The two biggest and most important shrines in Japan are both in Beautiful Wife’s home town, and this year one of them is due for a complete rebuild. This isn’t as monumental as it sounds as they rebuild them in cycle about every twenty years or so. No-one knows why, but as with many things in Japan that’s “just the way it is.” This is also the reason why one of the main stations has a waiting room for the exclusive use of the Emperor. That’s how things are.

Because of the rebuild the town is expecting a mass of tourists and pilgrims so they’ve tidied the place up a bit. The rusting taxi rank, disused Pachinko parlour and waste ground formerly greeting travellers leaving the station have been swept away, along with the placards for right-wing politicians, and tourists will now be greeted with a smart interchange using natural wood and stone, which will give a much better first impression than the shabby down-at-heel town I remember.

Unfortunately this impression only lasts until tourists go off the prescribed route where the back streets are generally as shabby as ever, as we found on the way to Beautiful Wife’s family. Mind you, it may be me: I was walking in 30 degree heat with humidity in the region of sweltering and a large and heavy backpack, so I was probably looking pretty shabby myself by the time we arrived.

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