Unbridled Cynicism

less bullshit, more often?

Yagen valley and chasing the kappa

After a false start that sees me needing to backtrack after missing the turn-off to Yagen, I’m on the way. It’s a narrow road, very windy, and very steep. It actually reminds me a lot of playing Battle Gear 4 at the arcade, one of the red hill-climb tracks that’s a relentless series of closely-spaced hairpins, though I’m going down instead of climbing.

The road has many tight corners with convex mirrors to aid visibility, and there are regular signs warning of rockfalls and landslides. Great. Still, this doesn’t seem to have deterred a number of cyclists that I spot along the way. They’re all pulled off to the side of the road having a break. I enconter perhaps half a dozen cars travelling uphill on the way down. Not many, but by no means lonely.

I think I’m doing pretty well for speed, keeping a good pace and not slowing down too much through the corners when it’s safe. About halfway down into the valley I pick up a couple of motorcyclists on my tail. I wonder if the windiness favours their high acceleration, it’s probably a m4d lean-fest for them. It’s dumb, but I take this as a challenge. I could easily let them pass, but it’s more fun to use them to kick my pace along a bit, I’m driving hard and about as aggressively as I dare. Not getting any sideways action or anything, but there’s definitely some tire squeal happening. This is so exhilarating!

After about 20mins of back-to-back hairpins the road flattens out and I reach an intersection. Rolling up to it real smooth I let the motorbikes pass and go on their way; I need to figure out where the hell I am. I put the windows down to catch some fresh air, is that the smell of burning rubber? Hoo boy it is… :3

A left turn takes me further into Yagen valley, the right leads away to Ohata city on the coast; left it is. There’s a hotel about half a kay down the road, but that’s not what I’m interested in. There’s meant to be two onsen around here, sorta three - wikitravel’s directions are really vague. A couple of kilometres from the hotel is a half-open tunnel cut into the mountainside, just like the one at the very beginning of Quantum of Solace, and adjacent to that is a little set of steps down to a water bubbler overlooking the Ohata River. This seems like an interesting place to stop and have a drink.

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Caption: This nice set of steps leads down to the bubbler, never mind the fact that there’s not really anywhere to legally stop on the side of the road (I put the hazard blinkers on and hoped for the best).

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Caption: These map-signs drive me bonkers, they really do. There’s no scale, assuming they’re even vaguely to scale in the first place, and any semblance of a You Are Here marker has long faded into oblivion. I know what landmarks I’m looking for, but I can’t match up more than a couple of them in order to get my bearings.

There’s meant to be two places with “Kappa no Yu” (“Kappa’s onsen”) in the name, but there’s only one on the sign. Buh, I’ll just drive along and wing it. There’s one place just off the road with an obvious parking area, that definitely looks like a Kappa no Yu, but I can’t tell which one. I pull off the road and into the carpark, it looks pretty casual, probably not the fancily run place.

I’m not sure what to do, but there seems to be a handful of other people arriving as well, a couple of cars and one guy on a motorbike. Steeling myself to figure this out as I go, I realise I only really have my big towel and the small modesty towel, and my clothes really are too heavy and tight to be suitable for convenient bathing. If there’s anything else I need, I don’t have it. Whatever, let’s go!

I descend the stairs down to the onsen extra slowly, strategically giving myself as much time as possible to observe and learn how this all works. Okay the cabin at the bottom is well put together, but facilities are non-existent except for pigeonholes to stash your gear. Sticking with the strategy, I undress extra slowly and let other patrons go ahead of me. So there’s no area to wash yourself here, it’s just straight into the water, okay. I feel kinda grotty, but it’s really not bad, and it looks like the water flows over the edge into the river, so any contamination won’t linger. I thought I heard something earlier when I was sitting in the car but now I’m sure, an automated announcement comes on periodically to announce the opening hours, belying the seemingly unmanaged nature of the onsen. It looks like I picked my time well - the onsen alternates between male and female bathing hours throughout the day, and right now it’s my turn.

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Caption: Casual baths

The changing cabin steps straight into the pool, it’s nice and hot. The rock is rough-hewn into a pool, with most concrete and rocks used to build the surroundings. The bottom of the pool is quite uneven but charming in its own way. There’s a few little buckets off to the side, the kind you normally use to splash water over yourself when washing-up before getting into the onsen. I make use of those then move to sit on the edge of the pool overlooking the river.

The pool is weird, there are some really hot patches. I don’t get it, the water should be mixing around pretty evenly. Because of this I can’t stay in for too long, but the view over the river is really great, I just wish I could sit here without getting painfully uncomfortable.

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Caption: Just a little peek into the water.

There’s a couple of other guys here, they’re only in for a quick dip. One of them strikes up a brief conversation with me, mentioning (I think) that I’m a long way out of the way for a foreigner, they really don’t get many up this way. In my halting Japanese I explain that I’ve come up to see Osorezan and heard that the onsens were worth checking out. He also confirms for me that there’s no washing area here, you just get in the water. Speaking of the water, there’s lots of insects in and around the water, as he helpfully swats one away. They don’t look too intimidating, but I’m really not keen on them either, so it makes it somewhat difficult to stick around longer.

Eventually I finish up and get changed back. A wee bit humid and damp, but very much refreshed from being able to get rid of the day’s accumulated sweat and dust.

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Caption: This is the casual-mode Kappa no Yu onsen, it’s right on the side of the road with a gravelly parking area, you can’t miss it.

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Caption: Further along the road is what looks like camping grounds, or at least a good place to park your campervan (and a toilet, which I make use of). I can barely read any of the sign, but these kappas look pretty friendly - kinda at odds with their mischievous nature according to folklore.

Further along the road is the modern Kappa no Yu, aka. Meoto Kappa no Yu. Aha! It’s off the road a bit behind a screen of trees, but you can’t miss it either. There’s a properly demarcated carpark and building with a small restaurant, and presumably the baths out back. I’m almost tempted to visit but it’d be kinda pointless seeing as I just got out of the other onsen. I’m here for the real experience! Curiously, it looks to be open - Wikitravel said it’s meant to be closed on Tuesdays. Oh well, I’ll sign up and add some corrections when I get home.

Beyond Meoto Kappa no Yu is meant to be 4WD territory, just past the otome-something bridge (I can’t read the name). It sounds exciting, but I know I’m really not prepared for 21km (according to the sign) of unsealed road. I also don’t have all day, it’s approaching 5pm and I have to get back to Aomori for the night.

For now I’m hell-bent on finding that last onsen, the unmarked one off the side of the road (“The unnamed third hot spring is on the river side of the road before the other two, unmarked except for a “ゆ” scrawled on a roadside post”). I park the car and go for a walk along the river banks, it’s not hard to get to from the road. Starting at the camping/parking I backtrack eastwards roughly parallel to the road I drove in on. There’s some nice little rapids and riverbank flora to see along the way, but the trail ultimately comes to a dead end when the bank becomes too steep and overgrown to continue.

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Caption: This is where I got down to the river, looking west. Golden hour should be coming in pretty soon.

Confident that I’ve exhausted this stretch of the road, I get back in the car and continue driving very slowly, looking out for any gaps in the side of the road (I know there were a few places where the guardrail was discontiguous). The stretch of road back to the intersection isn’t long, but I need to check out every possibilty. Finally… Aha! The bloody thing was right next to the semi-open tunnel! >_<

Okay, it’s actually really easy. Here we go:

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Caption: Just after that covered tunnel thing, yah? This is looking east, and you’ll be coming in travelling in west.

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Caption: Look for the convex safety mirror, look for the opening just past that. There’s no “ゆ” sign that I could see anywhere.

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Caption: There’s some steps! They’re a bit rickety though, so be careful.

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Caption: Then you’re close to the river bank, it’s a bit steep over there.

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Caption: Turn left and… there’s a pool! Definitely not an accident. But it’s tiny!!

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Caption: Water flows from a pipe, taken from… who knows where~ The pool is a decent size for one person, or maybe an intimate couple, but it’s too shallow right now, it needs to be fuller.

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Caption: The water flows out of the pool down towards the river…

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Caption: And into another pool, which is larger but too shallow. Maybe just deep enough to splash around in if you’re a kid.

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Caption: See what I mean? Maybe the river gets higher at other times of the year, or there’s more water coming out to fill the pools.

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Caption: It’s 42 degrees, I’m not sure I could stand sitting in there for very long even if I tried.

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Caption: That’s Hotel New Yagen, it’s not far from the intersection. It’s not cheap but I bet it’d be really nice to stay there.

It’s about 17:45, a bit later than I really wanted, but I’m satisfied that I got to see everything. I’m at Yagenbashi parking area now, near the intersection I arrived at. It’s northeast to Ohata or southeast to Osorezan. Northeast it is!

Driving back as the sun is setting, the urge to pull off the road so I can watch the sun set is fierce. Cars zip past in the opposite direction and my view is screened by tall trees, but every now and then I catch a glimpse of the sun over the mountains from the other side of the road.

Eventually I give in to temptation and make a dodgy right turn to get off the road and into the driveway of what looks like a farmyard. This will do.

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Caption: What magnificent country this is. If I look closely in the far distance I can see red and white high voltage power stanchions shrouded in mist, it’s like exactly out of Eva.

About an hour later I’m in the outskirts of Mutsu, I think, I’m not really sure. Aomori is about 88km away and I’m getting tired, but I still haven’t seen any wind turbines. I think I can do this but it’s dicey. I don’t even know what a wind farm looks like and whether you can just walk up to them. I don’t actually need to go and touch one, but I don’t really want any crappy fences in the way of a clear shot.

I remember that the wind farm was near a level crossing, and sure enough there’s a turnoff not far from the crossing. There’s no signage that I can read, but this is definitely it, along with what looks like a golf course (of all things, why?).

There’s no cars along this little road, and the farm isn’t far away. Maybe there’s more than farm around here - there’s something in the air and it smells, quite literally, like shit. I can’t tell what it is because there’s no light sources other than the moon, and the tall trees block all the light from the main road, so I’ve only got what my headlights will show me.

Finding the spot, I pull off the road through a gate and kill the engine. There’s a whole flock of turbines right in front of me! It’s interesting that they’re all clustered pretty close to each other. The only farm I know back home is the one just outside of Canberra, and those turbines are very widely spaced.

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Caption: A wind farm! I remember now. It’s a bit of a way off the main road, but if I don’t see it now I’ll never see it.

It’s eerily quiet, all I can hear is the turbine blades sweeping past and the insects as I shut off the car completely and put the windows down so I can get some shots. It’s humid as hell, I’m sweating uncomfortably into the upholstery and the car is full of insects, but it’s good. Yes, this is good.

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Caption: Dark shot at ISO 6400 for 1/8th sec.

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Caption: And a big one near a… farm? Near the turnoff from the road.