Friday, May 06, 2005

Carry On Camping

This week was "Golden Week" in Japan: the week when four national
holidays fall at roughly the same time. Which means that everyone in
the country goes on holiday at the same time. Which also means that
all the flights anywhere are hideously expensive, every hotel and
guest house is fully booked months in advance and the country's
transportation system grinds to a halt for seven days as millions of
pleasure seekers cram the nation's highways and trains.

I was unwilling to sell a kidney to fund a flight abroad, and the
prospect of staying home in front of the telly for three days didn't
really appeal, so, along with Flick, Tilly and Laura, I plumped for
the third option: camping. It's the perfect solution - sling a tent in
the car along with a couple of tins of soup and a can opener, and
you're off.

The plan was to drive down to Amanohashidate in Kyoto prefecture, stay
the night there, then drive on to Tottori to have a look at the famous
sand dunes along the coast. Predictably though, after spending nearly
five hours in a traffic jam we were still in Fukui, and since it was
getting dark we had to settle for spending the night in Takahama. Not
a good start. Having said that, Takahama is one of the prettiest spots
in Fukui (being relatively free of massive concrete sea defences), and
after food and rest we were ready to continue our incredible journey,
come the morrow.

If anything, the traffic was worse the next day. Still, we made it to
Amanohashidate by mid-afternoon, and, after beating our way through
throngs of people, we managed to take some quite nice photos. For the
uninitiated, Amanohashidate (The Bridge to Heaven) is a natural sand
bar that is widely known as one of the three most beautiful views in
Japan. It's undeniably pretty, but its fame means that every man,
woman and child in Japan was there on Wednesday, all trying to muscle
their way onto the chairlift up to the top of the mountain to get a
picture just like the one in the guide books. It's a nice place, but
to be honest I was glad to finally get out of there and into the
deserted countryside a bit further north, where we camped for the

Actually the camping on Wednesday night was probably the highlight of
the trip for me, since I finally got to see a tanuki. Well, two
actually. Tanuki means "raccoon dog" in English, and they're odd
creatures: they have a stripe across their face which makes them look
like raccoons, but they're actually part of the dog family, and look a
bit like foxes. There's loads of stories about them in Japanese
mythology - they're said to be able to change their shape, and they
often play tricks on people by turning into humans. They're also said
to love alcohol, which is why you often find a tanuki statue outside
retaurants, beckoning the customers in with a bottle of wine. They
also have enormous testicles. No, I'm not kidding... you can read more
about them by clicking on "Carry On Camping" above.
Unfortunately, it was too dark to verify their testicle size, but the
tanuki were certainly mischieivous - no matter how many times we
chased them away, they kept coming back to try and steal our food. Or
possibly our beer, if you believe the stories.

Still, we passed the night without being attacked by drunken tanukis,
and in the morning we spent a couple of hours driving along the coast,
admiring the stunning scenery. Japan really has some wonderful
coastline - it's a shame so much of it in Fukui (and in most places,
I've heard) is covered in concrete. In the afternoon we met up with a
teacher called Jason, who's a friend of Tilly and Laura's, and after a
short soujourn on the beach it was time to head home...

So the big question is: would I do it again next year? Well, I'd
definitely like to go camping again, and the places we went to were
great, but travelling anywhere in Japan in Golden Week is a complete
nightmare in terms of traffic and crowds. Maybe next year I'll just
have to bite the bullet and get a flight somewhere...

"Hello, Japan Air Lines..."

"Hello, this is Mr Packwood, can I have a flight to Australia please?"

"Certainly sir, that'll be one kidney, plus tax."


Blogger The Funky Drummer said...

It seems that we picked the right spot then - no traffic, zero crowds, just miles of coastline, empty sandy beaches, and fishing villages.

At Y3000 per night, the camping was a bit pricey, but overall the Ishikawan penisular is the way to go.

4:46 pm  
Blogger Lewis said...

Well, at least we lucked out on the camping - it cost a grand total of zero yen, thanks to some dodgy "off-site" fly-by-wire tent pitching.

5:54 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did either of the tanuki turn into statues of portly italian plumbers while you were watching? Or waggle their tails and start flying? :-)

6:30 pm  
Blogger Lewis said...

Unfortunately no. Otherwise I might have to wonder what they put in the beer over here...

6:44 pm  
Blogger Chris C said...

There is a Japanese anime film called Pompoko which is about Tanuki trying to reclaim their land from humans. Very worthy. The relearn the ancient art of morphing, and which bit of their body morphs first? Their giant testicles. I've never seen a cartoon where testicles were so important.

1:28 pm  

Post a comment

<< Home