We packed our backpack for a night’s stay in the Tateyama Hotel. Our main luggage would be forwarded to Toyama by takkyubin, a delivery service. We did not want to tow our bulky, heavy luggage along the Alpine route. That would be too cumbersome. We were taking several modes of transport and doing lots of walking so we travelled light.
From Matsumoto we took train to Shano Omachi and travelled by local bus up the mountain along scenic corridors with trees yellow, brown, and red from autumn’s cold. The bus brought us to Ogizawa. The view at the Kurobe Dam was stunning and stately – the mammoth grey dam structure; the mountains with their multi-colored coat; and the vast blue basin of a lake. Like excited children we scurried about, scanned all around and wowed this and wowed that and went click, click, click.
Catastrophically, I forgot to charge my Olympus Tough TG 3 battery. And the spare charged battery I had on me failed. This had to happen today? A similar thing had happened to me before but my memory is vague about what exactly happened years ago. So now I had to rely on my LG 3 phone camera, which under sunlight showed a black screen. I had to depend on others’ smartphone for pictures. “Hey can take a picture of me and my wife?” I comforted myself, “Well, learn to be fully present and enjoy what you see with your eyes, what you feel, and what you breathe, and what you hear with your ears”. This has always been the problem with taking photos for me. I became so absorbed taking pictures for future viewing that I forgot to bask and enjoy the present.
The group suddenly dashed towards the cable car station that seemed to be built into the mountain, and my wife and I followed suit. We have to hurry to buy tickets to cruise the beautiful, blue lake. Tickets do get sold out so we rushed there. I notice that whenever we had to bolt here and there, it was because of some form of transport, some schedule we were trying to keep. The Japanese trains and buses were punctual to the millisecond. Thank God we managed to get the tickets. And then it was another scurry down to the boat so that we do not miss the cruise.
The ferry boat was not large but it was comfortable enough. It brought us around the lake and while the breeze brushed your skin with cold air, the surrounding slopes warmed us with their golden, brown and yellow leaves. I like boat rides like these. Short ones. Not those 4 or 5 days’ cruise. Those that bring you from one place to another like a river taxi in Brisbane. Or those that give you a glimpse of river culture like the one in Bangkok or in Ho Chi Minh City. I also remember the one under the blessing of a donor to AGST Alliance students, where we got to enjoy an evening meal, as we cruised around some part of the Chao Phraya River.
Later we climbed like a million steps to a huge viewing deck of the Kurobedam Resthouse. Here we have panoramic views of the dam and surrounding mountains. The people look like brisk colorful ants on the roads, pavements and bridge. Good things end too quickly and we went from there to take the Kurobe cable car that reminded me of the one that brings you up to Victoria Peak. We went from one form of transport to another. I cannot now remember which we took, but it seems to me that after the cable car, we took a ropeway cable car, and then a bus to Murodo. Or something like that. One thing for sure, I am not good at remembering details like these. It is as though I deliberately delete such details from my memory as I do not see any future value in remembering them.
When we reached the Murodo Station we were hungry and a little mean. Mean and hungry. The Japanese are great at minimizing manpower by automation. So instead of a friendly cashier, we stared at a machine with photographs of bowls of ramen of different kinds. You put in the money and you press the button and out comes a piece of paper. You bring the paper to the cooks behind a counter and in a minute you get your steaming bowl of ramen, find a seat, and noisily slurp it all in and bellow oishi. I found it is useful to have a wife. You leave it to her and she figures out the complicated stuff about which button to press, and which is the money slot, so that all you do is eat what she ordered, and complain about why she ordered that. Ha, ha Martin Buber calls this an I-It relationship. He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.
I liked the hotel. It was dated but quite spacious. There was only a short time to rest before a guided tour around the Murodo Plateau (2,450m above sea level). The sight of the Tateyama Mountain Range from there was spectacular, they said. Again how I wished I had my Olympus camera instead of my LG smartphone. I kicked myself again. The tour was all in Japanese. There was a large crowd of hotel guests. Stop talking and let’s go, I said to the guide in my mind. I didn’t understand a word. Once I felt safe and surveyed the route, I broke free and wandered off. We missed his commentary. Probably about how the mountains came about, what happened thousands of years ago, what kind of rocks we were standing on, and the kind of fauna and flora. On the other hand, maybe it was good I didn’t understand Japanese. It allowed me to drift off without feeling any guilt.
Walking around the lake we spotted a rare glimpse of the Alpine ptarmigan which people may get to see sometimes between late May to June. It is referred to as “messenger of God” and it brings happiness to those who see them. We believe God gives “happiness” but we were happy just to be able to see and photograph it in November.
Then there was this fantastic dinner for which we paid a small fortune, perhaps 3% of Singapore’s GDP. It was worth every cent. It was a meal you only watched on TV and wondered if you would ever be the person inside the TV eating that very mouth-watering, lip-smacking oishi meal. The meal came with a live commentator, a Thai foreign talent who spoke good English and Japanese as well. He explained what we were eating. When the meal was over we had to be rolled back to our rooms.
That night we also went for a slide show which was again in Japanese. One day they would need to have a Chinese interpreter, because so many more tourists come to Japan from China. That would not have made a difference to me because my Mandarin is only slightly better than my Japanese. My Japanese vocabulary is limited to harikatogozaimas, Suzuki, Yamaha, Toyota, Sony, Hitachi, Mitsubishi and oishi. My Mandarin is just a fraction better. So I dozed off during the presentation. I was strategically seated behind to do this. In addition, the lights were all off during the slide show. I think I saw some blurred spots of light and heard a droning voice that went weaker and weaker like a distant undertone. I was more interested in what came after that: stargazing.
We went up to the rooftop of the hotel and there we had before us a cosmic blackest of black blanket hung up in the sky with bright dots of different sizes forming patterns and lines that clearly indicate that there is a Creator up there who loves putting up Christmas lights for people to enjoy when they were down, and find their way when they got lost. Having my camera here would make no difference. I did not kick myself this time. I wondered what kind of professional SLR camera would be needed to take great pictures of the night sky. I think $10,000 cameras. Or even more costly ones. It was so cold nobody stayed there for too long. I lasted a good ten minutes I think. “Good night stars in the sky. Good night God. This was such a great day”.