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Kiyosato

Wet weather, magnificent mountain scenery covered in by clouds, a terse exchange with a vacuous local who treated the foreigner like an exhibit in the zoo, and a railway signal breakdown causing an almost unheard of 2 hour train delay.  That sounds like a bad weekend, but a getaway to Kiyosato was actually not a bad escape from Tokyo.

Kiyosato cow art

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Kiyosato is a holiday resort town at the foot of Yatsugatake in Yamanashi Prefecture, about 2 hours out of Tokyo on the Chuo Line.  It’s full of pensions (and the one I stayed in – Pension Tomte Hus – had delicious meals and was based on a Scandinavian theme) and has a few museums and galleries, although the town centre has several unoccupied retail buildings that have seen better days.  (One of these has a giant artificial mushroom over the doorway – some sort of former tourist trap that’s gone belly-up?)

I passed through Kiyosato on a a hiking trip last year, but rapidly departed the town to head up the mountain.  This time, it was a lot more leisurely.  Last weekend, there was on-and-off rain all weekend, sometimes quite heavy.  Although this meant that the views towards the 2,899 metre Yatsugatake were obscured, the rain made everything look more green.

Because Kiyosato is high up in the mountains, the local scenery is a bit different, and doesn’t always feel Japanese.  Here there are pastures, dairy cows in sheds, orchards and fields growing vegetables.  There’s an agricultural artistic theme around the place, incluing tractor sculptures.  The area is well known for its dairy products and fruit.

The Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts is a bit tucked away in the forest, and hard to get to without a car – it was a several kilometre walk down from the closest bus stop where the “Picnic Bus” stops.  But it has interesting architecture, and a hotel inside.  At the time of visiting, the main exhibition was titled “A Portrait of Asia”.

The exchange with the vacuous girl happened at a cafe in the town centre.  A group of 4 young people and a baby arrived, and whilst the other 3 sat down at the next table, the girl looked at me vacantly and told her companions that there was a foreigner with a big nose there.  When I told her I understood, and asked her to be careful about what she says in front of others, she reported back to her friends that the foreigner speaks Japanese and then moved away as if it was quite normal to talk about the foreigner like he was an exhibit in the zoo.  This type of encounter used to be far more common in Japan when I first lived here as a student in the early 1990s, but times have changed a lot, and I was surprised to encounter this reaction now from someone in her early 20s.

Never mind, this is Japan, and these things happen.

On the way home, a most un-Japanese thing happened – JR delayed the return to Tokyo for over 2 hours due to a signal fault.  The little 2-car hybrid diesel train was stuck at tiny Kai-kaizumi Station the whole time, and the passengers had no option but to wait or try to make their own way to Kobuchizawa, the end of the line.  Although only one station away, it was too far without transport to just head off.  At least we could all wait on the platform or outside the station.  Eventually, a small JR car arrived outside the station, and a man rushed into a small shed – the signals started working, and we could leave soon after.  This whole experience shows that JR had no procedure to move a train-load of passengers without a train, and that the only thing required to fix the problem was a man in a small car – it just takes a very long time for him to turn up.  At least there was a camel statue next to Kai-koizumi Station to cause some intrigue – the building was a Silk Road Museum.

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