Day 8–Kanmangafuchi, the Abyss of Full Regret

Oh boy, three days ago. Uh, where were we? When last we left our hero…

On the subject of English words in Japanese, I quite like their word for putting your phones on silent – it’s called “manner mode” (i.e. the English words). “Please use manner mode”. There’s a whole class of English words that are used in Japanese in either a completely different sense to how we’d use them in English, or phrases completely invented from whole cloth – it’s called “wasei eigo”, Japanese-made English. “Viking” means a smorgasbord or buffet. “Bike” always means a motorbike, never a bicycle. “Health meter” is the bathroom scales. “Pink” is a euphemism for “adult” (as in “pink movie” = adult movie). The list goes on…

Today was my last day in Nikko, so I headed down for breakfast as usual…

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Then checked out of my hotel. As my last day, I thought I’d do something comparatively quick: A stroll trough the Kanmangafuchi. It’s usually called the Kanmangafuchi Abyss around the internet, but as “fuchi” already means “abyss”, this is a PIN Number situation. (Which actually seems fairly common in English translations on signs in Japan, I’ve noticed – stuff like “Yukawa River” (“kawa” is “river”), Sotobori Moat (“bori” is “moat”), Miyajima Island (“jima” is “island”) abound everywhere. Also, in this case the “ga” just means “of” (as in, “Abyss of…”) so technically it’s just Kanman Abyss.) It’s actually the same ravine that starts at the foot of the Kegon Falls, but this specific part of it is known for its line of Jizo statues that stand facing the river. Also, it’s quite accessible by bus, and my two-day pass from yesterday was still valid.

In any case, I hopped off the bus at the appropriate stop, which is actually right across the road from the hotel that was suggested by the Japanese Guest Houses website as an alternative to a ryokan in Yumoto, except… it’s just a Western-style hotel with nothing particularly to draw me to it, it’s quite expensive, and it’s not particularly close to anything. Buuut, moving on.

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After a short walk, I came to a bridge over the Daiya River, the actual start of my walk for the day. Shortly after crossing, a man walking the other way warned me in Japanese that something was blocking the track – I didn’t catch exactly what, lacking the precise vocabulary knowledge, but I feared another landslide. I asked if the track was impassable, but he said “no, just be careful”. So I continued, carefully.

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Came across a peaceful little shrine, and as I left, I discovered what was blocking the track – a fallen tree. Actually, it was still possible to walk underneath… but only because the tree had snagged on the powerlines. So I edged under, very carefully.

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A little further along, I came across a Buddhist graveyard in the forest. No associated temple in sight anywhere, and everything was covered in a nice layer of moss, but it’s clearly still currently active, as there’s a few new stones here.

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And down a short flight of stairs, I finally found the Jizo statues. Sometimes called the Hyaku Jizo (Hundred Jizo) or Narabi Jizo (Lined-up Jizo), each is wearing a red bib and a hat. Originally there were a hundred of them, but in 1902, a typhoon in Tochigi Prefecture sent a flood roaring down the Abyss, and several of them were destroyed (as were a prayer hall and a statue of Fudo Myo-o that used to be here) – now they’re also called Bake Jizo (Ghost Jizo), because every time you try to count them, you get a different number. It was, I thought, a little bit creepy seeing some of them with a rock in place of their missing heads, and a hat on top of the rock. Made them look like they had a shruken head.

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I quite like the variations in facial expressions on them, though. This one has found his true inner peace.

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This one is trying not to laugh at a joke he just remembered.

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This one is completely inscrutable.

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This one has fallen asleep.

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This one is desperately trying not to notice the constant sound of flowing water, and I’ve gotta say, I was starting to sympathise with him.

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Much sooner than I expected, I emerged from the the forest into grass and houses (and a public restroom, fortunately). This area supposedly used to house the craftsmen who helped build Tosho-gu (actually, the shrine complex’s western approach road starts just on the other side of the main Nikko road). One street had a whole series of stone domes down one side from which water emerged – they used to serve as the water supply for the area.

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Also came across another lovely little shrine, this one with a sign up saying the goshuin could be found at Futarasan Shrine… again. And a nice-looking temple, which unfortunately had a sign outside reading “No entry, Buddhists only”.

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I decided to see if I could find a place for lunch before heading back into town, and while staring at the menu of one place, I noticed an ancient old lady watching me through the window of one place. When she appeared at the door and invited me inside, I could hardly say no. They were a shop basically specialising in hand-made soba, so I had some soba noodle soup with yuba rolls. (I decided to sit at the Western style table and chairs they had – sitting at a low table with noodle soup is an accident waiting to happen.)

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After lunch, I headed for the nearest bus stop – for some reason, this part of the Nikko road has a pedestrian underpass for people to cross rather than traffic lights. It’s not something I would have thought to see in a place like this. Hopped off the bus back at Tobu-Nikko station, and who should hop off before me but the same European family I shared a cable car with at Akechidaira yesterday.

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I returned to my hotel for my bags, came out again, and promptly ran into the same family again. Turns out we’re staying at the same hotel. And actually, I realised while writing yesterday’s blog post that I’d actually taken a photo of them sitting at the breakfast table that morning. Hah.

Anyway, I headed for the JR Nikko station, where sadly I’d just missed a train, so I entered the station with my JR Pass (day three of the pass), and wandered around the platform taking photos – by the time I was done that, it was quite busy. Piled on the train when I could, and grabbed a spot at the front to look out the windows – unfortunately, we appeared to have a trainee driver, and his trainer stood right in the middle of the cab, blocking much of the central windows. Bah.

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Back at Utsunomiya Station once more, it was time to take the Shinkansen down to Omiya again… except the ticket office had a sign in the window saying the next available reserved seat wasn’t for about another hour, so I headed up to the platform to try for a non-reserved seat again. And again I’d just missed a train – on the plus side, that meant I could grab the front spot in the queue of my choice.

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On the train, I dumped my luggage in the vestibule storage space, and went to find a seat, fortunately finding one not too many rows away. And I got just about enough time to settle, when it was time to hop off again. At Omiya, which was quite crowded (peak hour, perhaps), I changed to the Saikyo Line, which took me to my next destination: Toda-Koen Station. Weird thing, the Saikyo Line platforms are underground at Omiya, but elevated at Toda-Koen, so I went down an escalator before boarding, and down another one after disembarking.

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At Toda-Koen, it had sadly started to rain again (actually, it had been attempting for much of the day, though most of it was little more than just heavy fog) as I strolled south under the railway tracks – though the Shinkansen doesn’t have a station here, the Saikyo Line runs alongside the Shinkansen tracks in this section. Soon, I arrived at my next hotel – Toyoko Inn, again.

And was informed upon checking in that I had a room on the fifth floor, but the elevator was disabled thanks to the typhoon, and I’d have to use the outside emergency stairs. And actually, the lobby vending machines and water dispenser are out too – the hotel looks over a canal just on the other side of the road. I didn’t really want to play the “grumpy  foreigner” card, but I was rather unenthused about climbing four flights of stairs – doing it with all my luggage would probably kill me – but while I was still trying to formulate my emotions into a sentence in Japanese, they swapped me to a room on level two. Phew.

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After checking in, I headed out again for dinner – I asked for some tips from the hotel staff, and found myself eating at the local Sukiya branch. I had cheesy casserole-style gyudon, which was… interesting. Though, one thing I liked is that you order by an iPad at your table, and you pay into a machine, so there’s almost no interaction with humans at all. (One thing that does interest me about Sukiya is that this one – like the one in Chichibu – has a drive-through window. I dunno, drive-through is really not something I’d associate with Japan.)

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Back at the hotel, I did some washing – the coin laundry was still working, which is fortunate because I was completely out of socks and undies – and sat down with a bottle of Barbados cherry flavoured soft drink from the working vending machine over the road while doing a bit of blogging. Also had the TV on in the background with a panel show, the host of which appeared to be a person in a costume with an uncanny-valley CG face pasted over the top. Not at all sure what the costume looks like without the face. Also watched 50 First Kisses, the Japanese remake of the Adam Sandler film 50 First Dates, which was curiously also set in Hawaii (same as the original), so other than the main characters and their immediate family and friends, all the characters spoke English (as did the main characters, when speaking to minor characters). Though, sometimes the most entertaining bits about Japanese TV are the ads. Suddenly remembered at this point that I’d clean forgotten yesterday was Thursday – I’d intended to watch VS Arashi. Humbug.

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Went up and down the stairs three times during that procedure, making me very happy about not being on the fifth floor. One downside about this room is that it’s right next to the hotel’s illuminated sign, which shines brightly enough that twice when coming into my room, I’d thought it was dawn already. (My window’s visible in the photo of the hotel above – second floor, third window from the nearer end.)

I did, however, discover to my dismay that I’d somehow left my Australian power board at the hotel in Nikko – and since one of my power adaptors was plugged into it, it reduced the number of things I could charge at once to just one. I was able to “modify” my third Japanese power adaptor – the one I’d previously not modified because I was unable to get the casing open – by bending the Earth pin back and forth until it snapped off, and I could charge most USB-powered things on my laptop (though I’d have to leave the laptop on all night), so I could survive.. just. The experience is, however, absolute paranoia fuel – i.e. what else could I have left behind?

Today’s photo count: five hundred and forty-six

Today’s pedometer count: 14,262 steps – 10.5 kilometres – 15 flights of stairs (which would have been more like 40 flights if I’d been on the fifth floor)

Today’s goshuin count: Zip, despite visiting a few small temples and shrines.

Today’s stamp count: Two – finally got Omiya’s, and also Toda-Koen.

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