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Full Circle

Day 30: Sanjo to Kurohime

Sanjo, Japan 
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Supreme Kodo, Yoshi Kazu in concert.
Michael Palin - Full CircleOvernight in Sanjo, another forgettable town on the rice plains of Niigata. All these towns seem to be alike, and considering how important a part aesthetics play in Japanese culture, remarkably unattractive. There is a constant feeling of being cramped. The houses are small and narrow, the streets have no pavements, the architecture of a shanty town in Ethiopia is more inventive.

Then, suddenly, this dismal place is wholly redeemed. In a copy of the English-language Japan Times I read: 'Sheffield United's improvement continued with a 2-1 win at Huddersfield.' My day is transformed at a stroke. Everywhere that was poky is quaint and every cramped street is picturesque and unspoilt. The train ride, taking us slowly but surely off the plain and up into the mountains, becomes an incomparable pleasure. Rice meadows are replaced by rice terraces whose crop, less advanced than it was lower down, is a deep golden green. Gradients get steeper, gorges deeper and dark green conifer forest crowds in on the train. At last there is fresh air and space. And more besides. The lodge we're staying in at the resort town of Kurohime is the most spacious domestic building I've yet seen in Japan, with tall public rooms open to the rafters, wide windows and long mountain views. The menu is a clever combination of western and Japanese, proving that sukiyaki and mashed potato can co-exist harmoniously. And to cap a day on which we have touched the depths and reached the heights, the owner, Eiji Nakahara, produces twenty-year-old Macallan whisky as a nightcap.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 30
  • Country/sea: Japan
  • Place: Sanjo
  • Book page no: 54

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