The long walk

My journey from Iga-Kambe station to Ueno shi station.

The long winding journey that I cannot recommend enough

Saturday the start of the weekend and the start of my free time. As discussed, November’s theme is exploration and trying something new- and what about checking out my door step a bit further.

The journey started as a laid back one- a train journey from Nabari to Iga-kanbe station which was just a short 10-minute journey.

Upon arrival at Iga-Kambe, I exited the journey and headed straight out of the station and kept walking. Iga-kanbe is a small sleepy community with winding roads, with traditional Japanese houses scattered across the landscape. Cutting through this is the Kizu river and once I crossed it, my real journey began.

Kizu river near Iga-Kanbe station

Crossing the bridge gives a fantastic view of the river and the vast farming expanse ahead. The water was perfectly clear, fish can be seen swimming- even in November and you feel like you are in the middle of no-where even with the road behind. Just seen in the picture is a vast bamboo forest- teaming with life (it was a bit noisy). I followed the pylons into the distance.

A short bridge, and a different world

Looking back gives you an idea of how few people seem to use the bridge and be in the area- a perfect start for a hike from the edge of Iga to its’ heart. Once I continued walking, whilst being deafened by toe roar of the river to my right, and enjoying the mirror effect of the water, I took a right and found a small path with a rice paddy sandwiched between 2 railways.

An island of peace, between the Igatetsudo line and the Kintetsu line


 This path, even with trains coming and going, felt almost like being on an isolated island without another soul for miles. There was a delicious smell of rice being released while the thud, thud of my footsteps- along with nature- was my only music for the day.

Memorials to the deceased

The path came to an abrupt ending and a Buddhist temple greeted me.  来迎寺 (or raikou-ji) temple is a popular place of worship for locals and services still get a high turnout. The temple has a extremely large grave yard and more impressively, a mountain of memorial stones (pictured above).

Walking through the stone tori gate, and following the Japanese tradition of bowing, the previous carefree atmosphere was replaced by a reverent one- even the wind seemed silent. Stones crunched below my feet while I looked around. A statue of a Buddhist monk seemed to watch my movements while I walked around the court-yard, enjoying the peace and quite of the temple.

After leaving, I turned right and walked through the small community surrounding Hido station.

Hido is very much in the countryside and fields surround each settlement built in the traditional Japanese style, and in the modern-traditional Japanese design (see house in picture), with housewives rushing around while men stand and chat.

Children ran around weaving in and out of buildings and in the middle of this was a sacred stone hidden behind a small stone tori gate. The kanji was a bit too faded to see but the pond was a welcomed sight. I was something a bit different to see and to discover. Additionally, large paper dotted around- giving it an almost festive atmosphere.

An island of stone

I decided to explore the local area and while following route 422, I look a left and walked in isolation while ensuring I remained alive dodging Japanese drivers until I came across 城之越遺跡- or the Shironokoshi castle ruins. I have seen the ruins advertised on many occasions (a sign advertising it cam be seen while riding on the Iga-tetsudo line) and I finally went- initial thoughts not too bad.

The entrance to the ruins

There is nothing remaining of the building that once was located here, but it has been turned into a park- showing you what once stood there and why it was important for the local area. Additionally, there is a small museum located on the site in the car park as well. However, I cannot review the museum as it is closed on weekends. If you are interested, adult entry is 200 JPY.

The archaeologists who excavated the site have marked the load-bearing pillars of the castle with marble cylinders to give observers an idea of the scale of the castle- which is a small Japanese castle. The castle would have been similar to the one in Nisshin-shi, Aichi-ken. The rest of the site is now gardens, with each species of tree labelled- not a bad place for a picnic or drawing but not much else.

All that is in place of what once lay here

I continued on wards, climbing a small hill while enjoying the sights and sounds of nature. Along the way I was not just dodging cars, but dragon flies and praying mantises as well.

A little friend


The small winding road from the castle ruins to Uebayashi station was a long walk up a hill with the road being boarded by bamboo on both sides. On this small mountainous road, large construction vehicles seemed to enjoy speeding along.

Dragon flies fly in the rich blue sky

The shade gave a blessed relief from the hot sum overhead- it was only 20 degrees, but when walking for hours, even warm weather can feel overbearing.

The long, winding road

Just beyond this section, was a small lake and a muddy road disappearing into the distance. I had a choice- continue along the nice road or take a change to discover something new. I took a change and it paid off.

I was somewhat aware of the crystal-clear lakes near Uebayashi station- they are exceptionally hard to miss on the train, and I have always wanted to explore this area- and I got my chance.

The ninja train at Uebayashi

The lake appeared while walking along a tiny road, framed with rice fields and, strangely, electrified fences- which are quite an uncommon sight in Japan; especially for a rice field. By chance the pink ninja train was coming along, and the results of which you can see. The mirror effect of the water was an exceptionally nice thing to see.

The middle of no-where, or so it seem

Continuing along the path, the framed path suddenly opened up and gave way to some beautiful scenery. Iga is located within a valley and it is a fact that is often forgotten by note just myself- but residents of Iga as well. But as you can see by the sun’s position, I was starting to run out of time and at this point I had barely started my journey.

I started wondering again, at a slightly faster pace- my goal was to get to 四十九駅 (literally Station 19) before nightfall as this station marks the beginning of urban Iga city. I spent some time just wondering by acres upon acres of farmland, enjoying the sound of cicadas, the buzzing of dragon flies, and the thud of my footsteps. There were many people that I came across on my journey- all of whom greeted me with an almost customary nod of the head and a こんにちは!- which I responded enthusiastically to.

Once I had crossed 比自岐川 (Hijiki river), and entered a small village surrounding 丸山城跡 (The Maruyama castle ruins). The village is isolated, exceptionally quite and almost idyllic in its setting. The ruins are located on top of a hill behind the village and was quite a climb.

The path up to the ruins was quite a challenging climb- in trainers (I’ve not yet got hiking boots…),  but the smell of mud, was prevalent as was the sounds of leaves ruffling. It was a very nice climb, and it is one I recommend anyone who is physically able to do so. There is parking in the vicinity (for about 5 cars)and the climb is up a steep muddy hill.

After scaling, and descending I was really running out of time. I therefore decided to walk along route 422 to see more of the Kizu river (木津川)- which I have seen hints of on the train and that was all. This was another decision that I am very happy to say was a good one.

Kizu river, further down-stream

 Ignoring the fact time was running out fast (look at the sun), the river was beautiful. There were several storks along the banks (in November I have to add), massive sandy ‘beaches’ along the way. The entire area is a wildlife protection area and the area has certainly benefited from it. I made several stops along the way, at another Buddhist temple and at a shrine as well- but I’ll save those for another day. That was Inako (依那古) and I followed route 422 until crossing over to see the highlight of Iga- the nature.

Rural Japan

When people ask: “What is Japan like?”, this is the picture that comes to mind. I have lived in 2 places in Japan- both of which are semi-rural so this is my image of Japan. Not Tokyo (shinjyuku/ Akihabara), nor any other major city.

What I especially like is the field of flowers in the foreground which sets the perfect tone.

It was starting to get dark and after visiting another shrine near Idamichi station (猪田道駅), my goal of getting to 四十九駅 before dark was looking bleak. The road from Idamichi to Shijukyu was perilous and there was no footpath. After trying to follow the main road to Shijuku station, I gave up after fearing for my life. I crossed the train tracks and want the rural way to urban Iga- which gave way to my last photo of the day: a beautiful photo of dusk.

A close up of clouds in the sky

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Dusk, the final frontier

This area is just rice fields as long as the eye can see, and it is beautiful.

After this, my only goal was to get to 上野市駅 (Ueno-shi station), which was a 40-minute walk away at this point. The walk at this point was through housing estates (a more western style), which quickly followed to an extremely Japanese housing estate of yester-year. Finally, after visiting Iga for quite a length of time, Iga gave the impression of being a city. The walk to the station was through typical inter-city housing, department stores and shops and restaurants galore. Iga may be rural but inner-city Iga gives the impression of a much larger city than it actually is.

The final stats for this walk are: 3 hours 40 walking, 16.9 km covered. Included in this is 2 breaks, multiple photos taken and random dancing while walking (I was definitely enjoying myself). For those of you that are wondering- yes there were many, many, many more photos that I took.

I hope you enjoyed my journey of exploration today- and I hope that you will also consider taking a similar walk either in Iga or wherever you may live.

As always, thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Review: Watasei, soft furnishings and clothing

A フワフワ (fluffy) place for all your needs

Futons, cushions and mats to name a few

While shopping in Aeon town in Iga, I saw a store with fluffy things outside and as winter is coming, I was in the market for a new rug- my apartment gets a bit cold.

What I cam across was a treasure-trove of a store that sells everything and everything soft. The store opens up to a sea of bedding and cushions galore in every size imaginable and even ones for any four legged friends you may have.

More importantly, it is cheap. Pricing depends on what you buy and in what size, the bigger, the more expensive which is a very logical pricing policy.

But what do they sell? They sell bedding, rugs, towels, futons, and clothing for men, women, and children. The final note on the clothing is that it’s very cheap and good quality. Forget GU, if you have a Watasei nearby, please check it out- it’s worth a look.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.


Next- a long journey

Product: a sweet treat

An introduction to the world of Japanese treats for only ¥69

A small treat cheap treat

When looking for a sweet treat most people look at chocolate, or ice cream, or something else that is usually at least ¥100, but here’s a tip- look at the cheap treats occasionally you come accross a gem.

We’ll start with the gaburi-chew. Thing of a 10 cm high chew andcyou have the taste and the texture of it. It’s a chewy berry flavoured bar and was ¥32, not a bad start.

This product immediately caught my attention with Felix the cat on it and they were ¥9 each so I bought them blindly. They were as packet does say bubble gum, cheap artificial strawberry flavoured straight from my childhood. They are identical to the cheap hubba bubble, the cheap 20p (0.20 GBP) bubble gum and I enjoyed every one.

The game inside is a Japanese classic called あみだくじ(amidakuji). The rules are simple, start at either 1,2,3,4 or 5 and follow the line at each intersection to see if you end up at the strawberry. Be careful, you could end up releasing a snake or a bear etc. Its a bit boring but a bit of fun for kids.

Finally, we have the corn snack which is teriyaki flavoured. With these you must be careful because some of them are just horrible. My favourite so far is the teriyaki one and at just ¥10, I recommend trying multiple to find which ones you prefer.

I have dipped my toe into the world of Japanese snacks, and will do so again soon.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Review: Nitori, homestore

The homestore that seems to have everything

The kitchen isle, soo many nice things

Nitori seems to be a more upmarket home store when compared to Nafco as it just sells furniture, crockery, ornaments etc when Nafco also sells cleaning supplies, building supplies etc. For my British readers, Nafco is the range/ B&Q while Nitori is Laura Ashley/ Dunhelm mill.

When going into the store, you first come across the seasonal isle (which features the C word- see previous post), followed by bedding and soft furnishings- at quite good prices.

If you are in the market for a western style bed or even a mattress, thus store has you covered- they offer a good range of products at a reasonable price (the author cannot give his personal opinion on mattresses here as he sleeps on a futon) and for those of you who are worried, there are the same sizes as you would find in Europe, the UK, or the USA.

Additionally, they have entire isles of smaller items from candles and scents- which collectively smells fantastic, to mirrors and frames (which were extremely cheap), to knickknacks and jewellery holders.

For those that need to furnish a house or an apartment, they do offer delivery services (which are dependant on items bought, current offers, distance from store etc).

Overall, Nitori is a store I would definitely check out and the best ones I have been to so far are Nabari and in Ise.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Review: Sports depo

The reason I have no money

So many clothes and I have little money

Sports depo is a sports shop which sells any thing and everything relating to sports. This includes sports wear for men, women and children; shoes- from trainers to football boots, caps, underwear, engraved football shorts etc.

Additionally, it has the best range of vitamins, supplements, and proteins that I have seen from any Japanese store.

The baseball and under armour sections

What is brilliant about the shops is the dedicated sections to each sport, brand and item. Want free weights? Go to the gym accessories section. Want a hiking pole? Go to hiking etc.

Additionally, the staff are always friendly and seem to be knowledgeable and simply know what their talking about.

But, you may be thinking, is the downside to such a wonderland of sporting wear and gear? Simply put, the price.

While the shop has items on sale and frequent offers online,any items are full retail price and they soon mount up. But there are very good prices on offer here, but you need to be careful- like everywhere else in Japan.

Final thoughts, would I recommend it? Definitely, I love the range of, well, everything they have. Just be careful of not buying into the ‘it’s cheap for Japan’ trap.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

It never seems to end…

Vending macines: a healthy choice?

Japan, the land of vending machines but is it a cause of ill health as well?

Kirin, one of the major vending machine operators

Japan is known as having a very high number of vending machines serving everything from snacks, drinks, alcohol to books, rice and ice cream. But just looking at 2 typical vending machines, are the choices they offer healthy or not?

The first thing to note about the kirin vending machine is that it offers both hot (red) and cold (blue) drinks, perfect for any season- so the temptation begins.

Of the hot drinks, 2 of the 6 are black coffee, no sugar nor milk so you’re looking at a calorie free drink. The other drinks ar standard hot drinks with milk and sugar so in the 100-200+ kcal range. The other drinks on the bottom row are the same but cold instead, so 3/12 drinks are very low in calories.

Starting from the top right, there’s green tea (few calories); an amino acid and vitamin drink- quite a bit of sugar but tastes good; a standard sports drink to replenish ions (salts); mets lemonade which has few calories and no sugar and tastes great; soda water with no sugar and added minerals; large black coffee–no sugar; large milk tea- with added sugar; oat tea- few calories; lemonade with added sugar and water.

Of that entire selection, the drinks that have sugar in for no purpose are the kirin lemon, and the tea. All the others, excluding the sports drinks, have little sugar. Additionally sports drinks are recommended for extremely hot weather in Japan-sugar and all (it didn’t drop below 30 degrees for 3 months!).

The count: healthy drinks 13/24. Now the last row- summary: there’s three drink with no added sugar/good for you: the fruit tea, the giant Yakut, and the Tropicana.

Final total: 16/36 or 44% of the selection consisting of health drink- that is not to say the others cannot be part of a healthy diet.

A smaller company with its selection

Itô is a much smaller company but I’ll quickly list this companies’ offerings in this vending machine:

  • 6 Japanese teas
  • sports drink
  • peach soda
  • sparkling water
  • water
  • 2 black coffees- no milk or sugar
  • green tea
  • 青汁 (Ao-jiru)- vegetable juice
  • tea
  • Peach soda
  • 2 yoghurt
  • soda
  • lemon soda
  • water
  • vitamin C drink
  • 5 milk coffees
  • 2 black
  • 2 coffees milk no sugar
  • 2 coffees
  • black coffee

This vending machine offers 21 healthier drinks out of a total of 36.

Please note this is a small survey of vending machines but out of a total of 72 drinks, 37 are ‘healthy’ drinks. This is a healthy total of 51%, a marginal majority.

Final thoughts: these vending machines offer some healthy drinks and can be handy if you’re in need in either summer or winter but do be careful. There are some good options but more unhealthy than healthy.

Note on this ‘investigation’

If I expanded this investigation for all the vending machines in Nabari or at least in a larger area for example, ensuring a representative sample (from each company), there would be a much clearer picture.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Review: Axtos gym

A good gym for the price?

I will say I am a member of Axtos gym under the anytime plan with insurance. The reason why I say this is that it costs me just over 10,000 JPY a month to go (and I may have been quite bad in the last month…). But is Axtos worth it?

Axtos offers several levels of membership from daytime (mornings), anytime, professional, to evenings and weekends only. It is a strange system, but the most basic package is 7000 JPY (for daytime), and each additional time that you can go, increases the price. Insurance is an extra 500 JPY a month- but you do get a discount card for quite a few places across Japan.

Axtos in Nabari has a swimming pool, free weights, cardio equipment, Sauna, and general weight training equipment. But there is one VERY importance difference compared to western gyms- etiquette.

You arrive to the gym in whatever footwear you desire, then take them off, put them into a shoe locker and go to the changing room. You only put on your training shoes once you enter the exercise area- want to do yoga or use the mats? Take off your shoes. Forgot something in the locker room? Take off your shoes.

This is a classic example of inside and outside culture in Japan but more likely at Axtos is for hygiene reasons.

The last bit of etiquette is that you are expected to clean any equipment you use (and clean well). This is one policy I wish all gyms in the UK followed so strictly.

Do I enjoy going? Yes, I love it (I’m known as the foreigner who goes to Axtos). Do I think there could be more equipment and weights- definitely? Why haven’t I gone? Lazy/ I did not go with an injured foot (didn’t stop working out without the gym though). Is it the best gym in the world and 100% worth the money- I’ll use the German word Jein (yes and no). Why haven’t I changed gym then?

Nabari doesn’t have much choice and it is the best and most convenient gym in this area.

Overall, (this will sound strange) I would continue to go even if there was another gym. All the staff are professional, I have had some brilliant conversations with people- and seeing a 60-year-old do full on yoga when you cannot touch your toes is humbling. DO I wish it was cheaper, of course but the price ensures that I go (ignoring the last month).

My one word of caution, Japanese only. But if you do have a Japanese friend who’s a member and they refer you, you’ll get a 1000 JPY gift card- it’s a little something at least!

When will I go back? I’m there now- go health month!

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Review: Club sega

A nice distraction but don’t expect to win

Club sega is your typical Japanese arcade with UFO machines (offering the chance to win figures and food), medal games (slot machines using metal tokens), music games, classical arcade games, and photo stickers.

While there is a lot, arcades like this are almost systemic in Japan. While gambolling in Japan is illegal, there is room for interpretation with pachinko, slots and arcades.

The club in Nabari is nothing special- but it doesn’t need to be. Nabari is in the 田舎(INAKA- or country side), and while there is a generalisation that such places don’t have much- it can be true for Nabari.

All-in-all, it’s a bit of fun, but make sure that it stays that way- set a budget before arrival and stick to it- I stuck to 1000 JPY (and I didn’t win anything) and while I could have spent more, you need to be aware of how much things generally cost. If I won a figure I wanted, it may have cost 5000 JPY to win but I could buy it for 1500 JPY. It’s all about what’s more important to you: winning no matter the cost (literally) or balancing a bit of fun with the change of winning.

I much prefer watching people play on YouTube while they waste their money.

If you go have fun but be warned.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Review: Nafco

The homestore that has everything

When living in Japan, occasionally there is a need to buy furniture, tools or other common items that help a house run smoothly- enter Nafco.

Nafco is a home furniture giant that have hundreds of stores scattered across Japan, mostly concentrated in Kyushu (with 194 stores) and radiating outwards to further regions- each with less stores, Hokkaido having none.

But what does such a store have, you may ask. Nafco has everything from building supplies, gardening supplies, cleaning products, pet products, bicycles, furniture, beds, kitchens, and even coffee.

But my favourite sections are the reduced sections (no surprise there)- they usually sell off their old products at very good process but there is still a ‘it’s cheap for Japan’ feeling on occasion with a wireless mouse for 3000 JPY (with 30% off).

General household items are usually brilliant prices. Soaps, shampoo, laundry detergent- or any other cleaning supply is very cheap when compared to a supermarket. This extends to their stationery and pet food sections.

Additionally, they have a work clothing section- for which I do frequent- with a good range of products at a brilliant price. If your feet are normal sized (not Godzilla sized) they also sell a good range of footwear from crocs, to trainers/sneakers, to work gear, and wellington boots.

The homeware section is massive (an entire floor of it) and they sell so many items. While shopping, there is not a feeling of being in a warehouse (like other massive stores) but a department store instead- which always helps.

If you ever needed a proper desk or computer gaming chair- they can also be bought here starting at 12,000 JPY- which is a normal price for the US and UK markets.

Finally, there is also a point card available. When you spend money here, you acuminate points which can be used to either reduce the price of future transactions or completely pay for them.  

Conclusion, it’s a very good place to go to but be careful in pricing- it can be a bit up and down at times and the gardening section has many plants- brilliant for your gardening needs.

If you have the inclination, please check it out.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.