Diary: Maniwa Out n About / hot springs hotel, bowling, agri-garden and lonely stations

Coffee stand, cute and tiny (clad with olden board) at the Agri-garden market area in town of Maniwa

Ryoko was teaching a tree-trimming workshop at a community centre for seniors in the logging town of Maniwa so I rode the bus to meet up. We stayed at a hotel for a couple of nights, went bowling plus i took some strolls to contemplate the change nature of rural Japan while Ryoko was working, oh and we found a quirky coffee shop/art gallery.

Let’s address each of these check points separately:

Bowling and Hotel (pleasantly lost in Showa)

First the hotel, the Maniwa Riverside was the sort of “once grand but now rather shabby” hotel i kinda dig.

Laden with memories a la Grand Budapest hotel. They were making a good effort though the rooms were unfancy and the carpets not changed since sometime in the Showa time. Importantly, there is an onsen hotspring bath with was the main reason. Nice outdoor bath too. No secret i love love love soaking in hot water. 

The hotel included breakfast which was a bit odd but the onigiri (rice balls) were hand prepared. Also hard boiled eggs with salt, pickles (yum) and a few various pastries and miso soup.

Coffee available in those plastic holders for plastic cups which remind me of 1990s TV dramas. 

“Lost in Showa era” bowling alley

Next to the hotel was a golf driving range  (and batting cages i think) and a table tennis room – we opted for the bowling alley which was a great choice. Run by very friendly folks and well maintained.

Indeed my technique isn’t on point but considering my my dear old corpus has been through the past few years, was nice to do some gentle fun games. Oh and shoes!

Tie game – clearly not professionals but well-aligned couple. So fun, want to seek out a bowling facility near our Tsuchida cottage home. 

Also near the hotel was a great, cheap, fast Taiwan-style food cafe/diner we walked to and feasted up there one night – way too much food but it all looked so good!

The next night we ate at a sorta modern Izakaya attached to the hotel. It seemed a little out of place as i was kinda slick and cool and the hotel, is well, older and shabby-ish. Again they are making an effort to be relevant so thumbs-up to effort.  

Evidence and a few notes about rural Japan and macro-demographic/economic trends

I set off for a walk to see the heart of the town… headed towards a station as often there is a shop or a bit of something around the eki…

I found lonely countryside Komi station – a small shelter with a couple 1-2 car trains per day and that’s it. 

I wrote the following in a journal (pardons repetition from above):

As we are in a small town (Maniwa) where Ryoko is doing a traditional tree trimming workshop, I went for a walk and I figured I would walk to the station and find a coffee shop… But the “Station” is a bench, not even a ticket machine or ubiquitous vending.

It’s pretty surreal seeing the declining rural areas of Japan in *real time*. Also seeing the lumber mills and logging trucks in amongst the rice fields is an interesting contrast as well.

These little villages are often/usually in peaceful picturesque areas, but the services in many cases have just kind of disappeared. Without services & action & related vibrancy, towns dwindle away in a predictable pattern.

Charming as it is of course… beauty in utility. 

Its not sad per se but lost opportunity for sustainable village living. Contrastingly, there is also a fixation on building up the cities it seems. *Everything* is centralized in Tokyo… Politics, royalness, business, entertainment… And the rest of Japan is just kind of forgotten despite it producing all the rice and fish and all the rest of it.

These musings are not meant to be comprehensive, just observations from a bench.

Walked back across the bridge, thought this house was serving ramen (a sign said so but wasn’t open if they usually did). Ended up at a konbini 7-11 store for a snack as nothing else was open or inviting.  Walking along the side of road with logging trucks rolling by reminded me of small town British Columbia or Washington state – the smell, the charmless beauty mixed with cold inconvenience. 

Finding the heart of Maniwa (or something like that)

Later with Ryoko, we took a cruise around – it seems the “heart” of Maniwa is a ways away from the area of the hotel and station and whatnot as we saw more shops and activity. 

Specifically we went in search of “Agri-garden” which we found but was closed :(. It is an assortment of farmer’s market type booths and stands and food stands (it seemed from my look about) including the cute coffee shack shown above. 

There was a neat art installation made from junk (sorta similar in concept but lacking in majesty the giant junk fish in Uno…) 

Ryoko went back the next day (after i’d left) and had a great visit at the Agri-Garden coming home with fresh bread, stories of smoothies and other treats. Overall, this is a wonderful way for these “lost” rural towns to build small scale economy while maintaining character. 

Note: while i am no expert, i do know a bit that… government response to economic stimulation in rural areas is usually: roads, bridges and convention centres – when your only tool is a hammer, every problem is a nail. What is need (IMO) is sparking/supporting small business which flex local personality and goods. Education, information, streamlining, inspiration for starters – this doesn’t mean big money changing changing mindsets and guidance.

As (another) aside, LOADS of akiya (abandoned/under-utilized) houses in the area – see more about akiya houses elsewhere in this archive. 

Rolling on, importantly and gratefully found a coffee shop art gallery – outside of town we came across fortunately. Was a bit out of place in the sense that was surprising.So many interesting object d’art around including this magnificent camera – heavy and rare. I handled it gently.

The proprietor took a nice long while to prepare beverages, in my case a Darjeeling milk tea served with black pepper which somehow made total sense.  

Views from the streets and rails

The next morning,  Ryoko trucked out in her K-truck to work and I thought about going to Katsuyama, a nearby town famous for noren curtains and other whatnots but despite it being rather close, local transport was a bit tricky and buses and trains made the 15km or less feel very distant. I coulda hitchhiked but anyhow… i found a bus stop, rolled to Okayama. 

(Of course) rolling the bus and walking the sidewalks (or side of roads) allows moments to notice the mundane and soon to be gone. Lumber yards, a man hand-making tatami mats, a tobacco kiosk. Life changing as quickly as a plant grows – you can’t see it when looking but step away for a season and the change is evident.
Update: I signed up with Maniwa tourism folks to return early Decemeber to sample various fermented foods – really looking forward to finding ways to spread the stories of these remarkable communities to support their viability. 
Riff: I say a return to village-scale living is a sustainable and healthy way for the world to move forward. The “urban-centric” nature of life in Japan and really all countries is not well-suited for physical or mental health and while challenges abound in rural areas, but combining the convenience of density and supply found in urban areas with fresh air and neighbourly feeling of rural areas affords opportunity for very pleasant lifestyles.
More to say on all of this but for now, this was a few days in Maniwa. 

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