• 31 . 03 . 06
  • Despite my best intentions, I was worried that I wouldn’t get round to seeing much of the country in the last few weeks before I left because I’d been in kind of a rut lately, doing not much other than working and sleeping. Luckily, there’s nothing like leaving a country to create a list of […]

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Out And About

Despite my best intentions, I was worried that I wouldn’t get round to seeing much of the country in the last few weeks before I left because I’d been in kind of a rut lately, doing not much other than working and sleeping. Luckily, there’s nothing like leaving a country to create a list of tedious jobs to escape from and so for the last few days, instead of cancelling electricity and sending stuff home, I’ve been trekking around parts of Gifu seeing some of the places that were always in reach, but that I never found time to see. And sightseeing feels so much better when I know I should be doing something else – kind of like taking a sickie, but even better because I know I don’t have to go back to work the next day.

One of the great things about living here instead of just visiting is that I have friends who can take me to places that I wouldn’t normally think of going to, or even have heard about. Yesterday, for example I went with a friend to Sekigahara Caves and spent some time wandering through caverns. Well, I say caverns, but actually, having been dug by Japanese people a long time ago, they were more like warrens. My health insurance hasn’t run out yet, so I’m still covered if I develop back and neck ache from the constant bending all afternoon. There were some awesome stalactites and stalagmites and I was happy to find that I still remembered which was which. Stalactites always make me feel like the cave is alive, like some kind of dripping mouth, but it’d been a long time since I’d been into one and it reminded me of a vague memory I have of going through some in France a long time ago. Sekigahara’s caves had some enormous ones, up to 2m long, which were more reminiscent of legs than teeth, as well as others with grand names such as “Dragon Ascending to the Sky” and “Giant’s Leg”. It was much better than being outside as the Japanese changeable weather struck again and inflicted a snowstorm, after days of sunshine.

Today I finally made it to another local place that everyone always talks about, but which I’d never got round to seeing. Yoro Park, in nearby Yoro Town is home to The Site of Reversible Destiny, a somewhat grandiously-titled concept garden of “mystery and intrigue”. It’s as close to avant garde art as you’ll get in Japan and it’s done on a massive scale. The site is a essentially a large bowl with steep angles, crazy architecture and a house that is inside out. Like most art, it’s pretty difficult to describe with words and I’m pretty certain you’re not even supposed to try, so maybe you should just look at the pictures. Its mission statement is to confound and astound and it achieves on both counts. Never, even in a country that gets confused when they hit the slightest complication, have I heard the immortal utterance “Eh?” so much. Corridors that stop abruptly, beds cut into pieces and distributed throughout the house and garden and the seeming lack of any truly flat places all contribute to a profound sense of disorientation. Quirky is an understatement. It isn’t really a place you can stay for a long time, because it does your head in after a while, but it’s great for a couple of hours of exploring. I wish I’d had a school field trip to a place like this when I was a kid.

The good thing is that it’s also very close to Yoro Falls, a pretty waterfall on the nearby river. Yoro Falls is reputedly haunted, but closest thing I saw was a slightly pale couple who looked like they could use more sun. That’s not particularly unusual in Japan though. Local legend has it that all couples who come to Yoro Falls are destined to break up, so I don’t give them long. It’s a good job I just went with a friend. The falls themselves are in a beautiful glade at the top of a decent climb, or ropeway if you’re lazy. Again, it’s something to see, rather than do, but it’s very relaxing in any case. There’s a shrine up there to something or other, maybe the god of the waterfall or somesuch.

Tomorrow I’m off to Magome, a really small town high up in the mountains on the border of Gifu and Nagano. It is supposedly like Takayama but without the tourists, which should be great.