Seeing Japan from the slow train – part 3: Kashiwazaki

Kashiwazaki was an unknown to me before this trip, and I decided to make it a stopping point purely on the basis that I wanted to stay on the Sea of Japan coast, be close enough to Takayama to be able to have some daylight there the next day, and when I looked for hotels there was a room available. Having selected it as my accommodation, my original thought had been to go to the sake festival being held up the coast at Niigata, but when I arrived in the afternoon and looked at the timetable it was pretty obvious that a local train to Niigata would basically get me there just in time to catch the last train back.

Given that my hotel was across the street from the station, the temperature was dropping, it was raining steadily, and my trusty rainjacket and cap were still pretty soaked from my hour long rainy walk around Miyauchi, I did what I figure any reasonable traveler would do: I checked into the hotel, put on another layer, dried my outerwear as much as possible with a bath towel, used the complimentary tea bag for a cup of tea, and then headed back out to see what I could before daylight faded.

The first thing I noticed was that the main street leading from the station to the waterfront had a roof over the sidewalk. Not a collection of awnings from each building, nor a decorative gallery to walk through; this was essentially a block-long carport… which to me indicates that the area must have quite a bit of rain to go to that expense, with the corollary that there must be enough in that area to justify the effort.

The first stop was the water, because cold and rainy or not, I wanted to put my hand in the Sea of Japan for the pure sake of doing so. On the way there I saw what looked like a large sand mound on the beach; looking closer I realized it was snow – probably a winter’s worth of street and roof clearing piled up on the beach to melt it’s way into the ocean. After a quick dip or my hand in the water, I enjoyed having the beach all to myself as I strolled from one end to another under heavy skies and in the shadow of snow-covered mountains.

Having walked the length of the beach, I carried on down the bank of the river that cuts through the city with some minor detours to follow glimpses of things that might have been interesting; among these were several temples, a sawmill, and a sake brewery. As the light started to fade, I headed back toward the station and my hotel with thoughts of finding somewhere for dinner. I had no problem finding places to eat, but none of them really jumped out at me as being in any way unique to the area I was in. Eventually I found my way to a fairly busy pub with a picture menu and dove in to see what I would come out with.

Living in Tokyo tends to lessen the impact of not speaking Japanese as nearly everywhere has someone who speaks enough English to be able to guide you through your transactions, but that is not necessarily the case when you find yourself in a small city off the beaten tourist track. I thought I had it all worked out before I called a waitress over to take my order, but we very quickly hit the language barrier head-on and she finally found one of the cooks who was willing to try his English to help out. The issue: I had wanted to order 3 skewers of grilled fish, but (unknown to me since the sign was only in Japanese) it was happy hour and I could get two 2 skewer orders for less than the price of one 3 skewer order… and the waitress wanted to know why I didn’t want the better deal. The 4 skewers and a few sides that came in the end made for a good dinner.

I slept well, and when I left on the first train out on Sunday morning my memory of Kashiwazaki was of a nice-enough small city nestled between the ocean and the mountains. Only later did I find out that had the fog to the north been a bit lighter I would have noticed a large nuclear power station dominating the skyline.

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