Rain, the one enemy of the ninja.

Why you no post Adam Halls?

Long story, combination of golden week, my parent’s recent visit, my need to clean the house on a semi-regular basis, joining the gym and something to do with the letters w i i.

But post today guys regarding pretty much my only real adventure during Golden Week. A trip to a little out of the way village near Nara known as Kasagi.

I hadn’t intended to go to Kasagi that day, I had thought I was going to go to Nara for some kind of a scavengers hunt. Apparently I thought wrong.

The plan, as it was explained to me, was to go to Nara, meet up with some of my girlfriend’s friends and wander around the town solving riddles taking photos of things we thought were the answers to the riddles.

This was wrong in pretty much every respect.

For starters, before my girlfriend and I had even reached Nara we discovered that we weren’t in fact going to Nara but instead going to a town just beyond Nara, and slightly beyond the best named town in the whole of Hyogo prefecture. Kamo, or duck.

This was fine with me albeit a little surprising. I quite like the small towns in the area just beyond Nara and Kyoto. They are full of cool surprises such as the Ninja Museum.

In fact this scavenger hunt was going to be ninja themed slightly. I had no idea in what way it would be ninja themed but I brought my ninja mask and my kunai in preparation for the possibility that I might be called upon to kill a man with my half remembered tae-kwon-do and rubber knife.

It seems that Kasagi is actually quite close to the ninja museum and the area was previously a ninja village, however it hasn’t turned this into a tourist industry like nearby Iga Ueno.

Fran and I arrived by cab having already taken three trains to get there and met up with Charlie and Sarah, the two people organising the event. They hooked us up with two free maps (neither of which had any scale and had the landmarks only in a rudimentary positional relationship to each other), a free cup of coffee and our final team member in the form of Sarah’s visiting brother, a freelance web page designer.

They also explained that the actual aim of the hunt wasn’t so much to find everything on the clue sheet as to go to all the areas on the clue sheet and take a ninja pose there. Fair enough, but apparently we weren’t just looking for places in Kasagi but in a neighbouring village that we needed to cross a mountain to get to.

Hang on a moment. Climbing a mountain? Nobody mentioned that before and neither me nor Fran were in particularly good shoes for such an endeavour.

However as we set off to go collect our photos thoughts of difficult mountain climbs were far from our minds.

They’d return.

Things started out really cool. Kasagi, like many small Japanese towns, has lots of small scale attractions. The kind of curios that it wouldn’t be worth the effort for a tourist to seek out but that are nonetheless cool little treats for we long term residents. Take for example this diorama of samurai in combat with some kind of super human rock throwing man.

Also note how the stealthy ninja dispatches the arrogant samurai. Foolish samurai!

I should probably explain why on earth Fran is posing the way she is. Well everybody had to come up with a name for their ninja team. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles having already been taken we opted for Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters and Fran took it upon herself to pose like a hamster in every photo.

Hence photos such as this.

We were also commanded to do a “Ninja Disco Dance of Death.”

BEHOLD MY MIGHTY MOVES!

At one of the targets, a local onsen, we met up with one of the competing teams…

… and mercilessly slaughtered them.

There are ninja hiding here, can you spot them?

Having found all the spots in Kasagi, at about 11:30 in the morning, we set off up the mountain to get the spots on top of the mountain and head over to the next town.

This is where it all started to go wrong.

After about 40 minutes of waling we had no idea where we were and we were seriously scared that we had wandered onto the wrong mountain or done worse. The maps we had didn’t detail most of the roads we had passed and there was no sight of the peak, the turning to the next town or anybody else on the mountain.

To make matters worse it started to rain, I lost my kunai and Fran began to get serious pains in her foot. Fran had come directly from Tokyo the day before without getting any proper sleep in between and a mountain hike did not seem like the smartest plan in the world.

We gave serious consideration to retracing our steps and calling off the whole thing but at last we were emboldened by meeting up with another team on the same road. This meant we hadn’t been mistaken or lost just underestimating quite how high the climb was.

With courage restored we pressed on and finally reached the sight we had come to see, an 80 foot Buddha carved into the side of a rock.

I love Japan. I love that interesting sights like this are so common that they are hardly ever mentioned. I love turning mountain bends and been confronted by something completely unexpected and perfectly Japanese. I love that art and aesthetics find their way into seemingly everything. It’s a great country.

There was an even more interesting carving of a Buddha that had seemingly faded away over the years. Seen here with a ninja “scaling” it. It was certainly less well done than the other Buddha but I consider it more interesting because it prompts so many questions. How old is it? What did it used to look like? Why was it allowed to wear away? Just what purpose did it serve?

Having done our best ninja poses at these two spots we set off down the mountain again to get to the next town and complete all the spots there.

We would never make it.

Oh we made it to the town but the combination of heavy rain, terrible maps and a member of our combined team that was unfortunately wearing heels meant that the travelling was painfully slow going.

It was a lovely walk though. The views from the mountain top were typically grand but furthermore this may be the greenest place in the whole of Japan. It almost reminds me of dear sweet England, except for all the mountains.

It was completely deserted too. No tourists, hardly any buildings and maybe 2 or 3 cars. It is staggeringly rare in Japan to get that level of privacy and I cherished the absence of people. Particularly once we descended the mountain and the valley opened up into these really wide rice fields. It was so..spacious. Not usually an adjective one associates with Japan.

Mostly what impacted on me was the noise. In the absence of human sounds the noises of nature were noticeably louder. There were frogs EVERYWHERE. We never once saw one but the sound of their croaking was omnipresent. The rain too was thundering down and the noises it made as it rushed over roads, gurgled down drains and splashed against rivers made a kind of natural trance. For a long time we just walked and listened as nature filled all that human need for noise for us.

By the time we finally got to the other town (which is so small it isn’t listed on wikipedia and I cannot remember the name sadly) it was nearly 3 o’clock. What was supposed to be an easy hike had taken us nearly 4 hours, and worse we were supposed to survey the town and somehow make it back to Kasagi for 5 o’clock.

Simply not happening.

Instead we sussed out a bus heading back to Nara and all poured into the only restaurant in the entire town that was open. I had curry udon, a dish that consisted literally of udon noodles in curry sauce and as such not something I recommend to anyone. It wasn’t bad as such but it was deeply unsatisfying in comparison to ordinary udon or ordinary curry.

So that was Kasagi. A bit of an adventure but ultimately a frustrating one. Whilst there are many parts of it I enjoyed I can’t help but regret that we didn’t get the chance to explore further.

As for the scavenger hunt? Well we never really got to hand in our photos did we. For all I know Charlie is still waiting for us to show up.

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