Minoh: It was so good that I went again

Mino Travel Blog

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Random Observation/Comment #: I don’t think they have bicycle helmet laws here. Either that, or Japanese are like New Yorkers and don’t care about their own safety.
The original Minoh day was supposed to be a biking adventure, but this failed miserably when I couldn’t find a bike shop or “borrow” a bike from my university. I spent the whole week asking around and looking for places to rent bikes, but I finally just asked my dorms and they said that they have a dorm bike that can be used as long as I’m the first one to ask for it. Many people don’t know about this, but I suggest asking the place you’re staying before going off looking for university discounts and such. After assurance of this new mode of transportation, I just used Google maps and printed out different paths that could be taken to Minoh. It was only 3 train stops away, so I figured it would be a bike-able, even walk-able, distance. I wound up printing so many different details of these maps and not even using it once. I should have just written down directions and done the rest by instinct.
From my last visit, I remembered a path leading from the waterfall to a parking lot area. Around that area, there was a sign for a temple or visitor center a few kilometers away. I tried to walk it, but there wasn’t a sidewalk and people driving by thought I was homeless. (I didn’t need their pity, but I wouldn’t mind a lift.) Because of this first failed attempt to see what was further down the road, my goal this time was to take the path up there and use my new fancy mode of transportation to make things easier. Unfortunately, like all plans, it blew up in my face. I ran into a bit of a snag.
I got this feeling that I was in over my head when I started seeing professional bicyclists, armed head to toe in full gear, riding 10-speed bikes that looked pretty expensive. There I was, with my 1-speeder and a little basket in the front (luckily it wasn’t a pink) trying to make my way up this ridiculously steep road. The seat was too low so I was standing the entire time I was peddling. The road was just too steep for me, but I made a valiant effort to reach some end – which I wasn’t even sure existed because the map didn’t show this road clearly. It took me an hour of the hardest work-out to finally throw in the towel (this was all while my subconscious kept screaming “Benkyo! Benkyo! Benkyo!”) You’d be surprised how well this works because I actually passed one of the high speeders. I wish I could have captured the look on his face as I passed him. Imagine the slow motion head turn of a brightly lit spandex-wearing Japanese guy hidden behind his yellow tinted sun glasses and aerodynamically shaped helmet. In my version of the story he mouthed “what the eff”, as I zoom past in a gray POS with a basket holding my backpack.
Word of advice to those who want to take on the beast of the road: Don’t do it. Even if you have all the fancy equipment and look like a complete douche dressed to kill, you’ll be gasping for air so much that you won’t really be enjoying yourself. The sound of your racing heart will drown out the sound of any nature call, and it’d just be terrible. Riding the bike along the walk-way, on the other hand, is much more manageable. I would suggest it for the second visit because you’ll be taking too many pictures and slowly strolling the first time. I had taken enough pictures of the normal paved path to the waterfall to recreate my own filmstrip tour of the walk. It was literally every 5 steps when I stopped to take another picture – this is why 2.8km took an hour.
However, this time, I explored all of the side paths that I passed along the way. The first off-the-road trek was following a large group of little kids and parents. They were carrying nets, so I thought it’d be a nice branch off. It turns out they were really catching insects and studying them back at the insect museum next door (how convenient). I took my bike through the woods, which turned out to be the right course of action. Most of the paths are just alternative routes that all eventually lead back towards the waterfall. As long as you still hear the running water, you’re heading towards the right direction. The river runs straight to the waterfall, and if you follow this, you won’t get lost.
The second path I followed, however, was not as convenient to lead back to the waterfall. The road was so narrow and there seemed to be so many steps, that I had abandoned my bike and walk it. Even if the path led me farther ahead towards the waterfall, I could still find my way back to this little cove. The sign said “Stone Moon Mountain” after passing through a tunnel and walking towards another smaller waterfall. If you are wearing open shoes, do not go this way. If you are carrying small children, do not go this way. If you hate bugs, definitely do not go this way. This expedition is not for the faint-hearted or those who tire easily. Be prepared to walk through a lot of decaying stuff and keep walking for an extended period of time. I got lost for about 3 hours. Yes, there was a worn in path, but passed a certain point, I didn’t hear any water and I didn’t see any people. I think there’s a rule of thumb where you should never go hiking alone. Ppshaw. Me strong like bull.
I felt a relapse of the first time I came to Minoh. I tend to take a lot of pictures of bridges, running water, and stairs. Today was not the exception. The best part about the walk to this “Stone Moon Mountain” was the broad range of different sides of nature. One second you’ll be walking next to a river with green grass and tree roots acting as steps, and then the next the whole background will change to brown trees. The floor will be covered with leaves instead of stone, and the familiar sound of running water will only be in the distance. My description is still vague compared to the magic, but if you ever get the chance to see it, you’ll know exactly what I mean.
There was many times where I thought I was going to be attacked by insects or wild animals. My reactions were swift, as I stamped the ground and screamed like a little girl. Good thing no one was around to hear it. My paranoia level rose (to about an amber color) as the road felt like it never ended. I didn’t even know where I was going, but the little wooden signs that pointed towards “Stone Moon Mountain” gave me so much hope that this piece of cheese at the end of the maze would be so tasty. After walking about an hour, all I really wanted was a map that had a red dot to tell me where I was. This would be hoping for too much. Vague signs stationed every kilometer are all you get. I thought about turning back so many times, but when my hope was at its lowest, I saw some old men walking towards me with such a lively step. Then, as this motivation subsided, there would be more hope from couples eating a light snack on a picnic table. They were 60 – if they could make it, so could I (I had the advantage of having the hip that I was born with).
Many things changed after I got tired of walking. I thought I had already walked too far to not continue, and convinced myself that it would just be over those patches of trees (I also couldn’t quit twice in one day, I would have just thrown away all of my values and admitted my defeat). The sights around me were still incredible, but I was no longer mesmerized. I began looking closer to where I stepped and noticing all of the creepy crawly things around me. Everything was decaying and I was too afraid to step too hard or kick anything out of the way to expose a whole city of life forms beneath the fallen leaves and soil. With my concentration back on where I placed my feet, I started seeing all of the insects that I just barely missed with every step. My arms began flailing in front of me after that one time I stepped into a developing spider web.
After two hours, I was just thinking to myself – get me back to some concrete and away from all these chances of dying. Most of the paths I walked didn’t even have guard rails along the side. You could see a murderous path downward. I stopped for a moment and thought to myself “If I slipped, that tree right there would break my ribs, and then I would pinball to that stump which would break my legs, then I’d probably continue sliding until my groin gets caught on that other tree.” I simulated the full effect of the rag-doll being tossed down the path and it was horrifying.
It began to rain (which didn’t help my motivation to move forward), but at least the trees acted as my umbrella. The dirt slowly softened and the rocks became much more slippery. Don’t trust the black rocks – you will fall on your ass and get your left foot wedged in watery sediment (trust me on this one). The perfect camera angles are not worth wet socks. Good thing I packed an extra pair of socks, but a wet shoe doesn’t really help either.
So I kept following the signs like a good boy, and wound up somewhere unexpected – it was a concrete road. Immediately at seeing this, I threw up my hands and screamed “C’mon! All this way for a freakin’ road?” Where the hell was the great view or monument of some sort to make all this traveling worth it? There was one thing beyond the road that was really beautiful – it was a full view from one mountain to another with a city of tiny buildings in between. I took a lot of pictures because I knew I wouldn’t walk this again anytime soon. Still, it wasn’t worth the slosh every other step.
I took another route going back to the waterfall. It says that I walked about 5km, but I don’t think they take into account the vertical shift, so I must have walked at least 7km. It took about 40 minutes to get back to the main road, but I was really walking quickly and I had taken a much shorter path. I’m glad I walked this one going downhill because the steps were gi-normous. By the time I reached the main road, my shirt was drenched as much as my socks, and all I wanted to do was jump into that river. The familiar sound of the running water is heavenly when you spend 30 minutes in the woods.
I never really got around to riding my bike to fix my first trip’s failure. I also noticed a few more trails off the beaten path, so there’s definitely another trip before my time here is up. Despite that hour of frustration, desperation, and fear, Minoh has still been the best injection of nature for me. Tomorrow I will be rewarded with an onsen of epic proportions.
~See Lemons Benkyo Benkyo Benkyo

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Random Observation/Comment #: Why is it that they awkwardly stretch out their “gozaimasssssssuuuuuu” with such an inflection? I understand it’s emphasizing the more formal mannered portion of the speech, but doesn’t it get annoying? Maybe they’re just practicing their singing voice.
I’m starting to think that getting lost is more fun than knowing: a) where you’re going, b) how you’ll get there, c) what survival things you’ll need when you go, and d) whether or not you’ll meet a dangerous killer along the way (these are just minor details to an exciting day). A map, a compass, or even some stars would have been very useful in this journey. By the time and the height of the sun in the sky, I could tell the winds, but this sense of direction doesn’t make a difference if you don’t know or care where you’re going or what you’re doing for the day. It’s this type of travel that I love most. There’s not a care in the world and nature surrounds you with spontaneity. Nature’s architecture was breath-taking.
Even though I didn’t know where to go, I prepared myself for the worst case scenario. I watched enough Man vs. Wild and Survivorman to know what to bring on a trip if I expect to get stranded in Africa or something. The essentials include: at least 1.5L of water, chocolate or energy snacks, regular snacks that don’t spoil easily, umbrella, lighter, flashlight, bug spray (well real travelers don’t care about insects, they just eat them), pair of socks, additional t-shirt, and a knife. I didn’t want to carry a knife around, so I just brought a sharp rock instead. I don’t expect to resort to killing wild animals near fresh water bores and eating them raw (Bear Grylls is so damn badass). I’d expect many raised eyebrows if I started walking around with my underwear around my head to keep it cool, and using a makeshift fishing line to catch dinner. It would be even worse if they caught me cutting down the trees to build my own place to stay for the night, or a raft to ride the rapids off the rain forest/mountains of Minoh.
When I pictured a nature expedition, I wanted the high grass and tall trees (and a whole camera crew documenting my every move). To my disappointment, there was no camera crew to save me, nor were there even insects to complain about. The path is paved concrete, which follows the river leading from the waterfall. Basically, if you follow this river, you’ll wind up at the waterfall. If you’re still afraid of getting lost, I would suggest following the 6 or 7 pro walkers that do the 2.8km walk as a morning exercise. You may think 2.8 km is short, but it could take hours to walk because of the small side paths branching off to some other place on the mountain. In addition, I stopped everywhere to take pictures of the surroundings.
The prize at the end of this path is the large waterfall where all the tourists and locals enjoy the mesmerizing sights and sounds of the flowing liquid gold (not literally, of course. That would be a well-mined waterfall if this were true. I don’t even think the liquid form of gold is pretty, but whatever.). This is by far, one of the best dating locations. Couples who don’t want to do the walk can just park their cars at the top of the mountain and walk down a much shorter path to skip the sight-seeing. Personally, even if I had a car and a pretty girl to take on a date such as this, it’s such a nice relief to see the beautiful waterfall in the distance that I would not give up the hardship it took to reach that sanctuary. It’s like following a rainbow for miles and finally seeing a pot of gold to make the journey worth all your time. Don’t take the local way – it will make you stray from the true purpose of the journey – the peacefulness of nature at its best. Don’t listen to music from your mp3 player or ipod (yes I just separated the difference), for the water, insects, and animals make their own soundtrack.
Despite my past complaints about loneliness, I did not have the same feelings here. Being surrounded by green triumphed any fear and pain. It was a place to just sit down and absorb. Forget the camera, for your mind will always remember the true meaning of peace. This is not the time and place to bring forth memories of missing a certain touch or missing the sweet words of security – save yourself that state of mind. Instead, think of how many people have felt this escape from reality. Sure, you have bills to pay and deadlines to meet back home, but what about here and now? How do you enjoy your world without first taking a step back to see what you’ve already accomplished? Where some have written poems and haikus about the rustling of leaves or mating calls of insects, I’ve just sat smiling for this opportunity. In the 21 years that my eyes and ears have seen and heard this world, I have not yet felt as liberated as that moment. Everything about this magical place has been seared into my mind.
Japan has found a place in my heart for its little things. I wish everyone could share my experience with their own eyes and ears. Share it with someone you love unconditionally.
~See Lemons Get Lost Again (for the better)

photo by: ys484