Bike ride: 比奈知ダム or Hinachi Dam

My journey to Hinachi Dam, Nabari

Hinachi lake at Hinachi Dam

Quite a while ago, I posted a bike ride on my journey to Shorenji-dam in Nabari and I called it “Nabari Dam” despite there being more than one…never mind. The argument for Shorenji-dam being called Nabari dam is a weak one for one simple reason- it doesn’t feed Nabari river- unlike Hinachi-dam (no more names now I swear)!

The journey to the second dam started bright and early on a cloudy day- which was great for lighting but no so great for capturing colours- but that doesn’t matter as much since it is winter.

The location is a brilliant one- at least on google Maps. If you are interested in going to the dam on foot, arrive at Kikyogaoka station and walk towards the Mega Don Quijote and continue walking- eventually you’ll find your way to the dam. Additionally, there is a bus- but busses in Nabari are a bit inconvenient.

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The journey to the dam

Do you love cycling? Do you love cycling on a bike that has seen better days? How about one that is not designed for life in Nabari going up a hill for several kilometres? Sound fun? No- but strangely it was.

The journey to the dam is entirely uphill – which makes perfect sense (it’s a dam) and most of the way there are dedicated footpaths (or cycle paths in my case) which were extremely helpful as Japanese drivers in rural areas love to speed.

As the ascent continued, houses became infrequent and forests started emerging- most signs of urban life faded away into vast open countryside- an escape that was completely needed.

Near Shimohinachi, Nabari

The journey at this point seemed a world away from Nabari- even with my slow ascent. The views were fantastic- but more importantly, it was brilliant exercise.

Upon arrival at the dam, you are greeted with the most fantastic views of the lake and of the surrounding countryside- with nay a person in sight.

The view from on top of the dam

The dam is slightly different from Shorenji-dam in construction but not use. The dam operates as a hydroelectric generation station in addition to providing water for household, industrial, and agricultural use. But the main selling point, similar to the other dam, is flood protection in times of heavy rainfall of typhoons. This is still a concern to many in Nabari which is one of the reasons for its constriction and for recent construction works happening along all rivers in Nabari- additionally a third dam is being built in the area set for completion by Reiwa.

The dam is 355 m long and 70.5 m high (or 14.2 Shinkansens long and 4.5 great Buddhas high according to the signs) and has a potential holding capacity for 20,800,000 m^3 of water but normally contains just 18,400,000 m^3 of water (or 1.84×10^7 m^3 of water- which looks so much better).

Similar to the other dam, the river it feeds goes through Iga, Nara, and eventually releases its’ load into Osaka bay- so it does help a lot of people by working.

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It has the most fantastic road surrounding the lake and bridges along the way, with a car park and a small park- AKA a brilliant track for running and cycling (there were quite a few of us). The roads are brilliant and it is a fantastic journey- with few cars (except when I went through a tunnel and 5 appeared behind me) and a flat riding surface (the start notwithstanding!).

The journey back was a lovely way to cool down- it was mostly downhill again through the countryside. The signs of urbanization slowly seeped back into my journey until Nabari was unveiled- even with going a more scenic way along the river.

Final stats were a total journey length of 22.42 km, and an elevation increase of 280 m.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

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Iga, the ninja journey

A journey around the heart of Iga

City hall with that sign….

As I live in the area, some of the nuances that tourists seem to love are a bit lost on me. Nevertheless, I was a tourist but 5 years ago when I visited the city as a foreign exchange student. But, new age I hope comes experience and today, we’ll look at my journey through Iga city.

Firstly, here’s a bit of cute- which was advertisement for the ninja costumes you can rent while touring the ninja city (mostly popular with young children and families).

Who’s a cute dog?

Upon exit from the Ninja train station I was greeted with this cute sight- which doesn’t happen when commuting to work. These 3 are adorable and even the taxi driver (there is a taxi rank located behind me) got out and took a picture.

But onward I went, until I came to the main reason for my visit: the NINJA experience. Firstly, the downside: when I last came I only took part in the Ninja experience and museum and this is exactly the same: from the actions taken to the displays. However, this does not mean that it is not worth doing.

Firstly price: to visit Iga castle, take part in the Ninja experience and visit the lantern hall (called the だんじり会館) it is 1750 JPY- which is the combined ticket price. Buying this is easier and it does save a bit of money. But, If you only want to visit 1 or 2 of the sites, pay for a single entry- it is cheaper. Firstly, we’ll look at Iga castle.

伊賀上野城 or Iga castle has been present on the site in some form since it was built. The castle dates back to 1585 or 天正15年 when the ruling family started to build it. The site once held smaller building surrounding the castle and it was once a hive of activity.

Just north-west of the castle is the ruins of the castle hall- which served as the living spaces for the castle helpers, the attendants and everything else which the main castle would have needed including housing the kitchen area, the tax office, and other offices a head of state needs to have.

All that remains of the heart of the operation

The site of the castle office, now seems to be ignored by locals and tourists alike as just a part space. The boarders you can see marked out show where each room once stood and markers name the rooms both in English and Japanese. but still people walk on past.

In 1611 or 慶長16年 building work gor underway around the castle and 30 m 本丸 or walls were erected- which was and still is the tallest of any castle in Japan, making Iga castle one of the “100 most famous castles in Japan”, one of the reasons for a high volume of Japanese visitors.

A lovely look at the 本丸 and the wider Iga area.

The castle was once a central part of nationwide defense as there was a high risk of rebellions due to the climate at the time and after the erection of the increased defenses in 1611, on the 2nd of September 1612, the Tenshu (天守 or castle tower was destroyed in high winds. The decision to not rebuild the castle was made in 1615 at the start of Genwa 天和元年.

Fast forward to 1935, 320 years later, Katsu Kawasaki (川崎克) started restoration/ rebuilding the castle out the tensho was created out of wood- which is what can be seen today.

The castle is also known as “white phoenix” castle.

The castle is a fantastic thing to explore but it is NOT accessibility friendly. There are no lifts at all and all stair cases are extremely steep, but it is worth it. The castle has almost become a community center, showing the history and culture of Iga and of the Iga district. In addition to this, the castle hosts many artifacts from the castle era, showcasing the strange articles of war, war time documents and art and poetry created by the castles inhabitants.

There are many things I could point I which I liove when I visit but I will do but 2. Firstly, on the top floor, there are 46 individually created from many different people. Secondly, the view of Iga- take a look for yourself:

You can actually see Nara-prefecture from here.

The next stop was the ninja experience, and I got to say it was a bit of fun. Admittidaly I did end up speaking to a Japanese professor and we did have a bit of a laugh, mostly at my height and being in a tradational Japanese house. Nevertheless the tour. There are 2 types of tour on offer: with or without the ninja weapons exbition- I went for without (but I went with previously).

A ninja’s house

The attendant who guided the group around, explained that the roof was so steep by design- it made it harder for enemy ninjas to enter the property. Which bring us nicely to the first point- the fist part of this is a group guided experience and it is wheelchair friendly.

Upon entry, you must take off your shoes (it is Japan), you are guided into the living room where some ninja tricks are performed- along with the explanation of how and why. There are tours in English, but there are a lot more in Japanese.

The guildes explain quite a bit about the way of the ninja and what precaustions they took to ensure everything remained safe while ensuring that everything was done to amaze and amuse.

Following this, the tour leads onto the museum where exhibits are presented in English and Japanese which show ninja artifacts and tell you how many things were done. As this tour is designed for children and adults in 2 different languages, the explanations given are more of an overview but helpful never the less.

There is just one artifact that I will talk about in more detail: the 4 sided shrunken. What I will say is that there is no problem with the Japanese side- there is a problem with western cultural knowledge. This shuriken is known as a Manji-shriken and is written with the kanji: 卍手裏剣, see the problem. To make matters worse, the translation of 卍 or まんじ is swastika which really does evoke any positive feelings to a European’s ear.

Finally, there was but more more building which housed further information and a gift shop with some brilliant books about the history of ninja and plenty of general ninja merch including T-shirts, rubber kunai, pens, etc.

The last stop was the lantern hall- argubuly the least impressive of the 3, especially for any non-Japanese speaker. However it is from here were ninja costumes may be rented for your grand tour of Iga.

This hall houses the large lantern floats used in various festivals happening in Iga (all of which I have missed or am unable to attend….). Each display has been painstakingly created to best highlight it’s beauty and artistic style. All explanations are given in Japanese and while it can be enjoyed without, it does make the experience longer.

Upon entry, you are told that there is a 12 minute starting at the start of the hour on the second floor and to be honest, even with this, you are only going to be here for about 30 minutes to an hour.

The floats of lanterns used in festivals

At the end, there is a large gift shop with ninja anything and everything: sake, rice, chocolate, alcohol, ice cream, t-shirts etc. If you love ninja, this is not to be missed.

All in all, it was a brilliant way to spend a day. There is a lot more in Iga to explore (the main city for example) but spending a day looking more into Iga’s history was well worth itだってばよ!( BTW that was painful to write but if you don’t get that reference, do you even ninja?)

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Review: game center at Aeon, Nabari

Omikuji, a raffle tickets arcade game

I went shopping, like many do on their day off, and after buying my weeks produce, I suddenly discovered that the Aeon supermarket was more of an Aeon mall- which sells a large variety of products. The embarrassing thing about this is that I have lived in Nabari for quite a length of time and I had never noticed this before…..never mind.

On discovery of this, I ascended the building and on the 3 rd flood (UK 2nd floor) I discovered the gaming centre. Unlike the Sega gaming center, it offered a variety of games, prizes and seemed to attract more people to it.

The first “strange” game I discovered was the raffle ticket style claw machine. First thing to note, because getting a prize is not guaranteed, the claw is extremely strong. Secondly, you must open each ticket to check if you have won. Finally, is it 100 JPY for 2 plays- which is an exceptionally cheap price.

I spent 200 JPY (4 plays) and the results were:

2 winning tickets and an example losing ticket

2 winning tickets which were marked C賞 and numerous tickets marked はずれ. Winning tickets went from C to special (C, B, A, and special) and the rarity increases as the prize improves. I won twice and came away with Disney erasers, so I am quite happy with that.

In addition to this game, they have numerous UFO machines with official products including Anpanman, Disney, Doraimon etc.- which attracted the attention on children, and strange adults alike.

There was a small selection of more adult machines including pachinko and slots (only 10 in total). This game center is definitively more catered towards children rather than adults but was still extremely bit of fun and not too expensive as long as you keep a strict budget.

Anpanman

The other game strange game on offer was a ping-pong ball drop, if it entered the Takoyaki cooker with the colored spot, you can choose with prize you want of the corresponding color. I did not win as it is mostly down to change.

Please do checkout this arcade, or similar ones located around Japan.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Review: 芭蕉翁記念館 or Basho Memorial Museum

A extremely nice outside

While walking around Iga, I saw the Basho memorial museum and decided to visit and it was an interesting visit but I need to make my first warming:

If you are not proficient in Japanese, please do not visit.

The entire museum is in Japanese, both old and modern, and it the hall offers no help for non-Japanese speakers.

The displays did show some of Basho’s writings, along with pre-modern renga and haikai literature along with giving the modern Japanese equivalent nearby and was quite interesting. The problem was the display. Tickets cost 300 JPY and there is only on room which you can enter.

The books and small items on display were extremely good, better than they had any right to be. The concept of Basho is extremely important to Iga, as he was born in Iga. The park grounds do offer 2 more basho sites, which are a lot more interesting to look at.

Final thoughts, a good place to visit if you are good at Japanese. If you are not, consider purchasing a book or item- you will get more enjoyment out of it.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

The accidental journey

An unintended bike ride of about 25 km does have some very beautiful views

When a quick bike ride is anything but

I had not intended to do much today- I completed my weekly chores and gone shopping and was feeling a bit bored. So, I decided to go on a quick bike ride. Over 4 hours and 25 km later I came home…this was not planned but I enjoyed every bit of it.

Let me take you on my journey from Nabari to Mihata and back again- or an accidental journey- there and back again, a journey through Nabari.

This journey started with crossing the Nabari river (名張川)and taking in the sites. Just behind the hills you see is Nara prefecture, which makes travelling to Nara extremely easy.

名張川

Just over the bridge, and at the foot of the hills lies a shrine called Sugitani shrine (杉谷神社- which means cedar valley shrine). This is the stereotypical Japanese shrine which offers all that major shrines do: Ofuda, Goshuin, Omamori etc (I’ll explain what all of these things are in a future post). But more importantly, it looks the part.

The shrine was an extremely quite place with no-one else there and to give it that authentic abandoned image (even though there is a priest living there), they offer stamps with the old Japanese imperial era name in addition to the new one- almost as if they’re trying to get rid of old stock no matter what!

After leaving, I made a mistake. I looked at the river and thought “I wonder where that goes?”. Thus my journey had began.

I followed route 80 which follows the rivers path and like many roads in Japan, it quickly goes down to one lane with a cliff on one side and a drop-off on another. In addition to this, cars seem to like speeding along this country road for some reason. The views, however, were brilliant. When there were no cars, the roar of the river drowned out everything else around. Additionally, all of this section was downhill and I may have ensured that I kept to the speed limit as well.

Route 80 seemed to come to an end and opened up to a tiny village 薦生 or Komo in English. The main highlight of this village is a post office, 3 shrines and 1 temple. I of course checked out a shrine and I chose Chuzan shrine (中山神社)which was on the road out of the village.

I had to use the phrase again so I’ll use Japanese: 伝統的な神社です- which means a traditional shrine. The small wooden box you can see in the first picture is for donations and people pray towards a Kami (or God) who is housed behind the screen doors.

I continued on wards, weaving in and out of housing estates in Kikyogaoka (桔梗が丘)which mostly consisted of scaling several hills and chanting 頑張て (do my best). Eventually, I ended up in Mihata (美旗) and I have to say, Mihata feels like old-time Japan.

Mihata has many streets with homes constructed in the traditional Japanese style. To add to this, today is a national holiday in Japan: Culture day (文化の日). Therefore, there are many Japanese flags flying and lanterns hung up on the threshold of many households stating 御神燈- which are lights used as a religious offerings called Goshintou in Japanese. This use of kanji is a bit out of date, further highlighting Mihata’s old time Japan feel. The modern Kanji for sacred light is 神灯.

The high walls of Mihata boarder the farmlands

After leaving Mihata, whilst enjoying the scenery, I decided to take another detour- I had ended up in Mihata after-all. There was a extremely small out of the way grave yard- which seemed quite an interesting thing to look at. Upon entry, there were the ever watchful guardians with fresh offerings- in stark contrast to the weathered guardians. In the middle of the grave yard was a small alter for offerings.

The journey back at this point was all uphill and took a bit of time to get back. I did however made a final stop at Kikyogaoka 10 go park (桔梗が丘 10号公園).

The park consists of small stone paths winding around, between and over the small lakes here. Autumn has not yet hit in full-force so everything still feels alive and vibrant. The paths naturally lead you onward over the lake where there are many large Koi are ever waiting to be fed.

At the end of the path, there was a small grove of trees where Autumn had seemed to have come- which was a stark contrast to the ever-green trees surrounding in. Looking back at the park, it is place I will need to check out again, in spring, when the sakura start to bloom.

It was not a bad accidental journey, mush further and longer than initially planned but extremely fun. All this on my day of “rest”.

I hope you enjoyed reading about my accidental journey and reading another longer post (an extra special treat for you on culture day).

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

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.

Nabari lake

Time for a bike ride, I have the spot to go to

Occasionally finding something to do in small town Japan is hard- you have no interest in the arcade, there is some tourist sites but you may encounter tourists, and if you go to the supermarket again, people might start to think you work there.

The answer to your problems is a bike rider, either type will do (but I do like to challenge myself with the hills!).

The next problem is where to go? If you’re in Nabari, try going to the lake, it’s a wonderful challenge.

A bit of background information, Nabari is an extremely hilly city- no matter where you go you’ll come across a hill. Going to the lake from the train station, there are 5 large hills to climb. But once you have made it- the views are wonderful.

The picture was taken at the viewing area near the start of the my journey- in front of a wonderful little café.

The entire course around the lake is 15 km and it goes into Nara-ken as well. Along the way, there are several viewing areas and picnic areas that would make a wonderful day out- and it is extremely popular with Japanese families.

On the way back, you’ll come across Nabari dam- quite an impressive piece of engineering where there is a road on top. All in all, not a bad way to spend a day (I may have broken the speed limit cycling downhill though).

As always, thank you for reading and happy exploring.