I was on the verge of giving up on making it out to Komoro in the evening. It was going to be a stretch to make the last shinkansen of the night, knowing that it’d be all over if I got stuck on a connection. My mind flashed back to the year before, when I was making the same mad dash towards Hinamizawa and pinning my hopes on the last shinkansen of the night to Takayama.
Caption: It was close, but I made it to JR Tokyo in time and scored a staffer at the ticket window who spoke good English. Then with just six minutes to spare at JR Karuizawa I transferred lines and nabbed this ticket to Komoro on the Shinano Railway.
I knew it’d get colder as I travelled west and Blitz had quipped that he hoped I like snow. I love snow, but it came as a shock when I peered out the window into the darkness, and realised that the tunnel I thought we’d be travelling through was the whitewashed retaining walls along the side of the tracks. It wasn’t just snowing a bit, it was blanketing the place.
Caption: Arrival at Komoro Station shortly before midnight. The hotel is just across the road, and a good thing it is. The snow on and around the road is slushy and needs extra attention to avoid slipping.
Let us be forthright, the Komoro Royal Hotel is not majestic but it is cheap and more than adequate for my needs. The vending machine is three-quarters beer, and a half-litre is 350yen.
The manager greets me as I enter and I hand over my 4500 yen for the night. I notice that I’m not asked for my passport as is standard everywhere else; perhaps having Via Inn make the reservation for me is good enough for whatever accountability they feel they need. Somewhere along the line it seems my name got mixed up - I’m now Braney des Mond, I think it’s kinda classy.
Internet reception here is patchy but serviceable enough for me to get a map and orient myself. If I’m going to do this, I need to make it out to the dam tonight. A couple of km as the crow flies, but the path on the road weaves around the terrain a lot and diverts a long way south.
Caption: Before heading off I decide to take a walk through town. It’s surprisingly lively for 2am and there’s a good number of places that seem to be bars and snack joints. Almost tempted to wander into one, but I can’t let myself be waylaid. I continue on until I find a 7-11 and stock up on calorie mates and bread.
I really don’t know what the hell I expect to find, but I think I’m prepared. I’ve got the D700 and 50mm, Fujica P400 loaded with ASA100 film, and the audio recorder.
Caption: My destination is on the west side of the tracks, across this overpass. It’s a bit noisy in town but dead quiet here, the trains stopped running hours ago.
Caption: The train station was built right next to the castle ruins for which Komoro is known - easy territory so far. It adjoins Kaikouen and what looks like an amusement park.
The path through the park is barely lit so I produce some of the cyalume that I kept from the concert earlier; it feels like another world out here. I can’t decide whether it’s to see better or for my own safety as I clip a few to my jacket and camera bag. The D700 can’t focus properly in such low light and vision is difficult due to the falling snow, but I can make out enough detail to identify some attractions in the amusement park.
03:02am - Hit a dead end after trekking through the amusement park, need to backtrack. I identified a big pavillion structure off to the east but can’t discern its usage.
03:12am - Found a porn vending machine off the side of the road, just minding its own business.
Caption: I can’t decide if this is weirder than the used-panty vending machines that I’ve never seen but everyone outside Japan has heard of.
03:20am - Pass the double consecutive hairpin turns, that’s a good landmark but progress is slow. Care is needed to avoid the slushy snow, and the indistinct edges of the road aren’t helping.
I’ve seen a motorbike and a car go past so far. It’s an alienating experience - I’m probably never more than 50m from the nearest human being, but the sense of isolation is indescribable. There’s a very primal sense of loneliness.
I think I’m getting paranoid. The only sound I can hear is the occasional falling of snow from tree branches, there’s literally nothing but that and my own footfalls in the powdery snow. Every time it happens I freeze up for a moment, then frantically scan my surroundings for something that might be hiding just off the road in the darkness.
03:33am - Off the easy well-travelled road, now on a single lane road covered in unblemished virgin snow. It’s about six inches deep and well past covering my shoes. Not sure what I’m on or where I am. The road is elevated against the surroundings, they might be fields of some sort. I should be approaching the river now, leading up to the dam. There’s a big block of apartments to my north-east, the cheap type that you might find a loan-shark visiting, hassling a customer to pay up.
Caption: The environment is rendered practically monochrome, the heavy snow cover lit only by the streetlamps.
03:38am - Approaching the dam now, road is well lit. A signboard off to my left identifies the dam as a hydroelectric station, something I hadn’t picked up in my research. I can’t read all the kanji, but I’m pretty sure this says it’s owned by TEPCO, the same company involved with the reactors in Fukushima last year.
03:42am - Reached the stairs leading to the top of the dam, freely accessible. I’ve noticed a few times now the presence of small footprints in the snow; they’re here going up the steps, too. They’re fuzzy enough to have been partly covered by fresh snowfall, but they look about the right size for a dog. Not sure if I should be looking out for anything, but it seems unlikely.
The walkway on top of the dam is narrow, one metre wide at best. The high fence on my right side is a good spot to rest a camera, but it’s too dark to make out anything away from the dam’s structure itself. There’s unfortunately not much to see. Komoro is noted as a good place for astronomy thanks to its clear skies and elevation, but there’s no chance of a starry sky tonight.
03:46am - Breathing is laboured and my hands are now bitterly cold, not helped by the dampness from melted snow on my right glove. Visibility is too poor to see anything not being directly lit, but I figure I’ll fire up the P400. The lightmeter’s needle is pegged hard against the right side of the gauge, but I don’t care and shoot anyway.
Caption: I feel like Solid Snake right now, he’s so cool. I cracked open the second calorie mate to restore some stamina before heading back. There’s nothing more I can do, this is Mission Success.
Caption: Reference image from the beginning of the anime, with visible stars ;_;
03:58am - Back to the normal two-lane roads again, progress expected to be much quicker for return journey. Will follow the road all the way this time instead of going through the park.
04:34am - Back at the hotel, damp clothes are stripped off and laid out to dry in the heated air.
Caption: Retaining wall along the major road south-west out of town.
I can’t sleep for too long as checkout time is 10:00am. I’m not gonna like it, but I don’t have a choice. Tomorrow’s exploration should see the locations in the park, and hopefully the cultural centre if I can find it.