Stayed for two nights at a family-run minshuku in Juniko (Twelve Lakes). A dramatic location in a small, sea-facing settlement along grey rocky cliffs at the edge of the Shirakami National Park.
The couple running the minshuku commandeered every inch of my itinerary, from preparing packed lunches for me to organising my evening entertainment. First up was the sunset, officially ranked as one of the best 10o in Japan.
The husband was a star, very friendly and full of willing, but always slightly disoriented, as if he has been using the wrong map. As a consequence, whenever I spent any time with him, I soon lost my bearings too. In another admirable
The husband drove me and two other guests 200 yards down the road to a tiny beach next to a gigantic rock. The whole scene was very surreal. In the shade of a gigantic grey rock, the husband mooching about in sandals, a white vest, and blue tartan shorts, while the setting sun turned the sky a bloody red and right behind us a train called the Black Woodpecker popped out of a tiny tunnel, the second smallest in Japan. Tartan Shorts then tottered over and told me about an Australian who came through here while walking across Japan on stilts to save orangutans in Indonesia.
In the morning, Blue Tartan drove me up to the Twelve Lakes. Along the way, he repeatedly consulted the map, checking off places as we went. This seemed more to reassure himself than for my benefit. I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.
The twelve lakes were formed in 1704 when the Noshiro earthquake blocked off several water courses. Another example of the possibility for sudden and dramatic changes in the Japanese landscape.
The lakes were busy with tourists from all over the country. Short, wooded trails led to green and blue clear water lakes, one trail led to the Japanese Grand Canyon – a suitably miniaturised version, and one led to a wooden building selling homemade pizza and cake sets.
In one forest, I heard the rattle of the kumagera (black woodpecker). I also saw a postcard of the large red-beaked Ruddy Kingfisher which lives by the lakes. It reminded me of a fellow tram driver along the marshes at Seaton who used to complain at the end of shifts: “didn`t see a ruddy kingfisher all day.” (Insert laugh here)
The second night was the final night of the village`s O-Bon festival, the time to say goodbye to the spirits of the dead. Local men dressed up as lions, wearing huge white oblong masks with manes of seaweed, while dancing in honour of the goddess of the village`s shrine.
In the sticky heat, it must have been exhausting. During rest-breaks, women and children rushed over with fan to cool the lions down.
Somewhere inside the small, wooden shrine building is a small statue of a one-eyed goddess. Her one blind eye is supposedly filled with bracken. A lady told me that superstitious old men in the village still won`t eat bracken-flavoured rice cakes.
Remarkably, throughout the entire Lion dance, Blue Tartan and a very drunk mate of his managed to sit in the middle of the shrine steps chin-wagging and completely ignore the sweaty lions performing a dance right in front of them. Perhaps they were sharing missing co-ordinates.
The festival finished with the lions dancing in the village`s dark, sandy graveyard overlooking the Japan Sea, a magical ending to a surreal couple of days.