Day 12–The Black Tide

Yesterday’s post now has photos.

I confess sometimes I wonder why I blog my travels. Don’t get me wrong, I like having the blog to read over later and reminisce on my travels (regardless of all of my screaming fans). The issue is that it takes me so long to blog that I’m either truncating my sightseeing plans, or staying up too late, and neither is really a good thing to be doing. But on the other hand, I want to get it down while it’s fresh too. I mean, even when I write it that night, I keep discovering how many little things I’ve forgotten about that I wanted to mention. I have to keep taking photos of them during the day to remind me that night…

As I mentioned yesterday, today I checked out of my ryokan in Kyoto right after breakfast, and headed for Kyoto station once more. I kinda still feel like I haven’t properly enjoyed the place, though this time it may have more to do with the fact that it was freezing cold. It occurred to me that I started each full day in Kyoto riding on a different company’s trains – Hankyu on Sunday, Keihan on Monday, and Kyoto City Subway yesterday. In fact, in contrast to our last trip when we did most of our commuting in Kyoto on the buses, I did not catch a single bus the whole time on this trip.

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But anyway, back at Kyoto Station once more (after taking the wrong exit from the subway and winding up on the other side of the road) I reserved a seat on the Kuroshio limited express heading for the Kii Peninsula. Most Kuroshio trains actually start at Shin-Osaka Station, but two of them start from Kyoto Station instead. However, I could have sworn the one that started in the morning from Kyoto was a later one, and I’d have to get to Shin-Osaka to get the earlier one, but when I checked again last night, it was the other way around, which simplified my plans somewhat.

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The Kuroshio is a pretty nice train. Slightly disturbingly, there was a safety instruction card in the seat-back pocket specifically with instructions for what to do in the event of a tsunami. Named after the Kuroshio Current (which is basically the North Pacific version of the Gulf Stream), the Kuroshio runs from (or in my case, through) Osaka and around the bottom of the Kii Peninsula, Honshu’s largest peninsula. James and I have been on the peninsula before, when we visited Koya-san, but I was heading to a different part.

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Fun fact, the Kii Peninsula is named after the old Kii Province that used to be located here, or in Japanese, Kii no Kuni. I’m pretty sure that’ll be ringing bells for some of my readers. Yep, this place is where the name of Japanese bookstore chain Kinokuniya comes from. It was originally founded as a charcoal dealer in Shinjuku, Tokyo, though. Go figure.

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But getting back to me, after about two hours on the train, I hopped off the train at Kii-Tanabe Station to change to a bus. Not right away, though – I had about half an hour to wander around Tanabe, or basically time enough to circle one largish block. The last photo is of a temple noticeboard – it reads, in appropriately somber calligraphy, “today is the first day of the rest of your life”.

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Bought lunch from a bento box seller. They actually sit on the shelves without any rice in them, and when you buy the box, they add in the rice fresh. I ate sitting at the bus stop, but the wind was so strong and so frigid that the rice was ice-cold by the time I was done.

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I hopped on the bus when it arrived, settling in for another two hour trip. It too was a lovely trip, running through mountain valleys along a river, occasionally passing through a tunnel. There were never more than a few people on board, and for a fair portion of the trip, it was just me and one school girl. She got off, and later a hiker got on. For a brief span between two tunnels, it actually started snowing, but sadly it stopped again.

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Eventually, the bus arrived at my destination: Yunomine Onsen. The last little stretch of road heading into town was a little hair-raising, especially in a bus. Yunomine Onsen is a hot spring town thought to be one of the oldest in Japan, having been founded about 1800 years ago. Like, the Roman Empire still ruled Europe when this place was founded. It basically consists of a whole lot of minshuku (= Japanese-style B&Bs… &D) and ryokan, each with their own hot spring baths, running down both sides of a mountain stream. It’s quite a nice little town, aside from the occasional whiff of rotten egg gas strong enough to make your eyes water.

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So, I hopped off the bus, and so did the hiker. I strolled towards my accommodation, Minshuku Adumayaso, and so did the hiker. Turns out we’re staying in the same place. It’s quite a nice place, though it’s kinda showing its age a little bit. It is, to be honest, actually my fourth preference – no idea if the first three were full, or if they don’t offer single occupancy, or if they just didn’t want a foreigner. In any case, the rooms here are named after trees, as is common practice in ryokans and the like – my room is named Momo, the peach tree. On the plus side, this room has a much more effective heater than the one in my room in Kyoto, and it’s much better at holding the heat in. Today’s welcome snack is a mikan (mandarin) cake.

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It was quite a long trip for what was basically a regular old city bus, but I’d finally arrived. But here’s the deal, see: Yunomine Onsen is closer to the east coast of the peninsula than the west. Kii-Tanabe is on the west (though, the official bounds of the City of Tanabe include Yunomine Onsen), while Shingu is the major station on the east coast. The Kuroshio actually terminates at Shingu. But, and here’s the but, for some odd reason, buses from Kii-Tanabe to Yunomine are strangely more frequent than buses from Shingu to Yunomine. I could have opted for a longer train ride (covered by my JR pass) then a shorter bus ride, but I would have had to arrive at either 11am or 5pm, there were no other buses in between. On the other hand, coming from Kii-Tanabe gave me options of 1:30, 2:30 and 4:30.

Anyway, I arrived on the 2:30 bus, so I explored the town for a bit taking photos, then headed back to my room to rest until dinner. As well as all the minshuku, there’s also a public bath, and a bath called “tsuboyu” where pilgrims have washed themselves for centuries. As well as this, there’s also a pool where the water is about 90°C where you can boil eggs – they sell them at nearby shops for this purpose. I tested the stream, incidentally, and it’s quite warm, however, that’s with the caveat that the only place I can reach the stream to feel it is downstream of the egg-cooking pool’s outflow, so results are inconclusive.

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Dinner was in the dining room (unlike the ryokan in Kyoto, where they serve you in your room). It was quite an impressive spread – sashimi, tempura, nabe, chawanmushi, rice (of course). One pointer, though, for those who (like me) are a bit picky about fish bones: Japanese cuisine, as a whole, is not at all picky about fish bones. On a side note, I have, so far, twice stepped up onto tatami mats with my indoor slippers still on (a big no-no), and both times right in front of the innkeeper. Ouch.

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Had a bath after dinner in the minshuku’s onsen. Quite lovely. Faint smell of sulphur, mind. Can’t seem to find the towels, so I dried myself with what I’m fairly sure is a washcloth.

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Went for another wander to try my hand at some night photography of the town, then came back to the minshuku to blog. I’ve had the TV on in the background with a show about a school for deaf kids, and it’s quite interesting watching them interact with each other. Slightly amused to see more than one kid dry their palms on their pants before starting to sign – guess it’s the sign language equivalent of licking your lips before you start speaking. =)

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Sadly, while the minshuku has wi-fi, it’s just a hair too weak to get a connection in my room, so I’m gonna have to go sit in the lobby to post this…

Today’s photo count: A mere three hundred and ninety.

Today’s pedometer count: 6664 steps, or 4.5 km

Today’s goshuin count: None

Today’s stamp count: Two, Kii-Tanabe Station, and Tanabe City Visitor Information Centre.

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