March, 2 nd Ōsaka
Amagasaki. The hostel’s stuff and the people living at fifth floor became kind of family to me and I’m still very happy at my place. But somehow always when they need somebody to join an special event they are asking me. And I’m always too stupid to say no. Luckily they also asked Angèle and she is as stupid as me. This time Amagasaki tourism office asked for participants for a free trial tour through Amagasaki. A tourist tour, well done. Unfortunately the participation was paid and since I wouldn’t work this month I couldn’t say no. For Angèle it was exactly the same and so we ended up within a girls tourism tour to famous Amagasaki. I was very shocked when I saw the big group of people in the Lobby ready for picking us up (there were much more people than participants). They were armed with cameras and after my
last experiences with television I was not happy about it. First we went to a motor boat race in Amagasaki. Motor boat races, horse races and bike races are the most famous gambling in Japan. I have never been to one of them anywhere in the world for some obvious reason: it is useless and stupid! And this was the confirmation. Not only did we break the average age, but we also helped to increase the proportion of female beings torecord numbers. Watching old men betting. A unique experience. Not only in Japan.
But the weather was very nice and sunny. Afterwards we went to city centre for lunch and split into two groups. Within our group was a vegetarian, a major problem in Japan, a circumstance the organisers didn’t expect and so we ended up half of the lunch break
searching for a proper place. Of course we failed. We went to a very nice and traditional Udon restaurant, where they made the Udon (thick noodle) theirselves within the restaurant. It was very delicious! Unfortunately they didn’t understood the order of only Udon without soup (made by a mother tongue) and so Angèle was still starving while I was exploding after two bowls of Udon. With fully stomach we went to a temple where we, the girls, could experience wearing the traditional clothes called Mika. We went outside to take a bunch of pictures and the priest thought us a lot about Buddhism and the temple. We also visited the temple. It was the first I was inside a temple and a very nice experience. The schedule was tight, so we had only less time to take pictures on our own. We continued to visit a museum to visit I don’t know what. There were heads made of stone and coins from all over the world. Nobody spoke to us nor explained anything, whether in English nor in Japanese. After less than ten minutes we were already outside again and ready for the next museum. A money box museum. Yes. I’m not kidding. I have never been to a weirder museum than this. Museums with strange collections exists everywhere in the world and usually people know about it and don’t take it serious. But in Amagasaki they do. Angèle and me looked at each other and we both had the same question above our heads: Why? Ok, visited a money box museum in Japan. Done. We sprinted further, walked around a common temple and ended up at the last station of today’s tour. Amagasaki castle. A castle which was only build to attract tourists to visit Amagasaki. The castle will open in the end of March, so luckily we couldn’t enter. Afterwards we went to a public school to discuss our feedback. I felt very sorry. With Angèle and me they absolutely got the wrong
people for trial. This was actually my first tourist tour in Japan and I defiantly know why. At least we could give a lot of input and ideas how to attract and satisfy European tourists since the behaviour and expectations between Japanese tourists and European ones is way different. I can understand the difficult position of Amagasaki city. There are thousands of tourists coming to Osaka, but almost anybody knows about Amagasaki nor visits it. The explanation is not difficult: People usually visiting Kyoto, the soul of Japan with beautiful temples, coming to Osaka to see the big city, the wonderful old and famous castle and a lot of other attractions like Osaka Aquarium and Universal studios. They also go to Nara to enjoy nature, deers and wonderful temples and of course Kobe to taste the famous Kobe beef. Tourists are so close and at the same time so far away…
March, 3 rd Ōsaka
Hiking at Takarazuka. This time I changed today’s trail last minute. Ume (plum) is already blooming and my friend Mat strongly recommended to change the starting point. Unfortunately the warm weather didn’t last for a long time in Osaka, so I started
into a greyish and cloudy day. I wondered that many people joined today’s hike and like always almost everyone was local. This time time there were only two new faces. We started hiking at Nakayama-konnen station and visited a very nice temple. There we could see the first Ume trees blooming. It was very nice and I’m very excited about upcoming Sakura season. It was a little bit chaotic to held the group together within all the visitors, but Mat managed it very well. We started hiking and climbed Mt. Naka. The clouds were heavy and it looked like it could start raining any time. Almost before summit we made a break at another temple. Unlike last week we couldn’t enjoy properly, because it was going to be cold very fast. We continued and climbed up to Nakayama summit where we had a nice view of Takarazuka. There is another hiking group in Kobe. My friend Tomal joined the hikes several time told me about it and the organiser. If I had found this group earlier I might have joined there and never started organising hike myself. I was always interested in meeting the guy, while Tomal told me a lot about him. Coincidentally this group was hiking the same trail today while starting vice verso. Surprisingly we met the other group at summit. We took our group picture and continued hiking. We could enjoy some more amazing views of Takarazuka and as almost always I could see Abeno Harukas, Japan’s tallest building, the place where I live. My heart still jumps a little bit when I observe it far away. The trail became much nicer and I really enjoyed it. It began slightly to rain. We entered a so called rock garden, a blank steep slope where we had to climb down. Due to the rain drops the rocks were wet and super slippery. We struggled a lot. I was thinking about the direction of today’s hike for a very long time and decided to follow the recommendation of Mat’s hiking book. Yet, I wouldn’t do it again and hike the trail starting from Yamamoto station. Climbing up this steep rocks would be
much safer and much more fun as well. Then it happened: I almost fell and my water bottle slipped out of my backpack’s side pocket and rolled down the mountain. It got faster and faster and crashed upon a rock. Tomal could reach it and the crash had blown out the bottom. This was the end of my loyal and beloved Nalgene bottle. Luckily the bottle was the only victim and everybody got down safely. We walked to Yamamoto station. This trail was with 10 km very short, and even though it was early for dinner we decided to go to Umeda to Ramen at my favourite Ramen shop – tankaippin. I was crying for dessert so we went to Pablos, where they sell the best little cheesecakes in the world, afterwards. What a delicious ending.
March, 5 th Osaka
Goodbye Japan. Hello South Korea. Today I’m going to let a second dream wish from childhood become true. I’m flying to South Korea to practice Taekwondo. It is strange, already on the way to Kansai Airport I felt kind of homesick. I was excited about the upcoming journey and sad about leaving my beloved Osaka at the same time. It took much longer than expected to check in since the self check in machine was not compatible with my passport. I went to check in counter and it was a fun situation that the behind there was a trainee which saw a German passport for the first time. I fly with a Japanese airline and for me I also struggle with the temperature in public transportation. It is super warm in the subway or official offices. I always come out with a nasty headache and have to put out my jacket before I enter a train. Unfortunately it was super warm in the plane as well and there was no escape. I was one of the first ones who squeezed their way out of the plane and so immigration was very fast. I had one
hour to take a train before their stop operating. Unfortunately I needed Korean Won for the train ticket and several ATM’s didn’t accepted my credit cards. When I planned my trip to Japan I read a lot about problems finding an ATM which accept foreign credit cards, but in reality I never found one which does not work. So, I was very surprised. I got a little bit stressed, but in the end a found one which was working. Getting a train ticket and finding the right train was more difficult than expected as well. In the train they spoke Japanese and I fell asleep immediately. At Seoul station my friend Eun Taek was already waiting for me and we went to his place where I fall asleep immidiately.
March, 6 th Seoul
Fine dust. Due to my late arrival I haven’t seen anything of South Korea yet. So I went to Myong-dong in the morning to get an insight and to walk around. I wondered how much I struggled using the metro system. I’m so used to Japan that I totally forgot about the feeling being new and how it is to find out how everything works. Also language is an issue, I can neither understand nor read. I was always thinking I wasn’t well prepared for Japan, but yet I realised that it wasn’t that bad. I was able understand much more at the beginning. There are many Japanese tourists visiting Seoul, so luckily almost everything was written in Japanese as well. I walked through the shopping district. South
Korea is well known for its cosmetic products, especially face care product, so every second shop was selling those. I wished my mom could be here. I had no breakfast, so I entered the first restaurant I could find or better I got fished on the street. The guy did some small talk and I told him that I’m living in Japan, he was surprised and immediately switched to Japanese. It felt much better. I don’t know why, but when I know people are maybe bad in English, my English gets really bad as well and instead of creating full sentences I express myself in some key words. I don’t do it intentionally. My experience is that nativespeaker sometimes didn’t realise that non-native speaker struggle with vocabulary, accent, speed or just amount of informations and talk a lot. So for non-native speaker it could be hard to filter out the main point. Mostly I remember the people and ask for repetition and speaking slower, but many times I just nod while didn’t get it. Maybe my brain avoids the situation and tries to answer as simple as possible. Well, sometimes it is useful, but sometimes it is rather weird than necessary. Korean food is spicy, but extremely delicious. You always get a set of side dishes including Kimchi and can re order them as much as you can. I walked through Myong-dong almost the whole day and really enjoyed it. In the evening I went with Eun Taek to a Martial Arts performance and I was very surprised what I saw. It was satiric performance about any kind of martial arts whit a lot of charm, fun and acrobatic parts. After the performance we walked through the bright city centre and Eun Taek showed me a gift by Germany: a piece of the Berlin Wall stands in the middle of Seoul under an ancient lantern. It was a very surreal scenery among this small bright building and in this moment I realised once more, that this part of history is still presence in Korea, a divided country… In the late evening my phone received an emergency alert. They were warning about the fine dust and recommend to stay at home. I already experienced the highest pollution level yesterday and today as well. It was very dusty and I couldn’t see the sun. I also could feel it while breathing. I took a deep breath and still could not breathe. According to government the toxic fine dust is produced by China. For me it is hard to believe that this dust is manmade and made me extremely sad.
March, 7 th Seoul
Thursday party. I slept very long and spent half day at home working. Since the last days in Japan were super loaded I was enjoying taking my time. In the early afternoon I left the house and went to Myong-dong again to buy a SIM card. Unfortunately it went wrong and in the Konbini the guys couldn’t make it work. Some people from Couchsurfing were gathering together and I spent almost all my time to look for WiFi and find the meeting point. In the end it worked and we were a large group of almost ten people. We went to a local street food market and enjoyed many different street food. I tried some potato pancakes, dumplings, rice cakes in spicy sauce and something which is very weird, but actually South Korea is well known for: living octopus. My philosophy is at least to try everything if it doesn’t make me choke on the first sight. The octopus is not really alive, but due to the nerves the tentacles are still moving and the suckers still working, so you have to chew very carefully. Why one eats raw octopus? Because it is delicious and much better than cooked one! It didn’t taste fishy and I prefer it much more than cooked ones. I also tried a tiny pice of chicken feet, it was chewy like bubble gum and was really tasteless. After fed up with tasty street food we went to Itaewon, where the party scene is located and entered a party. The atmosphere was really nice and the beer was super cheap. Honestly I have to say that I missed Japan really badly and got a culture shock vice verso. I was overwhelmed and everything was more different than expected. But this evening I enjoyed. It has been many years that I was at a party last time… But the evening ended abruptly when I realised that I hadn’t any idea how to get back home. The subway was closing at midnight and with six kilometres the way was too far too walk. I decided for a taxi, which was way cheaper than in Japan. Unfortunately it was strongly discouraged. I defiantly would get scammed. Once again I felt trapped in this country. No ability to speak the language, no subway, no chance to walk, no internet to find out when the last train is coming, no chance to take a taxi, nothing. I decided to go immediately and the group dissolved, so everybody went home. Luckily I got one of the last subways and got home safely. It was a pity, I really would have liked to stay longer.
March, 8 th Seoul
Hiking Dobongsan. I met Harry yesterday at the Couchsurfing hangout and we decided to go on a hike together. Interestingly he went to Düsseldorf last December where he met Sam and heard about the hikes as well. So, in the morning he picked me up by car and we drove to Dobongsan. He had his little dog Yogi with him, who exactly looked like my grandpa’s dog. The street from the parking spot to the entry of Bukhansan national park was full of outdoor shops. It was like paradise and I imagined the jealous face of my best friend Dominic. I have only seen so many outdoor shops in one place before and that was Arco, the climber’s paradise. At the entry park’s staff told us the dog wouldn’t be allowed to enter, so Harry went back to bring the dog back to the car. Meanwhile I bought a new Nalgene bottle since the last one couldn’t survive last’s hike. We entered the park and hiked along a river. The water was still half frozen. When the majority of people disappeared Harry released the little dog out of his backpack. Together we climbed up a forest trail made of huge rocky stones. The ascent was much harder than expected and I started sweating. Harry was faster than me, so I climbed on my own while the city’s skyline appeared behind me. After a while of climbing I could see the blank mountains rearing in front of me I heard the sang of monks. I continued climbing and suddenly flight of stairs guided to a small temple builded into the mountains. The smell of incense in the cold air and the monk’s sang created a very special atmosphere. This was my childhood imagination of Korean’s mountain temple. The small coloured temple was an amazing place with a breathtaking view of the city and the mountains. We made a short break and I drank some water from the mountains and enjoyed every single second spending at this place. We continued hiking and climbed hundreds of super steep stairs. My legs began to get sour, but there was no turn around. Exhausted we arrived at the a viewpoint and the I could see the city of Seoul. This view was amazing. The mountains were rocky, blank and super steep. I felt free like a bird. I have never experienced such a view before. We climbed to summit and there we could enjoy a 360° view. Indescribable! But this wasn’t the end of today’s trail. We climbed on a horseback to the next peak while passing some ups and downs. It was rather climbing than hiking anymore. I was really thinking about it wouldn’t be better to wear a harness. Railings supported the climb, but it was still very
adventurous. I was amazed by this trail. On the top of the horseback it went steep down to both sides and indeed I got a little bit afraid of heights. At a small platform we made a break to eat our lunch and we weren’t alone. Two little cats, obviously living here in the top of the mountains, were watching us and enjoying some of our lunch. Hikers around
us were surprised to see little Yogi on top as well. An elderly men obviously liked it very much and gave us some cookies. After lunch we continued climbing and went to two
other summits. One was more amazing than the other one. The descent was hard, because it was very steep and I was not sure if my injured knee could deal with the slippery dry terrain. It went well and with shaking legs we arrived back at the shopping street. Yogi disappeared back in the bag for a while. We walked through the shops and I really enjoyed it. Hiking makes you hungry, so we decided to have dinner together nearby Harry’s place in Itaewon. The restaurant was a very local
one and I enjoyed the meal and spending time with Harry. When we left the restaurant the sun was almost setting. Since the N Seoul Tower was close I decided to walk there while Harry went home. I watched the sunset from the top of Namsan, the mountain where the tower is located. Slowly the city turned grey while the sun disappeared behind the mountains. The grey changed to blue and the city turned on their lights. The light went brighter and brother while the sky changed to a dark blue. When the sky turned into black, the city was an ocean of coloured lights. I don’t know how long I stand at the observation platform watching the city, but at some point it got cold and decided to walk back to Myeongdong. The tower was the number one place for couples and everywhere were romantic decoration and couples in love. Koreans celebrate their love very openly and I was very surprised by that. I arrived at Seoul station and took the train
back home. It was a long day and I walked a lot and I was happy when I was just laying in my bed.
March, 9 th Seoul
Changdeokgung Palace. Today Eun Taek went out with me to me around Seoul. I mostly wanted to visit Changdeokgung Palace. The architecture is very different compared to the Japanese one and I really liked the colourful old buildings. The area is very big, so we walked slowly through the buildings. Inside there was area where the poor people kept living in former times. There were many hidden corners and in one of them I bumped into the Argentinian couple from yesterday. It was funny to meet exactly in this place. We walked together through the palace’s are for a while. We booked a tour through the secret garden, which one is not allowed to enter on one’s own. The garden was very beautiful, but unfortunately it looked a bit sad during this season. I bet it would be breathtaking in spring, summer, autumn or snowy winter. The tour was pretty long and the guide talked a lot. Unfortunately at one point it went political and she was blaming the Japan for their crimes during WWII. In this moment this information was not necessary and had nothing to do with the scenery we visited. South Korea is independent for around 65 years right now, before they were a colony and repressed by Japan. During the war Koreans were victims of major crimes, especially the women who were sold as sex slaves. Japanese government didn’t apologised for it and the relationship is still tense. I do not really
understand why this topic is picked up on a touristic tour through a botanical garden and the way the guide was talking about is was rather in a way to blame than to be informal. If I was Japanese, I would have felt very uncomfortable in this situation, I even felt while not being Japanese. I had this feeling several times while being in Korea and it
made me very sad. In many random situation I could feel a kind of antipathy against Japanese. I experienced it even first hand, whenever I was asked where I am from I answered that I am German, but living in Japan. It happened many times that I was asked “why” in a derogative way. For sure, the crimes of Japanese soldiers were inexcusable and should not be forgotten, but I cannot understand while this conflict kept be alive that strong. People who were not involved got blamed by people were not involved as well. So, in the end it will affect personal relationships. It was the first time, that I was affected personally and it made me indescribable sad. I met many jewish people, but none of them ever blamed me for anything or gave me this uncomfortable feeling. For me it is even harder to understand, while my reality looks like this: I live in the second biggest city of Japan and everyday I see plenty of Koreans visiting Osaka, while in South Korea I also see many Japanese tourists. In school I was a conflict moderator and learnt that you can’t change the past and at some point you have to look forward. The current generation is not responsible for the past, but they are responsible for the future. When history thought us something, wouldn’t it be that this world needs no more wars? In the world’s history there were no winners of war, there were only losers. People who were killed, who lost their beloved ones, who were tortured. They had all kind of nationalities. There were two major wars in the last century and almost any nationality could find reasons to hate other nationalities. We as the people, why don’t we break out of these thinking patterns? We are one world and more connected than ever. We should held together and fight against war and its crimes which still happens right now. From the political point of view I also think it is very important to compensate the victims (if the is possible at all), but I think it is also very important not to led political conflicts affect your personal relationships to other people.
March, 10 th Seoul
Hiking Bukhansan. Mt. Bukhan is located in north of Seoul. There are three major peaks, Baegundae (836.5 m), Insubong (810.5 m), Mangyeongdae (787.0 m). Because of its height and the fact that it borders a considerable portion of the city, Bukhansan is a major landmark visible from most city districts. The name “Bukhansan” means “mountain north of Han River”, referring to the fact that it is the northern border of the city. Bukhansan is the highest mountain within Seoul city boundaries, so for me the perfect location for my obligatory Sunday hike. This time I went alone and was very happy for the opportunity to escape the city, the travellers and for being on my own. The access was very easy, I only had to take a special train. After a few minutes I realised this train was a fully self driving one, where I could watch how the train jetted on the tracks. It felt like on a roller coaster. I arrived at the final station, where a lot of hikers started with me into the the trail. To get to the trailhead I had to walk along a road and it already went up. At the trailhead I was already sweating and this was just the beginning. I climbed one rocky stair after the next one and got slightly higher. There were many people on the trial and all of them looked as motivated as me. I wondered that they didn’t greet and it this silence was kind of strange. Maybe Koreans don’t do that or maybe they were just too shy. The air went colder and I could see the blank rocks turning up ahead of me. My heart jumped when I saw many rock climbers on a neighbour peak. I more and more miss climbing and right now I felt a deep jealousy. I continued climbing, the stairs were manmade and killing my legs, but the summit was still far away. There was a managed shelter shortly before the peak and it was time for lunch. I joined a father with his two sons on a picnic bench and took out my rice balls. Like in Japan they looked suspicious, but after a while they started talking to me. I wondered in Korea it took much longer. With a belly full of delicious rice balls I continued to climb the last meters to summit. Like on the last hike the mountains were blank and rocky. They were incredible steep and I felt like a bird. Again I could see the city of Seoul on one hand and a beautiful mountainous scenery on the other hand. It was that steep that I got a little bit dizzy. There were railings installed to provide the climbers, but this trail was rather rock climbing than hiking. Even though the mountains were as high as in Kansai region, the feeling of height was completely different due to the blank steep rocks. It was just amazing. Slowly I climbing to summing, while enjoying any single step. The view was amazing! This was the most amazing mountain I ever climbed. At summit I made a second break and ate my last rice ball while enjoying the breathtaking view. I could see a temple far away in the mountains and I really would like to go there. I was not sure if this one was on my trail along the three peaks. I climbed down the steep rocks back to the trails and continued hiking through the mountains. This was the mountain’s back side and there weren’t any other people. At a rest area I decided to try to get to go to the temple I saw and went down into the valley. It was already late and I was a little bit worried if this might have been the wrong decision. Unfortunately the temple on the maps wasn’t the same one I saw from the summit. The disappointment was high. Climbing back to the rest area and the trail was super challenging and I sweated a lot. The sun slightly lost its power. I followed
the trail along the ancient city’s wall, which was as long as my eyes could see. I was walking at the mountain’s horseback and could enjoy an amazing view of the city while walking along the wall. I passed all the mentioned peaks while sun was starting to set. The trail back to the station was again made of steep rocky stair through the woods. There was no one around me and I could feel how my legs got tired. The last kilometre I had to concentrate on every single step
and to focus the muscles in my legs. I was happy when I arrived at the trailhead’s gate and just in that moment a bus came. I managed to ask the driver for the way and just jumped in. I was extremely lucky that I could skip the last 3 km on the road. The bus wasn’t driving to the station I wanted, but to another one which I could take. Back in Seoul I was as tired as hungry. My friend Eun Taek and me went to a nearby restaurant. The dinner was a main dish and twenty-one side dishes, which you could re-order as much as you could. It was as crazy as tasty. There was not even a tiny bit a space left on the table. We couldn’t manage to finish everything. I ate so much, that I just felt into my bed. Unable to move anymore with this full belly.
March, 11 th Seoul
Taekwondo. Almost the only reason I came to South Korea was Taekwondo. Since to my weak preparations it was not possible to practice. So, the disappointment was quite high. Even though Korea is the origin of Taekwondo and deeply connected in the culture, only kids are practicing. It is not common that adults keep practicing. So on my last day I defiantly wanted to visit Kukkiwon, the world Taekwondo headquarter. So I went to Gangnam very early. The area was lost, even though it was within business hours. Also the museum was closed for no reason. The information was also empty. Pity. I found out that there are performances on weekend, which I just missed. I couldn’t find this informations on the website, so I was highly disappointed in the end. I only came to Korea to come closer to Taekwondo culture and to practice. It went totally wrong and I also realised something else: I could have traveled the country as a backpacker, but actually I never did in my life before. I have no idea how this kind of travel works and the motivation to drive from one city to another was more than unattractive. All journeys in my life in several countries I walked, hiked or cycled and enjoyed freedom and a high impact of culture. Seoul was nice and I don’t regret, but at least it is another metropole, which I am not made for and stressed me. I went to buy some souvenirs for my coworkers and went back to Eun Taek’s place. Today he took me to the outskirts to visit his friends and their super cute baby boys. They invited me for dinner. The flat was a little children’s paradise and they played happily with me and each other. There was only one guy, who could speak English and he just came with his wife, because of me. The dinner was super delicious and I was overwhelmed by their hospitality. Together we enjoyed the evening and enjoyed a lot. It was a very nice evening and one of my best experiences in South Korea. I will defiantly come back to South Korea, but I will more prepared, bring my bike and more time to explore the countryside and get a deeper insight into country and culture. And finally to practice Taekwondo. It is still my dream.
March, 12 th Osaka
Home sweet home. I took a morning flight back to Ōsaka. I already had to cheap last time and of course I bought some souvenirs for my coworkers and friends, so my backpack didn’t got lighter. I wore two trousers, some shirts and hide a small gym back with heavy stuff a gym bag beneath my winter Parker which bag’s was also loaded with heavy stuff. It worked out very well and nobody realised at the counter again. I almost sleeped the whole flight and when I went out of the airplane the sun was shining and spring was overwhelming me. I strong feeling of happiness flooded me. I was back home. I was back in Japan. I never felt this satisfaction of coming home before in my whole life. As you might know I have a new Visa with the status of a professor. At immigration the officer struggled. For sure, in my dirty bolt hiking jeans, shirt and overloaded backpack I didn’t looked like a professor. My heart was bumping, but after a questionnaire about my work the officer got overwhelmed by scientific stuff and let me through. I was super happy to came home, see Tsutenkaku tower and enjoyed smalltalk with my flatmates who welcomed me very lovely. In the evening I went out with Angèle to a Ramen restaurant and we planned spontaneously the next adventure: Together we will go on pilgrimage and hike Kumano Kodō in two days!
Kumano Kodō Pilgrimage
March, 14 th Takijiri-oji
Hitchhiking. I already decided in Korea that is was time to go back into nature again. I missed sleeping in my tent and being on the road so much. Cycling means only transportation for me, so what I really enjoy is hiking, especially long distance treks over several days while sleeping in the woods. There wasn’t enough time to hike the Shikoku 88 Temple pilgrimage (1200 km), but luckily there was another pilgrimage in the neighbor prefecture Wakayama. Kumano Kodō. The Kumano Kodō (熊野古道) is a series of ancient pilgrimage routes that crisscross the Kii Hantō Peninsula. These sacred trails were and are used for the pilgrimage to the sacred site Kumano Sanzan or the Three Grad shrines: Kumano Hongū Taisha, Kumano Nachi Taisha and Kumano Hayatama Taisha. I decided for the main road “Nakahechi” from Takijiri to Kumano Nachi Taisha.I asked Angel to join me and she was immediately in! I wondered about the routine while packing. Within half an hour my backpack was complete. Exactly one year ago I hiked the Caminho Português together with my mom and it took me days for packing. Surprisingly I was using the same 34 l backpack and while last year it was packed, this year I have some space left even though I’m carrying my tent, mattress and camping stuff as well (and I already was experienced last year). It is still cold in Ōsaka and and last night it was raining heavily. We decided to hitchhike the 170 km to Tanabe, but we couldn’t wait to get started, so we took a train to get to Wakayama first. Somehow we got into the Airport train and dropped off last minute before crossing the airport bridge. Rinku town was a nice spot to start hitchhiking. We bought a pen and got some papers and we placed ourselves at the main road. Hitchhikers are not common in Japan, but all people were smiling at us. Even the people who didn’t take us were apologizing via eye contact. That’s Japan. Angèle told me that her dream was to get picked up by a truck once and before she could finish the sentence a truck stopped and picked us up. Our Japanese skills were just enough for a raw conversation. He dropped us off at Wakayama and again we got picked up within 20 min by a middle aged couple. In Kainan we tried again our luck and surprisingly we got picked up by two super young girls. I was impressed by their braveness. For the security loving Japanese, especially girls it is super brave to pick up random people and their inability to speak english doesn’t make it better. The girls dropped us at a train station and it was still fourty minutes by train to get to Tanabe. The next train was coming in one hour, so we tried our luck again. This time we hadn’t any luck, but it was nice, because we took the train and enjoyed our lunch in there while riding along the cost. It was my very first hitchhiking experience and I was surprised how easy it was and how much fun! In Tanabe we got our pilgrim’s passport (Credencial) at the tourist’s information and our first stamp. My heart was jumping when I saw that they have a tight cooperation with the Spanish Camino de Santiago and the familiar shape of the shell! We took the Bus to Takijiri, the starting point. On our journey we could see how the landscape slowly changed and now we were in the wilderness surrounded by green mountains and deep blue rivers. In a cafe next to the trail I got the traditional pilgrim’s hat and we got warned not to start today anymore. For sure we did. Like always in Japan we entered a forest and it went up very steep on stairs. It went dark very quickly and we took the very first plane spot to pitch our tents there. We cooked our dinner and enjoyed it. The temperature is compareable with the one in the end of November. We couldn’t stay outside for a long time, so we crawled in our sleeping bags very early. I cannot describe how deeply happy I felt to lay in my tent again. I could hear something I couldn’t experience for weeks in Nishinari. Nothing. Silence.
March, 15 th Chikatsuyu
Shrines and stamps. The night was much colder than expected. My body felt stiff when I woke up by early bird‘s sang. The warm sun came out and I fell asleep again. I could hear the first pilgrims passing. I crawled out of my tent and the deep forest was spottet by sunlight. A beautiful scenery. While breakfast the sun was warming us up and happily we packed our stuff to start the journey. Like yesterday we had to climb many stairs made of roots and changed to T-Shirts. On a horseback road we could see the surrounding mountains. I could feel how happiness flooded my body. Just being there with my small backpack satisfied me. We had a great view into the village and we could see that spring is almost there. The mountain were rather green than brown. We entered a small village and I really felt like being back on the Camino in Spain. It is a deep and strong feeling, I cannot describe, but it makes my heart jump. This means pure happiness to me and I enjoyed it a lot. We walked around two hours until we arrived a tiny village with a public toilet, where we could fill up our water reservoir, get some refreshment and wash our dishes. When we continued, we took the wrong road and got immediately picked up by a local woman with her two babies, who brought us back on the road. Like in Spain! We were a little bit hungry, so we asked her where we could get food, so she brought us to a restaurant. We entered and I couldn’t believe what happened. It was heaven. The stuff welcomed us like family members and we took lunch outside with an amazin view of the mountains. They offered organic food from local farmers and I got the best Curry rice of my life. Checking the map, we realized we have a problem about food. Usually food is available everywhere in Japan and this route is well know with a good infrastructure. I think I haven’t been deeper into Japanese countryside so far. The owner was supe nice and invited us to stay at his place or pitch our tents in the garden immediately. He also offered us to work there with our Working Holiday Visa or as a Volunteer any time. In this moment I regretted a little bit that my journey ended so quickly. I would have loved to stay and work at this cozy place in the mountains. We talked to two of the volunteers and almost decided to stay today, but it was too early. It was hard leave, but I was also super excited, because this was exactly the spirit I was looking for. We got some sandwiches made of self baked bread and left. The road guided us again into the forest with a mystical atmosphere. You maybe remember in the second generation of Pokémon (gold and silver) you travel a sacrificed forest within Johto region. This forest is Kumano Kodō and the place where you could find the legendary Pokémon Celebi in a shrine (Japanese version only). These little shrines really exists and logdging stamps for your Credencial. Angèle and me, we have this special kind of connection and we both talked a lot. I guess there wasn’t almost a minute silence between us. But this happened very freely and so we had a lot of fun. Luckily there as a Michi no eki (roadstation) next to the trail where we could get some food, especially fresh vegetables. Hungry we entered and of course we bought to much. We entered the forest again and pitched up our tents on a nice pleateau. After few minutes it began to get dark while we enjoyed our georgeous dinner. With a full belly and a bottle filled with warm tea we crawled into our sleeping back while hoping that this night would be dry and warmer than last night.
March, 16 th Yukawa-oji
Rain. I woke up at 5 am due to a loud thunder. I hoped so much that it would be airplane traffic which just started in the morning For sure I was wrong. Almost twenty minutes later the confirmation followed in form of rain. Even though the thought of being in the woods during a heavy thunderstorm was scared me, the sound of rain dropping on my tent made me feel very comfy and sleepy. This sound always takes me back into my childhood, when I was laying in my warm bed in our Caravan near the Baltic Sea. This night was warmer than last one, in the woods we were protected of wind and the soft soil absorbed the rain. I zipped the hood of my sleeping bag and my eyes and chin was covered by buff scarfes. Only my nose was outside my sleeping bag. With one buff deep over my eyes it was totally dark and in my green sleeping bag I must have looked like a caterpillar in its cocoon. When I woke up again I felt recovered, but I it was still raining and I was absolutely unmotivated to leave my tent. I ate the super delicious sandwiches from yesterday for breakfast in my tent. Angèle did the same. I packed all my stuff inside my tiny house and then the moment came. It was cold and wet outside, but the worst was to pack the wet tent. My hands were frozen. We were happy to start moving and getting warm again. Only few meters further there was a shelter with an amazing view over the village. Although our tents got wet in the forest it might was the better place for the night, because we were protected of the wind, while on this hill it was super cold. We went down into village to get food for the next days. We came out with three fully packed shopping bags. On the next public toilet (which was super convinient, toilets are the perfect for sleeping since they are super clean, warm and a preheated toilet seats also means power supply is available). This time we repacked our bags, cleaned our stuff and got fresh water. I‘m already used to the weird views by other women which happens n toilets in every country. We started and the heavy grey clouds seems to loose their water any moment. But we stayed dry. The air was cold and humid, but super clear and fresh. We had to climb up and with our super loaded backpacks it was no fun. Today‘s trail followed mainly a lonely asphalt road through the mountains which connected one tiny village with the next one. The view was wonderful and we were happy to make some kilometers very easily. We decided to sleep at a toilet tonight and got amazed by this thoughts. As already mentioned Jaapanese toilets are like a hiker‘s hostel and it exactly felt like. For lunch we cooked a Mizu soup and I felt much better after it. I loaded some energy I needed for the last kilometers. The ancient trail was destroyed by a thyphoon in 2011, so there was an official detour for this part and this one was just amazing. While the ancient road of Kumano Kodō leads through super green mystical woods, the detour pass was guiding us deep into the mountains. We were absolutely surrounded by amazing green mountains and there wasn’t any sign or noise of civilization. I never experienced this in Japan before. The sun came out and we could enjoy a fantastic view. It was just perfect and it didn’t matter anymore that we were climbing up lot of elevation meters. On top the route became the ancient road again and guided us through the woods again and then onto a forest road. The sun was gone and it got colder. It was time to arrive at the next shelter soon. The awaited shelter was a Dixi toilet and I‘m sure you can imagine how disappointed we were. Usually you can absolutely trust Japanese. We walked further, the next shelter was supposed to be very close as well. Japan didn’t disappointed us. In a little valley deep in the forest we found a shrine and an open shelter with enough space to pitch up both tents beneath it. The earth toilet was not the awaited lodge, but there was running water, so we had everything we needed in the end. We enjoyed dinner and crawled into our sleeping bags around 8 pm. One thing I really love about camping i wilderness is that it adjusts your natural biorhythm due to the sunlight. During my cycling trip I was always sleeping deeply between 8 and 9 pm and waking up fully energetic at 7 am. Something I’m trying my whole life in every day life without any success… The moon was already shining bright through the roof of leaves. This will be a clear and cold night.
March, 17 th Honguchohongu
Hiker‘s hotel. Indeed this night was cold and humid even though there was no rain during the night. My breath kept the tent’s inner membrane wet and I also could discover drops in the inside the chambers of my sleeping bag. In this moment I didn’t want to leave my tent and rather break up. During breakfast I felt better and we could see the sunlight shining through the deep roof of leaves. For sure me tent did not dry during breakfast. We startet and the trail guided us up into a forest where we had to climb many many stairs. On the top there was a very nice shelter with super nice toilets. It would have been the perfect place to spend the night. We continued and enjoyed the trail in the forest. We were still deep in the mountains with no sing of civilization. After a while we could see the immense impact of last September‘s thyphoon. This one was very heavy and the pictures of a ship hitting Kansai‘s airport bridge went across the world. I already discovered the power of destruction of this typhoon at Mt. Ponpon first hand and here again I saw a swath of destruction. The trail was still blocked
and we followed an official detour along a road when it began to rain. Since I‘m not a fan of rain pants, which just make you sweat I unzipped the legs of my one and only hiking pants. My naked legs were shining bright in the mixture of sunlight and rain and yes it was cold, but I had no choice. The rain was just a test of braveness, which we passed and after a few drops it stopped. We arrived at a little village with a huge rest area and it just started to rain when we arrived. It didn’t matter and we took our time to have the best lunch break on this trail so far. We used all the space and I even could dry my tent and sleeping bag and charge my devices in the toilet. After a long break we continued and dark clouds were followed by bright sunshine and vice verso, but we stayed dry. The view of the mountains surrounding us was amazing in the sunlight. I was so happy, unbelievable that I didn’t want to leave my tent in the morning. Today were many dayhikers on the trail, because it was only a dayhike to the famous Kumano Hongu Taisha Temple. We met a group of elderly Japanese ladies, who were extremely excited about our heavy backpacks and tried to carry them. The last kilometers were just amazing and I enjoyed it with every breath. There was no place on earth I wanted to rather be. This was where I belong. Into nature. Where my heart is happy. Free. With my backpack on my bag. I don‘t know how many kilometers I carried it already on trails around the globe. Once I can feel it on my back, freedom and happiness are flooding my body. When I started this kind of adventures I needed the double size of backpack (60 l) for summer while now a winter camping tour fits easily into my 34 l backpack. That one I carried through Spain. Today I discovered something super interesting. Earth toilets. I mean real earth toilets. Not the ones with a disgusting hole ending into a container which you can smell kilometers away (like the one at the shelter tonight). No, in this ones one could see the earth and it wasn’t nether smelling nor disgusting. When one pressed the bottom a machine was mixing the earth. Funnily the toilet seat was heated as well. This is an amazing idea the famous European trails should copy to avoid all the nasty „public toilet spots“ in the bushes next to the trail. We arrived at the temple and were extremely happy. The village was supposed to be much bigger with a supermarket and an Onsen (natural hot spring). The whole day we were dreaming of a hot bath at the end of the day and I was more than looking forward to wash my super fatty hair. I keep wearing a hat, because I cannot show them anymore. And I guess we are smelling a lot. No, I‘m sure we do. I can smell myself. We collected the last stamp at the temple and went to tourist information to get our certificate. Unfortunately they were closed. The supermarket was small and only offered instant food, but we were still motivated and looking for the Onsen. We lost all motivation when we heated the Onsen was closed. It was getting dark, cold and starting to rain. We stand next to the street with no idea. The cheapest hostels around were like 60 € for a bunk bed. Too expensive. So we decided to stay in a hiker‘s hotel. Means a public toilet. We went to bus station and for the first time in my life in Japan the public toilet was locked. Why now? Luckily a few hundred kilometers further was another one and luckily this one was open. Even though it was directly next to a noisy main road it was a very nice one. The best place to sleep on a public toilet is the disabled toilet, which is always available. This one has much space, mostly an own room, power supply and in this case even an integrated shower with warm water. Warm water is extremely rare in Japan! We couldn’t shower, but at least we could wash ourselves a little bit. This night is not supposed to be the best night, but at least we are supposed to stay dry.
March, 18 th Kogeguchi
Shorts. We set an alarm clock at 7 am to avoid a heart attack of the cleaning and it almost work. She could only see us having breakfast in front of the toilet house which was already weird enough. It was a super warm and comfy night. Being inside a building affects the temperature a lot and one thing I was extremely happy about was the plane floor. If it is not exactly plane I have to fight all the night not to slip off my mattress. I don’t know how many nights I already spent next to the mattress on the cold ground. We went to the tourist information to get the pilgrimage certificate. The one we went to was a souvenir shop and sent us to the correct one. The owner of the souvenir shop was super nice and when I told him that I walked to Santiago de Compostela he congratulated me and showed me his own Credencial. He was excited and gave us both a wooden talisman with the sign of both, Kumano Kodō and the pilgrim‘s shell. I was super happy, because I liked it so much. The Kumano Kodō is strong related to the Camino and does a lot of advertisement for the so called Dual Pilrimage. In the tourist information I showed them pictures of my Credencial from my very first Camino and I got a special Dual Pilgrimage Certificate and a pin. They also took a photo
of me and uploaded it on their website. I was extremely excited, each time something is related to the Camino my hearts starts jumping. The Camino changed my life and without it I wouldn’t be in Japan right now and living a completely different life. I can‘t wait to go back to Santiago, the place where a piece of my heart lays. All this and a visit
in the supermarket took so many time that in the end we were as late as always. But today there was a big difference. I was wearing shorts again. This time not because of the rain, because the sun was shining and it was super warm. This changed our motivation a lot. This trail officially is another route of the Kumano Kodō network called Nakahechi. So we had to walk around three kilometers along the road to get to the trailhead. On the way there was a shelter with the most delicious mandarines I ever tried and we loaded our already overloaded backpacks even more. At
the trailhead it went up very steep into the forest. It was very nice to walk through the half shadow besides the mountains. Today‘s trail was very homogenous, but nice as well. During our lunchbreak we enjoyed the warm sun. The motivation was very small to continue, but we still had some kilometers to walk. The trail guided us next to the mountains through the woods. On the left there was the mountain wall, while on the right it steeply went down. We walked around a corner and then surprisingly we enjoyed the most amazing view of this trail. We were surrounded by mountains without any civilization and had an 300 ° view. The mountains far away seemed like a green wall at the blue horizon. We could have stayed and watched there for hours. Our backpacks were full of food and I could painfully feel it. It was harder today, maybe due to the temperature as well. The last ascent was longer and steeper than expected and took all our power. Since we run out of water and the weather forecast predicted rain we wanted to sleep beneath a shelter at the next toilet which was at the end of this stage. The very last kilometers we were just suffering. All my power was gone and I needed the left energy to place my feet properly. It went down very steep on rocky and loose stairs. These are the hell for knees. I didn’t used my hiking sticks yet and I‘m very proud how brave my injured knee managed the trail without any problems. One and a half year ago it was instabile and already caused trouble while walking for around ten kilometers. I‘m extremely thankful about the strength of my body and that he is doing so properly everything my sometimes stupid and crazy mind wants while looking for the next adventure. Walking down the stairs with the heavy backpack took all our concentration and energy. And for the very first time on this journey we were silent. Unfortunately the toilet and shelter was already in the next village next to a main road. We had no choice. When we arrived the shelter the disappointment followed: a big sign which said camping forbidden. Great. I really struggling with the concept of this pilgrimage route. On one hand they do a lot of advertisement to attract people, especially pilgrim‘s which did one of the most famous pilgrimages in the world: Camino de Santiago. Everything is well made to attract especially foreigners. Everybody speaks very good english (which is super rare in Japan) and there are many many signs. On the other hand there are only few accommodations which are horribly expensive. On the Camino de Santiago a night in a traditional Albergue costs around 5-10 €. Bunk bed, warm shower and shared room. Here the same accommodation costs minimum 10000 Yen (30 €) per night. I would be ok to pay for accommodation more than in Europe, because the prices are higher in Japan and they don‘t have the network. But more than 30 € a night I can‘t and don’t want to pay for bunk bed. This is not the idea of pilgrimage. They attract this kind of clients with no idea that they also might act like this: they camp. I guess on both sides, the disappointment is very high, which is sad, because the route itself and its history is just amazing. For sure we camped there. Forbidden or not, at this point, we had no option anymore. We were hiding our tent behind the building, protected by the roof and hoping that we wouldn’t cause any trouble in the night or morning.
March, 19 th Kii-Katsuura
heaven hell. Covered under the shelter and hidden behind some sinks the night was just perfect: dry, plane, calm and windless. I did not even realized that it was raining
until I left my tent. We were already very fast in packing and had some breakfast at the no camping allowed picnic shelter. Angèle told me she will take a bus. For her it wasn’t fun anymore which I can totally understand, because her sleeping bag was much thinner and her backpack looked like a fridge at her back. I wouldn’t say I was motivated or had fun, but I‘m just too stubborn to stop. Leaving her now meant saying goodbye to her for a very long time, when I am back in Osaka she will be already on her bike trip to Shikoku. It was raining and I walked through a little village. I bought some chocolate before I went to the trailhead. Today‘s trail was supposed to be a 1000 m ascent within 5 km. I felt powerful and alone I could be much faster. It rained and it only took ten minutes until I was wet inside and outside my of my rain jacket.. Sweat was running and my breath was deep and heavy while I climbed one rocky slippery stair after the other. I almost run. The
wood‘s soil was brown, the trees fresh green and the air cold and almost white due to the fog. An unexplainable strength was raising up inside me and I continued. In my ears only my evenly deep breaths. One set of stairs was following the next one. Deep breaths. I didn’t stop for more than one hour. And then I saw stairs whithout any end. I couldn’t see the end. I climbed and climbed. No end. It seemed like these stairs would end in heaven, but it felt like hell. I was sweating a lot and for a second I was afraid of the cold and how I could withstand the cold in the following ten kilometers after that climb. I wouldn’t say I was in danger at any time, but at this time of the journey it wasn’t an easy everyone can do hike anymore. I played a Pokemon song from my childhood to motivate me. I don’t know why, I never did it before, but it worked out very well and suddenly I must have been over the clouds and it became clear. But the stairs didn’t end. I climbed a short passage without my backpack to position my camera and realized the backpack makes a major difference, even though it was light packed. I passed a corner and suddenly I saw a backpack. It was a heavy one. I was super surprised and kept on running. I breathed hard. I wanted to talk to that person. There was somebody else. I was not sure if he wanted to talk to me as well, but I didn’t care. Chris was maybe surprised, but ok to walk together. Only moments later we arrived summit which wasn’t marked, but released me a lot. Talking together time and distance run much faster and more easily. We arrived at a detour which was made because of a landslide due to the heavy thyphoon last year. That meant fourty extra minutes, but the trail was easy and the time went on quickly. We arrived at a shelter and made a quick toilet break. It was less than five minutes, but I was already shaking. I also saw some dayhikers we met several days ago. I was only wearing my longsleeve plus a shirt beneath my rain jacket which was totally wet in- and outside. I couldn’t change clothes or wear my fleece jacket, because I only had one set and I needed it dry for the night. I ate my chocolate while walking and I could feel how my body was absorbing the energy. Several up and downs were following. The terrain was super difficult and it took much concentration not to slip. It started raining heavy again and with the rain the cold come and were attacking my body. I just wanted to escape, but there was no escape. I had to walk. A strange feeling came up, even though the circumstances were so rough I enjoyed walking. I‘m addicted to walking. After a while I realized I couldn‘t sleep in my tent or even toilet tonight or better said I didn’t want to. I wanted a shower in the end. I didn‘t had a shower for almost a week, I was smelling desgustingly and don’t let‘s talk about my hair. This was holidays and ending up with a cold and feeling disgusting was not the intention of it. We couldn’t take any break and so we were extremely fast. I realized how much my body got used to difficult hikes during the last months. Now I benefitted from the regular hikes every weekend. The last kilometers I was just suffering and fighting the cold. I just wanted to end. One kilometer before the famous Nachi temple and end of the pilgrimage was the toilet I was planning to stay. The place was just amazing and this place was a dream of shelter. But I couldn’t stay. It was too early as well. We did a great job and arrived at the temple at 3 pm. In the end I hiked the 17 km in less than 5 hours. I was shaking when we arrived at the temple. I took some pictures and even without collecting a stamp or certificate I headed to bus station. The original pla was to hike the 6 km to Kii-Katsuura as well, but it was not possible. In the bus I booked a hotel with Onsen and couldn‘t wait to place my frozen body into the hot bath tub. Finally I arrived at the hotel and spent almost one hour in the bath while my clothes enjoyed the washing machine. I had to shampoo my hair three times to get rid of all the fat! I never experienced this before in my whole life. In summer I always take a bath in every little pond and it is much easier to stay clean or even human. After the bath and with fresh warm clothesI felt like. I met Chris for dinner and we went to a local restaurant. Kii-Katsuura is directly at the Ocean and famous for tuna. I tried tuna Sashimi (raw tuna) which was unbelievable delicious. Like chicken the raw variant is much better than the cooked one. We spent a nice evening. Later I found out my beloved camera is broken. I spoke with my best friend who is an expert and he told me it isn’t possible to fix it. The lense is broken and cannot realized by the body anymore. I‘m indescribable sad about it. Without my camera I feel kind of naked. After today I couldnt image stop walking and was motivated to walk on. I wanted to go to Shirahama as well, which is a spot of the series Detective Conan and a dream from childhood to take a picture of the incredible white sand of Shirahama. I took this camera on so many adventures, high mountains and now shortly before Sakura (famous cherry blossom) it just stopped working. What a mess… 😦
March, 20 th Shirahama
White sand. I opened my windows in the morning and couldn’t believe my eyes: whether forecast was right, the sun was shining warmly into my face. Within an hour I got ready and went to train station. I took the next local train to Shirahama. The idea came up at the beginning of this journey. I remember exactly the moment I decided to go to Japan and Shirahama was one of the spots I wanted to go. I always wanted to go there by bike, but now it would be stupid not to go there, while it was directly on the way, the sun was shining and I missed the Ocean so much. Shirahama is well known for its white beach and Onsen, but mostly only by Japanese. It is almost unknown by Westerners and I only knew about it due to one of my favourite Anime Detective Conan. I enjoyed the train ride a lot, riding slowly through the sunny countryside, the mountains on one side and the beautiful blue ocean at the other side. Shirahama is very small health resort, the bus dropped me off at the beach after a short ride. It was lunch time, so I bought a snack at the Konbini to enjoy it at the beach. The Detective Conan’s episode is called “the white sand of Shirahama” and yes indeed the sand was incredible white. I never saw it in my whole life. It was almost painful in the eyes. It created the most beautiful contrast to the ocean I’ve ever seen. The ocean was bright turquoise turning into deep blue at the horizon. I could have screamed for happiness. This was the perfect place to end the pilgrimage and the award for continuing yesterday. The trail provides! I started cooking Curry Udon on my little stove at the beach. As always I was too hungry and impatient, so it burned. After lunch I went to the nearby toilet for cleaning the mess and suddenly a person appeared behind me, staring at me. I turned around and couldn’t believe my eyes! It was Angèle! couldn’t say anything for minutes and we both were shocked. We didn’t had any contact via phone or appointment to meet at Shirahama. It was just impossible. How we could meet randomly here in this toilet? The joy was huge. It was destiny and of course where else should we meet, if not on a toilet? This pilgrimage was rather a pilgrimage from toilet to toilet and now we met there again randomly after I was sure we will never meet again. Together we enjoyed the beach, since this little health resort was not made for wild camping and there was a cheap guesthouse Angèle changed her plans and decided to stay with me at the guest house instead traveling back to Ōsaka today. Her backpack was in Tanabe, where she stayed the night before, so she went back there to get it while I kept on enjoying the sunny day at Shirahama. It walked along the coast to visit Engetsu Island, a small island in shape of a bridge. I walked barefoot and enjoyed it a lot. Last year I walked the whole summer barefoot, everywhere, even on the hikes and my feet were healthy and strong. Since coming to Japan this was the first time and my feet are so weak and sensible. But barefoot season just started. There are foot Onsen almost everywhere in Shirahama. So I stopped and enjoyed the super hot water while watching at the Ocean. It was extremely hot and almost painful, but after a while it was like paradise. I talked to some locals and checked in my guest house. It was a lovely place and I would love to spend there some time in summer. I picked up Angèle from the bus station, we got some drinks and went to the beach to watch the beautiful sunset. We talked until the moon and the stars were out. Slowly we walked back to our guesthouse, but not without stopping at a foot Onsen. Back at the guest house, I went to bed and fell asleep immediately. No idea why I was that tired.
March, 21 th Ōsaka
Rotenburo. Rotenburo is a natural hot spring (Onsen), but outside. I slept like a baby and extremely deeply. As predicted it was a rainy grey day, but no reason for not going to Onsen. The owner of our guest house was super nice and drove us there. And then the moment came when the two lazy flowers sat in the warm water and making undefined noises. This was heaven on earth. We sat in the hot hot water in a rock pool directly at the ocean. We could smell the the ocean and taste the salty waves. I don’t know how many time we spent there. After the bath I felt like newborn and I also was hungry like one. We had lunch / breakfast at a nearby Konbini and went slowly back to the guesthouse. Luckily the owner was about to leave and offered us to take us to train station. We couldn’t believe our luck. She drove us to Kii-Tanabe, where we started our journey. I got another violet Nalgene bottle at the tourist information and was so happy about it. It was raining and the place wasn’t proper for hitchhiking, so we decided to take the train to Gobo and try to get back to Ōsaka from there. I slept during the train ride and was super tired and unmotivated to hitchhike, but at least we wanted to try. It took only a few minutes until an elderly guy stopped and picked us up. He dropped us off at a Lawson next to the highway and it was the perfect place. Less than five minutes later we got picked up by an elderly woman and were on the way to Kainan. The lady was super cute and stopped on the way to buy local fish and oranges as a gift for us. Unbelievable. She dropped us off at a huge supermarket, where we had lunch before continuing our journey. Interestingly we exactly took the same way with the same stops like a week before. We didn’t wait for a long time until a young guy took us to Wakayama. He was very shy, but tried to speak as much English with us as possible. It went dark and our motivation was somewhere else. We didn’t try hard to catch a car and decided to take the local train. Unfortunatly we really took the super local train which took us two hours to get back to Ōsaka. The wheather in Ōsaka was different. It was warm, humid and foggy. The city was stressing me immediately. We went to our hostel’s public bath together and after it I was even too tired for dinner, but I just went out to take a picture of my beloved Tsutenkaku tower which was shining in pink coloraturas due to the Sakura season.
March, 26 Awaji Awaji Island
Back on the road. Literally. During the last weeks working in Osaka I often remembered the very beginning of my journey and how I cycled through Japan. I really missed that time. So, my new camera just arrived and the last few days of my holidays I wanted to spend on my bike and at the ocean. Since the time is limited I decided to go on a trip to Awaji island which is around a one day trip from Osaka. The island itself is big enough to spend some time there and enjoy the ocean and beautiful beaches. Today was a sunny spring and just perfect for cycling. Unfortunately the way to Kobe and out of Osaka is the most stressful route I ever cycled. I woke up late and my motivation was very low, so I started very late. It felt like an eternity to get out of the busy city. Noise, exhaust, much traffic and steady stop and go. I had to follow the main road, which was no fun. The way to Kobe was the works, there was a huge traffic jam and I was stuck within breathing all the fumes. After Suma it got better and I made a lunch break at the beach. There is a huge bridge, which connects Awaji island and Kobe, but unfortunately it’s not accessible for bicycles. So I had to take the ferry from Akashi port. I was happy when I arrived and looked forward the ride. Suddenly the sun disappeared and dark grey clouds appeared over the ocean. Great. When I arrived in Awaji drops fell on my forehead. The campsites I found on google maps were as unreliable as always and when I arrived at the first one it was a real mess. Unfortunately everybody can add a place and mark it as a campsite on google. Some travelers think if they slept at one place, it is a campsites. I continued and hoped for a beach with a small park. Luckily the place was very nice. The toilets were closed, which is rare in Japan, but there was a bus station nearby. I went to a nearby shop, bought some fruits and enjoyed the sunset at the ocean. I pitched up my tent in darkness and it was super windy. I hope I won’t get blown away tonight. I’m very happy to be in my tent while listening to the ocean.
March, 27 th Sumoto Awaji Island
A dream comes true. I don’t like cycling. From the moment I feel my backpack on my back I feel free and an indescribable happiness rises inside me. Once I’m used to the trail I cannot stop walking. I’m almost addicted to it. It is very crazy, because usually I’m already to lazy to walk to the fridge… Anyway once on the trail I’m a lucky walking animal. Well, unfortunately this does not work for cycling. I gave it a trial, but after more than 3000 km in total on trails I’ll give up. I don’t like it. Being on a bike makes me happy and gives me a feeling of freedom, because it will bring me to amazing places, but cycling itself I cannot enjoy. For sure, I will continue cycling if I cannot walk, because it is still my favorite way of transportation. It was very windy last night and therefore colder than expected. Somehow I didn’t manage to sleep, but usually the first time on the trail I have problems with sleeping well. The morning was sunny and I started quickly into the day. Again I cycled along the main road, of course it was still better than on the way to Kobe, but still smelly, noisy and stessfull. I only had cakes for breakfast, so I made a long break in the first bigger village at a huge supermarket. With a full belly I continued through small abandoned villages. You know you are in the countryside, if there isn’t a Konbini anymore. The road went directly at the cliff next to the ocean, without traffic it would have been amazing. I arrived at Sumoto very early and wanted to check if there is a ferry to Kobe or Wakayama, which would be a nice shortcut. But there was no ferry terminal. Instead I bumped into a boat race bet buero and an Onsen resort. Sumoto had a very nice beach and the aim of this trip was to spend time at the ocean. Nice beaches are rare in Japan, so I parked my bike at a tree and grabbed my into the warm yellow sand. The water was clear and deep blue while the sun was shining. I spent my day at the beach, while just enjoying the sun and the sound of the waves. The water was super cold, but for the first time I swam in the ocean in Japan. Only a few minutes, but I did! There was a big ship anchoring in the bay. I watched it for hours. Later two men and an elderly man were talking to me at the beach. The men were from the ship, which was a cruise across Osaka Bay. I used the day to take photos with my new camera and my new lense. I tried a lot of new things and had a lot of fun doing it. The sun slightly set and it went dark. The park at the beach was very light with many lanterns, no chance to hide. Then I found a place near the toilet building, in front of the showers which shadows were hiding me and my bike. I pitched my tent directly at the beach next
to the ocean. It was the very first time I pitched my tent in the sand and that close to the ocean. I have a little bucket list of terrains and places I want to pitch my tent and spend the night and in the sand next the ocean at a beautiful beach was one of the most important ones.
March, 28 th Ashiyama
Weather forecast. Since the weather forecast predicted rain for the next two days and I still had to do some bureaucracy at home I decided to cycle back. The night was amazing, it was warm and I could hear the ocean all night. I woke up at 6 am in the morning due some elderly women talking very loud next to my tent. I couldn’t understand what they said, but it sounded that they weren’t happy to see the tent. It was also very unlikely that they were coincidentally next to my tent. Maybe they also just discussed the stupidity of the place I pitched it up. In darkness it was precicely placed into the shadow, but during daylight it just looked like nonsense and occupying the showers for no reason. They disappeared quickly, but my heart was bumping very loudly, so I couldn’t sleep anymore. When I crawled out of my tent, I was alone at the whole beach and surprisingly it was warm and dry. The salty warm air felt like a silk blanket on my skin. I packed my stuff and enjoyed my breakfast while watching the ship from yesterday, which was still anchoring at the bay. I was back on the road very early and without the traffic it was enjoyable. This joy din’t last for a long time, but I had a wonderful start into the day. I ate kilometres very fast and when I arrived at the beach I slept the night before I made a break. There was a second reason for stopping there. Yesterday I realised many of my tent pegs were missing while I was sure that I used them the evening before. I couldn’t believe that I left them, but at least I would give them a try. And indeed. All of them were still stuck in the ground where my tent was. I seriously managed to forget to remove all of the pegs! After the break it was a short way to ferry terminal and the way back was very smooth and fast. The ferry is super fast and jets over the ocean. Unfortunately less time to enjoy the ride. Meanwhile the sun was coming out and it became a very nice sunny beach. My friend Tomal, who lives in Ashiyama invited me to his place and so the ride back to Osaka would be much shorter than expected. I still had many time, so I stopped again at Suma beach, a very nice beach next to Kobe and did what I am best in. Threw my mattress into the sand and took a long deep nap. The sun was warming my lazy body like a blanket. It’s been months that I had this experience last time and yes, this is the only reason I’m cycling, hiking or go to do outdoor stuff. I slept around an hour and felt very refreshed. I could feel how sleepiness was grabbing me and I’m sure without these breaks I would fall asleep on my bike one day. The last part of the ride was along the main road and the ugly part just started and would last until Osaka. I went to Tomal’s home, where he prepared the key for me and I could enter and relax at his place. In the evening he came back and we spent a nice time talking and cooking. He cooked some typical Bangladesh Curry for me. I had the feeling he just cooked garlic and onion, but the taste was amazing. Traditionally we ate on the floor and with our blank hands. It was the first time I only ate with my hands. With my friend Viraj I also cooked (Indian) Curry, but in this case we grabbed it with a piece of bread each time. It was a very special experience and more difficult than expected to handle the hot rice. When I was a child I also wished to eat like this. A long very nice evening came to end and super tired I fell asleep immediately. A very nice end of this small journey.
March, 29 th Osaka
Hanami. Sakura (Cherry blossom) is almost fully blooming. During this time of the year
everybody is meeting with friends and doing picnic under cherry blossom trees. Eating a lot nice food and of course drinking Sake and beer. Even though the weather forecast was not that nice Sayaka, Yoshi and me were meeting up at Osaka Castle park to enjoy the wonderful cherry blossoms. We met after noon and once we found a nice place it started raining. Like the other people around us we didn’t care. Sayaka told me it was the very first time she saw umbrellas during Hanami. Everybody brought something and we had an opulent variety of foods and drinks. I made rice balls in the shape of cat faces with forms I just got at my trip on Awaji Island. Unfortunately the rain didn’t stop and it got colder, so we decided to continue the picnic at Sayaka’s place. Together we enjoyed a lot and had a very nice evening and it went very late in the end. I felt really happy. It is so nice to spend time with friends.
March, 31 th Osaka
Hiking Mt. Daimonji. It has been almost a month since the last hike and I was very happy
to continue. I was planing today’s trail very carefully, so that we would be able to see amazing cherry blossoms. I decided to go to Daimonjiyama, a very famous mountain in Kyoto. Due to the fact that the hike will take place in Kyoto during Sakura high season I expected a lot of attendees and indeed there were 20 people joining on Couchsurfing. At the meeting point at Osaka station only a few already well known locals were appearing. We took the train to Kawaramachi and unfortunately we jumped into the Semi-Express instead of the Express. Semi-Express doesn’t deserve the term Express, it stopped at every station and we realised it half late. So had a big delay and at the station in Kyoto it was chaotic. People didn’t managed to find each other. When I got out of the station, I was shocked about the crowd of people. It took more than half an hour to gather and get started. Starting and getting our way through the crowd was super slowly and stressful. Some guys were joining on the trail, so in the end we were around 18 people. Luckily the worst was over quickly and soon we walked along a beautiful river. There were many people, but it was still enjoyable. We could enjoy the ancient image of Japan. Even though it was very hard to keep the group going and impossible to keep them together. I was extremely stressed by it. I mean even though the trail was perfect to enjoy Sakura, it wasn’t made to go for it with such a big group and this was rather a tourist walk than a hike. A few group members were very quick and when I headed only few meters to stop them, the group behind me just disappeared. We waited for a while, but they didn’t came. What happened? I went back to look for them, but nothing. I send many messages and tried to call them. Nothing. How can 10 people disappear within minutes? We waited more than half an hour, when Sayaka told me they found a local which guided them to the top of the mountain. Well, I was really upset in that moment. Not because they were using another way, but about that anybody of them got the idea to think about the other and send a quick message. My understanding of being a group is different and means thinking in a group pattern. Today I was really struggling to hold the group together so nobody is left behind. I took it personally when they just disappeared and didn’t care about the others. I was very disappointed and couldn’t hide. The seven of us continued on the given trail. We climbed up the mountain and had a nice break on the trail. A few hundred meters before summit we had an amazing view of Kyoto. It was absolutely unexpected and made all of us speechless. In that moment it started hailing and only moments later the sun broke through the dark clouds shine on some parts of the city. The rain made the city shining back and the air was super clear. The nature of the mountain was comparable to that ones around Seoul and it was as steep as it felt like we could fall into city any moment. It felt like if we open our arms, we would fly through the cold clear air above the city. All of us were super excited. When we continued climbing, the sun was warming up and drying our wet jackets. The trail to summit guided us through a forest and there was something I miss most: Silence. I didn’t expected it there and it created a mystical atmosphere. At summit we met the other part of the splitter group. We made a break and when the sun was slightly beginning to set we headed down to station. The trail guided us through the forest and I could feel how my level of stress lowered while being into nature. It is like breathing. The trail was small, so we lined up and were much faster than during the day before. We missed are junction and I was sure the trail which was on the map didn’t exist. Sometimes this happens. The detour was supposed to be very long and on the trail were typhoon damages. I was hoping that we wouldn’t end up on a blocked trail in the end like at Ponponsan. At a junction we took a trail which was not in my open street map based map, but interestingly the navigation function realised that there was a trail. Due to this shortcut we saved around two kilometres and ended up at a temple. The walk back to the station was very nice, we walked through a residential area, but this area was my imagination of “the ordinary life in Japan”. The sunset dipped the scenery in a very warm golden light. At the train station we went to a Ramen shop and had dinner together. On the way back we lost a couple of people and they missed the trail which was not on the map. The detour was not only longer, it also pointed out typhoon damages, so these people arrived almost in darkness at the train station. Even though it was a very nice hike (honestly the trail was better than expected), many things went into a way I was not happy with. In future hikes I have to improve and have to manage to prevent from splitting, because it is not cool to be left behind or to leave someones behind. But definitely I need help. I cannot do it alone. Let’s grow even more together and start taking a little bit more responsibility for each other, so everybody can rely on each other.