|Getting to Tsuwano on the island of Honshu involved three different trains, one of which, just happened to be an old steam locomotive! This only runs occasionally in the summer months so we were lucky to be able to chance upon it really - well I say lucky, but there were billions of children running about and we did have to sit apart. However it was one for the books as I certainly had not been on a steam train before in my life!
Tsuwano is set in the forested mountains alongside a river that is full of carp. It was very misty when we arrived and sure enough after a brief stroll around the town it soon began to spit with rain. However with brollies in hand (they certainly are prepared for the rain here as outside of every hotel is a bucket full of umbrellas which you can borrow for the day), we ventured up to the Taikodani-Inari-Jinja shrine - one of the largest inari shrines in Japan. You walk up to it through a series of red torii (upside-down U-shaped wooden pergolas painted red), along a winding path up the hillside. The shrine itself is pretty big and we were lucky to witness some locals ringing the huge bell as they prayed. From the shrine you get a pretty good view down over the town and on the other side of the valley is another huge red torii making it very picturesque - despite the misty rain.
From here we headed into the forest up to the top of the mountains where the remains of Tsuwano-Jo look down over the valley. This was originally a castle constructed in 1295 however there are only a few walls left now. Of course no sooner had we arrived at the top it absolutely pissed down with rain so much so that we could not even see the bottom of the valley floor. As well as that, there seemed to be a large population of mosquitos up there. So after a good soaking and being bitten to death, we headed back down the track into the old Tonomachi district of the town - where of course the rain decided to stop.
Tonomachi is the former samurai quarter of Tsuwano however only some old gates and water channels remain. The water channels along the street contain the biggest carp I have ever seen. Apparently in times gone by, the carp were bred to provide a source of food in case the town was ever beseiged. The channels are actually quite picturesque though and there were many quaint little shops lining them - some of which were saki breweries. Of course we had to go into one of these where we were offered a few samples of the local brew (saki is a rice wine for those not in the know).
After buying a couple of bottles it was then back to our ryokan for the rest of the night. As there were no cheap hostels in Tsuwano, we had to stretch the budget for the evening and stay in what effectively is a 'bed and breakfast', or a traditional Japanese inn (a ryokan). Our room was upstairs and we were given tea once we had arrived on the tatumi mat floors. Our hostess and her family all lived downstairs and that is also where we were served our dinner for the evening before retiring to our room again where the futon mats had been laid out for us. They obviously have a few tourists through these parts as they had a 'western-style toilet' along with the Japanese squatters. Actually every single western toilet we have come across so far is automatic with loads of controls that we have not yet worked out how to operate! Sometimes it is actually easier to just use the good old squatters!
After dinner we had our showers and got into the yukatas provided (summer kimonos)! We were the only ones staying in the ryokan that particular night which as it turns out was probably quite lucky - mainly because the walls are only wood and paper screens and not very soundproof. This we found out at 6am the next morning when the little boy who lived there started playing with his toys and running about causing chaos!
After being served breakfast (rice, soup, fish, tofu and a fermented barley thing which was decidedly disgusting), we set off on the very fast shinkansen train towards Hiroshima.