July 1 – Shinano- Omachi Onsen, the Alpine Route to Kanazawa














































I neglected to mention the most obvious thing: the smell of fresh tatami. This hit us like a wave of somebody else’s memory going in to our room at the Kurobe View Hotel. It is morning. 5 am. The sky has cleared over the valley, just a few remaining wisps of cloud – and a grey-white mound at its far end. The contours of these mountains are softer than they would be in the South Island, but there is a resemblance. And the darker creases I noticed yesterday turn the green silhouettes into faces, snub and button noses, features. The texture of the forest’s variegated greens against a pale blue sky brought out by the sun, it is already risen with a cold clear light. The hot with the cold, this necessary binary is the root of every complexity in thermodynamic life: the simplest dish in Japanese cuisine brings the two together – cool pickle, warm rice.

Kurobe view did our breakfast at 7.30 am after I’d had a chance to make like Basho and compose a piece in the outdoor part of the onsen, left unvisited my first time. But with the sun coming up and a cloudless sky and the light streaming in to the garden setting, and I now knew, becaues J. had discovered it yesterday, the door opened – and there is even a way to sneak around the bamboo barrier and visit the ladies. However no lady rises at 5 – so I took my pen and writing-book. Kurobe’s breakfast was a strange mismatched archipelago of dishes and bowls, the highlights being the wasabi wakame and a chili-hot miso goo to put on top of rice and wrap up in nori.

We were almost embarrassed on the way out since the check-out presented us with a bill – turns out we had not in fact paid in advance. Around $180 for the night with breakfast for the three of us. Off-season and Kurobe has a certain run-down picturesque-ness but a price I doubt you could find in NZ. Paid up and counting our yen we boarded the van, then the bus to Ogizawa for our Alpine experience: crossing the alps- to reach Kanazawa on the Japan Sea.

Among the listed Six Japanese Number Ones Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route lists: “Trolley bus – The only one in Japan.” Disembarking from the bus at Ozigawa was like stepping into a Soviet-era postcard. Once we’d bought tickets we had 1500 yen which gave the day an odd tint as well.

Japan’s only electric trolley bus took us through a long tunnel to Kurobe Dam where the workers are celebrated in a monumental bronze which counters expectation by humanising the scene of colossal concrete construction – I imagine Kevin McCleod con-triving to con-stipate that phrase with the stress on each first syllable. Con-trary to the impression of architectural colossi like Tokyo Midtown and Sky Tree this poured blockwork seems to belong to a disappointed future where man masters elements with … concrete. Again we were stuck in a Soviet-era postcard with trolley-bus-loads of Koreans and aging Japanese, who took to the experience with gusto, listening to the lyricism of guards and uniformed gents rhapsodising on trolley bus, tr-rolley bus-o. It is also trolley bus’s 50th anniversary – later we found it was cable car’s 60th. The old guard of beneficent machinic guardians; a pantheon of machinic deities: a comedy of the official reverence for machinic assemblages of which the officers are a part – comedy because here these assemblages are not of the broadly ideological variety, not ideas of efficiency or sustainable environment or corporate responsibility but Kurobe Dam, trolley bus, cable car. … And couldn’t it be said that this reverence, this official abasement, which then carries over into the expectation that whole populations of workforces ought to adopt the same attitude, to the machinic assemblage, describes the very nature of offices; because an office is a service done to the machinic, it is a part of the machine. Office-workers are machine police, forcing what their own office asks of them onto others. Granddaddy Kurobe Dam… the founder of dynasties of offices, of fasces: which also hints at why the Soviet analogy persisted throughout our experience – fascism. … Men make machines and pledge allegiance to them – whether computers or tractors.

Kurobe Dam at 1470m. Cable car – this was vertigo-inducing, ascending at obtusely from 1455m to 1828m in 5 minutes. Gondola to Daikonbo at 2316m (I hid my eyes) – listed as the longest “unsupported ropeway” in Japan. The top: trolley bus through peak – through the peak – of Mt. Tateyama – a tunnel that took 5 years, commencing in 1965 and a workforce of 140,000. Tunnel debouches onto Murodo at 2450m – where we walked around and rapidly lost our marbles to altitude, feeling sleepy sleepier. I lay down at one point to take a snap and had difficulty getting up but at least I found it funny. Followed by a precipitous descent which we’d intended when planning the trip to eke out over many stops at sights and wanderings on mountaintops, among cedar, hamtaro spotting, bear hunting, jade pond gazing. When it came to it, we just wanted to get down and away from quite an expensive but over-puffed in the publicity experience.

The Kurobe breakfast kept us from starving over a day of next-to-nil cash – and no ATMs (these are usually hidden anyway, downstairs, or behind screens – like the trays for excepting cash bespeaking a pudeur in regard to money really quite charming or quaint). Trolley bus I saw you being blessed in 1995. We saw none of the raicho, however, a mountain messenger from god, sort of god’s pigeon, unchanged allegedly since the ice age. No ice today. Blazing sun. Crossing the alps in shorts and T. Yet still some snow.

In Tateyama station, after a switchback diesel bus ride, and another anniversarial cable car, I got rice cakes for 140 yen a go and then discovered that to complete our itinerary we would need to upgrade to express – at 110 yen a piece. This took us down to around 40 yen.

From the emerald vibrancy of the forest onto a paddy-field flatness, changing at Terada – not looking too closely or asking the train too many questions – we spent a further several hours on a local run for a trip that ought to have taken 40 minutes, arriving Kanazawa, Golden Marsh – for the golden crop, rice – after 5 pm. A day’s travel.

Tonight we stay at a ryokan. I am in my yukata. Looking forward to another take on the traditional Japanese breakfast.