Double futon is entirely the way to go! Though my back was still a little stiff, I can’t imagine how I would have felt if I’d slept with a single thin futon. We got up before 7 for an early breakfast and were met with the same food as just about everywhere else. They certainly do tasty bread here and croissants have been everywhere. Aside from that though it’s usually just some scrambled eggs and just awful looking sausages. At the very least they are civilized enough to have some Heinz ketchup.
I can’t make my way through this hotel without doing a lot of tripping over. When you arrive at a traditional Japanese hotel or ryokan you’re expected to leave your shoes near the door (or in this large hotel, in some footlockers just after reception). They then provide you with slippers to use when you’re inside, but they have to be taken off before entering the room! There are even special bathroom slippers to be used for sitting on the toilet. So at the Shimaya I got by in tiny slippers, probably 5 sizes too small for my feet. This place took pity on me and gave me big slippers. It turns out that they fall off my feet even more and some of the floors have slopes on them that are very deceptive due to carpet. Just walking around the hotel becomes an adventure.
We headed out after breakfast to walk south along the river to Tashiro pond and then Taisho pond. We were early enough not to have to fight against too many day-trippers, but they were still flocking in. The views of Mt. Yakedake (an active volcano) were exceptional across Taisho pond, itself created by an eruption 99 years ago. The channel down the side of the mountain taken by the molten lava can still be clearly seen. We then took a different path back to loop round to Kappabashi bridge and our hotel, getting back at around lunchtime.
We tend to think that British people are pretty friendly walkers and we’ll often give a polite nod or “Hello” as we cross paths. The Japanese put us to shame though. It became unusual for us to pass any walkers without them smiling and greeting us (and it wasn’t just because we were foreigners as we saw them do it to each other). Most often it was a “Konnichiwa” and the older the walker, the more gusto went into the “Kon nichi waaaaaaaaa”. Aside from this we got the other typical Japanese greeting of “Ohaya gozaimasu” and then a lot of “Morningu”s and “Hello”s. So often with such a big smile that it just helps your day feel that bit better. They’re always having fun and laughing about things. This is probably what makes them seem so like us. They’re an extraordinarily polite people and they can be reserved too, but they don’t take themselves seriously at all and it always seems like the happy, innocent laughter of childish fun.
After a break at the hotel and rice balls and potato wedges for lunch we headed back up to Myojin bridge, taking the path in the opposite direction to the night before. This time we found Myojin pond and saw some wonderful views of Mt. Oku-Hotakadake, Japan’s 3rd highest mountain. Tonight there were no monkeys at Myojin bridge and we guess we just got incredibly lucky the previous day. Signs were telling us that there had been bear sightings nearby just a few days earlier but they were keeping out of our way.
Dinner was a bit of a disappointment. It was as if someone told the kitchen that they wanted it to be just like the night before, but not that. Each plate had the exact same amounts of food as the night before with the identical crockery and placement. It all looks quite fancy, but the taste isn’t there to back it up. This is in stark contrast to the previous ryokan where just one woman was cooking us up a superior 9 course feast that was far more different between the 2 evenings. I certainly wouldn’t call the dinner tonight bad as we still got to try a large variety of small dishes and some of them were very nice, it was simply poor by the standards of our trip so far. The valley and scenery did not disappoint however and have been a welcome break from the urban sprawl that covers much of Japan.
Tomorrow we start several days of travel, beginning with returning to Matsumoto where we should have the chance to see one of the best examples of a Japanese castle before spending the night on a proper bed and being able to choose what we have for dinner. The heathens may even let us keep our shoes on!