Kyoto to Nakatsugawa

We slept in this morning, not getting up until after 08:00. We ate our breakfast and planned our morning activity. My wife wanted to visit a handicraft market that she’d found online, but couldn’t remember exactly which one it was. Searching was tricky, because a lot of the markets that came up were only open on one specific day of the month. We decided it was a toss up between the Kyoto Handicraft Centre, or the Kamigamo Handicraft Market. The first is a modern shopping mall full of traditional craft artisan’s shops, selling things like swords or probably expensive pottery and stuff. The second was an open-air market with over 250 stalls run by individual artisans in the grounds of the Kamigamo-ninja Shrine. The first sounded interesting but very expensive, while the second appealed more for the chance to actually find something we might be interested in buying, so we chose that.

We packed our bags and checked out of the hotel, leaving the luggage behind to pick up later. Heading out to Gojo subway station, we stopped at Walden Woods Kyoto, a coffee shop, where my wife got her morning coffee. She said it was good, and it was nice to try different coffee shops each morning. From Gojo station we caught the train north to Kitayama station, next to the Kyoto Botanic Gardens, and from there walked to the Kamigamo Shrine for the market.

The market was impressive! There were 265 stalls marked on the handy map at the entrance, which also included a suggested walking route to make sure you didn’t miss any of the stalls. They were laid out in the grounds of the shrine, in between several of the shrine structures, and on both sides of an attractive stream lined with low stone walls. Children and adults waded and played in the stream, which was just over ankle deep. It would have been a good way to beat the heat, since it was a very warm and extremely humid day. There were many large trees providing shade, but not all of the stall areas were shaded.

Wandering around, we stopped to get some lunch at a stall selling bread in rolls and loaves. I got a cheese roll, my got a roll with red bean paste, and we also grabbed a small sourdough loaf with fruit to split a bit later on the shinkansen. My wife bought a few small market items, and I walked over to some of the shrine areas without market stalls to get some photos of scenic parts. Just before midday we found a place to sit by the stream bank, in the shade to escape the heat a bit, and ate our rolls. There was a very young girl standing in the stream and meticulously removing rocks from the stream bed and placing them on the first stone step above the water level, while her father supervised. Eventually he put them all back in, at which point she started pulling them out again.

Walking out of the market we passed a stall we’d seen on the way on called Kiry’s Muffins, which had signs advertising Australian muffins. It was clear Kiry had come from Australia and baked muffins that looked larger and more like the ones we’re used to back home, compared to the smaller Japanese style ones we’ve been seeing everywhere. Apparently they were popular because this was the only stall we saw in the whole market that had queues of people waiting to buy the product. We said hello to Kiry quickly as we passed, and learnt she was originally from Tasmania. She was keen to have a chat and ask us where we were travelling in Japan.

Leaving the market, we walked back to a different station: Kitaoji. We walked along the river much of the way, and we saw several birds: mallards, swallows, carrion crows, and a black kite circling fairly low overhead. I entered a bird count into eBird, but couldn’t identify the kite until we got back to WiFi and I did a search for likely birds of prey in the area. We also saw several dogs, including one shiba inu which led its owner down a steep stone bank towards the river, perhaps in an effort to chase some of those ducks.

The train from Kitaoji took as back to Gojo, from where we walked back to the hotel to pick up our bags and then walk to Kyoto station. I bought shinkansen tickets from a machine to avoid the long queue at the ticket office, and it was very simple. We headed down to the platform and a Nozomi super-express was leaving in about 5 minutes, giving us enough time to walk to the rear three carriages where the non-reserved seats were.

On the train we got seats sitting next to a man in the row of three. After a while, he presumably heard us chatting in English and asked us where we were from. We had a bit of a conversation and it turned out he was a former professional soccer player in the J1 League, the top league in Japan, playing as a goalkeeper. He’d retired and was now working as a coach. He gave me his business card, allowing me to know that his name was Yosuke Abe, and to look up some of that information later.

It was only a bit over half an hour to Nagoya. We had to change to a Chuo Line train to Nakatsugawa. There were two different gates to leave the shinkansen area, one to the exit and one leading to JR train lines, including the one we wanted to get to. So we tried using our shinkansen tickets to go through those gates, and the machine gave us our tickets back, which previously they hadn’t done. And then I realised we were inside the JR platform area without having tapped our Suica cards to initiate the journey. Unsure what to do, my wife suggested we go talk to the staff at the gates. A few other people were getting assistance there, but eventually I spoke to them and told them what happened and that we hadn’t tapped our Suica cards. They took it in their stride and directed us to tap our cards on a pad right there, and then asked for our shinkansen tickets, which we gave to them.

That sorted, we headed to the platform to catch a train to Nakatsugawa. I’d read that they only leave about once an hour, but there was one going in the right direction in about 10 minutes, so we got on that. It was only when it started moving that I realised it wasn’t going all the way, but terminated at Kozoji, about half way there. So we got off and waited for the next train to Nakatsugawa, which was a “rapid” service that arrived just a few minutes later. It had skipped several of the stops that our train had stopped at and so caught up to it. It took us the rest of the way to Nakatsugawa.

Here we walked the short distance to our hotel, The Ryokan O, via a 7-Eleven store to get some snacks to top up the small lunch. We checked in, and found it to be traditional in the style that we had to take our shoes off and use slippers to walk around and up to our room on the second floor. It has futons on tatami matting and very little else in the room – a low table and two flat cushions to sit on, and a very tiny fridge. The toilets and shower rooms are communal, shared with the other guests. We got yukatas from reception to wear when moving between our room and the showers.

After a rest, we left just after 18:00 to find dinner. I’d searched for some possible vegetarian options and decided noodle places might be suitable. There were a few udon places nearby, but the best rated was a soba and udon place right at the train station, so we headed back there. It took some finding to locate it, as it turned out to be a tiny counter inside the station waiting room, manned by a little old lady. There were no seating areas, so she indicated we could sit at the single table in the waiting room. There were only six menu options, either soba or udon noodles, plain, with egg, or with tempura. When my wife showed the old lady her vegetarian card, she indicated the tempura would be no good. So my wife got the plain soba, which just had green onion on it, while I had the tempura soba, which came with a kind of tempura patty which had vegetables and tiny shrimp in it. The meal was good, and cost just ¥970 for the both of us!

On the way back we stopped at 7-Eleven for some snacks and dessert. I got a small tub of red bean paste with mochi balls in it. Back at the ryokan we sat at the bar for a while to enjoy our complimentary drink. The guy at reception had given us vouchers when we arrived. I tried the “Nakasendo Fizz” cocktail, which the menu said was good for relaxing after a lot of walking. It was gin, yuzu liqueur, tonic, and soda. It was named after the Nakasendo trail which we’ll be walking along tomorrow. The bartender asked us our travel plans and we said we’d be doing that from Nagiso, and he said it was a very long walk. I showed him that Google Maps said it was a 4-hour walk, and he didn’t believe it, saying maybe 5 or 6 hours.

After our drinks, we had showers and prepped for sleep.

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