Into the Mountains: Komagane, Nagano (Day 2)

It’s amazing how cold it still gets at night in Nagano even when it was a bright and sunny 75 degrees during the day. Tonight I’ve traded the chilly museum-cafeteria common space for my bunk bed in the still-empty dorm room. The hostel and surroundings are so dark and intensely quiet that it feels much later than 8:30pm. I think there are only two other guests staying at the hostel tonight— two mid-thirties Japanese men, who I walked in on in the common room when I came in to watch TV on my laptop and they were drinking beers and having some sort of dinner that they put together themselves in the simple hostel kitchen.

I woke up a little late this morning, and after showering only made it to the common area 15 minutes before the “breakfast” closed. The breakfast consisted of exactly 2 thick slices of white toast, set up next to a couple of small toaster ovens, along with butter, 3 choices of jam, and one pot of coffee and one pot of tea, between which we were instructed to only choose one. But then again I guess I don’t need much more than toast and coffee in the morning— I just think that such a meagre fare should come free with the bed, rather than the 280yen or whatever it was a meal that I pre-payed. Nonetheless, I had a nice breakfast, sitting on the wooden window seat that overlooked the hostel entryway and onto the lake out front, refilled my coffee cup several times from the little pot, and read the Nabakov novel I’m in the middle of (“Invitation to a Beheading”).

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Hostel breakfast

The mountain “town” near my hostel actually has a decent amount of little (kind of low-quality) restaurants tucked away around the forest lanes but not a single proper store or anywhere you can buy non-prepared food. This presented a bit of a problem for my hiking adventure, since I planned on going on a several-hour course and so needed a lunch to bring with me. In the end, I managed to find a little cafe attached to the tourist center where I bought a to-go box of yakisoba (fried noodles) and another bottle of water. I also got a map of the mountain I was heading towards at the same place.

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Mountain town in the morning

So, well-equipped, I strolled off towards the entrance to Ikeyama mountain. From the town, it was about a 2 hour hike just to reach the starting point of the proper mountain trail. And it wasn’t an easy hike either. It was pretty steep, and laden with a lot of those trail steps fashioned out of logs that are often so much more mendokusai to climb that a normal path would be. But still— it was beautiful. Every step of the trail was encased in endless rows of perfectly straight trees, with the green light of the surrounding mountains melting in from all sides. But after less than an hour of this I was pretty exhausted and had already run through one of my 2 water bottles.

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Beginning of the trail

So when I finally reached the “mountain trail entrance,” which was at the summit of the first mountain, I decided, rather than proceed on for another 4-hour roundtrip trail, I would take a different path down and head towards a park that was marked on the map. So I ate my yakisoba at the square-shaped gazebo-like structure at the top and headed back down.

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View from the top
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Waterfall on the way down

Even though my return path was technically “paved” it was really not much more than chunks of gravel and dirt whisked together to form a road that cars could barely pass over. At one point, after I paused to take a picture of the great mountain range that suddenly broke through the trees next to the road, I turned back and somehow lost my footing and fell hard onto the pavement. I had rolled my ankle badly, so for five minutes or so all I could do was sit in the middle of the road like an invalid, trying to bend and nurse my injured leg. Fortunately (or I don’t know, maybe unfortunately) no cars passed during this time, and I finally managed to get up and slowly resume a limping descent down the mountain road.

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Just before the fall

After about 10 minutes of this slow progress, I passed a look-out point where a noisy, merry band of old Japanese women were taking copious pictures. I paused in front for a moment to check my map and see how far the park was now, and just then they came out and started walking back to their cars. I guess they could see from the way I was standing or something that something was amiss because they asked me if I had come this way walking and, when I answered affirmatively, asked if my legs hurt. I told them that I actually fell on the road further up, at which point they noticed my bloodied and hastily bandaged right hand. (Actually I learned later on that I used the wrong verb for “fell” here so what I actually said was that I fell off the mountain, which explains their shock and concern, which I thought to be a little over-reactive at the time). They started talking rapidly to each other and one of the women took out another bandage and insisted on applying it to my wound. It was too small and it stung when she touched my hand, but I didn’t argue. They told me that they were heading back into town and offered to give me a ride, which I somewhat sheepishly, but really very gratefully, accepted. But just as that was being offered and decided upon, suddenly one of them took out her camera and asked without asking if I would take a picture with them. Before I could respond, they all but pushed me towards the look-out point, which required climbing a short four-or-five-step staircase, and since I was barely managing to walk on flat land, it was only through much awkward limping and pain that I could manage this. And of course the women noticed my discomfort, but never did they hesitate in their goal of getting a picture with me. And really, what is it that they gained from a picture with a random foreign girl, standing awkwardly in the center of their group and towering above them all? It was a bizarre experience, but I just relented and decided this was the price I had to pay in exchange for the ride, which they did indeed give me after the photo session concluded.

When I got back into town I headed straight for the little hot springs resort that I had walked by yesterday. It seems as though this sort of place can be found in literally any city in Japan. In this case, I don’t think it was a proper onsen, which has natural hot spring water, but was more like a very nicely-arranged bath house. I sat outside in the hot water pool, walled in by mountains on all sides, and soaked my weary ankle for over an hour. And afterwards I really think it was much better.

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Mountains at sunset

Tomorrow’s my last day here already, and, according to the strict rules of my hostel, I’ll have to check out by 10am following my silly breakfast. But rather than heading straight back to Tokyo, I’m going to stop over in Kofu in Yamanashi prefecture for a last adventure, or at least as much of an adventure as my injured foot can manage.

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