Friday, June 22, 2012

Japan 4: Police, random's couches, train stations and plenty of Onsen

Once again in true “Hannah” style I once again wound up in an awkward situation this time in Kinosaki Onsen in the northern Hyogo prefecture, Japan. A spur of the moment decision from both myself and Arek, we decided it was time to leave the big city lights of Osaka and make our way into the country side to the town famous for its many relaxing Onsen and hundreds of ryokan style accommodation.  

As per usual my preparation for the new town was minimal and the only bit of information I had noted was that there was cheap accommodation somewhere in Takeno, one station from Kinosaki Onsen. So off we went catching a late train from Osaka, stopping through at Kyoto to transfer onto the local train with the whole trip taking almost 5 hours jumping on and off trains 4 times onto different local trains in remote stations. Was tedious and long, but cheap! And the best thing about it was that we arrived in the remote station of Takeno as our last stop, but there were no guards there to charge for our tickets, so we managed to get a 2,500 yen trip ($30 AUD) free!

Upon arriving late at night with no accommodation sorted and hoping that the rumors of cheap accommodation in Takeno was true, we set out into the dark town hopeful. The town was dead, and looked almost deserted. Coming from the bustling city of Kyoto this felt weird. There were almost no street lights and I counted 3 cars driving about the whole town. After ducking into the few places with lights on inside (some being restaurants and homes), we were turned away for a bed to sleep in.

We were hungry and homeless and could only see one option for accommodation, the train station. After buying an ice-cream for dinner from the vending machine we set up camp. I climbed on top of the vending machine to plug in our laptops in the power point and got comfy watching some movies to waste the night away until we became too tired to be too fussy with the uncomfortable wooden seats and surrendered to sleep. However, before getting too comfortable we were greeted by the flashing lights of a police car outside. Someone had dobbed us in.

We were caught with our bags exploding in the train station, cords hanging from the top of the vending machine and us looking pretty comfy rugged up with blankets and make-shift pillows from clothes in our backpacks. Luckily in a situation like this, being a traveler has its advantages as you can play the "ignorant foreign" act. 
Policeman: "Were you planning to sleep here tonight?"
Us: "Oh no, we were just waiting on the last train." 
He scans the room to find our contents spread across every chair and then notices the chords hanging from the vending machine. Busted. 
Policeman: "It is 12pm no more trains. You cannot stay here." 
And he shows us that it has been mentioned quite clearly on the timetable that I was pointing to, that the last train had come over an hour before hand. 
Policeman: "No taxi, no accommodation here, where you stay?" 
I was about to ask him the same question when luckily one of those moments occurred, when you wish for something and it comes true, they are rare but tend to happen in the more desperate of situations. Through the train station door a Canadian girl, Ashley and her friends walked through and assessed the scene before them. Two stupid looking tourists trying to explain themselves to a policeman. 
"Do you need a place to stay?" Wish come true.  
Ashley was so accommodating and let us crash on her floor, luckily! The next day we set out to test the famous onsen town. Onsen are like a public bath. They are very popular in Japan and come in different shapes and sizes. Some have special minerals in the water that boast healing powers and others are great for relaxation, which after the night before was exactly what we needed. 

The basic onsen experience is where you strip down to your birthday suit leaving your clothes in a locker and enter a public bath area. Before dipping yourself into the often boiling hot bath you must wash yourself with the basins provided. After cleaning yourself you can then proceed to dip your toes in the bath then make your way slowly into the boiling hot bath and remain in there until you come out with significantly more wrinkles than when you entered. Kinosaki Onsen is famous among local Japanese tourists, so it made me stand out a lot in the onsen and I coped a few more looks than comfortable from curious locals, which was amusing. 

After the last night's debacle we decided to try and organise some accommodation for the night. But after checking the accommodation in both Kinosaki and the town nearby we found limited options due to our budget. Option A was to get a hotel room where they only charge per the person, therefore one of us would check in and the other would sneak into the room later. This was still not an affordable option and when we realised there were CCTV cameras everywhere, we decided not to risk it. So option B it was; we stay in the onsen until they kick us out, go to the bar until they kick us out, then eventually end up at the train station once again. 

Managed to save $5 by shoving both our backpacks into the small coin locker. Win! 
Budget accommodation #4- Kinosaki Train Station. Our luxury accommodation in Kinosaki Onsen, great location in the train station complete with vending machines, a toilet block nearby and plenty of public bath houses to chill with naked people. Camping out in the train station with no money for the Craic!
After a rather disturbed nights sleep on the hard sticky floor, we were more than ready for the onsen. Having spent almost the last of our cash the night before at the English style pub we had both spent almost all of our cash and needed an ATM, however, as this was a small country town the only international ATM that would accept our bank cards was the one in the Post office, and this was closed due to the weekend. So we not only had no accommodation, but no money as well. We counted our shrapnel between us. Just enough to get one of us to the next train station to check if there was an ATM there to withdraw money, but only a one-way ticket. If there was no ATM at the next station, they would be stranded.
Scrapping the pennies together to buy a our meal for the day.
After spending most of the day looking for an ATM or somewhere that would give us money, we gave up and did what any normal person would do in this situation- have a picnic!

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