All posts tagged: train travel

Pilgrim Country!

I, KUKAI, WAS FOND OF WANDERING OVER MOUNTAINS IN MY YOUTH. WENT HIKING TO THE SOUTH FROM YOSHINO FOR ONE DAY AND THROUGH TO THE WEST FOR TWO DAYS. CAME ACROSS A SECRET ELEVATED PLAIN CALLED KOYA… ~ from a very fortuitously situated poster (a copy of which I immediately bought to send home), here in the tourist information centre in Koya where I am tapping out this post — and tapping into some free wifi & electricity — before hitting the pilgrim trail. *          *          *          *          * Hey there, folks. There’s an old monk tapping sporadically at the free PC here in the info centre. Things have changed a tad since Kukai (or Kobo Daishi as he was posthumously renamed) founded the place in the ninth century. Another example: there are a lot more foreigners on the streets these days, including this one. And my pilgrim staff is made of aluminium… I could go on, but I have …

Flying by Falcon, Rocking with Rose

Travelling in Japan is all about the trains — well, except for those annoying mountain-hiking parts. The whole country is a train-spotter’s paradise, with prizes including the almost obscenely streamlined Hayabusa, one of the fastest shinkansen (“bullet trains”) in Japan… ..within which I sped yesterday from Tokyo to Aomori in the extreme north of the main island of Honshu, and the Hamanasu… ..at the opposite end of the train-technology spectrum, which rocked and rollicked through the night, beneath the Tsugaru Strait to emerge onto vast Hokkaido, Japan’s second-largest island. Even the names are cool. Hayabusa means peregrine falcon, and Hamanasu is the Japanese rose, Rosa rugosa,a name which captures its rambling, exuberant energy, even if it’s not especially macho name for a train. I’m typing this aboard the final phase of my Daisetsuzan-bound railway odyssey (there’s still a bus to go after that), a Super Kamui Limited Express from Sapporo to Asahikawa. A quick check suggests that kamui translates as “divine or powerful”. This seems like a favourable omen before my upcoming excursion. That ride aboard the falcon …

Tokyo from Under the Bushes

PEAKS & PILGRIMAGE TOKYO, AUGUST 2013 It’s been a long haul but this post concludes my little Tokyo series. It’s time I embraced the here and now, or at least the here and not-too-many-months-ago. I can at last start on my daunting backlog of Korea posts, like all the lovely Autumn ones — now that Winter is moving in to shake the last of the colour from the maples and the town itself…

Fuji-san: Behind the Veil

PEAKS & PILGRIMAGE TOUR JAPAN, AUGUST 2013 I remember when my friend Andrew and I climbed Mt Fuji just over a decade ago, she was mighty elusive considering she was easily the biggest lump of rock and cinder on the entire archipelago. We had camped near Lake Motosu, and started walking to the mountain base at midday. It took us five hours, down vague tracks and forestry roads, to get to the starting point. Much of the time we were treed in, but even when we found ourselves in the open, with 3,776m of mountain somewhere in front, we often couldn’t see her. Haze, cloud, dense misty air is drawn to her, clinging to her flank like a camouflaging cloak. Then the cloak would shift, you’d be granted a glimpse and — Jesus.

A Phantom in the Forest

PEAKS & PILGRIMAGE TOKYO, AUGUST 2013 Somewhere back home I’ve got two paper journals, handsome volumes in which I used to write my Japanese hike reports. There are an even 50 — this was when my mountain mania was raging, with no cure in sight short of an unplanned plummet over a precipice. On the first page of one there’s a pencil rubbing (I believe that’s the word, unsavory as it sounds) of a kanji (Chinese character) from a well-weathered summit sign. The character is…

On Shape-Shifter Mountain

PEAKS & PILGRIMAGE TOUR TOKYO, AUGUST 2013 The oddly pleasant smell of burning mosquito coils wafted through the upstairs-room window as I slipped into chu-hi-enhanced sleep. Then sometime after midnight I was shaken awake by tremors rippling through the tatami — wondered in the morning if I’d dreamed them till Andrew told me they’d originated up north, somewhere near the site of the Fukushima disaster.

Inokashira: Back to the Source

PEAKS & PILGRIMAGE TOKYO, 2013 I seemed to spend half my waking life on the Chuo Line when I lived in Tokyo. Now I was once again jumping into one of the familiar orange carriages at Nishi Kokubunji, playing a little game of Guess the Next Station from Memory as our kaisoku (rapid) train sped inbound: Kokubunji, Musashi-Koganei, Higashi-Koganei, Musashi-Sakai, Mitaka — and then the next stop on my high-speed visit to places from my Tokyo past: Kichijoji.

One Last Paddle in the Love Pond

PEAKS & PILGRIMAGE TOUR TOKYO, SEPTEMBER 2013 The flight to Japan was the easy part. A couple of hours from Busan we were swooping over a green and crumpled landscape. With a surge of long-dormant affection I gazed down on the farmland and mountains that, even from that height, seemed comfortingly familiar. And what a thrill to recognise an old pal (and on one occasion a formidable foe) in the last light of Wednesday: