mound called a kofun. In the same way as Japan’s oldest historical period is called the Jomon from all the cord-marked pottery that archaeologists found, Japan’s third-oldest historical period is called Kofun, from all the kofun that were found. (The period in between, Yayoi, is named after the neighbourhood of Tokyo where artefacts from the period were first discovered.) It was… well, it was a big mound. There were stairs to climb to the top, but it was a little tricky to capture the essence of it in photographs.
Also, it was in a park – kids were playing on play equipment to one side, and on the other was a baseball field with a baseball match in progress. A little bit incongruous.
I decided to stay on the streets for the walk back to the train station. It was time to head for my next destination – and possibly people have already guessed where from the title of this post. On the way to the station, I was astonishing to spot a rice polishing booth sitting by the side of the road, in front of an apartment building – I honestly thought you only encounter those in the more rural areas.
Google suggested I should backtrack to Jiyugaoka and change back to the Toyoko Line, but I kinda wanted to visit more stations, so I hopped back on the Oimachi Line in the direction I’d been travelling, and rode all the way to the terminus at Mizonokuchi Station, over the other side of the Tamagawa in Kanagawa Prefecture. There, I transferred to the JR Nambu Line. Pop quiz: remembering from day two that “Seibu” means “West Musashi” and “Tobu” means “East Musashi”, and knowing that the JR Nambu line runs to the south of Tokyo, who wants to guess what “Nambu” means? It’s just the one line in this case, though, not a whole company.
At the end of the Nambu line was my next destination: Kawasaki Station. Who woulda guessed? This was my second visit here, though my first in daylight, but the primary purpose of my visit here was the Kawasaki Halloween Parade, Tokyo’s biggest Halloween festival. Literally thousands of people dressed in extremely intricate costumes parade the streets in front of Kawasaki Station, and tens of thousands of people come to watch – last year’s parade had 2200 participants and 120,000 spectators – a big increase on the first festival in 1996, which saw 150 participants and 500 spectators. Even people working in the shopping centres around the station were in costume.
It runs from 2:30pm to 4pm – hoping to get a good spot, I’d aimed to arrive at Kawasaki Station at 1:30 and get some lunch in the underground shopping mall, then head up to the parade route. Aha, now naïve. I had some lunch at Lotteria, because I never had so far (it’s a Japanese McDonalds-like burger chain – they were having a special on double and triple burgers on the 29th of every month (and also apparently the 27th and 28th) because 29 can be read as “niku”, which means “meat” – though it was a lot more peppery than I would have liked… and I made an absolute hash of conveying my order to the guy) then emerged from the appropriate exit to find the street already completely solid with people.
I snagged a spot in a garden bed (others were already standing there, so it’s not like I spontaneously decided to jump on some plants – actually, I took great care not to) from which I could get a good view by holding my camera over my head (trying not to be like the guy in the front row who kept putting his phone into my view). Basically, the participants are divided into three groups. First, group A lined up in front of us, then the MCs would do a whole “welcome, it’s good to see such great costumes” speech, then DJs seated on trucks started playing, and the group kinda shuffle-danced past us. This was repeated with group B fifteen minutes later, and then group C fifteen minutes after that, at which point group A showed up again, so I figured it was just three groups twice over, and decided to extricate myself from the crowd so that someone else could have my spot. Actually, spectators were originally only allowed to stand on the kerb, but while group B was lining up, they moved the barriers so that we could stand on the road, in the outside lane. I managed to hold my place in the crowd, but… honestly, I kinda preferred being far away, because I could see the costumes all the way from head to foot from back there, but up close, the front rows of spectators blocked my view.
Anyway, they really were some very good costumes. Plenty of zombies and assorted undead. Beastmen, vampires, dragons. A platoon of assorted Power Rangers (though they’re known in Japan as Super Sentai). A group of Avengers. Even a couple of Maleficents. A few costumes I’d seen last night as well. Surprisingly few anime characters. Even a Mr Bean, who I only noticed just now while going through my photos (he’s in the bunch above).
At one point, a very priest-like person got up on the stage-truck, invited a man and a woman up, and spoke something that sounded very much like a wedding ceremony (though my knowledge of ecclesiastical Japanese is lacking, so I didn’t really understand what he was actually saying). Really not sure if that was an actual wedding ceremony or just play-acting, but I honestly suspect the former.
In any case, though it was not even 4pm yet (and thus still over six hours until my flight) I decided to beat the crowd and head back to Kamata – making sure to stop by the tiny escalator for a quick joyride… but completely forgetting in the process to visit the Kawasaki Information Centre about 200 metres away for a manhole card. Avast!
At Kamata, I popped into a snack food shop for some snacks to take home, and unable to get that chocolate-block-in-bread from the other day out of my mind, I went to go find it again – but unable to remember the precise location of the shop, I wound up going up a flight of stairs, down another, up a third, only to find it right at the top of the first flight of stairs I’d originally climbed. Tasty, though.
Returning to the hotel, I redistributed the contents of my day bag into my backpack or suitcase as needed, then tried to stuff it into my suitcase… but it wouldn’t fit at all. So, plan B: fill the day bag with the snacks I’d just bought, take it as carry-on, and hope noone made a fuss. I also decided to bring my lovely transparent umbrella home as well – my last two trips, I’d just handed it to the hotel staff rather than go through the hassle of taking it home, but this time I guess it had been such a faithful companion that I couldn’t bear to leave it. Plus, transparent umbrellas are real nice – you can hold them in front of your face and still see where you’re going. (Though, I wonder if I bought too big an umbrella this time – when it was hanging from my bag, I kept knocking it off with my feet, or bumping it on the ground.) Changed my t-shirt, jumper and socks while I was at it.
Then, though it was still barely 5:30, and it’d take me about twenty minutes to get to the airport (the main reason I stayed at Kamata for this part of the trip), I decided to head out. Meant I could stroll gently to the Keikyu-Kamata station, check in before the crowds, and then linger over some dinner. And also have a video chat with the family. (So, the fun thing about Keikyu-Kamata Station is that trains leave for the airport on two different platforms – trains coming from the direction of Yokohama stop on the second level and reverse out, trains coming from the direction of Tokyo stop on the third level and continue moving forward.)
(On the subject of ambling gently, I wonder a bit if my usual practice of hectic activity for the last few days of my Japan trips is a mistake. Basically every trip so far, I’ve spent the last few days visiting the busiest parts of Tokyo, and/or scrambling from place to place on a limited schedule. Point is, I wonder if they give me a sort of… last impression of Japan being crowded, and busy, and noisy. I know I want to get every last bit of sightseeing in that I can, but sometimes I wonder if maybe I’d be better off staying in whatever remote place I’m staying until the last day of my trip, then return to Tokyo and head for the airport in one go. Or something.)
Buuut, I arrived at the station without a hitch. Actually, one tiny hitch: having never arrived at Haneda via the Keikyu Line before, I was a tiny bit perplexed as to precisely where in the terminal I’d arrived, but fortunately managed to find the main concourse without too much trouble. The Haneda International departure concourse is as grant as I remember, except now there’s a big reproduction of an Edo-period wooden bridge on the third floor that I don’t remember there being. I dropped my suitcase off, and then went to explore, while showing the family all the sights on our regular weekly video call.
There was a TV in the middle of the concourse on the second level showing the rugby, and a roped-off area for people to sit in – and it was so full that people were spilling out the sides. I showed the family the Edo-period bridge, and the big toyshop, and the outside viewing deck, and when it was time to end the call, I went to grab some dinner – I went to ease myself back into Western-style food by having a Japanese-style pizza: teriyaki chicken, with mayonnaise and nori. Very yum. (Molto oishii? Totemo deliziosa?)
Ambled over to my gate, having a go in a massage chair en route – use up a few coins. Then at long last it was time to board. I booked an exit-row seat for this flight – being an overnight flight, it’d be good for stretching out. And still noone questioned my second carry-on bag. Though I had to go a couple of rows back for an overhead compartment wide enough for the umbrella to go in.
Second dinner (which I really wasn’t expecting at 10pm) was penne with pangrattato (… which just means “breadcrumbs”. Dunno why they didn’t just say that.) and… some kind of pudding for dessert. Not entirely sure what I’ve done with the menu which would give me the specifics. Perhaps I’ll update this when I find it.
Watched Yesterday while eating – during a very brief global “The Day the Earth Stood Still” style complete blackout, failing musician Jack Malik gets hit by a bus… and wakes up in a world where the Beatles never existed, so he proceeds to become famous by reproducing their songs from memory. And it’s like… I grant that the Beatles were absolute trailblazers in their time, but I’m not sure I quite buy the screaming hysteria that characters display at Jack re-introducing the Beatles into modern rock and roll. Also thought the blackout aspect of the premise was a bit weird, and was never brought up again – just have him get hit by the bus, and skip the blackout. I was amused by Ed Sheeran playing himself, and not just as a cameo – as a fairly important second-tier character.
Settled down afterwards to get some sleep. And… well, I had my eyes closed for about four hours, and I was certainly unconscious for some of it, but I’m not sure I got any actual sleep. Aside from anything else, I was in the middle seat, but both of my neighbours slept with their elbows on the armrests, meaning I had to sleep with arms folded or in my lap. And the guy on my right jabbed me in the ribs with said elbow every time he shifted position. I did manage to doze off a bit during takeoff, mind, which amused the flight attendants sitting in the jump seat opposite.
Well, by the end of my attempted sleep, they started bringing up the lights and serving breakfast ready for our descent into Sydney. Breakfast was fruit salad and a danish. My feeling on this was “we took off at bed time and landed after breakfast time, yet you serve a big dinner and a small breakfast?”
Got a few nice photos of country Australia from the air, but soon it was time to sit down and buckle up. We actually managed to arrive half an hour earlier than scheduled… which meant there was another plane in our assigned gate that hadn’t departed yet, so we had to park by the fence and get bussed to the terminal. But honestly, that took so long that by the time we were all there, it probably would have been faster to wait for the gate to become available.
I grabbed my suitcase from the baggage claim (relieved that it had not burst from the internal pressure) and headed for customs. Decided I’d better declare my shoes, considering I’d been hiking in the forest and squelching through flood-affected Utsunomiya, but she barely gave them a cursory glance and waved me through. Finished off my box of tic tacs for the nice little bit of closure, then headed for the train station. Did a little test on the platform of how accurate Australian trains can stop by standing by a “mind the step” marker and measuring where the door landed – it was about half the door’s width away. Or, I guess, just about as accurate as my most successful attempt on the simulator at the Railway Museum in Omiya (cough, cough).
The trip home today was a great deal less traumatic than the same trip in 2017, probably because today I did it on a weekday during business hours, whereas last time it was on the weekend… and also it was summer, and I was wearing thermals. The exit from Green Square station on the south side of Botany Road is all fancy and new – and enclosed in a building – as part of the new development, which was very shiny and new – gonna have to go back for another look some time. Managed to get a seat on the bus easily.
… And then left my umbrella hooked onto the luggage rack when I got off. At least, I’m pretty sure I did – I think I remember hanging it there, and I can’t locate it now, sooo… yep. Quite annoyed with myself that I managed to haul it almost eight thousand kilometres over the Pacific Ocean, only to lose it less than a hundred metres from my front door. I realised what I’d done on Tuesday evening (in the future, wooo), and went to the lost property office on Wednesday morning, but it hadn’t been turned in… and honestly, I’m not expecting that it will be. Humbug, I say! Humbug!
Fortunately, my paper umbrella from Chichibu survived the trip mildly squashed, but otherwise pretty much intact.
Well, home sweet home, in any case. Discovered upon unzipping my suitcase that one of the hooks holding the pull tab onto the slider of the zipper had bent, by enough that the slider just fell off – a mite concerning, as the suitcase could have been opened while still locked. Think it’s just bent from the internal pressure of the suitcase, though.
(Side anecdote, I bought a new pair of sandals to wear at the Ryusei Matsuri if I had occasion to take my shoes off, but wound up never wearing them. This afternoon, after settling in for a bit, I put them on for a quick stroll to the post office and back… and they stripped a big patch of skin off the insteps of both of my feet. Probably a good thing I never wore them in Japan. Think I’m gonna have wear them with socks on at least a few times to get them properly worn in. Once my feet heal.)
Today’s photo count: One thousand and thirteen (includes photos taken on Monday).
Today’s pedometer count: 18,893 steps – 13.3 kilometres – 31 flights of stairs (does not include steps taken on Monday).
Today’s goshuin count: One – Myo-o-ji / Todoroki Fudoson
Today’s stamp count: Two – Kawasaki Station, because I couldn’t remember if I got it in 2017 (in my blog I seem to be quite confused with station names, at one point calling Kawasaki “Kanazawa”, though I do list the Kawasaki stamp in the footnotes), and after not seeing the stamp in 2017, then not having anything to stamp on in 2018, I finally got the Haneda Airport stamp… except I pressed far too hard and wound up with a blobby mess that soaked through the page. Noooo.