I could have arrived here in a couple of hours. Instead, I took seven. I took the scenic route.
The Mie Peninsula sits between Osaka and Nagoya and is considered the most sacred of places in Japan and the spiritual birthplace of the Japanese people.
Travelling around it, I can understand why. An inland backdrop of dramatic mountains and dense, tall forests. And the coasts, they are the classic Japanese image. Narrow inlets of clear waters, separated by sharp islands and rock formations.
I wake too early having not slept enough for two nights in a row, maybe more. The hotel breakfast would seem unusual by Australian standards, more like a lunch or dinner. There is fried local fish, beef curry, bowls of Udon, spaghetti, potato salad and more. I enjoy it.
The walls are lined with books of manga, some translated into English. No Haikyuu!!! for Alex.
I catch a local train from Rinku-Town to Hineno, the junction between the airport and Wakayama lines. I see the Hello Kitty Haruka pass. One way, then the other. That was us last time.
I booked a seat on the Kuroshio Express all the way to it’s terminus of Shingu on the other side of the Mie Peninsula. We will be roughly following the coast. The fast way is to go straight across the top. I’ve done that before.
The low hills down to Wakayama are only a taste of what’s to come. Once past the city, which we once visited with one of the exchange teachers we hosted, we find ourselves winding around the coast.
Some of the hills are speckled with orange, orchards of the local mikan, mandarin, variety. There are also persimmons growing pale red.
The Pacific Ocean is flat now, but there are concrete tsunami barriers between the grey sanded beaches and the town’s and roads behind them. Some towns have metal stair frames that seem to lead to nowhere, but I have tsunami warnings.on them.
There are moderate sized towns, but many are just tiny fishing settlements clinging to the coast. Even close to Wakayama, within a reasonable commute to Osaka, many buildings have an air of industrial decay about them. I find it beautiful in its own way.
There are many places I just want to stop.and wander around, to have some time to take in the scenery. Too often it is obscured by the next clump of vegetation or the many tunnels.
You emerge from a tunnel and there’s a farm, a township nestled into a valley, then it disappears as you enter the next tunnel.
I’m so tired that I have a brief nap and when I awake we are almost at our terminus of Shingu on the opposite side of the peninsula.
Shingu is the entrance to a number of highly important shrines and royalty used to ride up the river to reach them.
I wish I had time to do that myself, but there’s only 45 minutes until the next train to take me to tonight’s stop at Yokkaichi, then nothing for four hours. I’m too tired to arrive so late.
So what can I do in three quarters of an hour? There’s the well known Jofuku sushi shop opposite the station. They sell takeaway obento sushi as well. Jofuku Park, with its garishly colourful Chinese gateway is a short walk beyond. And next to it a small shop selling the local mikans. That’s made it worthwhile!
I have to pay a surcharge on the Nanki Express to Nagoya as it runs on the third-party Ise Line for part of the way. The scenery on this stretch is even more spectacular than before. So many tiny inlets, clear waterways, constantly surprising.
As we get closer to Suzuka, famous for its motor sports track, the scenery flattens out to rural, industrial and urban landscapes.
I’m not going all the way to Nagoya. I get off at Yokkaichi, home of a giant refinery complex that is labelled as one of Japan’s top four best industrial night sights by a sign outside. You can do night cruises to view it.
The street from JR Yokkaichi into the city centre is quiet. Oh, there are cars, but only a couple of pedestrians and the offices along it are all closed.
I love the atmosphere.
Close to the centre is a covered arcade. Most of the izakaya are closed until the evening, but a group is gathered to listen to a performance as part of the Yokkaichi Jazz Festival.
Jazz is not my thing.
I head straight to my accommodation, a Toyoko Inn, a chain so familiar that I have a model railway miniature of it.
I want to sleep, but there’s my reason for coming to Yokkaichi.
Next to the Kintetsu Railway station is Yokkaichi Asunaro station. This has two of the last four operating 762mm gauge lines in Japan. That’s very narrow gauge and the trains are almost toy-like with one seat either side of the aisle.
My visit has coincided with a departure along the shorter branch of the two lines, splitting at Hinaga for Nishihino.
This is the polar opposite of a Japanese bullet train, a rickety single line weaving it’s way through the narrow confines.of suburbia.
There’s nothing at Nishihino so I take the train back to Hinaga, where I change for the Utsube branch, taking photos of the display of the different gauges and the wheels that ride them.
I ride the train all the way to Utsube. Unfortunately, the model railway shop there is already closed: I see the lights flick off on the sign at the top of the building. So I tap off then on again and then ride all the way back to Yokkaichi Asunaro. It’s all about the ride, watching the local life as it heads off into the evening from the intimate perspective of the little train.
Now I have to find something to eat. My tired head is too addled to cope with an izakaya. In the maze of the arcade I find a little ramen restaurant and order some shio ramen and gyoza. Not the best, not the worst, but satisfying enough. Then I return to my room at the Toyoko Inn and eat one of the mikan. Seedless, sweet and easy to peel. Perfect!
There’s washing to be done and a wait for a free machine. Then bed. Early.