Japan day 22

Japan day 22
Michinoeki Atsumi Sharin-Nikaho 108 km
(Apologies if you received an alert about a blank post. The 7/11 wifi service that I used to upload had a glitch and lost the content. So here is version 2).
“The best laid schemes o’ mice and men….”.
Have any of your plans ever gone awry? Mine do frequently but, of course, like a typical man, I always attribute the blame elsewhere.

I was 25 km ahead of schedule, so I planned a short day’s ride to Sakata, book a room, then ‘hit’ the onsens (hot springs) and chill out for the afternoon. Well the easy bit was getting to Sakata……
When I checked in at the Tourist Information, that’s when things began to unravel. Japan is a lovely country, but in some quarters, it simply does not come up to speed.

Would I be right to expect employees in Tourist Information to, not only speak some English, but to have an appreciable level of proficiency? In most of the twenty or so offices I have visited on this journey so far, only 2 or 3 employees have had any knowledge of English. Japan is a technically advanced country, with the third largest economy in the world, but the infrastructure of its welcome to foreign visitors is pathetically lacking. Most of its tourist literature and maps are written only in Japanese kanji, meaning that all non-kanji readers are excluded. Do you read kanji?

Once we had surmounted communication issues, I asked them where the onsens were in town. They looked at me and smiled apogetically, shaking their heads. They pointed to the map at Nikaho, some 50 km away, saying that would be the nearest. I stood there a little deflated and wanted to say to them: ‘a Japanese town without an onsen is like a British pub with no beer…..what’s the point?’….but I didn’t of course.

Nikaho was on my route north, and I was determined to have a long soak in a thermal pool…..but so much for the relaxing afternoon. I got to Nikaho a couple of hours later, but no sign of an onsen, and the light was fading rapidly. So I called by a little local train station to ask for help finding a room. Well, a foreigner asking awkward questions in a language other than Japanese sent three of the staff into a flat spin. I had three of them working on my case, and could only come up with a hotel another 20 km up the road. I must have graphically conveyed the message that I was done for the day, and I was going to stay right there in their little town. They weren’t quite sure what to make of me…..

I asked the station manager if I could sleep in his station waiting room, which caused him to ring his daughter, who came in haste to use her rudimentary grasp of High School English as an interpreter.

No I couldn’t sleep in the station, but when I heard mention of a Michinoeki, I knew what the solution was, because I’d been to one the previous night, and passed another just 5 km down the road.

image

A Michinoeki is a Roadside Station, what we would call a traveller’s rest, with certain facilities open 24/7. These include a relaxation room, washrooms and vending machines. I’m not sure they are intended for sleepovers, but I had the whole room to myself,

image

and it was clean and welcoming, with lots of display boards with useful maps, one of which showed where all the other Minchinoekis were in northern Japan.

image

This photo could be a handy reference in the coming days. As an option, they are more than just a stand-by.

But this morning, and on a lighter note, as I sat outside a 7/11 store using their wifi, a lady came out of the shop and, without any explanation, gave me a hot coffee. And she even went back inside to fetch me sugar and milk…. I tell you, Japanese people are very kind.

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About Frank Burns

Looking for the extraordinary in the commonplace………taking the road less travelled……..striving for the ‘faculty of making happy chance discoveries’ in unremarkable circumstances. Click on the Personal Link below to visit my webpages.

Posted on April 12, 2015, in End-to-End of Japan 3000kms and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Great reports Frank.
    Couple questions about these rest stops. Are they located on freeway/motorway type roads or along more bicycle compatable roads? Do you think that they are intended as night stops or is “camping” therein officially allowed.
    On the map you also included in your blog what specifically is represented by the symbol with 2 trees/table/structure with human figure inside? Is it a park or private campground?
    Enjoying your reports. Safe travels.

    • The Roadside Stations are located on national routes, and are intended as ‘resting’ places for travellers, not night time sleepovers….but as with many things in Japan, there’s an easy going attitude to it.

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