Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mie / 三重

(Better Know a City)

[Editors note: Those of you with a quick eye will notice that there is a 6 month time delay between the date this took place (August 31) and the posting of this entry. The past few months I've gotten behind on my blogging as other pressures took over. (It's also fair to say I got a bit burned out on writing these "Better Know a City" posts.) I'll be trying to get caught up on this in the next few days. I've got 3 more of these coming: one additional entry (Nakatsue), and then 2 supplements on cities I've already done (Yufuin, and Nakatsu)]

Monday, August 31, 2009

Crossing into Mie town, the first stop was the tourist rest area (michi no eki in Japanese).

From the rest area is a great view of a valley down below, called "Enaido". I left the car parked for a while and walked down the road to get some pictures of the valley.

The morning was cloudy and even a bit rainy, but I had decided to go out anyway. And fortunately by afternoon everything had cleared up, but you can still see the overcast look in these morning pictures.

I went into the store and asked for some maps of Mie town. They gave me some maps of the whole Bungo-One region. I would have preferred a map just on Mie Town, but apparently since the town mergers they don't make those anymore.

Next I went down to the restaurant.
Since it was still early in the morning, I was the only customer and the staff was in the back chatting to each other.
In this case, the proper thing to do is to yell out in Japanese a loud "Sumimasen!" (Excuse me!). But even after all my years in Japan I had never gotten comfortable with yelling out at strangers. So I just poked my head over the counter and attempted to quietly get there attention.

I must have startled them, because one of them let out a scream, followed by a bit of deep breathing after she tried to recover from the shock I gave her.
I ordered the coffee and vegetable sandwiches (which turned out to be just basically egg salad sandwiches), and then sat down to read my book a bit and study my maps.

After the rest area, I drove down into central Mie.
I was surprised by how big of a downtown area Mie had. Somehow, probably from listening to Mie JETS complaining, I had gotten it into my head that Mie was really out in the middle of nowhere. But by Oita Prefecture standards they really a decent down town. There were several chain restaurants and burger places, shopping stores, and even an internet cafe.

I stopped by Mie's town hall to see if I could find any better town maps (no luck). And I also walked by the Eitopia Ono-which was on my map, but it turned out to be just a local cultural center (and it was closed on Mondays besides). I walked around the river for a bit, and then got back in my car and drove on.

Perhaps Mie's most famous attraction is the Inazumi Cave. (Although on the English signs it's often referred to as Inazumi Grotto. I'm not entirely sure what the difference between a cave and a Grotto is.)

Even once you drive all the way down to Mie, the cave is still another 13 kilometers from the center of town. So you have to drive down a long and windy mountain road before you get to it, which is annoying if your the impatient type.
But one the other hand, this is the kind of place you would want to be remote. The atmosphere would be completely spoiled if it was right off the expressway exit.

The drive is fairly pleasant as well. It follows the river through the mountain valley, and there are several little scenic points to stop at along the way.

The signs indicate that most of these places are popular for viewing fireflies, but the firefly season was now over. (Japanese fireflies seem to be a lot more delicate than their North American counterparts. You can only view them for a couple weeks in the spring, and even then only near water. I'm not sure why there so different than the ones in we have in Michigan, but since everything in Japan is seasonal and only blooms for a short time, the short lifespan of the fireflies somehow seems very Japanese.

I stopped first by Hakusangawakasen Park, which was a small little parking lot by the river.

A little further up the river was another small parking lot by Hakusan Keikoku Valley, where you could view some interesting cliff formations called Hogeiwa, along the Nakatsumuregawa River.

After this I stopped the car one more time (it wasn't an official designated site, but the water just looked pretty cool so I wanted to take a picture.)

And then finally I arrived at Inazumi Cave.

I've had actually been to Inazumi cave before way back in the summer of 2002.
My girlfriend and I were driving down to see Harajiri Waterfall in Ogata town. On the way, she wanted to stop by this cave.

I was really amazed by it.
The concept of a cave to begin with is one that is always fascinating to us Midwestern Americans, who have nothing like this in our hometowns.
But there was a river running through it, and several mini lakes you could see. And I remember being amazed at how perfectly clear the water was, even though it was in a cave.

I tried several times to return to this place. When Brett visited me in Japan, I made an attempt to return to the same cave, but instead we ended up following the map to a completely different cave. And when Amy and I drove through the South of Oita, we also ended up at another cave.

There are apparently several caves in southern Oita. And I never know where I'm going when I drive through the south part of the prefecture, so I managed to end up at a different cave each time. I don't know the southern half of Oita prefecture as well as I know the northern parts.

However, after arriving at this cave, it is unmistakably the same one I was so amazed by 7 years ago.

The ticket to enter the cave was 1,200 yen, which was a bit steep, but it came with a brochure and also access to the ground outside the cave.

In the gardens outside the cave there were an assortment of attractions. Most prominent was the giant statue Buddha. (This thing was pretty huge. You could see it from the road.) There were a series of smaller Buddhas around it.

There were also some geese you could feed. And a couple of small waterfalls.

And, somewhat out of place, was a little museum featuring all sorts of collectibles and other knick-knacks from the Showa Era.

After wandering around the gardens, I set off to the explore the caves.
After going through the entrance, the cave branched out into two parts. The signs indicated that you were supposed to down the left path first, so I followed that.

The floor of the cave had been concreted over in many places to create a smooth path. This got me thinking about how much other human tinkering had been done in this cave. It took the romance off the area a little bit, but in Japan the idea of a pristine natural environment has never had the same importance as in the West.

The roof of the cave was covered with stalactites dripping down water. (Like every other person, I can never remember the difference between stalactite and stalagmites either, but I looked it up online just now. Stalactites are the ones that hang down.)

It was never a downpour, but there was enough dripping to make me worried about my video camera. But absolutely everyone else I saw in this cave also had a video camera out, so I figured it was probably all right.

The cave was very nice and cool. (The signs advertised the fact that it stayed at 16 degrees Celsius all year round.) Which was very pleasant, because although the morning had started out cool and rainy, by the afternoon the air had become very warm and sticky.

There was no circular route, so once I got to the end of one wing, I had to retrace my steps all the way back to the beginning before checking out the second wing.

The second wing was filled with underground lakes and rivers. At times the path was a grating below which the water flowed.
The water was amazingly crystal clear. And sometimes it was even populated by small fish.
It was dark in the cave of course, but they had done a good job of illuminating the water with natural lights.

Unfortunately, my rather primitive camera and video were not up to the task of photographing the cave. I couldn't get either of them to really focus in the dark, and my pictures and video reflect that.

Somewhere I'm sure someone has got some professional quality photos posted of this cave, but for my post you'll just have to make do with what you see here.

After I had gone back and forth and thoroughly explored Inazumi cave, I got back in my car and continued on to see what else was down the road.

I drove down for a while, but when the road started to get a little bit sketchy I turned around and headed back.
I was later to regret doing this, because I later saw a map that indicated if I had kept going I would have seen some waterfalls a little further on. But I had no way of knowing this at the time, and there were no detailed pocket maps of Mie town to be found.

So, I headed back.

I drove back down the same road along the same Nakatsumuregawa River, but I saw a lot more people out swimming on the way back. Now that the day had turned into a hot sticky afternoon, I guess everyone was out enjoying the pool.

I even saw what looked to be a man skinny dipping in one part of the river. I can't be sure because I drove by quickly, but it certainly seemed that way.

I stopped the car at one point to check out a little swimming hole I had missed the first time.
As you often see in the countryside, a concrete box had been around a little section of the river to create a safe swimming area for kids.
A bit further down the river was a more natural pool, a deep area between a set of rocks. There were a bunch of junior high school boys jumping into the river from the rocks.
It was hot and sticky, and I was tempted to go for a swim with them, but in the end I decided my presence there might spoil it for them. And since today was the last day of summer vacation, I decided to just let them have their fun. So I walked around, took a couple pictures, and moved on.

Once I got back to the main road, I followed the 502 out west to see what I could find, but didn't find anything until the town boarder. Then I turned back and followed the 326 down south to see where that would go.

I past a couple temples by the side of the road. And there was a huge doll statue on one of the mountains that I drove past, but I didn't see any parking for it, so I just kept driving.

I went across a bridge, and then stopped the car at the parking lot afterwards. There was a map, and I tried to figure out what to see next.

As long as the car was stopped, I walked back across the bridge to get another picture.

I decided to follow the signs out to see the Mikuni mountain pass, just because it was indicated as a destination by the signs. I didn't really know what it was, and I was hoping that it wouldn't involve too much hiking on this August day.

I got back in the car and started driving out towards it, but sound found myself winding up a narrow mountain road. I was worried I would spend a lot of time driving through these narrow mountain roads, and then there would be nothing at the end of it. (That's what usually happens out here in the countryside).
Then the road was blocked by a fallen tree, and I decided that this was my sign that I wasn't meant to go to Mikuni mountain pass anyway. I turned around and headed back.

I went back down the same road. This time I decided I wanted to stop and see what that big doll statue was supposed to be.
I still didn't see any parking lots, so when there was a bit of shoulder on the road I just pulled over and stopped the car there, and then walked all the way down.

The road itself was raised up on pillars at points as it connected between the two mountains. Walking down it you could get a good view of the valley down below, and I tried to take some photos.

Eventually I got to where I could see the side of the big doll statue. I wanted to get a photo from the front, so I spent another 15 minutes or so walking along the road until I got a good view of the front of the statue.

From here there was a side road going down into the valley, so I went down to explore it more.

There was a temple and park down below. And it looked like at one point this had been a major tourist attraction for the area, but now it was mostly abandoned. The huge parking lot was completely empty, and many of the buildings were closed down.

You could still go into one of the temples, and view several rows of Buddhas.

After this, I hiked back up onto the main road and began the long walk to the car.

Altogether, including walking back and forth from my car, this little stop had taken over an hour, and it was heading onto evening already.

On the way back, I made one more stop at a temple, because it was indicated as a sight of attraction. Behind the temple there was a little garden, including a hill you could climb up and get a bit of a view.

There was also a bit of a cemetary there, including grave stones marked for beloved pets, which I've never seen at a Japanese temple before.

I was feeling pretty tired at this point, so even though the daylight was fading fast I decided to stop in the local Joyfull to get something to eat and recharge my batteries. Before going into the Joyfull, I stopped briefly to video tape the down town area.

By the time I left the Joyfull, the light was fading fast. There were a few more things left I hoped to see, so I tried to make fast work of it.

I swung by an old stone bridge indicated on the tourist maps, and took some pictures of it.

Next, I followed the signs up to see some stone Buddhas.
There was a brief hike up the mountain, so I grabbed one of the free walking sticks and started out.

The path was roped off at one point, with a sign saying danger, but as there was nobody around to enforce this I decided to just step over the rope.
The danger turned out to be a fallen tree in the path, which I was able to step around very easily. Although it turned out that the stone steps would have taken me up to the top of the hill anyway, so my stepping into the forbidden area had been completely unnecessary.

It was now just that twilight hour where you can still see everything perfectly, but where taking pictures becomes a bit of an issue. And so it was here with me. I was able to take a picture using the flash, but it doesn't show up very well.

I tried to squeeze one last stop in before leaving-some sort of big rock with letters written on it. By this time, however, it really was dark, and I couldn't get the camera to focus at all.

With that, the day had come to an end, and I left Mie to head back home.

Mie Links:
Inazumi suichu Limestone Cave,
Spring Paths of Bungo (includes bit on Inazumi Limestone Underwater Cave),

Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky On Corporate Propaganda