Michi no eki Bandai
The locals are early, preparing for Mochitsuki (rice cake making) on a bright chilly morning at michi-no-eki Bandai. As we breakfast, the mist comes rolling in and we can see almost nothing. We wait around, delaying our departure. When the sun shows signs of breaking through the mists, we set off for some small lakes.
There is a walking trail around these lakes. It is not very long, but we make sure we have a picnic with us. The walk is very easy, mostly flat with broad paths but it affords a view that, I felt, was unprecedented – just fabulous.
Mt. Bandai, still sprinkled with a little snow. The pond, surrounded and dotted, due to its many, small islands, with trees still arrayed in autumn colours and others stark, in leafless tracery.
Any photographs taken were directly into the sun, so I am doubtful of the justice they could do such a sight. The round trip is over too soon, even though we linger at the view, and we are back at out start by lunchtime.
We eat our onigiri overlooking one of the smaller ponds and, the only one to show any sign of wildlife, a couple of coots paddling about. Not us, birds. After lunch, we head for another short trail but our navi fails to find it. We decide to try Nakatsugawa Gorge.This looks promising but, again our navi leads us astray and we end up at an out of season ski resort.
Finally, we reach the gorge passing some excellent views on the way. The gorge itself is busy. We climb down a steep path, rocky in places and uncomfortably huge steps in others but, when we reach the bottom it is a real disappointment.
There is a clear mountain stream rushing through gullies washed out of the soft rock –nice enough. It is not sufficient to warrant a major tourist billing, in an area of such breath-taking beauty. The descent is steep and the ascent arduous. D. and I have no problem but, a lot of people are wearing regular, town shoes and some struggle.
Shingu Kumano Shrine
Our next destination is a famous Ichou (ginkgo) tree in Shingu Kumano shrine . Again, our navi is confused and leads us astray. Eventually we find the place. There are other people there which I did not expect; it is a long way from any population centre.
The magnificent Shimenawa, hanging over the stone torii entrance is a good sign. Then, we realize, there is an entrance fee, unusual in a shrine. We can see the Ichou tree is still green, not the vivid yellow of D.s imagination. We decide not to enter the shrine itself and head off to an onsen bath.
We were planning to return to the michi-no-eki of the night before last as it has an onsen but, as it was so busy, we decide not to risk it on a Saturday night.
D. calls an Atsushio onsen hotel and is informed that they accept outside visitors to the bath until 5pm. After that it is residents only. At about 20 to 5 we arrive at the hotel, having walked some distance from the non-residents car park.
The front desk clerk is at the door to inform us that the bath is too busy and cannot accept non-residents. D. is about to accept this but, I point out that they told us the bath was available until 5pm and it is still not yet 5pm. At this they relent, and let us in.
In the event, the bath is very good and not in the least busy. In the men’s side are two men and a child – hardly crowded. The rotenburo (outside bath) is on the small side. It has a fine view of the late, evening sky framed by sugi trees. The father and small son are having fun in the outside bath but my entrance silences them. This is uncomfortable for all so, shortly, I leave them to it and soak inside.
Back to michi no eki Kita no sato (on R.121). It is much busier with a large number of camping cars parked up and our previous spot is taken. The elderly gent with long hair, sleeping in a K(mini) car, who was our neighbor on that occasion, is still in his same spot. Has he moved at all?
The author is a long term resident of Japan who has and continues to travel the country extensively. Avoiding highways where possible, the author has driven from Kagoshima in Kyushu to Wakanai in Hokkaido covering 20,000 plus kilometres and counting.