Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween... Japanese Style

Well, it's Halloween and I'm in Japan, where they seem aware of Halloween (or at least the girls at Tully's were wearing some sorts of outfits. (BTW, I'm now officially back in civilization as I've had my choice of Starbucks, Tully's, and Seattle's Best Coffee over the last two days!), even though they don't actually celebrate it. Well, I didn't celebrate Halloween either, instead I went on the 'Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route,' which, to me anyway, seems like an extremely Japanese sort of adventure. It's nothing more than a route across the mountains connecting a pair of cities. In Japan, they've turned it into a very well organized, precision-run tourist attraction, drawing it lots of local tourists, in the their ever-present large tour groups. But aside from giving an apparent insight into Japanese culture, the route is roughly a full-day trek, split up into 9 parts, which also happens to go through some gorgeous sites in the Japanese Alps, which reminds me, I've now been to the Japanese Alps and New Zealand's Southern Alps... perhaps it's time to visit the original Alps in Europe too... The 9 parts are each traversed by a different mode of transportation, so...

Part 1: Train

This part wasn't really all that exciting - it's just a normal local Japanese train that rumbles through some suburbs, then some scenic countryside, eventually leading to the foothills of the mountain range that makes up the Japanese Alps. We did have a nice site at a river crossing, pictured above...

Part 2: Cable Railway

This is where you suddenly start going up.. steeply! The cablecar gains approximately 500m of elevation over just 1.3km traveled. The incline is only some 25%, but it sure seems a lot steeper when you're riding up!

Part 3: Highland Bus
The bus starts at an elevation of 977m, at which point it's still relatively warm, and you can see just a bit of snow at the peaks off in the distance... An hour or so later, you arrive at the Murodo station, at an elevation of 2450m, and winter has clearly arrived:

There's also an alpine lake up here and some steaming hot springs:

The Japanese do diligently try to put English on a lot of signs... They just aren't always very good at the English... Gus is a dangerous fella...

Met some other tourists while up here (refreshing to find people who speak English again... Ian, Matt, and Ghwen? were in Toyama for a hydrological conference)

Part 4: Tunnel Trolley Bus
The next 10 minutes were spent taking a shortcut, tunnelling through the bottom of a mountain in a trolley bus... It wasn't particularly interesting to be honest - just rather odd to drive through a tunnel for a full 3.7km!

An action shot on the way

Part 5: Ropeway (a.k.a. gondola)

For the next kilometer and a half, we descended 500km in a gondola suspended on a ropeway... gliding over an expansive gorge, flanked by more snow-capped mountains:

Part 6: Cable Railway

This time heading down, very much like the steep ascent earlier in the trip... but all in a rather gloomy tunnel this time!

Part 7: Your very own two feet!

At this point, you've arrived at the Kurobe Dam. Roughly every single river in Japan has been dammed, so this isn't a particulalry rare site. I'm not sure if this one is bigger or smaller than the average dam in Japan, but you can walk across the top of it, and that seems like a tourist victory already!

Part 8: [another] tunnel trolley bus
This one is really no different than the first tunnel trolley bus. Except that it's much fuller of Japanese tourist groups - apparently most groups start from the opposite end that I started from and only come half way, then turn around and head back.

Part 9: Bus back to the city
And for the finale, you just take a perfectly regular bus back to a city on the other side of the mountain range... At which point, I hopped on a train and headed towards Tokyo, making a stop in the town of Matsumoto, famous for a castle, built entirely of wood:

I got there after dark... but the castle is well lit up!

tomorrow, it's off to Tokyo to meet up with some friends and do sight seeing for about a week. Then I'll have to go back across the country (fortunately Japan is a thin country) to pick up the car, which is sitting at the customs station in the Fushiki Port waiting for clearance documents in the form of a Carnet de Passage to arrive from Canada (of all places).

And speaking of the mini, here it is on Japanese soil! Just not very far onto it, sitting about 30 feet from the shore of Sea of Japan in customs. Considering that customs is willing to let me keep it there for free, I'd actually be happy to keep it there a while and travel around Japan without a car, but alas, I'll need to go back for it in another week or so...

And here's the Russian version of a cruiseship - the 'Rus' that got me and the mini across the Sea of Japan in 40 fairly boring hours. The ship is capable of carrying about 300 cars on board (and will on the way back), on this trip, the mini had the car deck all to itself!


b mathew said...

Hey Alex, whats your next stop? You're pretty close to Seattle now :)

Alex said...

It's true, I'm presently closer to the US than I've been at any point over the last five months... and I do plan to return to the States at the end of the month (Thanksgiving hopefully). How long I stay before continuing down to South America, as had originally been planned, is TBD at the moment, but I have decided against driving there...