I keep telling Christine she is costing me fortune to travel with her, but she won’t believe me. You may recall in the last posting that I lent her a jacket which immediately set her mind thinking. She knew of a good jacket manufacturer, Mont Bell, a Japanese company and they had a large store in Nara. So before we departed we went to visit it and hopefully get her a new jacket. She bought one, but so did I. My lightweight jacket is as good as useless and I ended up with a new one, too. In fairness it has worked very well - it hasn’t rained since, well, at least not on us. It was busy heading south out of Nara, but at least it was flat. We turned westward onto another main road, but we were really surprised at just how quiet it was, but it was climbing. Another turn and we all but had the main road to ourselves, though we were still climbing. It was hot, I was sweating buckets, I had to keep wiping my eyes. Then I managed to get something in my right eye, it wasn’t a problem at first but as more sweat went in, I had to keep rubbing my eyes, this just made things worse. We were over 600m, not far from the pass, but we saw a track heading into the woods. We followed it past a barrier and up a steep hill and camped in the only suitable spot, at least nobody would ever come up here. Oops! Wrong again! We were amazed when an elderly couple walked past as we were eating our dinner. My eye was getting worse the whole time, it was streaming. Christine was getting worried and insisted that I go and lie down and rest it, she even quietly did the washing up for me so that I didn’t notice. She wouldn’t even let me write my diary saying I would strain my eyes by doing so. I just lay down with my eyes covered with her reading to me from the guide book. It was that interesting I fell asleep!
I was amazed by the following morning how much better the eye was, I had assumed that it would be hurting for a few days, the rest obviously did it good. Perhaps Christine would make a good doctor. A few weeks back I cut my hair down to the last millimetre or so. When I had done so it revealed a very red sore patch on the side of my head, pretty ugly looking too. Christine looked at it and said she thought it was an eczema. The next day we went to a pharmacist and bought a tiny tube of something very expensive, but sure enough within about 10 days it had gone. We continued on the quiet main road, but after a village it narrowed down to a single track road. The descent from the pass was great, a tiny road twisting and turning through the trees with not a car in sight. I normally don’t like descents where the brakes are needed, it seem such as waste after all they energy expended on the way up, but this was just pure fun, though not so much fun that I had any desire to climb back up and do it again. We stopped for lunch at a little shrine with a waterfall. I took my shirt off and gave it a wash, then thought I might as well do the job properly and went in for a shower. It was very cold but I felt so good in the warmth of the sun for the next hour as my wet clothes dried off. We reached Ise, the home of the most sacred Shinto Shrine in Japan, in fact there were 2 of them. I was really disappointed with the first one, there was nobody there, how could that be if it was so sacred. There was nothing much to look at, you can’t even get close to the main sanctuary, and added to that the whole structure is replaced every 20 years. To me it looked like a farm museum, though Christine really liked its simplicity. We carried on past the second one for a couple of kilometres and camped beside the river, the chance for the second dip of the day, just as cold and invigorating as the first. We had bought some playing cards. Christine had been on to me to teach her how to play nomination whist. It not very good with two but it works. I taught her well, she beat me. Beginner’s luck.
We started the day with another cold dip, then made our way to the second shrine, having hauled our bikes up the steep bank back to the road. This one was much better, there were people there by the coach load that at least made it feel it was something special. There was a huge party of men in suits, we guessed it was some sort of company visit. They slowly made their way into the large main hall, then the doors were closed. We sat and listened to the music that was being played inside, it was diabolical! It was very high pitched from a single stringed instrument, I guess you would call it music. Later the doors opened, in contrast to the slow and orderly entrance to the place there was a minor stampede on the way out, I guess they didn’t really like the music either. I really don’t understand the Shinto Buddhists’ way of praying. First you throw some money into a big box, it makes a lot of noise so if you chuck in a small coin everybody knows you are a tight git! Once you have paid your fee you then bow twice, wait a second, then clap twice, then bow one more time and the job is done, easy as that. It seems to be more of a wish than a prayer. Also at the temples you can buy a ’lucky lottery ticket’. These cost between 100 and 300 Yen. Once paid for you open up the piece of paper and have a little read of the message inside. If it is good news then you keep hold of it and take it with you, if it is bad news then you tie it to a tree at the temple….Buddhism goes commercial! We made the short ride around to Toba where Christine visited the Pearl Island and museum whilst I waited outside and did a bit of writing. When she came out and told me all about it I was sorry I hadn’t gone in, it sounded really interesting. Apparently the oysters get operated on, and then have a period of 3 months in still water whilst they recover, poor little chaps. We caught the ferry across the bay, a 50 minute crossing. We had a personal assistant with us to show us where to buy the tickets, then guide us on the boat. The thing looked brand new, yet there was hardly anybody on it. It was wet and miserable, we stayed inside and played nomination whist, I lost again. I am a better teacher than I thought. When we came off the ferry it was still raining. We got on to a cycling road, passed the lighthouse, then found a picnic table under a shelter so opted to camp there for the night before we actually got wet. We played cards again, I lost again! It proved to be a good decision to stop there, the rain never stopped, it rained all night….hard.
We could hardly believe our luck. By the time we got up it had stopped raining. We had assumed we would be cycling in the rain all day, but not a drop fell on us. The ground was totally waterlogged and squelched under our feet, but once we were back on the road it was fine. We started with a nice long cycle road at the top of the beach before it once again joined the road. After a couple of kilometres I saw a sign to rejoin the cycle path, so I cut across the road at speed towards the cycle road that I could see going downhill, then “S-H-I-T……”, I had to brake hard as I discovered it wasn’t a hill but a flight of steps, not a warning in sight. Once again we were right on the coast and amazed to see all the car parks full and hundreds of surfers in the water. Before we left the coast Christine spotted a shower and made the most of it. We turned north and left the coast to arrive at route 23. What an awful road. It was an old elevated section of road that bypassed Toyohashi, it was way too narrow with slow moving traffic. Thankfully we were able to stay on a road beneath it, but there were major road works going on to widen the road. It kept crossing river where at least we were able to head up ramps and cycle beside it on cycle path though on the last one there was only a temporary cycle path bolted on. It was so narrow that with the strong crosswind we couldn’t even cycle along it, it was far too dangerous, we had to walk. Thankfully the narrow road came to an end, but we remained on busy roads the whole day. Lost again at cards, 4-0, to make matters worse I can’t even get close, will I ever win a game?
The start of the following day was more busy roads, hardly surprising as we were heading up the eastern side of Nagoya, a major city. We were heading for Toyota, a town which until a couple of weeks ago I never realised even existed. Funnily enough Japan’s biggest company, Toyota, has its head office there, and that is where we were heading. We had booked a tour of the plant over the internet, there were more questions to answer than applying for a visa, but at least we were accepted. We arrived at the museum in good time, time enough to have a look around the exhibition which focused in the future dreams as well as creating the reality of safer driving and protection along with greener fuel efficient cars. We were taken on a minibus to the Tsumtsu plant, their showcase plant. First we were shown around assembly, a slick operation if ever there was one. At the end of the assembly tour we were taken to a room where we could even try out some of the tools and techniques for ourselves. The second half of the tour was devoted to the body plant, a highly automated process. The bodies moved along the line in stages and at each stop robots leapt into action and completed all the spot welding, very impressive. After the tour we were dropped back at the museum were you could sit in any one of their new models or watch the highly prized robot playing a trumpet. The robot fascinated people yet to me a car with all its modern technology was far more impressive than something that just makes a lot of noise and keeps the neighbours awake at night. We cycled through Toyota town (photo) heading for another little Toyota museum which focused on the history, very interesting indeed. Sakichi Toyoda was the guy that invented the automatic loom greatly improving Japan’s textile industry making it into a world leader. His son, Kiichiro Toyoda continued on improving the loom and went over to USA on a business trip. He was highly impressed by all the cars he saw, all made in USA. At the time there were no Japanese car manufacturers, all the car in Japan were made in USA, so he came back with a dream to build a Japanese car for the masses made using Japanese skill and expertise. His father gave him £100,000 to develop the car and create a business. He and his team bought a 1933 Chevrolet, took it apart, measured and noted every precise detail and set about building their own car. It took two years and went into production the following year. With the onset of war production turned to trucks, but after the war another new car was brought out and the success continued. Kiichiro Toyoda died in 1952 at the age of 57, but I am sure he would be amazed and very proud of what he has started. I have to add as a footnote to all that, that Toyota is one of the few makes of car that I have seen in every country I have visited and with plants in over 27 countries it is now a truly global business. Finally, why is it now called Toyota if it was founded by Toyoda? Apparently there are 3 reasons. In Japanese text Toyoda takes 10 strokes of the pen whereas Toyota only take 8 and 8 in Japan is always considered lucky, that’s why they have 8 days in week here. Secondly Toyoda himself felt Toyota sounded better and finally he wanted the company to be separate from his family name. The city of Toyota has been named as such since the building of the first car plant there. So, having finished our history lesson we went in search of a campsite around the large lake opposite, but it was a country club so we moved on. Christine was getting a bit stressed as it was getting late, so we took the first place we could find, a bit close to houses, but on a bit of waste land up some steps. After we had been there about an hour 3 women arrived soon followed by a couple of men. We were surprised to see anybody, let alone a small crowd, but it soon became apparent that they didn’t want us to camp there. We asked them why we couldn’t camp and they told us they were afraid we would set fire to the wood behind us, extremely unlikely given that the trees were about 5m away and pretty wet after the recent rains. I was pretty pissed off about it all. We had seen posters in the area with ’Crime Prevention’ in English on them and I considered them to be a bunch of Do-Gooders for the community that didn’t want a couple of smelly foreigners on their patch, Christine though thought differently, especially as one of them took me in a car to show me a place where we could camp. The place he showed me I would never have chosen myself, but we had little time before it was dark so I bowed to their local knowledge and we moved there. Still, not everything was bad, I at last beat Christine at cards: 4-1. At about 22:30 there was a knock on the tent door and I opened it to a torch in my face held by a security guy who was clearly telling us that we couldn’t camp there and that we had to move on. At that time of night it would have been a real pain especially as we wouldn’t find anywhere else to camp in the dark, so I refused and shock my head. After a lot of head shaking from both parties we seemed to be getting nowhere so I told him we would be gone at 8am. He was telling us something we couldn’t understand so we handed him a pen and paper. To my surprise he handed it back with 07:00 written on it, I agreed only too quickly, then there was hand shaking and smiles all around and he departed.
We departed the following morning by 06:30, the last thing we wanted was to cause trouble for the security guard who had been so friendly and considerate to us. As we departed we noticed a sign for no camping. This made Christine very angry towards the Do-Gooders as they must have known we wouldn’t have been allowed to camp there. Still I guess the 3 women who approached us would be hailed as heroes for evicting a couple of likely criminals on bikes with a tent. We had breakfast by the lake and I threw a single piece of bread in for a passing carp that missed it, but within minutes there were dozens circling, big ones too. In every bit of freshwater there are carp and koi carp swimming. We see people fishing, but never for the carp for some reason. The route today was north but across country, lots of navigation on the back roads and as it was hilly it was slow going and took much longer than expected. We passed a river where teams of rowers were out practicing, and on the roads we were passing day cyclists, it was the weekend. To make the climbs worse it was really hot and humid, the sweat was pouring off. By the end of the day we were pretty tired and typically as we started to look for a place to camp we embarked on the biggest climb of the day and it wasn’t until we reached the top before we found any land flat enough to camp on. The spot we had chosen was fine apart from the ants, which as Christine was doing no end of chopping were really annoying her. I annoyed her even more at cards: 4-2.
We expected another hard day but soon found ourselves going around a road closed sign and heading down a descent. It was only a tiny road and looked as though it had been closed for a long time judging by the debris and the odd fallen tree. We were descending fast and losing all the height we had just gained the previous evening. The further we went down hill the worse the feeling got that it was all going horribly wrong. If there was a bridge out at the bottom we would have to climb all the way back up again. Thankfully the road was only closed for a landslide that we could easily get around. We were back on a main road and heading for the Japanese Alps. The road was really nice, through a steep sided valley with a river at the bottom, the road constantly bending as we passed through all the points of the compass. It eventually brought us out to Gero, another spa town which made it very tempting to stop and head for an onsen to have a good scrub down. We pressed on, left the main road and were once again climbing as we were looking for a campsite. This time we opted to stay at the edge of a village beside the river. We were in view, but nobody was interested in us thankfully. 4-3.
The climb continued the following morning as the road narrowed down and twisted its way through the forest and up to just over 1000m before widening again for a fast and furious descent towards Takayama, nestled amongst the mountains. We checked ourselves into the Zenko-ji Buddhist temple that also has hostel type accommodation. We had a choice of rooms, all with paper thin walls, and when I say paper thin I am not exaggerating, that is exactly what they were made of….paper. There was a 22:30 curfew on noise which at the time I thought was quite reasonable, though it soon became apparent that anything more than light breathing would be classed as anti-social behaviour in this place. Thankfully there was nobody directly next to us, but the people next door but one whispered and we could hear every word. I even had to curtail my pure delight as I once again thrashed Christine at cards: 4-4. How on earth had she ever managed to win the first 4 games, it must have been beginner’s luck.
Takayama is a nice little town. Across the river are some lovely old preserved wooden houses and further up the hill and about 13 temples in woodland. We weren’t able to appreciate it fully due to the thunderstorms. Today we decided we had had enough of whispering and moved to another hostel around the corner where you are allowed to talk during the evening. We went out to the main attraction today, a folk village full of old houses from around the area. They were all very atmospheric, especially the ones with the wood fires burning in the middle (photo). Just across the road was a massive World Shrine of some new religion started here in Takayama, a truly massive shrine seating more than 10,000 people. Whilst we were there a coach full of people arrived, they were completely lost in there, but at least they seem to say the odd prayer between the clapping of hands. Last night I won another game of card 4-5. Tonight I did Christine a good deed and repaired her broken watch strap, sewing it together with dental floss. I think I did a pretty good job, if you ignore the white stitching on the black strap.