Do you want to travel but have no time? Don’t give up so easily – do some mini-traveling! That’s how I ended up in a spectacular place called Takayasuyama on the edge of Osaka Prefecture.
I had a lone day off and decided to do a one-day mini-travel near my own area. I live in Osaka, Japan, and when I woke up, not only was my blood sugar a perfect 101, but I had all day off and decided I’d rather not sit inside all day wishing I was traveling somewhere. Why accept defeat?
My mini-travel rules
I made a quick and dirty list of rules for my one-day mini-travel:
- Go to some random train station, get out, and walk around.
- It must be a station I am unfamiliar with.
- No research beforehand!
Masayo came with me, and we decided on the Kintetsu train line which goes from Osaka City east to Nara Prefecture.
Our path to the mountains
Here’s how we packed our day with surprises from the outset: We took a local train from Tsuruhashi because it would stop at every station. The idea was to look around as we pulled into each one, and jump out when we saw an area that looked interesting.
We made it to Kawachi-Yamamoto station in Yao City (still Osaka Prefecture, right next to the mountains that mark its eastern edge), but remained on the train. Just before the doors closed, however, Masayo suddenly said we should jump out and change to the other line, so we did. The “other line” turned out to be the Shigi Line, a very short, two-station spur line up into the base of the mountains. (The line’s grade is 4%, the steepest of any Kintetsu line, if nerdy train facts are your thing.) The last stop on the Shigi Line is called Shigisanguchi.
Shigisanguchi is in a quiet, residential area, and the most interesting thing about the station itself was that it connects to a cable car that goes steeply up the mountain (the Nishi-Shigi Line). But before doing that, we exited the station and walked around.
My inspiration for this mini-travel was the fact that I like walking around the quiet neighborhoods of Osaka, looking at the strangely-shaped houses, the occasional shiny blue roof tiles, the super-tiny little gardens people keep, the bizarre figurines set on people’s porches. People in Japan have a knack for gaudy and apparently random decoration, but there is a homey and lived-in feel to neighborhoods. I’m fascinated by how people live, and by the side of Japan that isn’t touristy temples or cacophonous, neon-choked shopping areas.
Shigisanguchi was just what I wanted. We walked through the alleys and paths, around a sun-twinkling pond and across the train tracks that brought us here. One one side of Shigisanguchi the land slopes down and you can look out over greater Osaka; the other side slopes up and has some temples.
The temple side was more interesting, and nobody else was around. We let our instincts – what I call the travel gods – lead us around. For example, at one point as I took a photo of several brightly colored picture frames on a table in front of a half abandoned-looking house, Masayo said she smelled strong gas, and we both heard an alarm. Was one of these houses about to explode? We turned on our heels and headed elsewhere. (And thankfully never heard any explosion.)
The cold killed my iPhone
That led us to a little Shinto shrine, where my iPhone claimed its battery was empty (not true) and died on me. Masayo said she’d read iPhones do that when it’s cold. And it was cold today, around 3ºC maybe. So we had to use her iPhone, which didn’t seem to have any problem.
Up to Takayasuyama by cable car
We headed back to the station and took the cable car up the mountain. It only has one destination: Takayasuyama station. About twice an hour, all day long, a cable car ascends while one descends; they meet in the middle where the single line branches off into two so they can pass. On the way up, there was only one other passenger in our car; the descending car that passed us seemed to have no passengers at all.
Our plan was to find a noodle shop or some restaurant, or at least a convenience store, at the top for lunch. Imagine our surprise when we got there and found that the only things up there were drink vending machines, a gazebo, and a bathroom. (The other passenger from our cable car, incidentally, was the bathroom attendant; she’d only ridden up to do some cleaning.)
The gazebo was nice, and was even surrounded by a thin layer of snow on the ground. The air was very crisp and cold, but it was a supremely sunny day and we could see far down to Osaka which looked, from Takayasuyama, much farther away than it had at the bottom. We signed the register, and I checked my blood sugar for the first time since breakfast: 89.
But there was no lunch to be had. I suggested we take the bus service that led from the station to somewhere. (I had no idea where, but figured that the nice, modern-looking bus must go somewhere.) Masayo read the Japanese signs and schedules and reported that the bus was apparently meant to take people to visit graveyards, of which there were several in the area.
I wanted to go see the graveyards, but they aren’t generally known for having restaurants so we had to head back down. The two of us (plus the cleaning woman who had evidently finished her tasks) got back on the cable car and down we went. As Osaka got closer and closer, the car we passed going up beside us again had no passengers.
Back to civilization
Back down in Shigisanguchi, I asked the station attendant if there were any restaurants in the area. His answer was blunt and unequivocal: nope.
So we got back on the regular Kintetsu train, back to Kawachi-Yamamoto station. It was a shock to be back here; it was full of people and cars and traffic lights and stores. I’d only been in the mountains two hours and had already gone country!
We found a Chinese restaurant, and I ordered a big set meal full of rice and fried things and vegetables, and a beer. Since I had been only 89 on the mountain, I ate for a few minutes before scampering off to the bathroom to take my ten units of Humalog. I hoped it would cover the rice and sauce and fried things, whose carb count was hard to guess.
The lady at the Chinese restaurant wouldn’t let me plug my iPhone into the wall socket behind the counter to charge it, but I got the best of her in the end: she forgot to charge me for my beer! Thanks, travel gods.
We went to a doughnut shop to get some coffees to go and started walking around the Yamamoto area. It was starting to get close to dinner time though, and we had to be back in Osaka for that. We still saw some curious and interesting sights though: ducks swimming in the frigid river; all manner of weird-shaped green trees in people’s yards, carefully manicured and some with branches shaped like surfboards; a collection of statues, half of them young naked girls, stuck behind a fence next to a vacant lot.
Our walking led us through the icy cold and approaching darkness to Takayasu station (not to be confused with Takayasuyama), and we got on a train (a local, of course) and made it back to Osaka in time for dinner.
In the subway station I checked my BG to see how I’d done with the Chinese lunch a couple hours earlier: I was 77. Not bad!
I really enjoyed the day of mini-traveling; it was much cheaper than, say, a trip to Europe, and it only took a few hours. I hope to do more mini-traveling when I can get days off here and there. There is no excuse to not traveling; everyone lives near somewhere they can go check out. If you keep your mind open and have a good attitude about it, everywhere is interesting!
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Mini-traveling: Hankai Tramway in Osaka/Sakai