The World Wide Wakayama Chronicles; Day Five

10-30-13; Wednesday

In the makeup room this morning we learn that we were not the only ones bothered by mosquitoes last night. The makeup artist also experienced an unwelcome invasion. I had left the windows open at night to let in the fresh air, but the local mosquitoes smelled blood and went after us. I woke up at midnight because I heard the whine of a blood-thirsty beast even though I wore ear plugs. When I turned on the light, I could see three mosquitoes all in a row, drinking blood from Elsa’s arm. I slapped them and woke Elsa. I closed the window and then spent the next fifteen minutes or so hunting down the rest of them. Tiny bloodstains on the wall marked the battleground map. The enemy vanquished, I finally could go back to sleep.mosquito_Japan

We pack up, meet the crew in the lobby and turn in our key. As we step outside, a breath-taking sunrise with pink clouds greet us. What a glorious day! The drive to Tachi Taki (Tachi Waterfall) gives us amazing views of the ocean, sparkling in the sunshine. CIMG8387

All along the way up the mountain, we see bulldozers trying to repair the damage left by the last catastrophic typhoon several years ago. Apparently Wakayama Prefecture has very unstable ground and there is often quite a bit of damage to repair after a violent rain storm. One indication of how extremely high the water in the Kumanogawa had risen are the sticks and logs lodged in the underside of a high bridge spanning the river. WakayamaBridgeUndersideIt looks as though some of the riverside buildings have been recently damaged in the last flood. The “Peace Boat” website gives a thorough explanation of the extensive damage that Wakayama had to endure in the great typhoon and flood of 2011. Click on “Peace Boat Disaster Relief Volunteer Center” for more information.

We finally reach Nachi Taki which is an astounding waterfall that reminds us of some places in Yosemite. The pounding water casts shadows on the rock beside it creating horses of spray galloping down the rock. CIMG8388CIMG8400
We stop to buy little 100 yen saucers to catch the water spurting from the mouth of a bronze dragon. As this water is routed through from the flow of the waterfall, the pressure occasionally drops and then gushes making it tricky to get a saucer-full of water to drink. The dragon water is supposed to give one long life like a dragon.



After the photo shoot, we stop at the omiyage shop to buy a few trinkets. I find a lovely bell on a red cord in the shape of a crow’s head. Back into the vans we pile to drive to the nearby Kumano Nachi Taisha, a famous, bright red temple. We stop to take photos on the wide stone walkway that leads towards the front of the temple.CIMG8408



Back down the mountain we go to take some more photos at a previous location, Daimon-zaka, where the path is now slick from yesterday’s rain. A few tourist groups start up the steps past our shooting location, but all of them decide to turn back early. The tourists are elderly and the stones are slippery and treacherous. The photographer likes the look of the stone steps, dark with moisture, so he takes a few more pictures.


Photographer with Director planning the day’s shooting.

Our next stop will be Mizunomi-Ouji, or Drinkwater Road which is near the “Bowing Down Road” that we visited on Monday. Everyone sleeps on the way excepting the driver and myself. We wind along beside the aqua-colored river with its wide gravel bed, green forested hills and the occasional dramatic cliff. We drive along route 168 towards Gojo, and finally arrive at the trail access. CIMG8414 CIMG8413 CIMG8418

Mizunomi-Ouji is a mossy, Sugi-enveloped trail studded with green stumps and tiny mushrooms. We walk along the trail looking for good patches of leaf-filtered light. Elsa and I are told to walk on ahead while the ad director and the entire crew follow along behind. “Do you ever get the feeling,” says Elsa with a smirk, “that you’re being followed?” Up the trail and back we go, marveling at tiny purple flowers, sparkling spider webs and towering sugi trees.CIMG8421 CIMG8422 CIMG8424

Massugu sugi

Mori de matte imasu

Shiko atsume





(Small haiku attempt. Be patient with my growing… An old young seedling.)


We stop at a charming little café and B&B along the road on our way back down the Kumanogawa called the “Café Hongu.” The bread they serve with the pumpkin soup is as wonderful as my mom’s homemade bread. I am amazed at how good it is and I compliment the owner on her scrumptious food.HotLoveTea In their homey gift shop, I find some delicious apple butter and some “Hot Love” tea to bring back with me as omiyage.

On the drive back we notice a stretch of the river where a sediment-laden tributary joins the main trunk. There, the river runs with two colors of water, sharply divided down the middle. The far side of the river runs aqua ice blue and the near side is light brown. Another striking contrast along the way is a field of glowing white Pampas grass with a brilliant scarlet sprig of sumac poking its head out over the top. The colors are changing faster now that the weather has gotten colder. CIMG8324



We drive through Koyasan once more and turn into a narrow alley with a traditional Japanese entrance at the end; a different ryokan but this one is charming as well. The building is very old with a maze of indoor hallways that are open to the cool night air and lead us past small rock gardens. After we have found our room, I am afraid that if I wander away, I will not be able to find my room again. IMG_0299

CIMG8439Thankfully, we find the large tatami room which is the dining hall and we do find our way back to our room. We burrow under the poofy covers and fall quickly asleep. It’s been a long day.

The World Wide Wakayama Chronicles; Day Four

10-29-13; Tuesday

A rainy morning delays our start and even though we had to get up at 4:40, we do get to relax in our room until the 12 noon departure. No point setting up a photo shoot with no sun. Time to relax, catch up on email and do homework.



For lunch, we walk to a nearby okonomiyaki place where we watch the cooks make delicious omlette-type thick pancakes containing eggs, flour, seasonings, and various meats. My favorite is the squid okomomiyaki with its firm and chewy chunks of white meat. The guys in the crew start to drink even though it is only noon. We find out later, that they all end up having to take naps in order to sleep off the effects of the alcohol. squid_lobsters


We meet in the lobby at 5:00 pm to go out to supper where we are treated to a huge feast at the same restaurant as the nights before. The restaurant owners create dish after dish of wonderful food and it is tempting to eat much too much. The beef, in particular, was so tender; some of the best I have ever tasted.


Back in the hotel, after the usual mother-daughter arguments about use of the computer and time limits, we head to bed at around 9:00 pm with the windows propped open for the cool fresh rainy air. It has been a very relaxing day as the weather has made it impossible to shoot any photos. Tomorrow, we will have to make up for the day of rest.

The World Wide Wakayama Chronicles; Day Three


This gallery contains 30 photos.

10-28-13; MONDAY Makeup and hair prep isn’t until 7:20 this morning, so we get to sleep in a bit. Good thing since Elsa had stayed up past 1:00 am Skyping and D&D adventuring with friends. Mama is not too happy about this. … Continue reading

The World Wide Wakayama Chronicles; Day Two

10-27-13; SUNDAY

The alarm rings at 5:00 am and we scurry to get ourselves to the make-up and hair room. The stylist is there waiting and Elsa goes first. He starts in trimming Elsa’s unruly mop and I go back to our room to pack since we will have to leave right after breakfast. When I get back to Elsa, I see that the “trim” is turning into a real hair cut, but it looks very nice.CIMG8297

The stylist apparently has cut the hair of some famous folks here in Japan, including the actress, Aoi Yu, who has a name like someone saying all the vowels in the alphabet. Arai-san says that he has just returned from Hawaii and the temperature difference is quite a shock. While he finishes with Elsa, I decide to do some of my morning sit-ups on the tatami which turns out to be not such a bright idea as the friction results in raw spots in the skin near my tailbone which I don’t discover until later.

The stylist re-braids my hair into the French braid I arrived with, brushes on a touch of makeup, and I am done. After a quick breakfast, we pile into the vans and drive to the famous temple at Koyasan for the first modeling shots of the trip. CIMG8300

For a listing of all of the temple lodgings available in the area, go to the following website: or click on the embedded link: Welcome to Koyasan

When we arrive, the photographer has already set up the shot. The temple grounds are almost deserted in the early morning and we are able to get in lots of shots in a patch of warm sunshine before the crowds arrive. CIMG8309

After the shooting session, we follow the sounds of monotone chanting and find a large group of saffron-robed monks doing their morning obeisance at the various shrines throughout the temple grounds. They walk in formation with wooden geta-sandals clattering on the ground, then stop, turn, chant, bow and then continue to the next station.




After shooting at Koyasan, we take a long drive over twisty mountain roads to an ancient onsen inn called Ryujin Onsen, or “Dragon-God Onsen.” When we arrive, we are met by the bowing, smiling owner. Two girls clad in onsen yukata with over-jackets are set in place, holding towels in their laps for the background scene while Elsa and I walk in front of the ryokan towards the camera while they take shot after shot in the cool morning air. I feel sorry for the girls who sit on the front porch with bare feet and geta, so Elsa and I hand them our kairo hand-warmers. Guess there will be no time to actually soak in the “Dragon-god” onsen. Maybe next time.


Photo from Kumano Travel; click photo for link

Back into the vans we pile and on the way back to Koyasan for more photos, we stop at a little restaurant and have lunch. I order tsukimi soba or “moon viewing” soba. It comes with a raw egg floating on top of the noodles looking like a yellow moon in the dark soba sky.

Yojimansan from Flickr

After lunch, Elsa and I run over the the nearby suspension bridge to run out over the water, the wooden slats bouncing under our footsteps.CIMG8326

The lunch location turns out to be a poor choice as several people, myself included, experience stomach pain and digestive problems after eating the soba. The drive through the mountains to our hotel is a bit miserable and I try to keep my eyes up and looking out the window to ease the nausea.

We finally make it to the hotel, drop off our bags and head out for dinner. The restaurant is run by a sweet old mom-and-pop couple and it is quite good. I really appreciate the salads and the amazingly tender beef that practically melts in one’s mouth. Elsa and I get to leave early so that we can shower and get to bed at a decent hour. We happily discover that we can get internet access in our rooms. I check my email and Elsa settles in to chat with her friends. It’s been a good day overall. CIMG8317

I am working on learning the names of some of the hard-working support staff: Misaki-san and Sayaka-san, Miyuki-san (who is my age), Arai-san; (makeup); Morikawa-san; (photographer).

The World Wide Wakayama Chronicles; Day One

A Paid Paid Vacation

10-26-13; SATURDAY


Our adventure starts at an audition. Japan Railways West is looking for a normal, average-looking middle-aged woman who will act out the role of an archaeologist traveling with her daughter through the World Heritage Sites in the mountains of Wakayama Prefecture. They especially want to highlight the ancient pilgrimage routes. It sounds intriguing, so I go to the audition. They wonder if one of my daughters is also available for this job… and before we know it, my 17-yr. old and I have been hired. Yeah, they are still thinking we are normal, so we’ll just play along.

Link to UNESCO’s page on the “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range.”

We beg for a few days off of work and school and off we go. Saturday morning, Oct. 26, we are up at 5:00 am and out the door by 6:15, splashing to Tama station under a downpour ‘cuz taxis are for wimps… and people who plan ahead. We are dressed for the mountain trails, so I get to wear comfy clothes and my hiking boots.CIMG8245

The modeling agent meets us by the Shinkansen station at Shinagawa and makes sure we get to the right platform. She is very sweet and helpful and wishes she could go on this adventure with us. We take some photos but realize that we won’t be able to make anything public until after the JR West ad campaign launches sometime next year. The agent says that they will give us an ad poster when they launch. I suddenly realize that this is not going to be images just for the website… we may run into our photos on the walls of train stations; which is kind of a creepy thought.

JR West operates the trains in and around the Wakayama Peninsula:


Now, as I write this, we are on a high-speed Shinkansen that is zipping us along under cloudy skies towards Kyoto. Flooded rice fields, swollen rivers and thickets of bamboo flash by the windows of the train. Elsa is napping with her head on the tray in front of her. We both travel light with just a few items. Most of the weight in Elsa’s bag is taken up with art supplies. I think she packed some clothes too.

Here is a link to a detailed PDF map of the area where we will be traveling in Wakayama, Nara and Mie Prefectures.

Wakayama Map Detail
Wakayama Map Detail


After a yummy lunch at Gusto where we eat with gusto, we pile back into the three vans that are carrying 13 people in order to shoot photos of 2. I don’t quite understand why this would take that many people. Later we learn that more are arriving. Huh? How are they going to find enough work for that many people, I’d like to know.

Before starting the climb into the mountains of Koyasan in Wakayama, we stop at a grocery store and stock up on fruits and nuts… and lots of bottled water. Maybe they will finally start making Elsa and me do some real work. So far, we have just been sitting and eating and practicing our Japanese skills. We’ve actually been learning a lot. Elsa is “e ni muchuu” which means “crazy about drawing.” She shows her sketch books to the stylists in the van and they are very impressed, and they know all of the manga references that Elsa gushes about. CIMG8258

We arrive at a lovely ancient temple ryokan where we will spend the night in traditional Japanese-style rooms. After a quick fitting for the clothing we are wearing tomorrow for the shoot, we are given time to relax.

Interior Garden of Ryokan
Interior Garden of Ryokan
Ryokan Room Interior
Ryokan Room Interior

Since I’ve had more than enough relaxing for one day, I go for a walk and watch the glow of the setting sun light up the turning leaves above the tops of temples that line the streets. My attempt to find a trail into the forest is stymied by fallen logs, no trail and sopping wet undergrowth. I give up and stick to walking the charming tourist town streets. CIMG8275CIMG8274


I arrive back in time for a vegetarian feast. This meal is really amazing with many beautifully arranged dishes. Each diner has a miniature nabe pot of veggies and savory mushroom bubbling over a little flame. Inside the little pot is a beautiful autumn leaf shaped out of rice flour paste. Sigh.  IMG_0296

We share stories about Japan cuisine attempts… like the time one of our friends sat down to a meal of soba and drank the dipping sauce (tsuyu) straight down. He apparently thought it was Coke. And the time our elderly friend, Alma, came to visit Japan and encountered wasabi for the first time. Not knowing what it was, she scooping up the mound of potent green horseradish and popped it in her mouth. Despite this shock to her system, she did live for many, many years after this surprise.


After a soak in the onsen bath I am ready to sleep. It’s only 8:00 pm, but we need to be up by 5:00 am tomorrow and out the door by 6:30 am. Elsa has shut herself in the futon closet with cozy blankets and is chatting away on her phone. Hopefully she will emerge soon so that we can get some sleep.