Hello everyone! Hope you have all been doing well 🙂
Today I’ll talk about the excursion I took on December 29, 2016 with a friend. On a side note–I am almost finished with writing blog posts for all of the events that happened in 2016! This is the 32nd post and although not all of them were about adventures I had, a majority of them were and I just want to say how grateful I am to have been able to experience every single one of them. I’m not taking this year of studying abroad for granted because I know it’s a huge privilege, not just a huge expense and good life experience. I just want to make the most out of this chance I’ve been given so that I can leave Japan with no regrets.
Anyways, back to the story!
After I moved out of my host family’s house on December 27th, they saw me off at the train station as I made my way to my relatives house in Oyama City, Tochigi Prefecture. I would be staying for about a week and I only really made plans for one day. The main event of the day would be to go to Ashikaga Flower Park to view the Christmas lights, called illuminations in Japan, but that wouldn’t be until after it got dark so we went to view a couple of other places first. I was told that Oyama was really inaka or country-side but I didn’t really realize it until we took the train. Usually the train doors open and close automatically, however on the local trains in the area there is a panel with buttons to open and close the door. If you don’t press the button when you want to be let off then the door won’t open and you’ll be continuing your ride. Another friend who lives in the inaka once said that her friends called her hometown a different country just because they needed to press buttons to open the train doors. I guess it’s a big deal if you live in the city and have never had to press a button to open your train door in your life 😂
Besides the button to open and close the door the local train platforms and ticket gates are different. Most stations don’t really even have a gate. There’s the ticket machine for you to swipe your PASMO to pay, but there’s no actual gate to stop you from just walking through if you don’t pay. If there is a station attendant (most likely there is not), they end their work shift early anyways so there is nothing but the honor system to ensure a person is paying their fare.
The last major thing that signaled that I had in fact reached the country-side was that the train schedule was displayed on a sign in the train station, with most trains coming at a frequency of twice an hour. To take things into perspective, in Tokyo on the Yamanote Line loop, a train comes every 2-7 minutes so you really don’t have to wait long if you miss the most recent train. However, if you just miss the incoming train then you have to wait 20 to 30 minutes for the next one when you’re in the inaka. Of course I don’t assume that my 1 day of exploring the inaka made me an expert on life in the Japanese country-side but I can guess that it’s pretty much like that with the trains most places you go.
In Tokyo and other big cities you can live your whole life without even having a thought that you might need a car but in the country-side a car is really a necessity. Most likely the nearest shopping mall and grocery store, is not close at all so in order to live you would need a car.
Anyways, I got really distracted. Back to the sight-seeing. Once we arrived at the train station whose name I don’t remember we took a 10-15 minute walk to go and visit Orihime Jinja or Orihime Shrine. I didn’t know anything about what this shrine was dedicated to but according to the sight-seeing website for Tochigi Prefecture:
Orihime Jinja Shrine boasts nearly 1200 years of history and tradition as a shrine dedicated to protecting Ashikaga industry and marriage.
What really stands out about this shrine is that it’s at the top of what seemed like a thousand fairly steep steps. Luckily, the steps are all numbered so you know exactly how many are left before you reach the top. Once we reached the top and my breathing went back to normal, I could appreciate the beautiful view.
On the shrine grounds there is also a soba shop so we stopped there for lunch. It was a beautiful shop with large windows around the perimeter offering a great view of the surrounding areas on the nice clear day. I ended up getting a normal hot soba and my friend ordered a cold dipping soba with a yuzu or citrus sauce. Soba tastes especially good after doing a hike or a little exercise for some reason. After we finished eating lunch we went back down all of the stairs on wobbly-legs and headed to do some more sight-seeing. Unfortunately, most of the shops and temples we wanted to visit were closed because it was a holiday so we ended up having way too much free time. We wandered around the area in circles for a while and then spent most of the time in a bookstore.
After killing over 2 hours of free time we headed back to the train station where we had to wait for the next train to stop by. Once it did we were on our way to Ashikaga Flower Park. When we arrived it was still light out so we didn’t want to walk around quite yet. I was also tempted by the food stalls so I ended up buying karaage and my friend got a taiyaki which is like a fish-shaped waffle usually filled with red bean paste but also sometimes chocolate and other flavors.
When the sun finally went down then we walked around the different areas of the large park. Although it was December 29th already the Christmas themed lights were still available for viewing and it was really impressive. From here we just walked around all of the areas randomly as there wasn’t a clear path or flow of the park. Since nothing much really happened after that I can talk about, I’ll just wrap up the blabber and then insert some pictures of the park.
After we saw everything then we just walked back to the train station taking a shortcut through the campus of my friend’s old high school. It was dark and creepy but I figured that it’s Japan and it’s safe (right?). Anyhow, we got back to the train station and then had to wait around for a bit for our train. It was an older style train where the seats are in pairs of two facing inwards so that you could talk to the people across from you if you wanted to. After we made it back to Oyama Station I said goodbye to my friend and then had to figure out how to get a taxi in Japan for the first time by myself.
After getting a bit lost I eventually made it back to my family’s house and then my one adventure planned for my week in Tochigi was over. It was really fun and I am glad I got to see some of the area while I was there.
If you read this post or have been following my blog for a while I just want to say thank you. I think that this is the last post talking about 2016 and the next one will be about experiencing my first new years in Japan.
Thank you again and take care!