The next leg of our journey involved a 5 day whirlwind tour of the Kansai countryside as we made our way from Osaka down to Hiroshima. I normally prefer to move at a slower pace when traveling, but in order to take advantage of the huge savings of the JR Kansai/Hiroshima area Rail Pass, we needed to limit our travel to five days. That meant that for the next five days we would be staying in a different city each night and trying to pack as much in between as we could. There are a variety of rail passes, but they all have very specific regulations regarding where and how long you can use them. They can be a good deal if you’re planning on doing a lot of travel by train. For more detailed information check out the japan-guide.com rail pass breakdown. The sidebar on the right lists all of the area specific passes. It is worth doing the research to check out all your options and find the best deal. Our first stop was the Miyama Heimat Youth Hostel!
The first leg of our journey took us from Shin-Osaka station back up to Kyoto, where – after stashing our stuff in a coin locker – we finished our souvenir shopping and had lunch at Togaden. Our plan was to catch the 2:02 train to Hiyoshi and then transfer to the bus to Miyama. So naturally we missed the first train. The next train to Hiyoshi wasn’t scheduled for another hour (countryside trains run a lot less frequently than city trains). Thanks to some quick thinking on the part of Google Maps we realized we could catch another train to Sonobe. There was normally a bus from Sonobe to Miyama, but of course the bus wasn’t running at the time. Thus we had to wait at Sonobe for the train to Hiyoshi to catch up so we could hop on for the last leg of our trip. The station at Sonobe was pretty small and cold, so we took a walk across the street to a Lawson for some snacks and warm drinks while we waited for the train.
The train came and we made it to Hiyoshi. A friendly stranger guided us to the correct bus to take to Miyama. The bus driver wasn’t quite as friendly and insisted on just yelling the fare at us in an increasingly louder voice as we attempted to count it out. Eventually a sympathetic passenger helped us pick out the correct coins and we were on our way.
From the bus station in Miyama we had to catch two more buses to get to the hostel. The next bus was pulling out of the station just as we arrived. And of course it was the last bus of the day. And it was raining. It was still much too far to walk, especially in the cold and rain. Fortunately another bus came by and we showed the driver the address of the hostel. He took us part of the way there and got off the bus to talk with another driver about where we were going. He confirmed that we had in fact missed the last bus heading to our hostel. At least that’s what I imagined he said. Neither one of us spoke the other’s language, so I really had no idea. Eventually he made a call on his phone and told us to wait in the bus shelter (again, that was what I surmised based on his gesturing and tone of voice). Alana and I sat down, wondering if we had bit off more than we could chew with this countryside travel excursion.
Not much later though a little car pulled up and a man told us to put our stuff in the trunk and hop in. It turned out he was the owner of the hostel and the bus driver had called him and explained our predicament. He told us that this happened sometimes and not to worry about it. We were both beyond grateful that he had taken the time to come get us personally, and genuinely humbled by the kindness of all the people we’d encountered on the trip out. We were saved from becoming stranded on multiple occasions by total strangers. Needless to say, we were relieved to make it to the hostel.
Once we arrived at the hostel, the owner and his wife informed us that we were the only two guests staying that night. We had originally booked two beds in the dorm, but they offered to upgrade us to a private room free of charge. They showed us to the room and asked if we minded if they joined us for dinner. What?! I mean I’ve heard stereotypes about Japanese people being super polite, but this was pretty extreme. Here we are in their house, after they picked us up from the bus station, gave us a nice room upgrade, are about to cook us dinner, and they still ask if it’s okay to eat with us? Well of course it was okay with us.
We were told to rest in our room until dinner was ready. Dinner included a few varieties of tofu for me and chicken and fish for Alana. There were also some tempura vegetables that grow in the area and are only available seasonally. There was also some award winning, locally grown rice. It was another one of our favorite meals we had during our trip. After dinner our hosts taught us how to write our names in Japanese and how to make/drink matcha. It was an all around amazing experience and so much more than we had bargained for when we booked a one night stay in this hostel.
Then there was the bath. We took turns showering off on the little plastic stool. Then once we were clean we spent some time soaking in a nice heated bath. It was 42 degrees (Celsius that is). That was as hot as the spas at Spa World! It was so nice and relaxing after having spent a good portion of the day out in the cold and rain with all of our stuff strapped to our backs. We slept incredibly well that night.
The next day we woke up early and had an amazing breakfast with our hosts. Topics of conversation included regional Japanese dialects, and who actually liked natto (a fermented soy bean product with a snotty consistency and bitter taste). After breakfast we borrowed some bikes and went for a ride around Miyama. There are a number of traditional thatched roof houses in the area (including our hostel) as well as some beautiful natural scenery. It must not have been tourist season yet, as we didn’t see anyone else as we pedaled around. It was very relaxing and tranquil, especially in contrast with our experiences thus far in Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto.
After our bike ride our host drove us to the Wachi train station, saving us the bus fare back to Hiyoshi. What started out the day before looking like a huge mistake ended up being one of the most memorable stops on our travels through Japan.