Weather: I know that this might be getting a bit boring but … it was another lovely sunny day.
MP3 track of the day: Clocks - Coldplay
Getting up at 6:10am is not my most favourite thing to do whilst on holiday. I had however, got up as late as I possibly could have done. As I'd had a lovely long shower the night before, I skipped having one this morning and, once dressed with my teeth cleaned, I left my hotel at 6:45am and walked towards the train station. Now, most of Japan's rail network is run by 'Japan Rail'; therefore government owned. There are however a few private lines and here I was, about to use one which has stations in pretty much all of Kansai's major areas of interest. The reason I opted for this private company was that, though I had two changes to make to get to my destination, it was by far the cheapest mode of transport. I therefore boarded my first train within the centre of Nara and made my first 'change' five minutes later. Twenty minutes after that and I had made my final change. All that these changes had achieved, was to get me to the southern edge of the city of Nara, (the first train took me east before the second train took me south) ready to head south-west towards my goal for today; Ise. My final train, though cheap, would take a whopping ninety minutes to arrive at Ise train station.
With so much time I switched between looking outside and reading my guidebook's entry about Ise. Though the Ise peninsular has been dedicated as a national park, I am not that likely to find any peace. The reason Ise is a national park is because it houses two shrine sites – Ise-jingu (Gekpu) and Ise-jingu (Naikpu) – which are said to be the home of the sun goddess Amaterasu, from whom it was once believed that all Japanese Emperors are descended (even today, the Emperor and his family make offerings at these shrines). Therefore Ise is what Mecca is to the Muslims, a pilgrimage which all Japanese people try to do once in their life time. An average 6.5 million Japanese visitors visit the shrines each year - which are rebuilt every twenty or so years in order to 'purify' the ground – and, luckily for me, the new year is the number one time to make that pilgrimage. I closed my guidebook. Japan's population is falling dramatically; lots of people are at work. How busy can a shrine site actually get?
After I'd finished reading my guidebook the obvious happened in regards to public transport. Everyone within my carriage were minding their own business when, through the door, came a chubby bloke with a read face, ear muffs and two huge pieces of cotton wool stuck up his nostrils so that his nose looked like a pigs. He was also trying to mimic the sound of the train whilst talking to his imaginary friend. Oh great; a nutter! Luckily he sat at the other end of the carriage from me and would mind his own business … for the majority of the time. On occasions, out of nowhere, he would get up and approach a group of girls, trying to shake their hands whilst saying 'bye, bye' as the train was moving. As neither him nor the group of girls had any intention of leaving it was all rather bizarre. Once, he almost got left behind at a station when he, for some unknown reason, decided to get off the train for a walk. As you can tell, along with my music player and the view, he did provide some entertainment.
I knew that we were getting close to Ise as the nutter couldn't sit still. He paced up and down the carriage, not once thinking about venturing forth into any of the other carriages. Once we had finally arrived, I allowed him to depart well before I did. Once at the ticket gate I was a little surprised that my cheap ticket was accepted and I was allowed to pass unhindered. My first stop was the local information office where I met a frosty looking lady who could speak English. I told her that I was thinking of visiting the two famous shrines before taking the train all the way to Kashikojima – the final stop located at the bottom of this national park. According to my map, the train line ran through the heart of the park therefore, I thought the views would be good. Afterwards I would head off home.
She first gave me the times for my train home before opening up a big map of the city of Ise where she started to draw big circles – I've noticed that tourist information people like to highlight and draw circles – around the two famous shrines. She told me that the first shrine was accessible by foot whereas, I'd better take a bus to the second. She told me that there was a street near to the second shrine – Okage-Yokocho – which, though very touristy, was lined with old looking samurai buildings. Finally she gave me the train times to Kashikojima however, she couldn't tell me when trains returned. I thanked her before leaving the train station.
How busy can this place be? It would appear that all of Japan was visiting Ise on this day. As it turned out, I really didn't need to have gone into the tourist information office for information about the shrines; the sheer amount of people – all heading in the same direction – was a give away. I followed the crowds dodging through them in order to get to the shrine as quickly as possible. Another way I managed to save time was whenever a Japanese 'gate' came into view. It would appear that, on this holiest of days, the Japanese people must walk through the gate, bow, and then proceed on their journey. This left the spaces on either sides of the gates free for me to speed through and make up some ground. I finally made it to the first temple – Gekpu – and was a little disappointed. Due to the fact that all of the temples have to be rebuilt every twenty years or so, the whole place looked brand new. There appeared to be little history behind anything standing though, watching the people flock to pray at these shrines was interesting. I took a few photos before departing.
Once I'd finished at the first shrine, I then wanted to get to the second – Nakipu. The queue for the bus to this shrine was incredible; it snaked around and around, occupying all the available space within the bus station. Not looking forward to joining a queue longer than some countries, I opened up my guidebook to see if it was at all possible to walk. My guidebook stated that the Nakipu shrine was six kilometres from Ise therefore, that was a 'no'. I therefore purchased an over priced bus ticket and joined the end of the only queue on Earth which could be seen from space. Once again, Japanese efficiency pulled through and, even though the queue was massive, it didn't actually take that long until I boarded a bus. Sadly though, it would appear that the town of Ise had appealed for every bus within thirty miles and this meant that all sorts of bus and coaches were lined up ready to take people to the temple. The one I'd boarded was designed in an age where people didn't have legs. I therefore sat uncomfortably for the entire journey.
Six kilometres my elbow! Though it took twenty minutes or so to get to the temple, this was due to the sheer volume of traffic. As I looked into the distance, a bus lane had been created by the police however, there were so many buses and coaches that they practically touched bumper-to-bumper all the way to the temple. Our driver must be someone who 'feels the cold' as the heaters were turned up to full. All-in-all I was glad when we finally departed. I got off the bus and saw this huge mob of people waiting to walk over a wooden bridge which would take then to 'shrine number two' – Naikpu.
The actual shrines within Naikpu were a lot like the shrines within Gepku however, they were spread over a larger distance and were further into the national park therefore, the surrounding vegetation was extremely eye-catching. Some of the trees within this part of the park were huge and went high into the sky. A river also ran through the Naikpu site and this provided another opportunity for people to throw away their money needlessly. Once I'd photographed the main shrines I left the area however, I didn't return to the bus park. Back over the bridge, and to my right, was the 'touristy' samurai street which was lined with shops and filled with so many people that most of them weren't actually moving. I decided to forgo this street and opted to walk down one which, though running parallel, was abandoned of all life. Once I'd proceeded halfway down this 'parallel street', I went back onto the samurai street where I discovered that the crowds had reduced because the there were no shops within this part of the street. I decided to walk back to Ise, stopping at a fast-food place for lunch – my first proper lunch of this trip!
Once back in Ise the time was 1:30pm. Due to the numbers of people, it had taken me four hours to see the two temple sites and now my trip to Kashikojima was in jeopardy. I inquired into when the next train to Kashikojima left and, a very helpful train attendant told me that it was due to leave in ten minutes. He helped me buy a ticket and took me to the platform in question where I just made it in time. Once sat down, I did some maths. As the station attendant and I were running to catch this train, he told me that it took an hour to get to Kashikojima; that would get me there at 2:40pm. My train back home left at 3:57pm meaning that, unless the train returned as soon as it stopped, I was unlikely to catch my return train. I started to worry. Though 4pm is still relatively early on any normal day, I currently find myself within the middle of one of Japan's most important holiday seasons therefore, things finish early. I wasn't worried about getting back to Ise, I was worried about getting back to my hotel in Nara. I was so worried that I thought about getting off the train earlier and just abandoning the idea however, I did not. I persevered with my plan though I found it hard to enjoy the journey and concentrate on the activity I'd planned to do whilst on this train … look out at the national park all around me. This actually didn't matter. Though the train line ploughed through the centre of this national park, it either did so through tunnels or with houses very close to the lines. When I did get to see the land, it was pretty barren and devoid of life due to the season. At some points I did get to see the sea and that was very pretty indeed though, it wasn't the prettiest coastline I've ever seen. The same too went for the occasional mountain I could see. All-in-all the trip hadn't been worth it and, to top it all, I was still worrying about getting my train back to Nara.
I never did step out of Kashikojima station. Once the train arrived, I quickly ran through the ticket gate, bought a new ticket and re-boarded. The train was scheduled to leave three minutes after it had arrived and god knows when the next train was after that. Being me I decided to play it safe. As the train pulled out at 2:43pm, I could finally relax; I knew that it would take an hour to get back to Ise and that left me a good fourteen minutes to catching my train back to Nara. I was now beginning to relax however, that didn't help the scenery become any more pleasing. Neither did the fact that another nutter had now boarded and spent the whole journey swinging left to right whilst looking out of the driver's window. Once again, train noises seemed to be his thing.
We arrived three minutes late. I dashed through the ticket gate, purchased my ticket for Nara and went back through the ticket barriers to arrive at my platform two minutes before my train left. Once boarded I sat down relieved. I had planned on trying to take a different train – therefore a different route – home however, I'd decided not to push my luck and so I had boarded a train which followed the same route as I'd taken to Ise. Sitting on the seats in front of me was a very young couple who were either starting their holiday or just finishing it. I tried not to stare however, the girl had such a beautiful smile it was difficult not to. It was warm and filled with sincerity. She had a box of cakes which she couldn't wait to open. She halved one and shared it with her boyfriend. Though the scene is quiet a mundane one, there was something in her smile and the way she couldn't wait to share her cake – she couldn't wait to hear what her boyfriend thought – that made it so heart warming. Though I'd seen a lot of praying this was the most genuine, and beautiful, act I've witnessed throughout my entire trip. What did spoil it a little was that the third nutter of the day (are they employed by the train company?) sat down next to them shortly after they had finished their cake.
After ninety minutes I alighted the train. I then had to repeat this mornings two train changes – but in the opposite order – to get me into the centre of Nara. Once in Nara, I had wanted to go to the bakery 'Vieda France' for a pastry dinner however, the store was only open for another hour therefore, their stock was probably past it's best. I therefore retired back to the restaurant I'd been to every night so far and ordered a spaghetti bolognese with salad, soup and a lovely hot bread roll. Afterwards I had a chocolate cake for dessert.
With dinner done I returned to my hotel where I told the owner all about my day. I then planned how I was going to get to Osaka tomorrow before I started to write this blog. So this ends my stay in Nara and wow, hasn't it gone quickly. Tomorrow I shall be moving onto my final stop of my 'Kansai tour' – Osaka – after which I will head home. It's not fare … I save up for months on end to do these trips and they go past in the blink of an eye. I can still remember my trip around Himeji-jo as if it was yesterday. Someone, please stop the clocks.