Fukui to Tokyo

Akihabara’s streets are thrumming with tourist. Young ladies in maid outfits call out from the streets. Shop after shop is busy selling anime paraphernalia and other goods for nerds.

It is in total contrast to our previous stop.

Although the Shinkansen runs direct from Fukui to Tokyo, I decide to break our journey in the coastal city of Itoigawa.

.The Itoigawa-Shizuoka fault line geologically divides Eastern and Western Japan, running alongside the Fossa Magna rift. The fault line is exposed around Itoigawa, exposing metamorphic and salt bearing rocks.

Itoigawa hosts a UNESCO Geo Park, with trails for exploring these geological phenomena, but we haven’t time to go there, nor to ride the coastal trails by bike.

The lonely omiyage shop in the station complex has local jade boulders on display, including green and purple examples. There is also a workshop for polishing jade and a number of jade items on display. It looks very run down, a remnant from another era.

On the other side of the station, the reason for my wanting to visit, is a modern Geopark museum, which has a little information, but does have some a kid’s slide and a trick photo op. Right next to it is a preserved KiHa 47 railcar waiting room, a replica Midnight Express dining car and a tiny steam engine. And next to that are a couple of big models railway layouts. For 500 Yen you can drive a model train yourself, some of which are equipped with cameras, for half an hour.

Before I have a chance to read that, the old attendant takes me over to give me a go driving a train. It is a bit more complicated than my own model railway operations, but fun. If only I can get it stopping correctly at the platform (I’m used to one dial!).

Alex refuses to let me pay to give him a go.

We need lunch, so go back over the other side of the station where Google Maps suggests there might be more food outlets. As we can’t find an available big locker we roll our luggage behind us. This is why I prefer light backpacks.

Itoigawa is almost deserted. There are almost no people around and most shops look like they are abandoned.

There is a soba outlet across the road with some customers, but nobody feels like soba. We continue walking to the end of the street, where an underpass leads to a steel rainbow lookout over the sea wall.

Alex and I join another group of young Asian tourists in climbing up the structure, from where we can see along the concrete sea wall barriers. There are some English signs describing the views, which are largely missing. Certainly no seaside food.

Walking back, we take a different route and encounter a few open shops and a modern cafe selling curry. I could eat it, but Alex refuses.

Time is now short. We pass a couple more decrepit shops and eateries, but we need to head back to the station, where we buy sandwiches and an onigiri from the tiny convenience store there.

For the others, aside from the model railway, Itoigawa represents boredom, but I kind of like it. It’s one of those examples of something interesting and unique hidden away in a place that has seen better days. I would go back.

The Hakutaka Shinkansen races us away to our next destination: Tokyo. I look out at the cloudscapes and mountains, the high snows and the rice paddies, the cherry blossoms still in flower in these colder lands.

Then we enter the urban megapolis that is Tokyo. At Tokyo Station, a quick change to the Yamanote Line, two stops to busy Akihabara.

So many foreign tourists. Such big crowds. Such objectification of women in the shops. As much as I liked Itoigawa, I feel uncomfortable here.

We look for anime products for Alex, model railways for me and B is a bit left out. So we catch another train to our old haunt of Shinjuku.

After twenty-one years, we are experts in navigating the station and the shops. But we could have stayed in Akihabara to have gyukatsu, breaded beef grilled on the table.

Down from the busy Kabuki-cho, into the Subnade underground mall. The Aquaforest shop has moved, and looks like it might shut down permanently soon. It’s still beautiful. The mall is closing for the night anyway.

We find our way underground to Zara, discover that the big Uniqlo has gone, but Gap and Tower Records are still there. And I find a John Williams soundtrack I don’t own there!

Back so late to Akihabara. It’s also closing for the night. Or much of it is. We are ready to.

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