Friday, December 16, 2016

2016 Alaska Voyage


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We continue to cruise TAMARA as actively as we possibly can each season. In the years that we have been back from our extensive time cruising from the Labrador Sea to Patagonia and Antarctica, then finally home to Alaska, about half of each year has been devoted to preparing, provisioning, maintaining and cruising the boat which has so faithfully served us for so many years and miles.

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One benefit of being back in the cold waters of Alaska is that TAMARA requires much less frequent haul-outs for routine bottom cleaning and painting. However the flip side of that benefit is the greater difficulty in doing such work in a place where the weather can often be less than cooperative. Our maintenance schedule would require that a part of this season’s time would have to be devoted to this effort. But first there would be time for yet one more late winter cruise in one of the most spectacular maritime regions, where mountains and glaciers meet the sea, and where winter is usually a time of particularly great beauty and unique adventure aboard a cruising sailboat.

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Mark devoted a good portion of the fall and early winter at home in Port Townsend to ordering, re-packing and arranging shipment aboard a friend’s fishing boat of all of the maintenance items, new gear and so on that would be required to conduct the quadrennial haul-out project. In addition, we planned a remote wilderness canoe trip in Canada’s Yukon Territory that we intended to undertake in September as we made our way homeward. This required some new camping equipment to supplement gear that we’d owned and used for decades. In part this was to assure greater comfort for an extended trip, and was easily accomplished as a canoe can readily accommodate a very substantial amount of equipment. Included in the preparations was arranging to purchase an excellent used voyaging canoe from one of the commercial outfitters in Whitehorse at the close of their normal season, and figuring out how to get everything to the right place at the right time

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In late February Mark left Port Townsend in our Subaru Forester loaded with as little gear as possible for the 2250 mile Alaska Highway drive to Valdez to meet the ferry to Cordova. Of course “as little gear as possible” meant a very substantial amount of equipment for the remote drive, such as Arctic winter clothing, footwear, sleeping bag, camp stove, tire chains, axe, shovel etc., as well as all of the parts, equipment and doodads that had been acquired in addition to the great bulk of stuff had been loaded aboard Stewart Deal’s seine boat DEFIANCE. Without such help almost every season we would have a very difficult time getting all of the things that such adventuring requires, and for this we are grateful for the friends that we have that are still active in Alaskan fisheries.

Recent years have undergone a very rapid and steady decline in what once were normal winter conditions, both on the drive north, as well as in Prince William Sound. On Mark’s 2012 solo winter cruise, record snowfall had made the Sound a winter wonderland, and required the assistance of the military to keep Cordova functioning. But in each of the years since, winter had become shorter and shorter, with snowfall diminishing progressively over time. Generally on the drive north, extremely low temperatures render even snow-packed roads safer as the hard-pack takes on an almost concrete-like quality. No thin layer of water develops on top to create the very slippery conditions common on more temperate highways. But in recent years there had been either no snow pack at all, or the dreaded warmer temperatures that result in the more treacherous driving conditions

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The oil dependent Alaska state budget situation further complicated this season’s trip. Following the opening of a highway tunnel from the western Prince William Sound port of Whittier, most full-time Cordovans utilize the ferry to get to the city of Anchorage via that shorter route, rather than landing in Valdez and making the longer drive. To adjust to budget cuts, the ferry system has therefore made the Valdez/Cordova run a lower priority. As a consequence the boat to and from Cordova and Valdez now generally takes a very long triangular route by way of Whittier, turning what used to be a seven-hour trip into fourteen! Fortunately the scenery is spectacular, the ferry warm and comfortable, and there usually is someone aboard whom we know to talk with.

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Generally it takes ten days or so to commission, fuel and provision TAMARA for her winter cruise. This includes removing the special shrink wrap material that serves as a winter covering, bending on the sails, refitting the anchor that had been removed to accommodate the harbor snow removal crews, getting engine, generator and other mechanical systems functional, and laying in fuel, provisions and water, which requires some effort in the winter. However this season the exceptionally mild winter, and historically low snow-pack made most of these chores relatively easy.

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The cruise itself was much less satisfying than it would have been with a more normal winter. After all it is winter itself that is the objective of a “winter cruise”, and this year there was not only no snow at all below 1,500 feet elevation but the ground itself was not even frozen! No skiing, snowshoeing or any other winter activity was possible, and even hiking ashore was not facilitated by firm ground. With luck this coming winter will bring more normal conditions.

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Perhaps the most challenging episode of the winter cruise occurred early on when a strong winter gale resulted in TAMARA dislodging her anchor while waiting for better conditions at Naked Island. This required some tricky work for Mark as a single-hander. His reflections on seamanship, techniques, equipment, and training and experience resulted in a piece to be published as a two-part installment featured in Cruising World magazine this coming spring.

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Following the “winter” cruise, Mark returned to Cordova to undergo the annual SERVS oil spill response training, and then re-provisioned TAMARA in preparation for Nancy’s arrival in early May. The weather was exceptionally fine, and the harbor exceptionally busy, in part due to an ill-timed road construction project at the busiest time of year for the salmon fleet. So we simply decided to forgo the necessary maintenance haul-out until the end of the season, and got away from the bustle as quickly as we could.

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As we would have to do the maintenance work, we had not planned to range far a-field, remaining in the Sound instead of venturing westward for the eastern Aleutian Island area. So to make the cruise more interesting, and a little more challenging, we tried to visit as many places in the Sound that we had not been before as we could. However even in the 7,500 square miles of cruising afforded within Prince William Sound there are becoming fewer and fewer anchorages that we have not used at one time or another.

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The fine weather however allowed us to more easily paddle, row or hike, so we were able to thoroughly enjoy even the less challenging cruising. At times we sought out the company of other, usually foreign flagged, cruising boats, while sometimes we ventured to where we knew there would likely not be any other boats at all. Part of this search took us to very secluded anchorages in which it would be possible to secure the yacht with lines ashore, possibly even in winter. This effort continues to give us very detailed information, with our notes containing soundings, water sources, mooring plans and so on in order that we can safely secure TAMARA for an extended period. This is essential, particularly on the winter cruises in order to be able to leave the boat for any period of time.

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Our cruise took us to the foot of a few of the Sound’s spectacular glaciers, to secluded anchorages from which we could roam ashore, lagoons completely sheltered from even the generally quiet waters of the Sound, and to locations where much of Cordova’s fishing fleet were concentrated for salmon season. In all this cruise was quite relaxing - although at times we missed a few of the challenges of our more ambitious western voyages. As we had ample time available, and had never done so during the busy summer tourist season, we decided to visit the small port of Whittier. Originally constructed to be only a temporary WWII supply terminal, Whittier has become a major cruise ship point of embarkation, with tourists traveling into Alaska's interior by bus and train.

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An annual summer festival called Salmon Jam takes place in July in Cordova, but we’d never been in town at that time of year, as cruising had kept us far from town. This year, with our less extensive cruise and our need to return to port for the maintenance haul-out we made it a point to fully partake of both days of the festival. Great food, music and of course good beer made for a fine time up on Cordova’s ski hill. Nancy served as a volunteer for the event, while Mark got to see old friends that generally do not arrive in town until after our usual departure.

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Work on the haul-out progressed pretty smoothly. The town’s new lift and excellent harbor staff greatly facilitate such a project, and the excellent skilled tradesmen and commercial chandleries make a fishing port like Cordova the ideal place for boat maintenance work. In all, we applied three coats of anti-foulant paint, replaced sacrificial zinc anodes, replaced the mechanical propeller shaft seal, installed a new depth sounder transducer, and performed some welding work. All routine but essential work.

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Just before completion of the yard project, Nancy flew south to embark on yet another section of her Pacific Crest Trail hike. She has now completed about two thirds of the entire distance. See link to her hiking blog. When she had completed this season’s PCT hike she returned to Cordova, and we loaded up the Subaru with all of the gear for the canoe trip!

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On our road trip two years ago to the Arctic Ocean via Canada’s Dempster Highway and the Mackenzie River Valley, we crossed and re-crossed a number of important historic canoe routes that had been used both by pre-European First Nations peoples, and later by the Voyageurs of the fur trade. This gave Mark the idea to once again return to canoeing as a way to enjoy wilderness travel. He too had done a great many miles as a hiker, but severe back injuries have ended that means of travel. Even though he has some difficulty walking, paddling would allow us to get deep into the wild. In addition, a good canoe can carry a tremendous load of equipment and provisions, making for quite comfortable camp living.

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Mark had arranged to buy a used Old Town Discovery canoe from one of the Whitehorse, Yukon Territory commercial outfitters. He'd had extensive canoeing experience growing up, had taught in a summer camp, had done some paddling in western Alaska 40 years ago, but had not been in a canoe since. Nancy paddles her kayak in every one of our summer anchorages, but had no canoeing experience. Mark would have to teach her a few essential strokes and techniques, but was confident that she would quickly master working the boat on the river. Coupled with both of us having many years of wilderness travel experience, Mark’s experience in canoes and good woodcraft, we felt ready for a remote river trip.

The fourteen hour ferry trip from Cordova to Valdez got us ashore just before dark. So we drove directly to a public campground a few miles from town, set up our camp, and put off shopping for fuel and provisions until the next morning. Then we set out for Whitehorse, about 650 miles to the southeast.

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In Whitehorse we made a very short stop at Kanoe People, an outfitter business very well run by a First Nations family, loaded our boat with the help of the daughter of the proprietor, and headed directly to the enormous supermarket in town to provision. Three days later, after sorting through the equipment and provisions, working out a packing scheme, and driving 125 miles on the very primitive Canol Road to where a WWII Bailey Bridge crosses the Rose River, we unloaded the canoe and mountain of gear. The road had been built specifically to construct a small pipeline to supply military needs at Whitehorse during WWII, and has been changed very little since. Some of the original equipment, abandoned at completion, remains today. Our plan was to take the Rose to the Nisutlin River which flows all of the way south to Teslin Lake, near the town of Teslin on the Alaska Highway.

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However we had no way to get the Subaru back south to our end point, then return to the Rose River Bridge to start paddling. Our error in planning was that only a few days earlier it was both Labour Day in Canada, and the opening of the moose-hunting season. Had we initiated our trip then, it would have been easy to drive the car down to Teslin, then hitch-hike back up the Canol Road with one of the hunters. But a few days later, hunters were all southbound, and no traffic was bound for the Rose.

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We decided to cast fate to wind, unloaded the canoe, and gear, and parked the Subaru at the Rose River bridge, hoping that all would work out and that we could retrieve the car without chartering a helicopter!

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A few days down the river we camped at the only place along the route that the river came anywhere near the road. There we met another paddler, Rick Flewelling, a very intrepid 73 year-old who spends about five months every season solo paddling in the North. He was southbound, but offered to give Mark a ride the two hours back north on the muddy road where he could retrieve the car. After the four hour round trip we shared a dinner together with Rick who regaled us with tales of his 50 year career delivering sailing vessels throughout the world. Our common experiences as mariners, sailors and paddlers made for a very entertaining evening, even though it was raining heavily.

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Fortunate to have been able to retrieve the car, and armed with the knowledge of how to solve the transport logistics by embarking a few days earlier, we decided to load up the canoe and make our way slowly home, camping and paddling on some of the many lakes and traditional canoe routes in British Columbia along the way. This included an extended camp on Stuart Lake, site of the Fort St. James National Historic site. But we plan to return to the Rose River Bridge next Labour Day and try again. If Rick can do it at 73, we can do it five years his junior!

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Early in the 1800’s the critically important fur trade in Canada had been pushed far to the west. This trade was controlled by two rival companies, the iconic Hudson Bay Company, and the North West Company. Searching for new sources of trade, both sent explorers deep into the wilderness to scout new transportation routes, make contact with native peoples, and establish trading posts. In 1805 Simon Fraser led an expedition over the Rocky Mountains to investigate the fur trade potential of the Pacific slope. After spending the winter at McLeod Lake, Frasier and his subordinate James MacDougal established a post on Sturgeon Lake, later re-named for company clerk John Stuart. It would become the most important British Columbia post, serving essentially as the capitol of New Caledonia for many years. The two rival firms merged in 1821, and the post thereafter would operate under the auspices of the Hudson Bay Company - a firm that traces its linage to 1670 and continues in business throughout Canada to this day.

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Mark has studied, written and lectured on the Pacific Northwest Maritime Fur Trade, including at our Mystic Seaport Museum shows a few years ago that detailed our voyages in the wake of those entrepreneurial sailors. He was most impressed by the knowledge and presentation of the young woman who served as our interpretive docent on our tour of the post. The two of them continued to talk well after the end of the tour! In contrast to an earlier visit 20 years ago, the present staff are now truly experts.

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By the end of September we were once again home, feeling much like the Canada geese we’d seen all along the way making the same migration that we do each season. Soon late February will come once again, and the cycle will be renewed.

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Thursday, December 15, 2016

Tokyo Reunion

I began my sophomore year of high school at the American School In Japan (ASIJ) when in 1964 my family moved to Tokyo, Japan. The high school section of ASIJ, at that time, had approximately 400 students, making us a pretty close knit group. The class of 1966 planned to have their 50th reunion this year in Tokyo in April and the invitation was extended to all the alumni of that era. I hadn't visited Japan since the 70's and the opportunity to experience Tokyo again with old classmates was one I couldn't pass up.

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The major cost would be the airfare so it made sense for me to spend some additional time traveling in Japan. I would focus on central Honshu for its easy access from Tokyo, and visit an area I had not visited previously. Ten days would be spent in Matsumoto, the Kiso Valley, Takayama and Kimikochi. And all of my belongings would have to fit into a day-pack and a small handbag, allowing easy access on and off transportation and to accommodations.

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Normally when I travel, a basic itinerary is planned but no advance reservations made, except for perhaps the first night. Due to the limited amount of time, and the fact the dates would coincide with one of Japan's busiest travel periods, all my accommodations were booked in advance. I would mostly stay in hostels where I could mingle with other travelers, pick up travel tips, and have access to cooking facilities.

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Upon arrival at Narita Airport, I called my Air Bnb host who picked me up and took me to his house close to the airport. While at Hiroshi's I got my first look at the new and improved Japanese toilet. The first time I used one I couldn't figure out how to flush the toilet. Along the side were all kinds of buttons but none flushed the toilet. Embarrassed, I asked Hiroshi's wife and she pointed to the standard flush handle on the tank. OK. Then, the other guest asked me what I thought of the fountain on top of the tank. Of course he would notice since he would be facing the tank, but sitting I hadn't noticed. When I did, I observed what would be standard on many toilets, a hand washing fountain that flowed while the tank was being filled up. Eventually, I got to know the meaning of the various buttons on the side. Two were for the different bidet flow types, another for the temperature of the seat and the others, I still don't know. You have to remember, when I lived in Japan, most public toilets were squat types. Now, compared to US toilets, they are way ahead of us!

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The reunion took place over the course of four days and included a full day at ASIJ. Days were left open (except the day at ASIJ) and events planned for the evenings. In Tokyo, I shared an Air BnB with my friend Anna who lives in Portland, OR and who has been a great help on my PCT hikes.

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After 49 years (wow!) there have been many changes to Tokyo. Like most major cities, older buildings have been torn down and replaced with larger structures. The Air BnB was in Sibuya, an area I had lived in my first year in Tokyo. I had tried to find the house on a visit in the early 70's but it had already been torn down and a department store built in its place.

On my first day taking the subway I must have looked lost, because an older Japanese man (older, probably my age) approached and asked me in English if I needed any help. What a surprise! And later that same day a younger Japanese man asked if he could help, something I was not accustomed to in Japan. Maybe it's because now I have gray hair and as an older woman get more respect.

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The day of the visit to ASIJ the group took the train, then walked the short distance to the school. Nothing was familiar to me. The school is now totally enclosed by a large fence and there's a new grand entrance with a guard shack to greet visitors. Once inside the old memories started to flood back.

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The visit included a tour of the school, a discussion on students who spend years living abroad then returning to the states, and lunch in the cafeteria. I had an opportunity to visit the World History class. Sitting in that class made me all the more conscious of how my perspective of the world has changed after fifty years of life experiences and world travels. I was clueless back then.

The school musical, cleverly titled “School Musical”, was being performed that evening and we were invited to attend. They did a great job. Then the school provided us with transportation back into Tokyo on the school buses, reliving all those mornings and afternoons commuting to school on the bus.

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The last day of the reunion was Saturday, April 22, and Anna and I were walking to Meiji shrine, located close to our Air Bnb. We noticed that an Earth Day celebration was taking place at the 1964 Olympic Village site. For obvious reasons there was a large focus on nuclear power plants. I remember celebrating the first Earth Day at the UC Irvine campus in 1970.

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I was hoping to find someone to travel with, but the few alumni I reached out to, had their own schedules to work around. Anna came five days prior to the reunion and returned home the day I left to start my travels. Since I've traveled many miles on my own doing so again was easy.

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The Sunday after the reunion I departed for my first destination, Matsumoto, a 5 hour train ride (not a bullet train) from Tokyo. The valley skyline is dominated by the Japanese Alps to the west. The region is famous for delicious apples, soba (buckwheat noodles), and the largest wasabi farm in Japan. It is the birth place of the contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama as well as the Suzuki music method.

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Beyond Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto, there are many cities in Japan with long and rich histories, and typical castle towns. They were once the stronghold of a powerful family, and a center of commerce and culture for a whole region. Every one of these cities has a unique character, even to this day. Matsumoto has one of Japan's top 3 castles, and the main reason for my visit.

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Matsumoto Castle, a 16th-century stronghold, is nicknamed “Crow Castle” for its distinctive black outside walls. It's a “hirajiro” castle, one built on a plain rather than on a hill or mountain. Construction of the castle started 1504, was restructured from 1593-4, and finally completed in 1614.The castle was built purely for military purposes and not as a full-time residence. The openings in the walls were for arrows (yazama), guns (teppozama) and for dropping large stones (ishiotoshi). The castle has six stories, including a hidden floor where the samurai warriors could rest, store their food and keep their powder dry.

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I learned from the hostel that the city loans bikes for free, so I took advantage of having wheels to take in a lot more than would be possible by walking. In addition to visiting the castle, I rode up to Joyama Park to get a view of the city and valley, toured Nakamachi Street with its old white-walled merchant houses reminiscent of a bygone Japan, and went out of town to the Japan Ukiyo-e wood-block print museum. Unfortunately the museum was closed due to a holiday but the ride through the rural area was worth the effort.

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Large supermarkets did not exist when I lived in Japan, and shopping was something the maid did, so it was a new experience to shop for my own meals. Like so many of our super markets there was a lot of space devoted to prepared meals. It was a surprise to not be able to use my credit card as much as I had anticipated, which caused me some problems as I didn't bring a lot of US cash. Luckily Anna had extra cash before returning home and I was able to borrow US cash from her before leaving Tokyo.

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The Kiso Valley, located south of Matsumoto, runs alongside the mountains of the Central Alps. An ancient 70 km trade route called the Kisoji was developed along the valley and served as a major means of commerce in the area.

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The Kisoji had become very important by the beginning of the Edo Period (1603-1868), when it was amalgamated with other routes in the formation of the 500 km long Nakasendo. The Nakasendo ("path through mountains") was one of the two means of transportation between Edo (present day Tokyo) and Kyoto. It contrasted with the other principal transportation route of the time, the Tokaido, which ran along the coast. Coincidentally, Takaido was the name of the first bullet train.

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Because of restrictions by the shogunate, travelers were almost always forced to make their trips on foot. As a result, 69 "post towns" were developed, spaced every few kilometers, to provide travelers with places to rest, eat, and find nightly accommodation during their arduous journey. The Kiso Valley has 11 of the post towns and today a few, particularly Magome, Tsumago and Narai, have been preserved to look as they did when they served travelers of the Nakasendo. Old inns are scattered along the old curving streets, much as they had been in the Edo period.

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I took an early morning train from Matsumoto, arriving in Nagiso at 10:00 am where I would start a 20 km walk along a portion of the Nakasendo to Magome. I had been watching the weather very closely and, in between days of rain, the day planned for the hike turned out to be perfect, sunny but not too warm.

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The first people I encountered were at the Nagiso train station, where a group of Americans had spent two weeks walking the Nakasendo. I was jealous of course, but I also knew that a large portion of the route was along paved roads and through large towns. During the first 10 km I encountered only a few people, all walking in the opposite direction from me. At Magome Pass I ran into several small groups of various nationalities, but mostly I was on my own. By the time I reached the town of Magome the tour buses were arriving and the small streets became crowded with tourists.

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My plan was to walk a few kilometers beyond Magome then catch a bus to the town of Nakatsugawa where I had a hotel reservation. Somewhere along the way I missed a turn and ended up on a small road amongst small farms, with no traffic, and no signs of the Nakasendo. Along came a small pickup truck driven by an older gentleman (again, probably my age!) who I promptly flagged down. The lack of a common language was making communication difficult but he called a friend on his cell phone who spoke English. It was decided that he would give me a ride to the Nakatsugawa train station, about 10 km away, where I could get a bus to my hotel. A nice end to a good day.

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The following morning I took the train to Takayama, set in an isolated mountain location, which had facilitated the survival of unspoiled Edo-period streets lined with tiny shops, museums, and eating places. Its pure water is ideal for sake brewing. The Sanno-machi historic district consists of three narrow streets packed with wooden buildings housing sake breweries, little boutiques, and some of the larger merchants’ houses, many open for display, along with many small museums.

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When one of the hostel personnel heard I had lived in Japan in the 60's he recommended the Shōwa-Kan (Shōwa Era 1926 - 1989), a museum of memorabilia, with many items from the 50's and 60's. The cars, motorcycles, cameras, TVs and electronics brought back many memories of my time in Japan.

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The city is famed for its bi-annual Takayama Festival, considered to be one of the three most beautiful festivals in Japan. It is celebrated each year in the spring and fall, with parades featuring ornate, gilded floats and puppet shows. The floats themselves are a testament to the region’s history and are a chance to see the culmination of hundreds of year worth of artistry and craftsmanship.

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The thirteen floats are stored in their own garages located throughout the city and are brought out during the festival. Three of the floats display the antics of Takayama's marionette. During my stay, the marionette float garages were opened and, at set times during a two day period, the marionettes performed. Unfortunately the narrow streets were so crowded that viewing the marionettes was impossible. Fortunately the Museum of History and Art had films of the marionettes performing during the actual festival.

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Every morning a farmer’s market is held along the Miya River and in front of Takayama Jinya. Local farmers and craftsmen sell everything from vegetables and pickles to carvings and clothes.

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Higashiyama Teramachi (temple district) consists of thirteen temples and five shrines located along an esplanade lined with trees. Every temple or shrine contains interesting buildings, many with fine statues and other treasured art objects. It's easy to see why Takayama is called the “little Kyoto”.

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The major reason for coming to the Takayama area was to visit Shirakawago, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The secluded snowy mountain village retains it's historic landscape with some 150 traditional vernacular farmhouse-style houses called Grassho-zukuri. Measuring 18 meters long, 10 meters wide, and four stories inside, the huge buildings could house a large number of family members. To withstand the weight of heavy snow, the roof is at a sharp angle, shaped like that of two hands in prayer to God or Buddha, the act called Gassho in Japanese. The Gassho-zukuri-style roofs are re-thatched once every 40-50 years, with three or four roofs re-thatched each year with the cooperation of the whole village.

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A visit to Shirakawago requires a long bus ride through almost all tunnels, so one could not see much of the landscape. The least expensive way to visit is with one of the local tours which allow four hours to look around before heading back to Takayama through all those tunnels. Taking buses on your own was more expensive and didn't allow much more time unless spending a night in one of the expensive minishuku, Japanese BnBs. The thought of walking around with hundreds of other tourists, always a popular destination, in the rain just didn't appeal to me.

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Instead I opted to visit the local Hida Folk Village, also known as Hida-no-Sato, an attractive open-air museum assembled from real buildings that effectively recreates an entire traditional mountain village. The folk village included more than 30 traditional farmhouses and buildings, many of which were transported from other parts of the region. Each has been preserved in its original state, including artifacts related to the life and work of the owners, with certain houses set aside for use as craft workshops. I was able spend as much time as I wanted walking around with very few other tourists.

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From Takayama I began the journey back to Tokyo traveling through the Japanese Alps with a stop in Kamikochi, a major center for hiking and mountaineering. The road into the valley is only open from late April until November 15th and no private cars are allowed. I stayed at Nishi-itoya Sanso in a Japanese female dorm room, which I had to myself, with breakfast and dinner included. The only other westerner staying at the inn was a young man from Israel.

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Kamikochi lies in a highland basin surrounded by the high and steep Japan Alps, and is within the Chubu Sangaku National Park. The basin spreads out along the Azusa River that flows down from Mt. Yarigatake. One of the most scenic mountain spots in the country, Kamikochi is known for its magnificent mountain views, scattered lakes and the clear waters of Azusa River.

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Park facilities include two camping areas, a number of hotels (western-style and traditional Japanese ryokan), a post office, a tourist information center, restaurant and bus depot.

Walter Weston, a British missionary who introduced modern mountaineering to Japan, first visited Kamikochi in 1891, and repeatedly came back to climb the surrounding peaks. In 1896, while on a temporarily stay in Britain he published "Japan Alps -Climbing and Exploration-," which introduced the mountains of Japan to people in Europe for the first time.

Thanks to Weston's efforts, mountaineering as a sport spread in Japan, and through his lobbying efforts has preserved the Kamikochi area. Today, the Weston Festival is held on the first Sunday of June at the beginning of the mountain-climbing season, when many mountain-lovers trace the same trails crossing the ridges as Weston had in his day.

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I took an early morning bus from Takayama to Kamikochi, and arrived about noon. Walking from the bus station to the hostel I noticed a large crowd at the river's edge. As I approached, the reason became apparent. Snow monkeys, the only ones I'd see during my stay, were foraging along the river. Once checked into the hostel I walked 7 kilometers of the south trail up the valley along the Azusa River. That night, at 1,500 meters elevation, there was definitely a chill in the air.

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The next morning I hiked the other side of the river. The wind began to pick up and intermittent rain showers began. I left on the 1:00 pm bus out of the valley then transferred to the train into Matsumoto, where I'd again spend a night, this time staying at a Japanese Inn. The next morning I took the bus back to Tokyo. It was faster and cheaper than the train, a tip I learned during my first stay in Matsumoto while at the hostel.

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Originally my last night was going to be close the the airport at an Air BnB but I was invited by my Japanese friend Deko to have dinner before leaving. Luckily I was able to change my plans and found a hostel only 2 stops from our meeting spot. It was nice to spend my last night in Japan, visiting and enjoying a great meal with Deko. Thank you Deko!
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