Sunday, November 13, 2016

Trip to Tomioka (17-19 September)

Thought about backdating this post, but figured there wasn't much of a point. This is really, really overdue. My bad :P

September 19th was 敬老の日, a national holiday. My aunt initially made plans to fly in for the weekend, but had to cancel at the last minute due to work. I didn't want to waste a good three-day weekend, so I decided to take a last-minute trip out of Tokyo and visit Gunma: the birthplace of the daruma - and Gunma-chan :)

I didn't really plan an itinerary for this trip. I just wanted to escape the city life for a while because I was starting to feel suffocated from the tall buildings, narrow roads and constant noise. The ambulance and police sirens here ring so much louder than it did back home, and it’s often quite unnerving especially past midnight. (I’m not even facing a main street and I can hear the sirens loud and clear every other night.)

Two hours on the Takasaki Line. Finished this book and also managed to take a nap before I arrived!
Anyway, it was a relatively inexpensive ride up north by regular train, about 2900 one-way, and takes about three hours in total with a transfer at Takasaki station. Although it rained quite a fair bit, I managed to visit a few places that weekend, thanks to MA and JS (my lovely JET friends living in Tomioka) who were my local guides!

Had sushi for lunch, and even the teacups were Daruma!

From Takasaki to Tomioka
貫前神社 Nukisaki Shrine. One of the few shrines where the main torii is elevated above the shrine, and the approach is a long path of steps leading downwards.

From a viewing deck in the shrine.
The weekend I made my way up to this semi-rural Gunma valley, was my sixth week living in Japan. At that point the bustling city life in Tokyo was starting to wear me out. So when I saw this in front of my eyes, I felt an overwhelming sense of joy, gratitude and peace all at once. I really needed to see this, to be there, at that time. 

On the way back home later, I felt that this view reminded me so much of a poem I read a while back.
I am certain there are Japanese poems that write of the same beauty but for now I can only remember this:
"I love not Man the less, but Nature more, 
From these our interviews, in which I steal 
From all I may be, or have been before, 
To mingle with the Universe, and feel 
What I can ne’er express, yet cannot all conceal."

We also took the train into the main part of the city. The Jōshin Line is the only line that serves the Kanra, Tomioka, and Shimonita areas in Gunma. 

The surrounding mountains make this such a lovely place.

Gunma-chan and Tomi-chans everywhere!
Headed back and decided to karaoke for two hours with A before meeting the others for dinner :)
That evening, I got the chance to tag along and go to a jazz bar in Tomioka (They were celebrating a fellow JET's birthday! My apologies for crashing the gathering haha.) 
Two hours of good ol' jazz music :)
The next day, M brought me to her school. It's roughly a 20-30 minute walk from her apartment, and it's a path leading up a hill. When you reach her school, there's some pretty amazing views from the top of that hill. It was foggy that morning, but still very beautiful and very serene. There are farms everywhere too. Mostly konnyaku plants, I think.

JS also offered to drive us halfway up Mt. Myogi that same morning to see Myogi Shrine. The entire precinct of the shrine stretches across - up? - a part the mountain. This is probably the highlight of my trip. 妙義神社 is completely breathtaking - figuratively and literally ok yes I am so unfit it took me all my strength and stamina to climb the shrine hahaha.

軽-cars are really comfortable to ride in. Hehe.

That speck of white on the second flight of steps is an indicator of how far the journey to the main shrine was.
There was quite a bit more ahead too.
About 2/3 way up
I stopped to take a picture but the truth was I was really dying here ok I needed to rest for a bit HAHAHA

But as always, once you've reached the top, the views are worth it. So, so worth it.
The main hall of 妙義神社

On the way back down, we spotted a small waterfall.

Outside the shrine. Always such a sublime experience to be within nature.
So the photo reel above pretty much concludes my trip to Tomioka. I left that afternoon and reached the city late that evening.

One thing to note: I didn't visit the Tomioka Silk Mill, but it's apparently very popular with tourists after acquiring its title as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You should see it if you get the chance.

Tomioka is so wonderful in its own way. It has a small town charm, and is worlds apart from Tokyo-23. The people are lovely, and everyone is so friendly. It's a stark contrast with the generally aloof and indifferent Tokyo strangers (on first impressions, at least). I intend to return again, and explore more of the other parts of Gunma too.

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