In the morning I had a Cup Noodle curry for breakfast before finding out that there was a free breakfast included. Heh. At least this way I got something to chow down on, though.
Also while running around in the morning, I locked myself out of my room! I meant only to sneak out and grab chopsticks or something from the vending machine area, and so I was only wearing a bathrobe! Eyiii. I sheepishly crept onto the elevator, went down to the lobby, poked my head around the corner, and the lady at the desk understood almost immediately. We went back up to the 9th floor and unlocked my room. Next time I’ll be more careful.
I went to the station and got on the 10:15 New Rapid bound for Ogaki. I almost didn’t get through the special ticket window lane (the SJK needs to be manually validated and verified) because there was a family haggling over minutiae at 10:10.
Ogaki had a lovely station, and I had time for a quick lunch there. The next leg was a local train through a hilly region. It was achingly pretty, and a good opportunity to see the lush and verdant side of Japan.
This train took me into Maibara, which is where the trains get serious. From Maibara to Himeji (which was so far away that I was confused, as it wasn’t on the route charts, so I didn’t know that the Himeji-bound trains were the ones I wanted) there is excellent service provided by Special Rapid trains (they depart every 30 minutes in both directions from the major stations on the line). No surcharges, no reservations, just fast, cheap train travel. It’s all a weary traveler could ever want. And you need these rapid trains – there are local trains that go from Maibara to Himeji and back, but they stop at every stop. That could take years: the two cities are 198.4km and 2 hours, 28 minutes apart even on this rapid service, and the not-insignificant towns of Osaka, Kobe, and Kyoto are in there, too.
When I got off the local, there was a packed Special Rapid bound for Himeji right at the next platform, but as I said I didn’t know it was what I wanted, so I lost 30 minutes by letting it go and walking back and forth to the turnstiles, which were a long way away because the Shinkansen tracks and platforms were in between, so one has to go up and over those.
The delay wasn’t all bad, though, because by being early for the following train I could get a seat – a nice window seat again – and there was a bit of time to chill out. One guy even brought his bowl of udon onto the train, as the cars were air conditioned and there was plenty of time to eat and return the bowl prior to departure.
It was getting near one o’clock, and I was starting to get a little bit antsy, as I wanted to spend some time on Mt. Koya that day. Assuming that things closed at 5, I would be lucky to get “in” at all, and I might have to find something else to do. The Kyoto tour I wanted to take wouldn’t be until the following morning. In any case, another train pulled in on a nearby track and a minute later the entire prefecture had showed up on our platform, our train became jam-packed, and then we were away.
the mountains have holes
At length, we reached Osaka Station, where I hopped on the Osaka Loop Line and swung counter-clockwise to Shin-Imamiya. This was the same station where I met up with L. in February, and I could see Festivalgate from the platform, meaning that I’d be able to find SpaWorld with ease. Now I had to find the Nankai station.
Well, JR must not like Nankai, as you follow the signs and end up lost in the street! Augh! This was the exact same place I got turned around before – I even went down some steps into the subway and turned myself around in the vain hope of finding a bearing while emerging from it, but it was just as much a failure as it was to find the Loop Line station back in February. First I couldn’t find the Loop Line, now I couldn’t find the Nankai. What a place. Osaka signage strikes again.
There was a tram platform nearby, and I wondered if that was the Nankai, but I asked, and mercifully it wasn’t. No, the station was farther west along the street. Quite a bit farther, actually – long enough that I was starting to bake by the time I got to the building with the entrance to the Nankai platforms. It was really quite sketchy coming in from street level, but once I was up on the level with the platforms it wasn’t so bad. I bought a ticket for Mt. Koya.
I boarded an express train bound for Hashimoto.
* * *
Written on the Koya Line on the evening of August 5th.
It’s just before 8:50pm and we’re sitting on the cable line waiting to go down – 20 minutes prior to departure, it turns out!
Mt. Koya is huge. People live and work here. It’s essentially a mountain-top town (or at least a big village). There’s a bus service, police and fire and ambulance services, and even an auto body shop.
One other thing I didn’t realize: Mt. Koya is in Wakayama! Getting here from Osaka was easy, albeit time-consuming and not as trivial as it appeared beforehand.
The Koya Line is really something – there are lots of isolated towns, and they are connected by this single track with its frequent twists, tunnels, and turns.
I am SO hungry. I had a sandwich in Ogaki. And this is gonna be one LONG local train ride back to Osaka! Hopefully there’ll be an express or something leaving Hashimoto!
Hoo-boy, they’re going down ten minutes early! This may mean time for a snack at Gokurakubashi.
- - -
Augh! Nothing but drinks! Well, at least this train only goes to Hashimoto. With luck, the transfer will be to an express or faster train. Going local from here back to Shin-Imamiya is… 39 stations?! PLEASE let there be a through train. I’M HUNGRY! I haven’t eaten since Gifu! And I’m in Wakayama – no wonder I couldn’t find the temple complex on my Osaka map!
Sheesh, I’m geographically about as close to Kyoto as Tokushima. Wakayama is just down a JR line from Hashimoto Station. There’s a $20 ferry from Wakayama to Tokushima – should I go back to Tokushima?
Anyway, it’s quiet and relaxing enough that I can put aside the hunger pangs, and I can at least put my feet up, as the three high school guys on this train are lying down, and I think I will eventually, too. We’re the only ones in this car, and there’s a lone Western girl in the other car.
Mt. Koya is the kind of place that you can (and should) spend a whole day at – it’s not at all like just another temple on the pilgrimage; getting there and exploring is a mini-pilgrimage in itself. And, seriously, go early in the morning and get the Koya up!
- - -
BOO-YAH! The Rinkan Limited Express! Now we’re talking! And… I’m the only one in the car. And there are only six stops – provided I don’t get booted off, that is.
Ha-ha, I just got caught. The surcharge was 500 yen. The funny part is that the conductor came up to me – the only one in the car – asked to see my ticket, and then pouted and said, “This train is reserved seat only.”
Say again? There’s NOBODY on it! WHY would anyone in their right mind bother to make a RESERVATION? What is it with this country and reservations? Eiy. Still, I can see that this is a premium service – they just need to make allowances for folks who just need to jump on a train, and I guess that’s what they’re doing anyway, so I shouldn’t complain.
Digression: During my travels, I've been keeping a list of the different types of (conventional) trains. I’m still not sure what ones are fastest, and why “express” and “rapid” are sometimes interchangeable.
and, my personal favorite that I probably made up, “rapid express”
* * *
I went to Festivalgate and found SpaWorld. When I first got off, I was a bit worried, as the station was surrounded by sketchiness (and this time it was dark out), and Festivalgate looked decrepit and mostly closed, though, deep inside, SpaWorld was still lively and thriving.
The best part was turning the corner to see the portal to Shinsekai and food! Osaka has its priorities straight!
I went to a restaurant with an English menu and ordered okonomiyaki. It was tasty, but it would have felt better to be eating with someone else, and not only because okonomiyaki is clearly meant to be shared.
SpaWorld was fun and refreshing, but really, really confusing – both on its own merits and also because it was very late and I was dog tired. This month, the European level was the one open to men. I was determined to get my money’s worth by doing and experiencing everything, and so I spent a fair bit of time trying all the hot tubs – I even tried sitting in the hot Finnish-style sauna, then running back to the Greco-Roman area and hopping into the big copper cold water bathtub. Fun! There’s nothing like running around nude and soaking wet after midnight. There was even a drinks bar, but it was only open during the day and evening – I presume if you wanted a drink, you’d pay with your electronic wristband.
I put on swim trunks (rented, paid for with the wristband) and went up to the pool / waterpark family level, too, but the slides and flume ride were closing. Bummer.
It got to be past one o’clock, so it was time to retire, as I wanted to be out early - I still had a pessimistic appraisal of the availability of trains between Osaka and Kyoto, and the tour would be starting at 10:15am sharp. L. had mentioned that there were recliners here – boy, was he right! There was a huge room with hundreds of men sleeping in bathrobes, some watching the banks of televisions overhead – each recliner had channel and volume knobs (you change the audio channel to match the television you’re looking at).
My valuables safe inside my locker back in the changing room, I settled in to sleep…
(Yes, there’s still one more entry to come!)