Sunday, August 29, 2010

Yunotsu Onsen, Shimane / 温泉津温泉、島根

Old store front along the main road to the onsen.

Yunotsu Onsen is a very Shimane town. Lost in the Japan sea side of Honshu this little onsen village recently has had a tourist boost thanks UNESCO naming a near-by sliver mine as a world heritage site. While I doubt that will increase foreign tourists to the area, it has made it much more important to the local Japanese tourism market which really plays up the world heritage title.

Senyakuto, a very simple and oldest bath in the village.

There are two day use (日帰り 外湯) baths in the village. I, sadly, had time for only one. The water here was incredible. The well puts water out at about 49c which is then cooled to around 45c for the hot tub and around 41c for the normal tub. One of the best bathhouse experiences I've ever had.

Notice the stone stairs behind the truck. It looked like the original town was carved into the sides of the mountain.

A butterfly-like insect on the flowers in front of Senyakuto

Great rusted storefront on the way from the station to the onsen.

Abandoned-looking industrial building on the small harbor.

Yunotu Station.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

I Love ゆ - Update

I've been working very hard on getting my new onsen/sento webpage "I love ゆ" up this last week. I focused just on the reviews of onsen/sento in Hyogo and while I haven't yet figured a way to get my database data up on the web, I did put this Google map together. I hope to find a way to integrate it into the page, but as for now check out all the places I've taken a bath in Hyogo!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Gotsu Station and Environs - 江津駅と駅前

Gotsu Station platform.

I had a 1 hour wait for my next train heading along the coast towards Yonago, my final destination for the night. After riding a train for 4 hours, I needed a bit to eat and a walk. Gotsu is the biggest station for a while, but it's still a pretty small town. These towns along the Japan Sea coast get beat by hot summers and brutal winters. I've experienced both seasons. Both are beautiful. The rural areas like this are getting hit by a lack of young people who move away for better jobs and more opportunities. The areas near the stations also seem to be taking a hit due to the increased ownership of private automobiles. The new shopping areas are increasingly built around places easily accessed by car leaving the areas near the station to slowly turn into what we see now.

The loading docks of a, I presume shuttered, business.

A street with bars and restaurants.

The entrance to a local sento (bathhouse). It looked like it was shut permanently, but I was there in the morning and could be wrong.

In Gotsu station.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

2010 August Train Trip Day 2

Day 2 of my August Seishun 18 Kippu Train Trip.
Video from the JR West trains and stations along the following route:
Miyoshi - Gotsu - Yonago
三次 - 江津 - 米子

Along the following lines:
The Sango Line and the San'in Main line

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Miyoshi / 三次市

Tenant-less building near Miyoshi Station

Miyoshi is the Japanese version of Missoula, Montana. Mountain town. Intersection of major, yet rural, transportation. On a river. Small, yet fighting, tourist infrastructure. Seemingly depressed economically. Perfect for a photographer with an eye for detritus.

Signs celebrating the ukai along the Gonokawa River.

The city has a small ukai event going on. Ukai, for those who don't know is fishing using a living bird. I saw two boats full of tourists on the river watching it the night I went.

Sign at the entrance to Miyoshi's snack bar district and the entrance to Chibi, a closed bar.

I had the best tonkatsu, fried pork, dinner in Miyoshi. Riding my rental bike from the hotel I searched for a restaurant. It took a while on a grumbling stomach. I road by this place once and the smell was great, but, I rode on looking for whatever else was there. 15 minutes later I returned to Tonkatsu Wakaha (とんかつ和佳葉). Yes, I spent ¥2,000 on dinner, but IT WAS GREAT. I cannot recommend this little tonkatsu place more. Oh, and they have more reasonable things on the menu. I just went big that night.
Tonkatsu Wakaha... So good!

Bridge over Gonokawa.

I only had a few very tired hours riding around Miyoshi and wished I had more. The old house district was quite nice and I found everyone there very friendly. If my travels ever take me near there again I hope to spend some more time checking out the city and the amazing nature that surrounds it.

Out of service booze vending. In service planters.

Pedestrian walkway across the Gonokawa river.

Monument (name marker?) for the river. Notice how the government agency which originally placed the marker has changed names since it was first placed.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Bingo-Ochiai Station 備後落合駅

Station Sign

Located at the intersection of three prefectures, two train lines and in the middle of Japan's #1 island, Honshu, Bingo-Ochiai is in the middle of nowhere. This use to be a more important station when train travel was more important to the nation's transportation infrastructure. There was a turntable and house there for the staff to stay during long layovers. Now there's the shuttered up house over grown with plants, one small station building, a sink with out a faucet, and three platforms for the trains that go there. The Geibi line does not go straight through to Hiroshima from Niimi, those customers who want to travel through must change trains here. The even more local Kisuki line going to Shinji in Shimane heads north terminates at Bingo-Ochiai also.

Looking back towards Niimi

All three trains arrive at nearly the same time allowing everyone to cross over to their next train. I doubt many people... if any... end their day's travels here. But, it's not just changing trains as you can see in this video a pretty good number of people are taking photos with the trains and station in the background. Why? This is an epicenter for train enthusiasts, aka densha otaku 電車オタク. The remoteness of the station, the rarity of the trains that come here, and those who ride the lines for completeness like me find Bingo-Ochiai an important stop on their train journeys.

Granted, that I've only been here on the Seishun 18 Kippu I've never seen the station during a non-tourist time, but it seemed the motive of everyone coming here was to ride the trains coming here and transit at this station. Perhaps when most of the densha otaku are at work or prohibited from such trips for cost reasons the ridership coming to this station turns to just local ridership. The amont of crazed people with cameras and tripods would decrease greatl. It would be interesting to see the numbers and how the Seishun 18 Kippu effects the numbers of people using this station.

Looking Back Towards Niimi

Is this station kept in operation for riders like me and those you'll see in the video? Is it economically sound to keep this station and the lines linking to it operational? To what degree is this station kept in operation for the densha otaku vs. the normal local ridership? How strong is the influence of Japanese history and train culture to keeping this wonderful place open? The consolidation of the cities in Japan, privatization of state to citizen relationship and the changes in the government vs. governed social contract that it entails all effects the current situation and the future of this place.

I'm one of those crazies with the cameras too!

Now it's an amazing sight to see and participate in the unbridled train love that goes on here. Finding and exploring places like this is one of the best pastimes there is in Japan and getting to and from Bingo-Ochiai couldn't have been any more fun.

August 2010 Train Trip Video Day 1 Part 2

Footage from the train and stations along the following route:
Niimi - Bingo-Ochai - Miyoshi along the Geibi Line in Northern Okayama Pref. and Hiroshima Pref..

More about Bingo-Ochai station and Miyoshi city in my following posts.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

August 2010 Train Trip Video Day 1 Part 1

On August 9th I got up at 5 AM to begin my now yearly August train trip using the Seishun 18 Kippu. For those of you who don't know the Seishun 18 Kippu lets you ride regular JR trains (e.g. no express trains) across Japan for any 5 days during a given period. It costs 15,500 yen and is very popular with train dorks (me), families, and college students. During the weeks building up to the trip I spend hours planning routes, pouring through timetables, and studying maps. It's almost as fun as the trip.

This years trip brought me in a loop from Kobe - Okayama - Niimi - Miyoshi - Gotsu - Yonago - Tottori - Chizu - Kamigori - Kobe. Here is the video from the first half of my trip from Kobe to Niimi.

Niimi Ekimae - 新見駅前

This is the first of a few posts and videos about my Seshun 18 Trip this year through the Chukoku region of Japan on local train lines.

Niimi station

Niimi is a station in a city of the same name in the mountainous back country of Okayama prefecture. In other words, it's up in the mountains that make the backbone of Honshu--Japan's main island. The train line and major areas of the city parallel the Takahashigawa river. The station is a crossroads for local lines that cross from the Pacific and Japan sea coast of Japan. From here Lines connect through to Hiroshima, Okayama and Himeji on Pacific ocean side and Yonago and Shinji on the Japan sea side.

I came through here once on one of my first novice Seishun 18 Kippu trips riding the line from Shinji in the early spring and I remember it being rather cool. This time in the middle of August it was hotter and more humid than I expected.

Niimi seems like it would be a nice place if you had a car and could get around the area further from the station, but it's nowhere on the tourist map. Because I only had and hour till my next train, I quickly explored the area in front of the station and picked up some lunch.

Looking down river back to the Seto Inland Sea.

In front of the station is this statue commemorating something I don't know. Statues and taxi/bus lanes like this are common for larger stations in the rural areas of Japan.

Looking down the street that leads to the station. Reminiscent of cities in Montana or the Dakotas back in the USA.

Old Toshiba electronics dealership. I love the old rainbow logo on the sign.

More signs downtown. The red lantern like one is for a local festival.

Takahasigawa looking downstream.

Stairs leading up the embankment

Takahashigawa looking upstream.

Platform information in Niimi station.


Thursday, August 05, 2010

Raffinato Anniversary Dinner

Raffinato, originally uploaded by sleepytako.
Yuko and my amazing 2nd anniversary dinner was at Raffinato in Ashiya. Way too good.

From top to bottom:
Sea urchin on a carrot mouse
Grilled hamo (a type very soft white fish)
I forget, some seafood pasta that Yuko got. I had a prosciutto thing instead.
Bacon spaghetti
Yuko's fish main dish of locally caught fish
My Sanda beef main dish

Not the cheapest place in the world, although lunch is reasonable. It starts at about ¥5,000. I totally recommend going here for something special. We both left very happy. The chef even comes out and thanks you personally at the end of your meal.

Raffinato's website [in Japanese]: