04-Jul-2002 -- Our trip to central Japan in 2002 was a time of many firsts: first World Cup soccer tournament in a foreign country, first martial arts training in Japan (Seido karate, Naginata-do, Iaido,), first time traveling for longer than 9 days (42 in all), and first trip to Asia. Gladly, the trip also will be remembered as our first visit to a point of confluence.
Toward the end of our six weeks in Japan, we set aside two days to attempt a visit to 37N 137E. Finishing up a two-day stay on the Noto peninsula in the small fishing village of Noto, we bought a 1:25,000 road atlas of Japan. The “Mapple” was entirely in Japanese, but we were pleased to find the confluence point just off the road on the backside of a mountain in nearby Nanao. “Just off the road” was important because we were car-less in Japan and we’d be making the attempt on foot.
After a rainy bus and train ride south to the city of Nanao, we settled into a “businessman’s hotel” for the night in nearby Wakura Onsen, a well-known resort town. The cramped room smelled of tobacco, but the window opened to a 14th floor view back to the mountains behind Nanao and we enjoyed the luxury of a Western style shower the night before our attempt.
We decided to get an early start the next morning. After days of rain, we wanted to make the most of the clearing weather. After a short train ride into Nanao, we made our way onto the big pink “Maringo” bus that loops the city. For about $1 one could ride to many stops throughout the city, including one at the base of our mountain destination. Or so we thought.
We got off the bus at the place we thought was best. We found ourselves in front of an adult daycare center, where we stopped to ask directions. The young woman working there did not speak English, but after looking at our map and consulting with her co-workers, she pointed up toward a road snaking through farmland and leading into the hills. As we began our hike, we appreciated the thoughtful way a local culvert managed water past a farmhouse. The country is mostly mountainous and water management is a discipline that’s been mastered with excellence and creativity. The indigo blue hydrangea of summer marked the season of our journey. Hydrangeas are native to Japan and dozens of deep blue and purple varieties proved their beauty to us during our trip.
During our 90-minute hike to the point of confluence, we were almost the only ones traveling the roadway. Only occasionally did we step aside to allow for a passing car. We enjoyed slightly overcast but wonderful views of Nanao (photo 7) and Wakura Onsen on our way up, stopping at a three-story viewing tower that marked the remnants of Nanao castle. A brief mention of the castle’s role in feudal history was the only appearance of Nanao in our three guidebooks. We reached the summit of the mountain, and became excited as we began our descent toward our destination (photo 8 is about 10 minutes down). We hoped aloud that the point was going to be on the narrow road and not down the steep cliff on one side or up through impassible bamboo on the other.
As we neared 37/137 and started to move deliberately around a 100 square foot area to get zeroed out (photo 5), several motorists passed us by, some with looks of bemusement, and others with concern that we may be lost. There was no great mystery to this confluence point (as evidenced by photos 3 & 4). It’s just a bend in the road (photos 1 & 2) on the back side of a small mountain south of a modest working-class city in Japan. Still, we relished being there, in that space, at that time. We took several photos facing the four directions of the compass, and even took a few of ourselves (photo 6).
Having completed our mission, we headed back to Wakura Onsen to see for ourselves why it was believed to be one of the best hot spring resort towns in Japan. We followed the robe-clad locals to the public bath house, where you could buy a half-dozen eggs to hard boil in the legendary hot spring waters while you soaked in the tub. Several hours later, we swayed with noodle-like legs out to the harbor to enjoy a memorable sunset (photo 9) falling away from our point of confluence far behind us.