Soon, the train slowed to a halt at one stop, and something was announced. I’m pretty sure the meaning was, “Last stop! Everybody off!” I had reached the end of the line. I stepped off the train and looked at my watch. It was 1:30. I had been riding for an hour and a half. I walked passed the conductor, and out on to the streets of…where was I? I looked back at the quaint little train station and saw a sign that said, “Mitsumeniguchi Station.” I was in Mitsumeniguchi. Now, what was I going to do in Mitsumeniguchi? According to the map, I was as deep in the heart of Chichibu National Park that I could reach by train. There was a bus stop across the street, and people were already lining up to go deeper into the heart of the park. I thought that I had been sitting for long enough, and that first I may stretch my legs for a bit. I would explore the streets of Mitsumeniguchi.
I set off down the road. I heard a diesel engine behind me, and turned to see the bus leaving. It drove by me slowly, and everyone who looked out at me seemed to have a look that said, “You poor bastard.” The bus drove on ahead, and I kept walking. The road soon curved, and I was walking across a bridge. I looked over the side, and saw the railway. The tracks came to an undignified end, as they turned to rust and were horrendously overgrown. Obviously, at one point, the railway had gone further. I wondered what happened to make Mitsumeniguchi the last stop. Did a landslide take out a section of the tracks? Was the damage irreparable? I shrugged it off and kept walking along the bridge. Soon, my breath was taken away.
This bridge soon began crossing over a 300 foot deep gorge. At least, I think it was 300 feet. At that height, your eyes begin playing tricks on you. I looked deep down and saw some people swimming in the river far below. I felt like yelling out my loudest, “Konichiwa!” to get them to look up, but decided against it. I looked back up the gorge, at the path that I had just come down by rail. The gorge soon climbed into mountains; lush, green-covered mountains. Occasionally, through the green treetops, you could make out the red or brown of a roof. Civilization was still out this far, but it had become so much less. Don’t get me wrong, there were still enough rooftops poking through the trees to make you remember you were in a town, but the green far outnumbered the red or brown. It reminded me of Jasper, and a little bit of Vancouver. I continued walking along the bridge until I came to the other side. I began walking south, somewhat following the bus.
I continued down the road, just breathing deeply. It had been so long since I had been out of the city. I hadn’t realized how much I missed the outdoors. I took a deep breath of the fresh, mountain air. It was a lot warmer than the mountain air I was used to, but that familiar mountain smell was there. There was just so much green! So many trees! They were so high, blocking out the sky! It had been so long! I just kept walking and breathing, occasionally marveling at how the urban was still sprawling, but out here, nature still seemed to be winning. Oh, it had been so long! I soon felt that I had walked far enough. I was still eager to explore, but not to sure what to do. I decided to head back to the station, as I saw some kind of local directory on the side of the station. I took one last deep breath, and began the trek back.
I came back to the station, and began studying the map. I was instantly drawn to the huge cartoony painting of a cable car. It’s just not a trip to the mountains without riding the cable car! I studied the map and saw that the cable car was just a little further down the road I was walking, but just too far to walk. I may as well take the bus. I looked at my watch. It was 10 past 2. I looked at the cable car schedule, handily posted next to the map. The last one left at 5 pm. I looked at the train schedule. The last train left at 9:15 pm. I crossed the street and looked at the bus schedule. The last bus left at 6 pm. The next bus left at 2:30. I had plenty of time to take the bus further into the park, ride to the top of the mountain, and catch a train home.
But right now, I had 20 minutes to wait for the bus. I was feeling a little hungry, so I went to an ice cream vending machine and bought a strawberry and chocolate flavored Drumstick. (Or, as the brand name is over here, “Glico.”) I sat on the bus bench and munched my Glico. Others were gathering to catch the bus. Some were ready for some hardcore hiking, with huge backpacks and beer coolers. Others were just like me; only out for the day and nothing but a shoulder bag slung over their shoulders. While the Glico was good, I was starting to get thirsty. I looked at my watch and saw I still had 15 minutes. Rather than get something from a vending machine, I decided to head up the street to the small town grocery store.
I walked through the door and was immediately hit with the smell. Small town grocery stores have a smell. I became intimately familiar with it during my first real job, which was as a stock boy in Entwistle’s small town grocery store. On warm days, I could smell that smell in the back room of Extra Evil. And now, for the first time ever, I was smelling it in Japan. I took in that smell and smiled. It was that sweet, sweet blend of damp wood, old cardboard, and fresh fruit. Every small town grocery store in the world must have that smell.
I walked through the aisles, looking for something tasty to drink. I looked over at the one till, and saw the store’s only three employees. They were three little old ladies that reminded me of a trio back at Extra Evil. As I walked through the aisles, I was again reminded of my sister. She told me that, as she backpacked through Europe, she ate a lot of fruit, just because it was so easy to go into a grocery store and grab something fresh off of the shelf. I began to wonder how many places in Europe my sister smelled the smell. I soon found a drink cooler and grabbed a bottle of Calpis. I’m not sure what this stuff is, but it’s very sweet and I like it. I took it to the cashier and I saw her do something I hadn’t seen any other clerk do in Japan. She picked it up, looked for a price tag, and rang it in manually. I was truly in a small town. I gave her the money, she gave me my change, and I walked out the door.
I looked up the street to the bus stop and saw the bus pulling away. I looked at my watch to see that it was indeed 2:30. I missed the bus. I took a sip of my Calpis and leisurely walked back up to the bus stop. I looked over the bus schedule to see that the next bus would be coming at 3:30. I walked across the street to the train station to see that the next train was leaving at 3. Now, the way I saw it, I had two choices. I could either wait until 3:30 and catch the next bus deeper into the park, or I could catch the next train out at 3 and call it a day. I made what I’m sure was the only sane choice.
I picked up a rock and headed back to that massive bridge, with the intent to drop the rock into the river below. I got back to the bridge, looked down, and saw that the swimmers were gone. I didn’t want to accidentally bean someone on the head, after all. At this height, I’m sure a rock could kill. When the way was clear, I let go of the rock. It hit the water, and the air was still enough that I could actually hear the “sploosh.” Satisfied, I began heading back to the bus stop and train station. I figured that I was on vacation, I may as well wait for the bus. But it was now 2:45. How was I going to kill 45 minutes?
When my train pulled into Mitsumeniguchi, I saw out the window that, on the far side of the station, some vintage railway cars were on display. I decided to wander over and check it out. The first things that were on display were a few old box cars. Nothing impressive, just big, black box cars with the Chichibu Railway logo on the side. That logo was starting to grow on me. It resembled the logo of the Empire from the Star Wars films. I continued along, and the box cars soon gave way for cargo cars, and then we got to the good stuff. On display were some vintage passenger rail cars. And there was a staircase, where you could climb into them! I approached the staircase, but it was roped off, with a sign written in Japanese. I couldn’t read the sign, but from the smell of fresh paint that lingered in the air, I guessed that it said, “Wet paint.” I looked along the passenger rail car to see some scaffolding set up, and that this car was receiving a fresh coat of paint. I looked further down the line and saw some painters sitting under a tree, sipping something from a thermos. I looked at my watch. Yup, 3 pm is coffee break all over the world.
I was staring at one of the old electric locomotives on display when I felt I should get some pictures for posterity. I reached into my shoulder bag (which was formerly my camera bag) and pulled out…my cellular phone. Now, in all the gusto of stuffing my shoulder bag with all the stuff from my jacket pockets, I forgot to stuff my camera back in, and I was now cursing that I didn’t have a real camera with me. My cellular phone, however, has a built-in digital camera. True, it only takes crappy little snapshots, but I figured some crappy little snapshots were better than nothing. I took a picture of the electric locomotive when, close to the train station, I heard the loud rumbling of a diesel engine. I looked at my watch to see that it was 3:15. I figured that, if I want to catch the bus, I’d better start heading for the bus stop.