Four days in Mito (Honshu)

So I spent four glorious days in Mito. And what a treat it was. On day one I slept and watched YouTube all day long. I only left the room to buy food.

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One day two I sleep in, soak in the bath for ages (that’s my favourite thing about Japanese hotels) and head out to the lake again on my bike. The wisteria is in bloom and looks totally gorgeous. It’s one of the things I wanted to see in Japan because we don’t really have it at home.

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The wild flowers are in full bloom around the lake too. They make an amazing carpet of blue, white and pink. Wild flowers are so cheerful but delicate. It’s a gentleness that big gaudy tropical and subtropical flowers lack. Though I do like big gaudy tropical and sub tropical flowers too.

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Old men play chess-like board games in the shade. It’s a scene repeated in so many collectivist societies across the globe. The games are a chance to socialise, gamble and release some competitive testosterone. It’s not something I’ve seen as much in individualist societies like Australia, America and the UK. Men there still gather but it’s rarely in public parks playing board games. It’s more likely to be in the relative privacy of a bar playing pool or darts while drinking. Neither is better or worse, they are just different. And it is kind of nice to see the old fellas out enjoying the fresh air concentrating on their games.

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The swans here seem to own the place. One plonks itself in the middle of the path despite the many pedestrians and cyclists making their way around the lake. No one shoos it away. Rather, everyone makes a concerted effort to walk around the beautiful white bird. The swans look funny when they walk. They keep their necks bent, sometimes their heads are all the way down on their backs even as they plod across the road. Not to be outdone. Two more birds decide to set up shop on the pathway. It doesn’t take long for them to start fighting and chasing each other into the water. A black swan decides to check out the commotion and the white swans gang up on it. There’s an awful lot of honking and squawking before the birds settle back down.

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The black swans are sitting on eggs. Some have left their nests unattended, showing that perhaps there are few predators here. The swans that sit on their nests don’t seem too bothered by us people walking or cycling past. Sometimes they open their mouths at us but mostly they just ignore our presence. Some of the swans have cute little babies. I don’t know how anyone could consider these fluffy bundles of floating grey ugly like in the children’s story because they are adorable.

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I leave the swans to their business and head over to the other side of the main road to a big park. There are landscaped ponds and pretty paths through the trees. I can only imagine how amazing this must look when the cherry and plum blossoms are in bloom. It’s gorgeous even now after the weather has warmed up so the transformation between winter and spring must be stunning.

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There’s a shrine here too. An important one from the days when Mito was a castle city. It’s pretty but still doesn’t have that pull that some religious places have. I really can’t say why. It’s strange how in some places (like Hongu Taisha and Nachi Taisha) I feel a sense of spirit while in others it feels somehow empty. But it’s pretty enough to walk through the shrine.

On day three I again do very little. While housekeeping clean my room I walk down to the shopping malls near the JR station. I arrive just as the crazy clock starts to play the two o’clock tune. I have no idea that it is going to do this so am taken by surprise. It’s fun and cute and tragic all at once. The locals shake their heads at my videoing it but for me it’s new.

The shopping mall is loud and almost obnoxious. There are heaps of floors on which electronic goods are being sold and all are turned on with their volumes up loud. It’s epic so I take a video to share with you all.

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On day four I again rest and then venture out for a few hours in the afternoon while housekeeping are cleaning my room. Today I find a historic building and garden. It was built in the days of the samurai (from what I can tell from the pictures). This is the biggest difference between my travels in Korea and Japan. In Korea, the government tourism department is committed to creating foreigner-friendly tourist sites so everything is translated into multiple languages, including English. Here in Japan, nothing is translated (though I have started to notice that kanji is translated into hiragana because younger people today cannot read kanji anymore due to the introduction of smart phones and spell-check). But hiragana doesn’t help me much because I do not read Japanese. So historic sites are not so interesting to me because I cannot read the stories.

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Mito used to be a walled castle city with entry gates in strategic places. The gates have been retained or restored where possible. I wander along a road and pass two such gates. Here the signs are in English (random how the street locations are translated but museums are not). They tell of the location and purpose of each gate. There’s no big surprises here because the gates were made for defense and were built too low for mounted riders to pass through.

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As an old settlement, Mito also has lots of small shrines. I pass many on my walk. They are nice to see. I am fascinated by the way some are derelict while others are beautifully cared for. Offerings of tea and flowers have been left at this and many other shrines.

I didn’t do a lot on my four days in Mito. These little two to three hour excursions are the only times I left the hotel other than to look for food. For the first two days my body was fatigued. My legs and lower back were sore, and my heel spur was playing up from the pressure the riding has put on my Achilles tendon. I could have ridden on and created some sort of mini route along the coast between Mito and Narita but it was only 100km between the two towns and the hostel in Narita was fully booked. So, instead of splitting the ride with a wild camp (camping grounds along the coast are as or more expensive as hotels but do not have showers or wifi), I decided to stay put in Mito.

There’s something delightful about having a few days to totally unwind. I didn’t require much of myself. Other than the forays into the town I watched movies, listened to radio stations from home on the wifi, did a little work and surfed the net a lot. The surfing led me to some TedX talks, some YouTube documentaries and a real estate website from home. It was almost as if, having experienced so many new and amazing things here in Japan, my mind wanted some time to reflect and consider how to incorporate what I have seen and learned into the bigger picture of my life. I will be home from Wednesday night for 17 days. That’s a short time in which I will find myself racing around doing all the many things I want to do while I am home. It’s almost as if I need some time while I am away to relax and take stock. I did it in Daegu in Korea too and Melbourne when I was traveling in Australia. I wonder whether this will become my thing … to just lock myself away for a few days every few months while traveling alone. Only time will tell. All I know is that I enjoyed my four days in Mito where I barely left the hotel room but feel like I got an amazing feel for Japan and its people.

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