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Japan: The Trails
Images by John and Steph
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...Story, part 4

After a good sleep and leisurely breakfast, Yaguchi rounded us up at the hotel and we took a taxi to the train station. It was raining again so we opted for a taxi rather than the short walk with our luggage. Umbrellas are the miracle of Japan. At the first drop of rain the streets are transformed into a kaleidoscope of color as umbrella-covered pedestrians march from place to place in their daily lives in the city. Unfortunately we had no umbrellas big enough to shield both our bodies and our stuff. We piled our stuff into 2 taxis, drove a half mile, hauled it back out and rolled the bags through the puddles into the train station. We followed Yaguchi around the station, always keeping sight of his purple raincoat, having full faith in his ability to get on the right car of the right train. (it can be quite a challenge in Tokyo). We scrambled in the door with our stuff (one minute to get on board before the doors close), stowed the suitcases, and found our seats for the hour long train ride. Everything in Japan seems to function perfectly, and there are so many clever and functional innovations. (I’ve never seen such clever and complex toilets!) The train seats smoothly pivoted around so that were facing each other - we settled into the comfortable seats and spent the hour in good conversation. We piled back out of the train at the Karuizawa station and were met by our driver and van who took us to the resort hotel in Kitakaruizawa, a 30 minute drive from Karuizawa.

Karuizawa is a popular summer resort town at the foot of Mt. Asama, one of Japan’s most active volcanos. As recently as 2004, the 9000 foot high volcano erupted with a cloud of ash – at a 3.3 magnitude it was not a threat to the town, but the gentle dusting of ash was a reminder of the volcano’s presence. The town of Karuizawa has historical significance as a post town of Nakasendo Road – an important route connecting Kyoto and Tokyo during the Edo Shogunate of the 17th century. During the past 2 centuries it enjoyed a revival as a resort town, and the area is now a popular summer destination for Tokyo’s residents.

We dropped our luggage off at the resort at Kitakaruizawa (with public Japanese baths in the ‘Panorama room’ on the top floor of the building!) where we would spend the next three nights, and drove out to meet Hasumi’s at the ride venue. Hasumi had just purchased a 5 acre lot adjacent to his ranch. They would develop this as their ‘Endurance Village’ – with stables and parking and small office and bath buildings. (not to mention a native garden and natural hot spring). The facility would host the Endurance Rides for the region, and also serve as a horse riding park for residents and tourists during the summer months.

It was still raining a little, though not as hard, but we hoisted our umbrellas and Harumi took us around the plot of land explaining the layout plans. The office would be here, the trotting lanes over there, the In/Out timers, the pulse gate – there. The start is over there and they will finish here… Parking on the other side of the lane. It was a little hard to visualize everything but we got the general idea. And it was obvious that Harumi had studied other ride venue plans and had a very good grasp of what was needed, and the space required for smooth traffic flow and safety. Dinah still had some questions about the start and finish – she needed to see more of the trails leading in and out of the venue, but we would be back later in the week and would have a chance to actually ride the start and finish. It’s a beautiful area and once they make the changes and improvements (removing trees, leveling areas, draining areas, bridges over the creek, water, power, etc) it will be fantastic.

After the tour we headed back to the resort. A little soggy, but with a hot bath and rest to look forward to. The Japanese love their baths – in the land of natural hot springs, hot baths – and public baths segregated by male and female – are common, and both ritualized and revered for their regenerative powers. Most of the resorts and riokans (traditional Inns) have a bath house or bath room. One must thoroughly cleanse before entering the bath – shower and soap – with small stools and buckets and running water at separate stations. At the Kitakaruizawa resort the bath house was on the top floor, as we soaked in the various pools and jacuzis we could see out over the misted valley, until dark, and then time for dinner (Korean barbeque) with Seiichi and Harumi Hasumi.

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