You can't win them all (Day 202)
On the move again, going south, but the town we arrive in isn't the best - you can’t win them all.
We packed our bags and headed south. Three trains later we had arrived in Hashimoto-shi in the Wakayama Prefecture for our further excursion tomorrow to Koya-san (yes, it is included in the Lonely Planet’s top 500). We were surprised to see a little library in the corner of the station. Along our journey, we saw many small towns and villages nestling in the valleys of the cedar-covered mountains. I do so enjoy travelling by train or by river, we see a different perspective as to how people live. In Japan, the houses tend to be small, with complementarily sized gardens, many with manicured trees and colourful flowers and beyond will be the family or community paddy field, squeezed into small areas. Sadly these small paddy fields are in decline. In 1969 the government asked farmers to reduce rice acreage hence the small sizes, but also the average age of the farmers are now over 65. If this continues, there could be a shortage of rice, the staple diet here. I realised that I had little idea of how rice was grown, apart from it needs to be in the water. I also didn’t realise that rice is actually a grass and it is the grass seed that is the rice we eat. So a synopsis is – the soil needs to be prepared, tilled and layered in straw to loosen it. Un-hulled grain of seed rice is sown in water until sprouting. Meanwhile, the paddy is fertilized and water is added to a consistent depth. 4 – 5-inch seedlings are planted, either by hand or by machine on a warm day. It grows and the rice head emerges. Managing the water level is key throughout this time and the rice grows during the hot rainy season. Autumn arrives and it’s harvest time. The water is drained from the paddy fields and a combine is used to cut the rice stalks…the rest of the process sounds just like harvesting wheat. Another day is a school day. Back to Hashimoto-shi, Tim found a nice café for coffee. This was made in a glass percolator. It was fascinating watching the water being sucked up into the coffee grains and then when taken off the heat, the coffee liquid drained back into the glass container. The waiter guessed where we were staying and we guessed from this that there’s not much around here! He then gave us a small cream chocolate éclair each as a gift – how kind. We booked into our traditional Japanese room, relaxed for a while and then went for a walk to the Kino River and saw on the map that there was a Park next to it. The town was deserted. A smattering of shops was nestled between residential buildings and most seemed to be clothes shops for the more mature ladies, dry cleaners, a tailor and a couple of florist shops. Perhaps all the locals were having their afternoon naps in their very smart clothes! The town did look as if it had seen better days and that it was now in the latter years of its existence...reflecting the aging population. We got down to the river and could see wonderful bushy green covered mountains in the backdrop with giant metal electric pylons striding across the horizon. Where was the park? It was just a large area of gravel. In front of us was a dam – we had a laugh about this being a damn awful place. You can’t win them all! We have done pretty well up until now. Many of the cars and vans here are tiny, just like many of the people, but on our return to the Airbnb, we saw the tiniest truck ever! So sweet! Not long after we got back, Tim’s phone rang. It was Simon and Jan to say that they were nearby. We met them both at our friends’ Julie and John’s party last year and got on like a house on fire. When Julie heard that they were coming out to Japan and our dates coincided, she got in touch with us both – such a great networker our Julie. We found a Chinese restaurant. As you can probably imagine, there wasn’t much choice here. The Airbnb owner’s father runs a restaurant next door, which we were intending to go too, however, when we saw the prices, we changed our minds – rather on the steep side (as is the Airbnb – the most expensive that we have stayed in yet and not even an ensuite, we have to go outside in the dark to the bathroom). What a lovely evening we had with Jan and Simon, sharing many stories of both our travel experiences, much laughter especially of the travel disasters we have all encountered. You can’t win them all! Forgot to take a photo, however, I am sure we will have plenty of opportunities in the next couple of days with them.