Thursday August 27th, 1998
Today's the day to go to the last of the three sacred mountains, Mount Yudono. I had already arranged to keep my current hotel room for an additional night, so the plan was simple; leave most of my stuff at the hotel, visit Yudono, and return here tonight. So I packed only the essentials into my smaller travel bag, and double-checked my digital camera which was filled with rainwater at Mount Gassen yesterday. Want to talk about lucky? The camera still works, and the film from yesterday still has its pictures on it! Yay!
So I set out for Yudono... only to discover that it was likely to be an overnight trip, and that the first bus back tomorrow morning would be after checkout time at the hotel I was at. On the other hand, there's a hotel at Mount Yudono similar to the one near Mount Haguro that I stayed at a night ago, so tomorrow I'll catch a bus to that hotel and get a room there to drop my stuff at. Then I can climb Yudono with relatively little stuff, and have a room to come back to later at night.
UPDATE 2002: Previous to the Meiji Era government that took control in 1868, all businesses in Japan were based around homes and families. Everyone who worked in a business was considered family, whether or not they were biologically related.
All this, of course, meant I had today off... so I rode a bus back to my hotel to explore the area near it (I had to go to the bus station near the Tsuruoka train station to find out the above news). From the hotel, I first followed the road away from the station until it reached a bridge; between the hotel and bridge is an area that is entirely small family-owned businesses. Their look is distinctive, but hard to describe. Generally, the whole front of the building the business is in is a wide doorway, and the shop area is just about eight to ten feet deep; just one small room, at the back of which is the entrance to the living area. If the business sells goods, there is often just barely enough room to step into the shop between all the items on display; and if the business is based around manufacturing, then this front area is often the workshop and the ordering office. Through the door in the back you can sometimes see the evidence of daily life... someone cooking, kids playing or doing homework, pets. After hours, the front door is closed enough to only allow an individual to walk in and out... this is when it's too late to shop! There seems to be a lot of these that carry the same sort of random merchandise that drug stores in America often carry; just the small knick-knacks of daily life that other houses in the area always need... but nothing that I need at the moment,eh?
At the bridge, I looked up and down the river... it's not a big one, only about twelve feet across, but it does look deep. Judging by the location of this bridge, and the approximate location of bridge I was driven across last night on my way to the hotel, the section of town Hotel Dewa is in is separated from the part of town with the train station by this river. I decided to stick to exploring the hotel's side of the waterway for now, and turned back.
I walked past the hotel and then over to the shopping street I was driven through last night, to shop and explore. This is a normal shopping area with lots of specialty shops -- music, toys, cloths, cafes, etc. -- on either side of the street, but with a semi-clear ceiling above the sidewalks and street about thirty feet up. This ceiling stretches for about four blocks, giving the whole street protection against the rain that's so frequent in the Summer, thus insuring that shoppers will still shop, no matter what the weather is. I've run into streets like this in other parts of Japan... I'm guessing that this is a pretty common thing, a Japanese predecessor to the creation of actual shopping malls.
I looked at a small Shinto shrine in the shopping area -- this and Buddhist temples are not unusual features of these covered streets -- then bought a small variety of buns and snacks at a bakery (cheap and tasty!), found some ancient manga at a used book store (the weekly Japanese comics are normally recycled when people are done reading them, but I found some from 1975!), and bought a set of "Pocket Monster" toys at a vending machine.
"Pocket Monsters" -- usually shortened to the cuter Poke-mon -- is an extremely popular animated series in Japan right now... you may have heard of it in the news: it's the cartoon that was causing kids to have epileptic fits! This was because one of the lead characters, "Pikachuu", throws lightening bolts; the flashing special effects that accompanied this were just a little too intense for some wee ones, but this was quickly corrected after the initial problem was reported... so now it's perfectly safe for children to watch the cartoon for hours, which is a different problem, isn't it? [UPDATE 2000: Well, "Pocket Monsters" is now being shown in the States; not surprisingly though, American producers thought the original title of the show might not appeal to parents, so it has been permanently renamed to the cuter "Pokemon" for its English viewership. Wimps.]
I've noticed that many titles and phrases in Japan are shortened to simpler 4 syllable words... this may be to make them easier to remember, or maybe cooler sounding; I really don't know why. But they do it! For a list of examples, Click Here!
Anyway, I had a relaxing day. After four, I headed back here to the hotel and prepared more mail to send home: I found some more presents that need to be sent home, plus I don't need to be carrying the books I bought today for the rest of the trip. As I packed the box, I also typed up some travel notes, watched TV, ate the food I picked up earlier, and generally took it easy.
Around eight o'clock, I went out for a late walk in the rain -- I do this a lot -- and found something neat. In easy walking distance of the hotel, past the bridge I stopped at this morning, is one of Tsuruoka's major Shinto shrines. Signs in front of the shrine indicated that tomorrow there's some sort of special event at 10:00am. So tomorrow, after I've mailed off the box I've put together, I'm going to walk over to the shrine to see what's happening; afterwards, I'll walk to the station to catch the eleven-thirty bus to the Yudono hotel.
It's nice to have a day that's not stressful once in a while, you know?
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