Journey in Japan Part 28: The Other Side of the Tracks


I say goodbye to Nagoya after five days, three of which I felt I could have done a lot more with my time. I spend ¥1950 and two hours travelling. During the train ride I read over half of my new book, ‘South of the Border, West of the Sun’. Coincidentally, around the same time that I change trains at Toyohashi Station, a scene in the book takes place in Toyohashi of all places. I have about given up on giving these things too much thought or meaning.

I arrive at Hamamatsu for just before two. I would have got here a bit earlier if it wasn’t for two of my trains running late; not very Japanese. Outside it is unexpectedly warm. Sitting on a dull air-conditioned train is very deceptive, and the weather in Nagoya was frankly terrible for the last few days. I notice immediately that there is a distinct lack of tall buildings.

I find my hotel on the map, it is probably a five-minute walk. I take an unnecessary shortcut through a small shopping arcade. There are no voodoo dolls hanging here, but there might as well be. Every shop is closed or abandoned. No music is playing. “Welcome to Hamamatsu,” I utter to myself.

I notice an awful lot of the signs here are in Portuguese. “Você está aqui,” says the map. Perhaps Hamamatsu has a large number of Portuguese residents. My suspicions are somewhat confirmed when I pass a Brazilian imported goods store and a small boarded up Portuguese restaurant.

Opposite the front door to my hotel is a construction site. Although it must be a day off because there are no workmen with flashing red sticks. Inside the hotel lobby, there is a cream grand piano. It makes a nice centrepiece to the room, however, it also looks slightly lonely and seldom used.

I can’t check-in for another twenty minutes, so I leave my bag and do a quick once around the block. Behind the hotel are some really old looking Japanese houses. I can’t tell if they are lived in or not; but the Big Bad Wolf has definitely had a go, by the looks of it.

This side of the train tracks I count two Seven Elevens and one Family Mart. Every now and again the pavement has etchings of musical instruments; they look old and worn like they were made some many years ago.

At 3 pm I check-in. This is the second hotel in Japan that I have stayed in that doesn’t have any wireless Internet. I can’t believe it. The building itself looks more like a block of apartments than a hotel. I hire the hotel laptop for both nights. ¥500 per night, actually not that bad.

My room only offers the basic amenities, but the hotel does offer ¥180 cans of beer on the vending machine floor; albeit Kirin Beer. The information for the hotel is all very standard, except for the part that says, “We offer curry and rice from 17:00 to 20:00 for free.” There is a nice neat hand-drawn ink line through this one piece of exciting information. Not today then.

The laptop itself sluggishly loads at an unsatisfactory pace. A common issue I have found in Japan, the computer is so old that it doesn’t recognise my camera, so I can’t upload any photographs. I search for the nearest Internet café, it can just about manage that. I locate a Popeye Media Café. Excellent.

I head in the direction of the Internet café, taking the underpass beneath the train tracks. On the other side of the tracks I am met by shrubbery and flowers, it’s like entering a different world.

The area here is packed with shops and restaurants and people. Human life. I follow my route using a photograph of the map and the GPS on my camera. The pedestrian crossings in Japan usually play a loud drone, a repetitive beep-beep, beep-beep, or one of two tunes that I can recite at any time, having had them lodged into my memory. Not in Hamamatsu. Classical music plays from a loudspeaker here. I cross the road with Chopin.

After some time, I arrive at my destination. Thank you, Google. Looking around, I find myself in the middle of the woods. Insects around me buzz loudly and mechanically. Not a media café in sight.

I walk a while following the path through the woods and arrive at a castle. Of course, there is always a castle.

It is half past five, but the castle gate is wide open, so I decide to wander inside. It is one of the smallest castles I have seen, deserted; all that stands here are the castle tower and the gates.

Just next door to the castle is the Hamamatsu Municipal Museum of Art. For the next two weeks, they have a special exhibition on. The Genesis of Ultraman 1966-1980. Interesting.

To get back to the main roads, I have to wander through the Sakura Woods. About five minutes into the woods a Suntory Boss vending machine offers a welcome reward, or it spoils the tranquillity. To each his own.

After ten more minutes, I am perhaps lost in the woods. Endless loops of footpaths and stone stairways snake their way back and forth. Every now and then I catch a glimpse of the city through the trees, but with every turn, I take towards it, I am carried further away.

After twenty minutes I arrive back at Hamamatsu Castle. From here I retrace my original steps and eventually find a way out. It is of no surprise that the small castle has survived for this many years. None of the advancing armies could find it through the tangle of woods.

Giving up on finding the media café, I head back to the train station. On the way, I pass a huge Yamaha store, the Watanabe Music Company, a shop called Viola, and three guitar shops. There is something very musical about this city.

At the station, I head to what is clearly the tallest building in Hamamatsu, a place called ‘Act City’. It turns out to be a huge concert hall, but the next performance isn’t until Friday. I head up the steps to an area called ‘Chopin Hill’.

Standing proudly atop the steps is a statue of Polish composer Frédéric Chopin; a 1:1 scale replica of the famous bronze statue designed by Wacław Szymanowski. The original statue is in Warsaw, which turns out to be Hamamatsu’s sister city.

I walk to the open terrace and get a nice view of the train station below. The city looks lively from this side of the tracks, beautiful even.

I head to Seven Eleven for some food. I sit outside the shop for thirty minutes, taking advantage of their free wireless Internet to upload my photographs.

Just after 7 pm, I leave the land of the living and return to the side of the train station that contains my hotel, and deadly silence. On the walk back to the hotel, I see just one other person, a young woman, but she could just as easily be a ghost.

There is one positive thing though, the pavement this side seems to be fairly new, and very flat. The perfect surface for running on, or for running away from ghosts.

Read the next part of my Journey in Japan, where I visit the amazing Hamamatsu Museum of Musical Instruments and search for Loggerhead Sea Turtles amongst the sand dunes by clicking here.


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