Even tourists with poor cardiovascular endurance can walk a small distance to see sights in this port city.
Nestled on the northeast corner of Lake Biwa, the largest freshwater lake in Japan, is beautiful Nagahama. A 70-minute ride on the Biwako line express train from Kyoto, Nagahama is a mellow respite from the busy city. Best of all, tourists can enjoy some nearby sights on foot. After traveling twelve hours to Tokyo and then another few hours, it feels rejuvenating to stretch my legs and walk.
As far as setting up accommodations, Nagahama Royal Hotel is a centrally located hotel right on Lake Biwa. It features rentable karaoke rooms, several restaurants and a public onsen or hot spring bath. In fact, it even has its own indoor smoking room and vending machines featuring snacks and alcohol, so there is no urgent reason to leave the compound.
However, next time, I will personally try to find a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) with a private onsen because of tattoos.
When I become bored with swimming, singing, eating, and drinking, I decide it’s time to venture out and see the nearby city. Walking straight across the street from the hotel lobby, I see the sparkling waters of Lake Biwa to my left. All along the lake is a paved walking path with benches that provide a view of the waters and surrounding mountains. For moments I do nothing but stare at this beautiful scene.
Then, taking a right, I find a foot path through some hedges into what looks like a sports field. I skirt around the edges of the field and eventually find myself at a fountain where there is a statute of some kids walking in a straight line together. This is Ho Park.
Further on, I see Kunimori Shrine and Torii Gate. This Shinto shrine features a series of small doll-sized buildings with items inside. It is hard to see, but one of the items seems to be a Tanuki or monster Japanese raccoon dog.
The Tanuki are technically members of the Yokai in Japanese folklore which I understand to be malevolent tricksters. The Tanuki, as the Bake-danuki have adopted a more “harmless, jovial lifestyle focused on bestowing humans with good fortune and prosperity.”
Taking a moment of silence in the shrine, I attempt to soak up some of that jovial fortune and prosperity for my own life.
Looming up ahead is the pointed roof of Nagahama Castle and Museum. This version of Nagahama Castle that exists today is a recreation of the original 1575 castle built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi who is standing nearby in statue form.
There is a also a random cage of monkeys adjacent to a playground between Nagahama Castle and some tennis courts, northeast of the Ho Park fountain. This unexpected find confuses me greatly.
I scan the cage for obvious signs of distress or cruelty. The primates have a pouring water source, continually refreshed. Peering into their pink faces, I wordlessly inquire as to their wellbeing. It is difficult to connect through the wire of the rusted cage. One of them reclines atop a small dwelling inside of their limited habitat. No karaoke room. No restaurants. No smoking.
Seemingly acclimated for cold with what looks like thick fur, I can’t imagine they are enjoying the balminess of 97 degrees Fahrenheit and the one-hundred percent humidity of Japan in August.
Feeling a bit depressed for the monkeys, but also stimulated at seeing this novel sight, I move on toward the playground, the high point of which is a slide that looks like a loading conveyor belt at a grocery store. I can imagine sending boxes of produce down this rolling incline. Instead, I send myself.
Rather than the normal slippery surface, there are a series of rollers. I stand up and go down the slide on my feet. It feels a little like snowboarding. With a quick internet search, I discover it’s called a rollerslide. This is my first experience with one of these pieces of playground equipment and I wonder why they are not more popular. They should be everywhere.
Making my way out to the street again, I come upon a 7-11 store. This is not just any American 7-11 store filled with MSG-laden potato chips and Mountain Dew. This store is like a gourmet eatery. There are bento boxes of sushi, dried fish in whole form, expensive bottles of Japanese whisky, and so many other delights. I could spend tens of thousands of yen here and not even scratch the surface of my gluttonous appetites.
Then I assess the heat and the long walk back to the hotel.
Three items. I can carry three items.
I make my choice quickly, opting for a cold bottled water, a box of sushi that I hope doesn’t get too warm before I arrive at my destination, and some Hi-Chew candy. I know there are vending machines with more items at “home,” and it seems like a nice afternoon for a swim.