On my second day in Ise I had planned to go by bicycle to the coast to visit the Meoto rocks but the weather was still unstable and most of all super windy and I found the task to fight against the wind for ten kilometers one way too daunting and chose to go by train instead.
A word about my hotel here. It turned out to be quite an interesting and quirky place. In an old but still functioning office building, they refurbished six rooms in the back of the third floor into apartments, adding a bathroom and a kitchen area in each room. The carpets and ceiling including the illumination were still from the old office times though, lol. However, the place has everything it needs and on top of that rented bicycle out for free, which I am a great fan of 😉 While I rode the bicycle to the Ise grand shrine, I took the train to the Meoto rocks. They represent the Shinto deities Izanagi and Izanami and are connected by a huge rope. The summer solstice sunrise is between them and if you have very very good weather, you can even see Mt. Fuji between them. They are pretty and have an air or mystery around them.
Next to them is a small shrine and a bit further down the road is an old aquarium. I had a nice time in the wind at the rocks and also in the aquarium, though I felt a bit sorry for the animals in their tiny and old enclosures.
In 2020 I stayed at home during golden week (a collection of national holidays and the company I work for closes for a week) for the first time in over ten years while the country (and most of the world) was in the first state of emergency during the pandemic that had just started. Notably the COVID figures at that time were in the hundreds in all of Japan, not in the thousands as now, a year later. This year a few prefectures are in state of emergency, a few are in a semi state of emergency, many have no such state at all. I had booked a hotel for Okinawa again, but some three weeks before I was scheduled to go, Okinawa entered a semi state of emergency and was asking people not to come. So what to do instead? I felt like I’d be going stir crazy if I have to spend another golden week at home. Inspired by a colleague of mine, who went to Mie and Wakayama prefectures in March, I “remembered” the place and thought why not. I’ve been to Ise city once before, during my very first trip to Japan, since it is the home of the most holy of all Shinto shrines, the Ise grand shrine, which belongs to the sun goddess Amaterasu. My previous visit to Ise is now a staggering 28 years ago. I visited the place as a cute and naive student in 1993. OMG, have I become that old? Yes, I have! Naturally I hardly remembered anything about the place. It’s not that far away either, just by Shinkansen to Nagoya and from there with an express train for some 90 minutes.
In Ise I rented an apartment with cooking facilities, to be able to avoid having to go to restaurants considering the COVID situation. The holidays of golden week were timed favorably this year with the national holidays of 29th of April, and May 3, 4, and 5 all on weekdays, so also for people whose company doesn’t close for a week like mine, you could get 7 days off with taking only one holiday, the 30th of April. Last year the golden week travel was at an all time low, this year however, many people, such as myself, found it impossible to stay put. I rode the Shinkansen to Nagoya on the 30th of April, hoping for the trains to be not too full, but actually, the Shinkansen was pretty crowded and I stayed between cars to avoid having to sit next to someone for the 90 min from Yokohama to Nagoya. The train to Ise was much emptier, luckily.
I went to the Ise grand shrine right on the first day, the 1st of May, a Saturday in unsteady weather, with rain showers in the morning and epic thunderstorms in the afternoon, but luckily I was already back at the hotel for the worst parts of the thunderstorms. There were plenty of people around but in the large park of the inner part of the Ise grand shrine the crowding situation was acceptable. It was a lot more crowded in the shopping and food street next to the shrine and I felt a bit unsafe but went with the flow.
The shrine and the park around it are pretty amazing, even if you cannot really see the main shrine, since it is too holy and closed off for the most part. It is also one of the few places in Japan where you are not allowed to take pictures. There are plenty of lesser shrines around the main one though, which are accessible. An interesting point about the Ise grand shrine is that it is being rebuilt every twenty years. All buildings are made from wood and are renewed every twenty years. The first mentioning of the renewal of the shrine in whatever documents is from the year 690. It’s a beautiful place and well worth the visit. Right in the middle of town is the outer area of the shrine with ponds and several smaller shrines and also a main shrine. I found the outer shrine to be very nice also, in part because there were fewer people there.
There are five lakes around Fujisan and in the morning of my return day, I rode with a bus to the neighboring lake called Saiko (which simply means “west lake”), to a traditional reed roof houses village with Fujisan views.
The weather was going downhill with more and more clouds, but Fujisan was still visible. Lake Saiko is smaller than Lake Kawaguchi and has only two small villages at its east and west ends. There is no train line going to the lake. In the past the bus rode from 9:00 in the morning to around 17:00 every half hour, bringing tourists to and from Lake Saiko, but now there are only two buses during weekdays and three buses during the weekend, that’s all! So you have to time it well to get there. It was worth the ride though, since the traditional reed roof house village is a very nice place to see.
Half of the around thirty houses are museums, the other half house crafts shops and I did quite some shopping, pottery items, incense and an arts shop with the drawings of a Japanese artists, he draws Buddhist themes, animals and also dragons 🙂
There are restaurants in three of the houses and I had some udon noodles there before heading back to Kawaguchi. Arrived there I rode once more with the gondola up the hill for more Fujisan views and then headed back home.
It was a fantastic little trip, but let’s be honest, without sunshine and the mountain out it’s only half as nice. You definitely need good weather for visiting the place 🙂 but if you have good weather, lucky you! The pictures do not do the closeness of the mountain justice. It’s an awesome place and I shall surely go there again 🙂
Since I, for the first time ever, had some holidays left that I had to take until the end of March, I took two days off and wondered what to do with them. Our state of emergency had just ended and we were officially allowed to travel again. (It’s possible to travel also during the state of emergency if necessary.) I decided on going to Lake Kawaguchi at the base of Mt. Fuji in the hope to have good weather and get a proper look at the famous mountain. I’ve actually never been to Lake Kawaguchi before, dreading the masses of tourists there. It’s, after all, the main spot for Fujisan. But since the number of tourists is so much reduced, I thought now was a good chance to head there. It’s only two hours by train and off I went. On my arrival day the weather was cloudy and cold and the top of Fujisan hid in the clouds. Nevertheless the base was visible and wow, Kawaguchi is really close to the mountain with no other hill anymore in between. I locked my luggage away in a station locker and promptly rented a bicycle to go exploring. Lake Kawaguchi is exactly north of the mountain and I rode along the northern shore visiting parks and a large shrine.
Lake Kawaguchi is at a height of about 850 meters and was much colder than Yokohama and I was happy for the down jacket I brought. It was so cold and windy that I needed a break and went to the very nice Yamanashi gem museum. They have a large collection of very pretty gems and a nice, big shop also. Then I checked into my hotel and it was perfectly situated at the south side of the lake with a great view at the lake and the mountain beyond it. Said mountain peeled itself more and more out of the clouds and the sunset was breathtaking while revealing the top of the mountain.
Sunrise was before 6:00 and I woke up at 6:00 and couldn’t resist peaking through the curtains and OMG not a cloud in the blue sky and a most magnificent view. After that I couldn’t really sleep anymore and got up around seven, having breakfast while enjoying the view.
In walking distance from the hotel is a ropeway up the hill and I went up there with one of the first gondolas. That hill is 1090 meters high and allows an undisturbed view at the entire Fujisan. Such an awesome sight.
On I went to the train station and rode three stations to a place called Shimoyoshida where there is a shrine and a five story pagoda with a famous Fujisan view. The view is indeed magnificent but you have to struggle up a ginormous over 400 stairs to get up there. It is well worth the climb though. The pagoda is famous for cherry blossom views but I was two weeks too early for that unfortunately.
Back at lake Kawaguchi I rented a bicycle again and rode along the south side of the lake to enjoy the views from there. Last but not least I took a boat ride on the lake with more Fujisan views. In the evening and after another magnificent sunset, there was a surprise fireworks over the lake, which was visible from my hotel window as well and it concluded a perfect day at the incredible mountain.
I cannot believe that it’s already ten years since the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. In Japan we call it usually the “Great East Japan Earthquake” 東日本大震災 (higashi nihon dai shinsai)。On March 11th 2011, the earth shook at 14:46 local time with magnitude 9.0 on the Richter scale. Worse than the earthquake itself was the ensuing tsunami, which reached heights of up to 40 meters and reached up to 10km inland. Some 18,000 people died, over 2500 of them are still listed as “missing”. The tsunami famously also caused the level 7 meltdowns of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
I’ve re-read my first three blog entries from back then right now, starting with this one in case you want to read it too. There are plenty more, which I wrote in the days and weeks after the big quake and they are all still on the blog.
Now, ten years later, we got reminded again of this big quake with a magnitude 7.1 on the Richter scale on the 13th of February, which was yet another aftershock of the big one. There have been some 14,000 quakes, which are registered as aftershocks of the 11th of March 2011 quake.
Interestingly the quake was one of the things that influenced my decision to stay in Japan. I got my permanent residency four years after the quake. You don’t turn your back on the place you love if there is trouble. You face the trouble and help each other to get through it. People show their true colors when there is trouble and I liked what I saw back then and felt connected to the place and I have not regretted the decision to stay for a single moment.
I hope that we don’t have to go through another such major disaster in our lifetimes. There’s no guarantee for that though when you live on the ring of fire. We can only hope it won’t be too bad every time the ground shakes… My thoughts go out to all the people who died ten years ago, as well as to their friends and families that they left behind.
I spent some more time in the Ryukyu glass village, the idea being to get something nicer for my cocktail endeavors than the standard glasses I used so far. The martini glass was the biggest challenge since it is not among the Ryukyu glass standard but I think I found a nice solution with this one. They have some very fine stuff in the Ryukyu glass village! It’s a formidable place and I hope it stays in business during these rough times when there are so much fewer tourists than in the past.
On my last day I rode my bicycle to my favorite beach of Kita-Nashiro and along some more coastline, then went to sell the bicycle. I had hoped for 4000 yen for it, since it was used only for ten days after all, but they gave me only 3000 yen for it. I am not the negotiating type and left it at that. Had I rented a bicycle I would have paid around a thousand yen a day so that’s what I paid for the new bicycle also. The investment was completely worth it and I wouldn’t have had the holidays I enjoyed without it.
There is one story left to tell and that’s about the feral cats of Itoman. The Minamihama park at the sea, which was a few hundred meters down the road from my hotel, was crawling with feral cats. Some of them looked quite well and healthy, but around half of them had chipped ears, presumably from fighting with each other. Some run away when you come too close, but some, especially this one was very people friendly and allowed you to pet her.
Several people were distributing cat food, but I wonder if they do it regularly and if it’s enough for all the cats around. I would have liked to take one of the cats with me. It makes me sad that they are not having homes. I counted some twenty cats, but I’m sure there were even more. Well, at least some people are feeding them from time to time and play with them.
All in all Itoman is a hot candidate for my retirement plans 🙂 It’s close enough to some nature and also close enough to civilization. I’m far from done exploring though! Apart from remote islands, I also want to explore more of Okinawa’s main island’s middle and north. So until next time, which I hope will be for Golden Week 2021? Let’s see what corona will say… stay healthy, folks
Another “must” when you are in the south of Okinawa’s main island is to go to the peace park next to Mabuni hill in the very south.
I went there on first of January in again brilliant sunny weather. Unfortunately the peace museum was closed for new year, but I made new friends when another metalhead noticed my Be’lakor t-shirt. He’s from Australia and Be’lakor are an Australian band 😉 We chatted for half an hour 🙂 He and another Australian lady are teachers in the JET program and were posted to the remote Okinawan islands of Yonaguni and Aguni. I have been to neither island yet, so that’s a nice opportunity for future trips 🙂 Lessons learned is: always wear your metal shirts, they can be highly communicative! Lol. I rode on to the Mabuni hill and (from the outside) checked out the cave riddled rock, where the locals and also soldiers sought refuge in the last stages of WW2.
Between downtown Itoman and the peace park is another peace museum, which had open. It was telling the story of the Himeyuri girl-student corps who were working as nurses and also forced to bury the dead during WW2. Many of them were killed and the museum commemorates them.
The whole south of Okinawa is riddled with caves and in many locals sought refuge in them from the bombing during the WW2 battle for Okinawa. One notable cave is the Todoroki cavern.
I had intended to go inside, but man that cave was scary and spooky! I’m really amazed they just let it sit there and people can enter it if they want to. I mean it’s hella dangerous, if you fall and break a leg, you have to wait for the odd chance of another idiot stumbling into the cave. It’s apparently huge also. Very interesting but no thanks for going into the pitch black dark. Lol. After the almost cave visit, I rode my bicycle further south again to the rugged but beautiful coastline of Odo.
Due to not so great weather I went to Naha twice by regular bus. On the first trip I did my round of shops that I like and also went pottery shopping in the pottery street, which has become kind of a ritual for me when I’m in Naha. I bought a rice bowl, a plate and two small “plates” where you put your cutlery on (like a chopsticks holder, but for fork and knife), all in Okinawa blue 🙂 I also went to Shuri castle. I was surprised they actually let you onto the castle grounds. The main hall of the castle and several other buildings unfortunately burned to the ground on October 31st 2019. You can walk past where the main hall stood. So sad and I’m very glad I visited the castle when it still stood. I think they plan to rebuild it by 2026… sigh… It’s a nice way to get a bit of money though that they let you in. It’s only 400 yen mind, but better than nothing and there were some people around too, not overly many, but a few.
On my second trip to Naha a few days later, I went to a shrine I had not been to before and also a bunker south of Naha where the Japanese navy made their last stand. They hacked a significant tunnel system into the hill and it’s an interesting site.
The weather turned even worse with pretty much of a winter storm, but despite it I went by bicycle to a large shopping mall which sports a new aquarium. It’s in the town of Tomigusuku between Naha and Itoman where I stayed. I almost got blown away and froze my hands off to get there and got pretty wet. Winds were at 50 to 70 km per hour or 15 to 20 meters per second. I almost gave up but then pushed through. The aquarium is super modern. There are no explanatory signs around, instead they make you download an app and there are sensor pads instead of signs, which then load the information about the animals into the app. The aquarium isn’t big but quite nice and you could get astonishingly close to most animals. The sloth and the toucans were just behind a line! So you could even take a selfie with the super cute sloth.
Cape Kyan at the southern end of Okinawa’s main island is one hell of a beautiful place. It also comes along with a peace memorial. During WW2 much of Okinawa was bombed to bits, but the south was especially affected. Ever smaller and lonelier roads lead to the cape, through sleepy fishing villages and then fields. It was a beautiful bicycle ride. At the cape were four people and it was a quite lonely affair.
Then I discovered a great natural beach called Nashiro or Kita-Nashiro (its northern section). Three islands stretch out into the sea, during low tide you can walk to two of them but the third is separated from the others by a quite deep looking canal. It’s an utterly beautiful beach and I especially liked this rock with trees clinging to it. I went to this beach on about every second day of my stay.
My longest bicycle trip was to the Gyoku Sendo cave and the tourist park they created around it. The cave is fantastic! It’s one of the most impressive stalactite and stalagmite caves I have ever seen. The cave is very wet and comes along with underground waterfalls and an underground river.
It’s also lit up nicely. Another bonus point was that there were very few tourists. Of course there are still no overseas tourists and also the number of domestic tourists was quite moderate. I thoroughly enjoyed that cave, even if the bicycle ride there was not so nice with trucks thundered past me half the time. I actually visited the cave on my very first trip to Okinawa in the 90ties, but it was only one stop on a bus tour around the entire island and we were rushed through. It also was probably drier than it was now since it was at the end of summer when I visited back then. I don’t remember it being so jaw dropping. If you ever go to Okinawa’s main island, make sure you visit that cave. Around the cave they built the “Okinawa World” theme park with dozens of huts in which all local crafts are displayed and you can try out a lot of them yourself. Further, they have a small zoo centered around the Habu snake, which is a famous, highly venomous snake living around the Ryukyu islands. But the cave remains the main attraction of this park.
Originally I had wanted to spend Japan’s Golden Week in early May 2020 in Okinawa. State of emergency made me stay home and cancel everything way in advance. In summer I wanted to make the next try but canceled everything 36 hours before departure, as Okinawa declared a stand alone prefectural state of emergency in our second corona wave. Then I waited anxiously for the end of the year and whether the third attempt to get to Okinawa would be successful. It didn’t look good, since we got into the third wave and the new infections per day were higher than ever.
I booked a hotel a week in advance and a flight 48 hours before departure. I debated extensively with myself and others whether it was okay to fly to Okinawa or not. There were no official domestic travel restrictions in Japan at that moment. I booked an apartment with kitchen, so if I go to a supermarket in Yokohama or the city of Itoman it makes no difference. If I ride around with a bicycle in Yokohama or Okinawa, it makes no difference. I didn’t plan on going to any party or even a restaurant in the evening.
So in the end I headed for Haneda airport after all and it was actually pretty crowded. Also the flight was 80 % full. Wow! I was lucky and there was no one next to me, but there were many rows without a free seat… masks were of course mandatory. The flight to Okinawa takes around three hours, since it’s against the jet stream, back it’s only two hours. They break out no food on these flights, but only some soft drinks. Hardly anyone was eating anything so as to not have to take the mask down in contrast to previous flights were people broke out their bento boxes as soon as it was allowed.
I took a taxi from the airport, because my target, the city of Itoman is only 10 km south of it. I was even prepared for something like, we don’t take passengers who arrived from Tokyo, but luckily there was no such thing. My taxi driver was about 80 years old and basically just happy that I could speak Japanese, lol. He didn’t ask where I come from today, or which country either. He only told me proudly about a highway they started to build south (so far there is only a highway to the north) and that some military area has been taken over by the Japanese navy instead of the Americans, those are now only up north. The driver didn’t mention corona in any form.
While there are a few apartment hotels around in Itoman, it’s basically a “normal” town. Checking around in the internet revealed no bicycle rental anywhere. I only found a bicycle shop on the internet about 2km away and walked there first thing in the morning. As I already expected the bicycle shop only sold but did not rent out bicycles. But then again, if I rent a bicycle for a 1000 yen for ten days it’ll be 10,000 yen. The cheapest bicycle that they had was 13,000 yen. I asked them if they would take it back on the 4th of January if I bought it now, the answer was no, but they also told me about a recycle shop around the corner. So I went there and asked if they’d buy it off of me and they said yes and thus I bought the thing.
I promptly rode to the Ryukyu glass village, which was one of my targets and it was only three km away from my hotel. They have a fantastic shop with works of art and of course also usable glassware. They also offer a make-your-own-glass experience. Usually they let you do more process steps by yourself, but due to corona they cannot let people blow glass anymore. They blow it for you and you only do one step of finishing it up yourself. I also checked out the beach 500 meters down the road and enjoyed a fantastic sunset. All that would not have been possible without some means of transportation = my lovely new bicycle!
I’ve been making good use of the company closure days due to the coronavirus crisis and have visited plenty of day-trip targets during the past few months, Kamakura a stunning six times, Mt. Takao, Enoshima, Odawara castle and so on. Looking for new targets, one place jumped back into my mind and that is the castle of Matsumoto. I’ve been to the town of Matsumoto in Nagano prefecture, central Japan, once before and that was on my very first trip to Japan in 1993… OMG! That’s 27 years ago! Ahhhhh… It was quite a trip. I flew with Aeroflot, which was a drama of its own. I was a penniless student back then and yet wanted to stay for almost 3 months in Japan. I cut the visit short by two or three weeks, because I ran out of money, hahaha… After arrival in Tokyo, I soon left it and traveled up the Pacific cost, then on to Hokkaido. On the way back I rode (always with trains) down the Japanese sea coast side and stayed for one night I believe, maybe it was two, but not more, in a youth hostel in Matsumoto before heading back to Tokyo. The northern Japan and Hokkaido trip I did on my own, but I had guest families in Sendai and Sapporo. I also spent a week at a Buddhist temple in Aomori (unplanned). They let me stay for free in exchange for temple cleaning duties (I got lost in search of a famous temple, ended up at a “normal” temple and the priest and his wife invited me to stay after we chatted for two hours, it was a great experience). After some time in Tokyo, I went on a trip south and west together with another German student and we went to Kyoto, Hiroshima and Nagasaki and several other places along the way. But back to Matsumoto. I might not be doing the town much justice, but the absolutely main thing to do in the town is to visit its magnificent castle, which is one of the few original castles that have not been destroyed by fire and war and been rebuilt in concrete, as so many other castles. In 1993, it must have been end of August or early September that I was in Matsumoto and it was hot and humid. The weather was bad, it was raining and stormy, it might even have been the outskirts of a typhoon. I went to the castle but I did not go inside because it was too expensive!
I seem to remember that the price back then was a thousand yen or even more. It was 1993, we still had the German Marks, not the Euro. Lol Japan was just out of its “bubble economy” times where money was let me call it “abundant”, but alas, I was a poor student and didn’t have that money. The choice was, do I eat for those thousand yen today, or do I visit the castle? I chose to eat and did not go inside. But I never really forgot the disappointment to not have been able to visit the Matsumoto castle properly. For many years this was not in focus of course and there would have been plenty of opportunity to do the Matsumoto castle re-match, but it did not creep back to the surface until now. Suddenly it was like, hm… 2.5 hours by train one way, that’s doable as a day trip, I could go to Matsumoto and get my “revenge” after all these years. And that’s what happened on the 13th of November 2020. After 27 years (!) I rode that train to Matsumoto in glorious autumn weather and went to the castle and even the fee had become cheaper and was 700 yen, lol.
While the castle garden is very pretty, the castle itself is dark and cold inside and they make you walk around on socks to be gentle to the ages old wooden floors. I cannot deny though the great satisfaction to have now finally made up for the failed Matsumoto castle visit those staggering 27 years ago. It’s a fantastic castle and now I’ve finally seen it proper 😉
For my last day on Sadogashima I decided to go with the public bus to the other port town of Ogi on the south-western edge of the island. The main port is called Ryōtsu and located in the northern bay. The ride from the southern town of Sawata to Ogi took about one hour and fifteen minutes. It followed the coastline for a bit, then cut inland and climbed over the southern mountains. It was one hell of a lonely ride with only some ten people on the bus. Nevertheless they had a tourist information center in Ogi and you could rent a bicycle with battery assist for a few yen. I of course promptly did that and rode on to the target, the “bathtub ride” at the tiny islands of Yajima and Kyojima. In the old days locals used such tubs to ride along shallow reef coastlines, hunting for urchins and muscles. According to the lady who was my tub’s captain, some people are still doing this even today. I have the feeling though that more tourists are shipped with the bathtubs than urchins are being caught these days. It was fun but quite a wobbly affair and the danger that the tub will lose balance and empty you into the ocean was high 😉 You surely gotta balance your passengers on the tub.
Then I rode on to a secret cove and saw some incredible tugged away fishing villages. While I am looking for my prefect island retirement place, this kind of fishing village will surely not be it. The secret cove was a very nice spot though.
Back on the public bus, I changed buses somewhere in the middle of nowhere and rode on to the temple area. There is the Myosenji and the Sadogashima Kokubunji on the same road. The bus rode past Kokubunji and I thought it would be nice to walk back to it after having visited Myosenji and to board the return bus from there. Said and done, I got off at Myosenji, which is especially nice thanks to it’s five-stories pagoda. There was one family there visiting it apart from myself. Then I walked some two kilometers back along the road to Kokubunji and not a single soul was there. What was more, there was no sign of a bus stop. Yikes!
I waited at a parking area, determined to wave at the bus and hoping it stopped. There was nobody around and on the road a car passed me only once every few minutes. I already saw myself stuck there, either having to call a taxi or walking some five kilometers to the next village. But, the bus came, I waved, it stopped! Hya! Thanks! It felt very good to be back on that bus 😉 All things considered, Sadogashima is a beautiful island, remote, rather big, sparsely populated and a nice getaway from metropolis stress. I still prefer Okinawa though, because it doesn’t get cold there in winter 😉 Okinawa offers a “resort” feeling, even in the smaller and lonelier islands. Sadogashima lacks that “resort” aspect, but it has a rich history and is well worth a visit 🙂
On my second day on Sadogashima, I chose to ride with the public buses. They offer an all you can ride pass for up to three days and I took the two day pass. The main attraction on Sadogashima is the gold mine. Gold was discovered in 1601 and mining started soon after. The shogunate operated the mine for over 250 years. The mine ceased production only in 1989. Thanks to that the place is ripe with history. You can do two tours, one of the Edo times mine and one of a Meiji times shaft and if you ever go there, you should definitely do both tours. If you are a cave freak, there are also guided private tours of some two hours, which must be ordered in advance and they lead into shafts where the normal tourists do not go. I was quite happy with the regular tour though 😉 In the Edo period part, life-size robots show the toil of the people who worked there.
Many were “homeless” people who got picked up by the shogunate and were shipped to the island to toil in the mines. Their life expectancy was not very long. In the more modern Meiji period part, you get to go outside during the tour to admire the split mountain. Human hands chiseled away the missing part until that was depleted and they went underground.
Also the industrial relics of a former gold processing plant down the hill, which are all overgrown now, were quite impressive. The mine is definitely a must when you should happen to go to Sadogashima.
I walked from the mine down to the overgrown processing plant and stopped on the way at the reconstructed administration office of the shogunate that managed the mine. It looks nice from the outside, but inside it’s just empty tatami mat rooms. Right next to it is a local art museum displaying paintings of local artists. Most of the objects you can also buy and I bought this print for two thousand yen, waves in winter. I just cannot imagine how ghastly and cold it must be at Sado during winter! Brrrrr… according to Wikipedia Sado gets an average of half a meter of snow in January, average… there’s probably more! What I love about the painting is also that the presumably lighthouse looks like the ghost of some person 😉
My last stop for the day was the Sengaku bay. The public buses on the island don’t run very often and unfortunately I didn’t have enough time for a boat ride around this very scenic and beautiful bay but only snapped pics from above. Those are some fine cliffs 😉
Sadogashima is the sixth biggest island of Japan after the four main islands and the largest island of Okinawa. Sadogashima lies around 50 km off the coast of Niigata city and prefecture and the big car ferry ride there takes two and a half hours. The island has an odd shape with two mountain ridges to the east and west and a flat middle in between. The highest peak on Sadogashima is a whopping 1172 meters high and called Mt. Kinpoku.
Sado has a rich history, first as an island where political and religious figures unliked by the establishment were banished to, and second it is one of the very few places in Japan with natural resources, namely gold. Alas, the goldmine is long depleted. It took me twenty years of living in Japan before I went to this island with my usual interest more in the direction of the Izu islands and the Okinawa islands. But the company asks its employees in times of coronavirus to take their annual paid leave and so I made the rather quick decision to take a few days off and to go there.
Despite its decent size it’s a pretty quiet island with only some 55.000 inhabitants. That there are so few around might also have to do with strong winters and half a meter of snow, which I find hard to imagine! The boat ride from Niigata was a very lovely affair in nice weather, with seagulls following the ship the entire way, being fed with shrimp crackers from the tourists.
On my first day I borrowed a free bicycle from my hotel in the middle of the island and rode down south to the sea town of Sawata. There was nothing much going on on the several kilometer long beach and that was a smooth ride.
I tried to get to the south-eastern tip of the island, but without an electric assist and the sun and heat coming out, that became too daunting a ride through the hilly mountain roads. With a battery assist I would have pushed on, but not without it, considering the over fifteen kilometers I would have had to ride back. It was a lovely day on the bicycle though and I enjoyed every bit of it.
With the mercury ever rising and rising, I saw no way to do e.g. temple sightseeing around Numazu. A third trip to Osezaki also seemed kinda boring and thus I decided to get higher up to escape the brooding heat and that was an extremely good idea! I wanted to go to one of Mt. Fuji’s 5th stations (there are four or them) but I soon found out that Mt. Fuji is closed for the climbing season of 2020 due to the coronavirus. This may sound odd, but: around 100,000 people climb Mt. Fuji every year, most of those climbs happen during the climbing season in July and August, when there is no snow even on the top of the 3776 meter mountain. Also, usually, the huts on the stations 5 to 9 are open during those 2 months. But, this year, everything was shut down. However, one of the bus services up the mountain still went to the 2nd station on the south side, which lies at 1450 meters. That sounded high enough to me and I rode to Mishima by train and from there around 90 min with a normal city bus, not a coach bus, as I had expected. The bus passes also Fuji Safari Park, but I’ve been there once before and it’s “only” at 900 meter elevation. The bus usually climbs up until the Fujimino 5th station but ended this year at the 2nd station with its park called Mizugatsuka.
At Mizugatsuka is a large (pretty newly built) souvenir shop and restaurant, a parking lot for a thousand cars and that’s it. It offers various walking routes around the area. It also has jogging/running courses around the car park and hordes of runners galloped around there. The by far best thing of the place was the temperature – a balmy 23 degrees Celsius. When I returned to Numazu in the evening it was 37 degrees Celsius there… Mt. Fuji itself, which you can theoretically see from a clearing in the forest and from atop a nearby hill, was shrouded in what I have come to call the mothership cloud. If there are clouds, they get stuck at Mt. Fuji, since it’s in their way coming from the sea barely a few kilometers away. It looked to me like the clouds were starting at around 2000 meters elevation. I then ventured on one of the walks/hikes that start from the car park of about 90 min to a shrine at the flank of the mountain. The path was fantastic. Very easy to walk, almost no ups and downs as it went parallel to the mountain and since it had been super wet all of July, every log and rock around was covered in very green moss.
It was absolutely beautiful to walk through these woods. The path was sometimes hard to discern, but every few meters pink ribbons in the trees helped to identify the path and here and there were also signposts. The shrine was standing guard over a cave and a few underpasses, but the cave itself was off limits and also didn’t look very big, just for one person to be able to crawl through, which is not my kind of thing 😉
At the car park were maybe a hundred cars, on the trail to the shrine, I met maybe ten people. It was a great walk and a welcome respite from the omnipresent heat. The bus had around eight passengers along the route. I don’t know how busy the area is during non-covid times. I once attempted to climb Mt. Fuji some 15 years ago. It was end of July, the bus from Shinjuku was full, there were hundreds and hundreds of people on the same trail. (Despite wonderful weather in Tokyo, there was a thunderstorm around Mt. Fuji. It rained like hell, I slipped on the wet rocks and hurt my knee and gave up, spending the rest of the night in the 8th station hut). I’m not sure how many people would be at this second station and Mizugatsuka park in a normal year, but I surely enjoyed the relative peace and quiet. It was kind of just right, a few people there to make you feel not too lonely, but not enough people to disturb you. So, even though I didn’t see the top of the mountain, I thoroughly enjoyed the walk to the shrine and the fantastic temperatures.