Trying to do anything over a holiday weekend in this country is pretty difficult; you have to plan it way in advance, because not only is there this tendency for everyone to always do the same things at the same times, but the price of everything doubles.
This is often more or less true everywhere else, too, but because everything is already so overpriced in Japan and no one is willing to complain about anything unfair or unpleasant, it seems like here it's done to a ridiculous and unacceptable extent. Earlier this year I looked into how much it'd be to go to Guam for a long weekend, and survey said: the price of a crappy used car.
So, needless to say, I was pretty disappointed when I realised we had waited too long and tried to coordinate with too many other people to plan a trip to Niigata and Sado Island for the three-day weekend in July (for a fairly new holiday called Sea Day).
I also hadn't really realised that it was, in fact, Sea Day, and that everyone and their mother would be flocking to coastal and island travel destinations. Even though we managed to make Airbnb reservations a couple of weeks before the holiday, I realised right after doing it that the ferry was booked up for that weekend, and incredibly expensive to boot (by jetfoil it takes one hour to get to the island and costs about $60 each way, and the shinkansen from Tokyo to Niigata costs about $100 each way; that's over $600 in transit alone to go to a city 2 -3 hours away).
I did what any reasonable, mature adult would do and pitched a fit for a couple of hours after cancelling the just-made Airbnb reservations.
Hannes said I needed to get out of the city, and he was right; he said that he was going to figure out something for us to do come hell or high water. I was like, fine, but I think it's a waste of time; everything was booked up weeks ago and it's way too expensive.
But, being the really nice guy and great boyfriend that he is, Hannes decided he didn't care. Things at work have been pretty dead for him lately and after a few hours of reading about stuff online, he came up with Hamamatsu, a coastal city in Shizuoka. There's a hotel there that completely dwarfs every other building in the prefecture, and even though it's quite pricey, he decided we'd stay there for a night. An hour outside Hamamatsu there's also a small cave/cavern system you can go into, and unlike the original option, access to it is cheap and simple.
This was also my first time riding the shinkansen because I'm perpetually broke and can't take vacation days, so that was exciting, too; look at how cute some of the obligatory bento lunches they were! Tokyo station was a madhouse that morning, you should have seen all the people snatching these up.
The other thing you're supposed to do on the train, just like on planes, is get sloshed.
These wine cups tasted like lemony sake, though, and I really don't recommend them
(though they did get the job done).
After a quick and easy (albeit very overpriced, but you've undoubtedly heard enough about that already) train ride we arrived at the station, and the hotel is a quick covered-walkway-and-people-mover jaunt from it.
We left our bags - "hobo bags" as Hannes referred to them, as the aged and crappy things were somewhat awkwardly taken from us and later placed too-carefully onto a luggage dolly by a female bellhop - behind the counter and went straight back out to catch the bus to the caverns.
Read as "ryuugashido", "The Dragon's Cavern" or maybe "Den"
Oh nice. This place has a very Jurassic Park feel, I thought, and as long as
the dragon doesn't eat us I approve.
A quaint antique waterwheel!
A quaint dragon made of shrubbery!
There's GOLD in them thar hills!
Fuckin' DERP lol
A quaint face-in-the-hole tourist attraction!
(I Googled what these things are even called, and aside from that, they're also called "faceboards". /themoreyouknow)
Not suitable for the unusually tall!
I'm running out of quippy comments!
"Rimstone" lol why do they do this to themselves
(they mean "limestone")
Weird eroded textures!
And finally we reached the main attraction of the caves, the 30 metre waterfall near the center. It was so nice and cool and refreshing in there, we really wanted to stay.
Plus the sparsely-lit water feature was really cool-looking. I hadn't thought of Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee in a very long time, but it instantly leapt to mind in the cave.
Mountain tea! Okay.. Gift shop coming up, apparently.
I felt like I should take one non-derpy selfie so here you go
At the end there's a little museum that shows how the caverns were excavated, what different kinds of rock formations are comprised of and called, and what kinds of fossils were found in there.
I couldn't get over this "Stalactite Bread". Of all the kitschy ridiculous.. lol
Oh, but wait! Eel bones! Yummy!
Okay, okay, that's it - Oh! No it's not! A voluntarily racist caricature bat!
Cute but depressing and somewhat postapocalyptic diorama!
Extremely specific vintage vending machine!
Huge morning glories!
I... don't know? I mean, there's "NHK" down there and I think she may be the patron goddess of the freshwater cave spring/well, but she looks suspiciously like someone whose love for Our Glorious Leader Kim Jong Un flows more freely and eternally than any mere spring or well ever could.
Ahh, cave water!
Wait a minute, where am I? This doesn't look like North Korea.
What's in this water?
Gigantic mountain lillies
Don't know about these ones, though, your guess is as good as mine.
A lot of Japan outside and sometimes even inside the big cities looks like this.
This was the only street art I noticed in Hamamatsu, unfortunately.
After a day of waking up early, travelling, and walking around the caverns, Hannes and I were pretty beat. We had some Korean food at the station (Japanese people don't know that you're supposed to provide both sweet vinegar and spicy mustard when you serve nnengmyeon, it's terrible), picked up some convenience store booze and sweets,
and called it a day.
Here's our enormous and somewhat phallic hotel; it's one of the tallest buildings in Japan.
It's listed as I think #20 in the country but, like, 15 - 20something are all about the same height. It looks extremely out of place in this town, but also like it could Godzilla stomp all of the other comparatively tiny hotels, so that's pretty cool.
Ze sizeable and very comfy room
What a view!
It's as if a million voices suddenly cried out all at once and-
We were somewhat unreasonably excited about the continental breakfast, owing largely to a Key & Peele sketch we've been quoting lately (that you can Google/YouTube in two seconds but that is for some reason impossible to find and insert into this post even though Google also owns Blogger), but also to the fact that it was quite a large and varied affair.
I had a few things I wasn't supposed to but, on the plus side, noticed as a result that eggs aren't making me sick anymore, at least for the time being. The coffee was especially good, too, but we really could have done without all of the obnoxious small children and babies. We talked about how a lot of businesses (e.g., airlines) would do well to create separate sections for people who don't want to be near them.
To the beach!
Nakatajima was a straight shot from the hotel, so I wanted to go check it out. I had found pictures of the sand dunes online when I Googled for beaches in the area and found out that it's also a breeding ground for loggerhead turtles.
But man, was it hot by the time we left. The sweat poured freely as we trudged for what had suddenly become a Road Warrior-esque post-nuclear wasteland occasionally punctuated by colourful parasols and frolicking children in shorts and tank tops.
(-whispers- Road Warrior.)
Hannes pretty much hates beaches.
You might remember this from such memorable beach trips and their accompanying blog posts as: "that time there were ramen noodles, green onions, and dead crabs in the water, some drunk American idiots tried to get us to have a fireworks fight with them and I almost got them arrested after they had started shooting them at people, and then a mildly psychotic Russian laser optics technician proceeded to drink all of our soju on Muuido"; "that time we went to a mostly-deserted island off Boryeong and had to pay a local farmer to give us a ride to an actual beach where we then almost got stranded"; "the white cliffs of Rügen, which probably look nothing like those of Dover and are generally not all they're chalked up to be"; and "yes this photo does look familiar, because I took exactly the same one of him in the same clothes last year around this time in Miura".
But, the thing is, he always admits later that the scenery was worth it and that he just gets grouchy when he's sandy and sweaty, same as most of us non-gingers.
I was glad we got the chance to at least cool off our legs; going in the morning like we did was really the only way, because it started to heat up pretty fast.
Hannes is also really good at skipping stones, even over the tops of breaking waves.
"Any interesting rocks?"
"No, not really."
"The breadstick one is kind of interesting. The proto-croissant."
Coming back over the dunes as the day was heating up was incredibly uncomfortable, and we were extremely sweaty as we stood waiting for the bus back to the station/hotel, but at least we got in a workout. Plus I wouldn't have expected to see such a large area of nothingness along the coastline adjacent to a fairly large city here. 10/10 would recommend.
Despite his cantankerousness I was also able to talk Hannes into going to the local castle before we left, because it was basically down the road from our hotel, maybe a 7-minute bus ride away.
So we took cool showers, packed up our stuff, checked out, and made our way to Hamamatsu Castle.
It's surrounded by a large park, and I'll be honest: the humidity was absolutely ungodly.
I mean, if we were doing some Tomb Raider shit, searching for legendary lost cities or treasure with supernatural powers or whatever, fine, but sweet baby Jesus, all we wanted to do was look at a building and it required so much exertion.
It is a pretty nice building though, right?
The battlements, moats, and other functional components were destroyed or filled in during the Meiji Restoration and the outer part of the stone palisade, originally built by Tokugawa Ieyasu, was re-done in 1958, but it's still got some interesting history behind it either way.
Tokugawa Ieyasu: "And then I was all like, behold, fools! I am the carrier of the Mystic Boomerang and you shall kneel before its ineffable powers of going and then coming back again!"
Okay, that's enough intense jungle humidity for one weekend.
It's been real, Hamamatsu!