Thursday, February 11, 2010

Nakatsue Village / 中津江村

(Better Know a City)

[Editor's note: this is the last "Better Know a City" trip I did before I got really burned out on the whole thing. As a result, it has been about 6 months between when I originally toured Nakatsue, and the time it has taken me to write up this post. Obviously the memory gets a little faulty after 6 months. Certain parts of this may not be lacking in detail where the memory gets a little hazy, but hopefully the pictures and video will make up for what this post may lack in description. After sorting through my old notes, I'm reasonably sure I got all the photos in the right places. Anyone who notices an error can feel free to correct me in the comments section.
And, this is it. This is my last "Better Know a City" entry.]

Monday, September 21, 2009
For a long time, I would always get Nakatsue Village and Nakatsu city mixed up. Aside from the little "e" at the end, they're spelled almost exactly the same, and the pronunciation is just as similar. It's just asking for confusion to have two towns in the same prefecture with such similar names. But no one consulted me when they were naming these towns.

Nakatsue Village is located close to Hita, and when I was staying in Hita and bored, I think I drove through it a couple of times.

Also way back during my first year on JET in the spring of 2002 I participated in the annual JET cycling ride. We cycled through Nakatsue Village, and spent the night at a Nakatsue campground. (Well, campground in the Japanese sense at least--meaning we stayed at a lodge rather than a hotel).

This was right when Japan was gearing up to host the 2002 World Cup. Nakatsue Village had been chosen, for some reason, to host the Cameroon soccer team. In fact, the campground where we were staying at was going to be where the Cameroon soccer team would stay and practice during the summer, and preparations for the Cameroon team's arrival were already underway. We were instructed to be on our best behaviour and not mess anything up.

Also already throughout Nakatsue village there were several signs up welcoming the Cameroon team. Many of these signs were written in French (apparently the national language of Cameroon).
Not all Japanese towns were given the privilege of hosting a soccer team, so the Cameroon team was Nakatsue's big claim to fame that year.
After the trip, when I got back to my office and mentioned we had stayed in Nakatsue there was first the usual confusion over weather I meant Nakatsu or Nakatsue. Then they immediately mentioned "Ah, the Cameroon soccer team."

7 years later, Nakatsue Village is still actively advertising its association with Cameroon, and you still see Cameroon's flag prominently displayed, and random signs written in French.

Driving down from Nakatsu city, Nakatsue Village was almost 2 hours away. I had to drive down to Hita first, then from Hita through Oyama before finally crossing over into Nakatsue Village.

Shortly after arriving, there was a dam (Shimouke dam) and a little park built around it (Hachisu Koen), so I stopped here to stretch my legs and take a few pictures.

There was a small information center for Shimouke dam where you could wander through and take pamphlets. So I tried to find as many pamphlets on Nakatsue as I could. (Because Nakatsue was a small village, there weren't many pamphlets just on Nakatsue itself, but there were a lot of pamphlets on the greater area.)

I walked around and taking some pictures (and interacting with a few children who wanted to practice their English on me).

There was a small cafe near the lake, and I stopped in to get a cup of coffee.

The cafe had lots of antique furniture there would could look at.

The woman there served me a free piece of banana cake as well. "We have extra banana cake," she explained. "Please, have a piece."

She also asked me if I was an artist. "Me? No, nothing of the sort," I responded.

"I thought I saw you drawing in your notebook outside," she said. And I explained that I had simply been writing down the names of the signs.
While I was drinking my coffee, a number of people were coming in and out of the cafe giving gifts, and the woman explained that this was because it was Respect for the Aged day (W).

After this, I set out to visit Taio no Kinzan (Taio goldmine). Taio Goldmine is the biggest attraction in Nakatsue-Mura, and they have signs for it from miles away. Driving through the Hita area, I've seen the signs a lot over the years, but for some reason never made it out to the goldmine.

I followed the signs, and drove to the goldmine. As I drove up the hill, the Cameron theme of Nakatsue-Mura became more and more apparent, and there were several signs in French.

Despite being located out in the middle of nowhere, the Taio Goldmine was incredibly busy. This was probably because I had visited during "Silver Week" (W). There were uniformed men directing the traffic who showed me where they wanted me to park. There were lots of motorcycles parked there (apparently a lot of people go touring on motorcycle during Silver Week). And the car license plates were from all over Japan. (Again, pretty impressive for a little tourist resort up in the middle of nowhere).

There was a big sign in the parking lot, proclaiming in big letters that Nakatsue-Mura was "the Switzerland of Asia." In smaller letters was written the explanation that the Cameroon ambassador had come to visit Nakatsue-Mura, and said it reminded him of his hometown. (And I guess the Cameroon ambassador must have had some Swiss connection. I don't know, maybe I read the sign wrong.)

There were several shops on the way to the goldmine. There was also a building where (for the price of admission) you could sift through the sands and look for gold yourself.
This seemed to be quite popular with people, but I passed it by. I wasn't sure what I was going to do with gold even if I found some.

I continued on towards the Taio Goldmine.
I was a little bit confused about where to buy the ticket once I got to the entrance, and when I finally found the ticket booth, they seemed almost reluctant to sell it to me. "It's 1,000 yen to go in. Are you sure?" the lady asked me.

Before getting to the actual goldmine, I had to walk through a couple non-related (as far as I could tell) exhibits, like a dinosaur exhibit. There was also a display indicating that the Mayor of Nakatsue (Yasumu Sakamoto) had been awarded the medal of the knights of Cameroon.

At the entrance to the actual Taio goldmine, they gave me a set of earphones. There was also a small box which hung from around my neck. As I walked through the Taio goldmine, the box was supposed to pick up the various radio signals, and broadcast the appropriate information into my ears. So I guess a free audio-tour is included in the price of admission.

I asked if they had an English version of the audio. They did not, but they did, however, give me a written English translation of the Japanese audio, running 12 pages.
--Which I never even read, so I guess it was kind of a waste of paper. The beginning starts out with:

Taiokinzan--Tour Guide Script
(Girl Voice): Welcome to the Underground Museum, Taiokinzan!
(Boy Voice): At Taiokinzan's prime, this serene locaction--a mountain covered by teh verdant foliage of ceder trees--reverberated with the joyfull cries of people who gathered here in search of gold.
(G): Now, this part of earth relives as "Underground Museum: Taiokinzan" and welcomes visitors like you.
The entire mine tunnel is approximately 1 kilometer, or 0.6 miles, long and is divided into nine areas. The tour will take about 40 minutes. The first half is a recreation of the mining process during the Showa period, and the second half is a recreation of the mining during the Edo period.
(B) Step one foot inside the mine tunnels and there you'll discover the surviving dreams and romantic sentiment of the "yama-otoko", or "mountain men"--the name give to mine workers in Japan.

And on it goes for 12 pages.

I dutifully wore the earphones at first, trying to gain every useful piece of information that I could. But after about 5 minutes, I decided I was sick of this extra noise in my ear, and just took them off.

Almost everyone else around me seemed to follow the same pattern. Everyone had the earphones on for the first five minutes or so, but everyone took them off after that.

There were a few things to see before entering the tunnel, like a water mill (complete with an English explanation).

And then I went through the tunnel, and I was in the cave.
As opposed to the hot weather outside, it was actually nice and cool inside the cave. It was a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon. (Although on the downside there were a lot of kids crying and yelling, and that sound reverberated off the walls of the cave. But this was probably worse than normal because it was a public holiday).

The place was, as advertised, essentially a museum underground. There were various mannequins in poses to illustrate what life was like for mine workers of that time. (Some of them were even primitive animatronics that moved a little bit).

For the most part, I'm going to let the videos and pictures speak for themselves, without recounting every single thing I saw in that cave. But it was pretty cool.

Just a couple quick notes: according to one sign (if I read it correctly) at one point there was a Japanese television drama about a mine worker, and parts of it were filmed in this cave. I thought that was kind of cool.

And one of the tunnels (although they had it blocked off) appeared to lead over to the neighboring town in Fukuoka prefecture.

And, despite many low hanging areas, I managed to somehow miraculously get through the whole place without banging my head once.

At the end of the gold mine there was, included in the price of admission, a museum dedicated to beetles. (Again, not sure what the connection is).

Historically, the goldmine had at one time been owned by an Englishman named Hans Hunter (maybe around the turn of the century or so) and according to the sign, to this day Nakatsue-Mura keeps up an exchange with mining towns in Wales.

After touring the mining areas, I went to the Taio Kinzan resturant to get some food. They were incredibly busy, but I managed to find a seat at the long bar facing the window.

I ordered the "Miner's Curry", and this took an eternity for them to get it to me. Fortunately I had a good book with me. (I was still chugging my way through "War and Peace" at the time). Just when I was about to give up and leave without my food, they came out with my Miner's Curry.

I'm not quite sure it was worth the wait, but it was pretty tasty.

There was a shrine on the hill located next to the goldmine, and I went through the trouble of climbing up and exploring the different paths. From the top I got a scenic view of....well, of the Taio Goldmine parking lot. I'm not sure it was worth the climb up, but I got a few pictures anyway.

And with that, I left the Taio Goldmine area.

The Taio Goldmine is the high point of Nakatsue-Mura. Once I had left it behind the rest of the afternoon I was really struggling to find things worth seeing.

Driving down the road I saw a sign for a place called "Camp Cameroon", and I turned off the road to check it out.
I suspected this might have been the campground I had stayed at in 2002 on the JET biketrip, and indeed it was. (The very steep driveway going up gave it away. Even though it has been 7 years, I still remember struggling up that hill after a long day of biking).
Apparently since I had been there last, they had renamed themselves Camp Cameroon in honor of the Cameroon soccer team that stayed there once.

There was some sort of high school soccer event going on in the soccer field. High school teams were out practicing, and even more high school kids were arriving.

I got a few looks as I walked around taking pictures, but for the most part they ignored me and I did my best to stay out of everyone's way.

There was a statue of a lion there with the inscription underneath: "Les Lions Indomptables (Bon Courage!)."

I drove next to the town hall in the hopes of getting some more pamphlets or tourist stuff. But the town hall was closed. (I should have known. It was a public holiday).

Ordinarily the town hall represents the town center, and I would usually walk around and just try and take in the town atmosphere. But here there was absolutely no town center. This town hall was located on a mountain road with no shoulder, and the cars would come zooming down the road. I walked around the outside of the town hall a little bit, but there was nothing to see, and I didn't feel safe walking down the road.

Next, I stopped at a small temple called Denraijiteien, and walked around the temple grounds and looked at the garden.
Ordinarily walking around the temple grounds is free, but there was a sign here about paying an admission fee.
Nobody seemed to be around to collect it, however, so I just ignored the sign.

While I was there, a tour group came through. I wasn't sure if these were paying customers or not. A priest was showing them around, and I got a few looks, but nobody asked me to pay anything.

Next I followed the signs to Kogawakoen (Public River Park?).

Despite being on the maps, there was absolutely nothing here. Driving through I saw absolutely nothing, so I parked the car and walked around to see if I had missed anything the first time.

There was a Log House Roller Skating building, or at least there was supposed to be according to the signs, but the place had obviously been abandoned a long time ago and feel into disrepair.
This was very typical of the Japanese countryside, especially the last 50 years as there has been a huge exodus of young people to the big cities. All the areas that have been built for families or children have been left to rot. It's possible to imagine that at one time this might have been a cool place to hang out way back when.

A little bit further down was another park: actually this was just a big red bridge going across the river, and a few park benches underneath.

But I was running out of places to visit, so I stopped here to kill some time. I read my book on the park bench while I looked out on the river.

Next, I found a few more scenic overlooks of the lake.

Around 4:30, The last stop I made was at a coffee shop overlooking Shimouke lake.

(This was my second stop in a coffee shop for the day, but I felt like I had exhausted all the sight-seeing possibilities Nakatsue-Mura had to offer).

A woman behind the counter, the owner apparently, directed me towards a seat near the back where I had a view of the lake.
On the wall hung an autographed picture of Yukorin in this same coffee shop with the owner. (I had no idea who Yukorin was, but when I asked about it I the owner told me Yukorin was a famous Japanese television celebrity from Tokyo, who had visited this shop last year on September.)

After a while, the owner's nephew and niece came into the shop, and she directed them over to my table. "Oh, good, you can speak English," she said. "Go talk to this foreigner, will you."

So, they came over to my table to talk to me for a while.
They were quite nice folks--about my age (a couple years younger maybe). Their English was limited, and to be honest I think my Japanese was better, but since their aunt had told them to go over and speak English to me I tried to give them a chance to show off their English, and didn't switch languages.

Neither of them were from the area (they lived in Osaka and Hiroshima respectively), but their grandparents lived here, so they were visiting because it was "Respect for the Aged Day."
Because they had visited this town many times as children, I asked them what was worth seeing.
"Taio Kinzan," they answered.

"Yep, got that one covered. Anything else?"

"No, nothing else."

We talked for a while about various things. At 5, their aunt came over and said to them, "Make sure you tell him this place closes at 5, so he has to leave then."
They were slightly embarrased, but dutifully translated this. I didn't mind being kicked out so much actually. I felt like I had put in a good day of sight seeing. I said my good-byes, and left.

Nakatsue-Mura Links:
HOSE PROJECT in Taio Goldmine,
Gold fish thief charged,

Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky On Democracy and "The Common Good"


RT said...

JOEL! OH MY GOD! Trying to collect address details for my now non-existent village, I came across your blog!!! What a nice surprise to find you writing and a nice way to reconnect with our old home after all these years! It was nice to see Nakatsue, 8 years later especially since I didn't go there on my recent reappearance after 6 years! Anyway, please stay connected!!! I want to catch up with you properly!

Joel said...

Regina, great to hear from you again. Wow, was that a blast from the past seeing your name.

By all means, send me an e-mail and let's get in touch.