Last sleep in Japan after an unremarkable day. Got woken up way too early by Alex while B kept sleeping, had a breakfast of toast across the road, then lugged our ever increasing baggage to the Shinkansen platform at Kyoto station, the one visible from our room the night before.
The reserved sections were booked out, so we chanced the unreserved sections and were in luck. I had wanted to take a different, longer route to our destination of Takasaki, to travel on a new line for me, though undoubtedly older than the one we were on. Instead we were on the too familiar Tokaido Shinkansen bound for Tokyo.
After the flat farmlands and factories whizzed by we at least had the pleasure of great views of Mount Fuji, still snowcapped, around Shizuoka. In contrast to the bare slopes of Japan’s highest and most sacred mountain the other hills were forest or bamboo clad, speckled with pink puffs of cherry blossoms or the orderly rows of tea plantations.
At Tokyo station we changed to an Asama Shinkansen bound for Nagano. Fortunately, we had reservations for this train as it was absolutely chockers, many of the passengers fellow tourists. En route we enjoyed the laughing at the many weird items for sale in the magazine in the seat pocket.
For men with hairy backs
It was only an hour to Takasaki. Dragging our luggage to the Dormy Inn a few blocks away felt like longer work. By the time we returned to Takasaki station there was not enough time to catch the local train to Yokokawa and the Usui Pass railway museum.
This upset Alex greatly, but we consoled him by saying we would look for toys and a playground instead. The very helpful tourist office pointed us to the Yamada Denki Labi store attached to the station.
On the fourth floor was a Yu Kids playground, similar but smaller than the one at Seacle. There were also Tomy Plarail trains and accessories for sale, so we bought him some extra tracks.
Much happier, he let us look for cameras and computers, though we didn’t buy anything, before we walked back across the station.
Takasaki’s big station building has an attached department store with a range of smaller fashion shops along with local souvenirs and foods. B was looking for new shoes to replace her 12 year old veteran Brooks sneakers. This shoes have to virtually every country we’ve visited since making their debut on our honeymoon.
She tried Takasaki’s small Takashimaya department store and Vivre, a youth oriented department store. I stopped by Tower Records, without success, then we walked all the way up to Takasaki’s old castle. Part of the cherry tree lined moat, some stone walls, one turret and a gate are all that seem to remain.
There’s another department store opposite, but again they had no sporting shoes. Then we searched for food. There were a few izakaya (bars) along the way as well as a surprising number of trendy little fashion stores. But no restaurants that piqued our fancy.
We ended up on the top of a department store eating karaage and tonkatsu chicken. Alex had a kids meal, which he devoured. They included a toy car. It’s quite common for them to include a toy like the ones you see at the 100 Yen shops where, incidently, they sell cheap batteries of all shapes and sizes.
Last minute shopping at Uniqlo for a t-shirt for tomorrow (I can’t be bothered using the hotel’s laundry tonight). When we emerged it was raining and we had left our umbrellas in the hotel.
We got wet, but the hotel reception were kind enough to hand us a towel. Even nicer, they had brought our luggage up to our tiny room and hung my jacket. The rooms may be almost standard Japanese business hotel and the prices cheap, but there is one notable addition that made me choose this one: it has a hot onsen bath.
The segregated baths were surprisingly nice with pebbled floors and rocks around the edges. There’s an indoor bath, which includes a electric shock stimulation area (no thanks), a cold bath and a sauna room. My favourite was the outdoor bath, where the drip of cold rain provided a wonderful contrast to the heat of the bath water.
Apart from the bath, this isn’t the way I’d like to end our holiday. I feel that I should be out catching one of the many small train lines that emanate from Takasaki. I do like the this city, for the same reasons that B doesn’t. It’s quiet, yet still has many services and shops, though they are smaller than their big city cousins. You aren’t confronted by so many choices.
Tomorrow we will go up to Yokokawa to visit the Usui Pass railway museum, for it has many rides that should interest Alex (and me). Then we return to Tokyo, where B wants to continue last minute shopping, before catching a train to Narita Airport and flying back to Sydney. I’m not sure if there will be an update tomorrow night. Alex and B are ready to go home, but I’m still enjoying Japan way too much to want to leave. So I am going to sleep tonight with a tinge of sadness and the knowledge that there remains so much that I want to see and do.