Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Initial D Road Trip!

ind022 Usually loosely planned things don't pan out all that well but this time they worked pretty good. Yuko and me had been planning to travel somewhere in Japan over our summer break since I don't have enough money saved up to fly back to the US. We decided to drive out a couple prefectures over to my old home Gunma to visit a couple popular hot springs.


Ikaho Onsen and Mt. Haruna 039 We decided to avoid all toll highways because of the absurdly high cost of gas and the equally absurd tolls we would incur. The drive ended up doubling in both distance and time but we saved a lot of money and got to see a lot more than we would have on the boring highway. I ended up driving about 90% of the time because most of the roads we took were seriously windy mountain roads which Yuko is absolutely terrified of. It was no skin off my nose though, as I really enjoy a good series of hairpin turns.

Ikaho Onsen and Mt. Haruna 007 Our first stop was a popular hot spring in Gunma called Ikaho Onsen. I've been there before when I was studying abroad in Gunma but really didn't get much time to enjoy it because I was only there for about an hour last time. We stayed at reasonably priced hotel where we were able to get our own private hot spring with free buffet breakfast and dinner included.

Ikaho Onsen and Mt. Haruna 004 The hotels in Ikaho are fairly old and look really worn inside and out. Yuko wasn't really thrilled with staying at such an old hotel but she was happy to be there because the price was too hard to resist.

Ikaho Onsen and Mt. Haruna 027 It was also nice to escape Yamanashi for once, its a nice place to live but its not as pretty as Gunma. Plus, I am a huge fan of Initial D and most of Initial D's courses are based in the mountain courses of Gunma. The best part of the trip was that most of the courses I really wanted to see were within driving distance from Ikaho Onsen or on the way back home.
Ikaho Onsen and Mt. Haruna 005 Ikaho is famous for its long, narrow staircase shopping district and its natural hot springs. I could really care less about hot springs though, I was there primarily to take pictures and just enjoy the scenery.

Ikaho Onsen and Mt. Haruna 003 The only really interesting thing about the hotel we stayed in besides it being super old, was one of the previous guests etched the Chinese character "Noroi" into the wall. Noroi basically means spirit or haunted, and this really freaked Yuko out. If she found it before we went to sleep she would have slept in the car instead. She was that scared of the place already before she found the etched word. As for me I was thrilled at the sight of it because I love ghosts and folklore.
Ikaho Onsen and Mt. Haruna 049After we got our stuff situated in our room and checked out Ikaho's shops we went out to Lake Haruna for a little leisure ride. I've been wanting to ride in a goofy swan boat in Japan for a while so we ended up driving up to Lake Haruna where a few parts of the Initial D series take place. It was nearly picture perfect there from what I saw in the manga and anime. 
Ikaho Onsen and Mt. Haruna 051 I got to see the boat dock where the swan boats are in the manga and also got to see the meeting area for the downhill course start area. The biggest highlight of the Haruna drive was that I got to see the real course which was really windy and would have been really fun if I were in a real car rather than my girlfriend's pink Nissan March. Oh well, at least I got to drive the course and take tons of pictures.
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Ikaho Onsen and Mt. Haruna 011 On the second day, we left Ikaho and went about 13 kilometers down the mountain to my old city of Maebashi. I got to see my old university, Gunma Daigaku and where my old apartment used to be.
I was fairly shocked to find the school had gone through a major remodeling and looked nothing like what I remembered it to be, and my old apartment was gone. I wasn't all that disappointed to not find my old apartment there but I was a little sad to also find that the old man that lived in an old hobble next to me was gone and so was his home. He probably did just like he joked he would, well God bless him and hopefully he died happy although he was lonely.
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Above: Before, Below: Present
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Ikaho Onsen and Mt. Haruna 014 After a trip through memory lane in Maebashi, we decided to take a little side trip to Kusatsu hot springs as well. What was really cool about our unplanned detour was that we unwittingly stumbled across another famous Initial D course. We took the Usui mountain pass which took us by the large bridge in the middle of the course. We stopped at the bridge and were really surprised at how beautiful and cool it was there despite how hot it was in the city. The bridge used to be an old train line which has long since been empty. We got to walk through a portion of the tunnel also.
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Ikaho Onsen and Mt. Haruna 046 After stopping at the bridge, we continued driving towards Kusatsu but ended up making yet another detour which took us to Mt. Asama. I've been to Mt. Asama before but not to the Oni shrine (I forgot its proper name). The Oni Shrine is pretty cool because it sits amidst a craggy volcanic rock formation. It was a pretty cool place to stop and another great place to snap pictures for my never ending photo album.
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Kusatsu Onsen 001 We finally made it to Kusatsu just before nightfall and got to enjoy a quick walk through the city. This would be about the third or fourth time I've been there but this time seems to have been the best because it wasn't crowded and I was with somebody I wanted to be there with. We had to stay at a hotel nearby because it was too late to drive home but it was a really nice detour.
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On the third day we went to a big shopping mall because Yuko is a shop-a-holic. After that I continued to drive back home through Nagano and finally home where I went straight to bed. The trip turned out to be really good considering we only planned to go to Ikaho Onsen. The Initial D portions of the trip were purely coincidental because I saw a manga at a convenience store that reminded me that Gunma was all about Initial D. Yuko's GPS Navigation system was also a great asset, as we were able to find places fairly easy with its help. I wish I had navigation in my car now because of how much I used hers. It can help you find restaurants, gas stations, hotels, and homes based on phone numbers, landmarks, or just addresses. Really handy stuff.
I still have about two more weeks of summer vacation left. We might go somewhere else if we can agree on something. I really don't want to waste any more days just sitting at home surfing the net or watching old episodes of Star Trek the Next Generation.

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