Whilst there may not be a fluent speaker of English present at any given time, language in the Nagatoro Tourist Information office creates no barriers whatsoever thanks to the full-on 2012 approach adopted by local authorities.
Maps of the area are available free of charge in English, Chinese, Korean and Taiwanese – and of course Japanese. But free maps are available everywhere you may say?
True, so to cater to those more familiar with iPads, the town has provided a pair of multi-lingual iPads at the counter to plan a route about town and the sites that appeal the most -whilst learning about each in electronic form
Yet, as mainstream as iPads may be deemed nowadays, back to those maps mentioned above because the maps here in Nagatoro come with a high-tech bonus few will have seen before.
Look closely, and over every area of interest you will see marked squares of tiny, almost invisible dots. This is where the ‘voice-pens’ in the office come in. Take one from the counter, turn it on, select your favored language and run the pen over any of the areas marked with said dots and you will receive full audio coverage of the area in question with background info, times, stats, prices etc.
As unique as this factor in welcoming foreign tourists is in Japan, Nagatoro can still actually go one better, and does.
Apparently the very first place in the country to adopt the POPITA system, Nagatoro also offers a learn as you go service for those so deeply into tech-culture that maps are of little interest.
The POPITA system employed in Nagatoro is based on an application that can be downloaded to smart phones ahead of time, gratis – do it in the tourist information office as they have the address you will need to access - and then, as you walk around town, down to the river, up to the shrine on Mt. Hodo, wherever you see the winking, smiling, thumbs-up face pictured in the gallery below, just point your phone at said image, and work your way through the multilingual options to learn about the area you are now in, the attraction you are probably standing next to. There are 25 points around town with the POPITA mark so even heading out sans map you should be OK.
Not bad at all for a place far from the crowds, and so-called tech centers of Japan hey?
And, last but not least, there are the bicycles – and even these are far from the norm. The tourist information office has a handful for hire for 500 yen an hour through 1500 yen for a half day (4 hours) or 2500 yen for the full day (8 hours).
Being a town built on the slopes leading up to Mt. Hodo though, all bicycles have electric motors to assist in the places that cause a bit of strain on the thighs. Simply start moving under regular pedal power, flip the switch under your left thumb, select the amount of assistance required and off you go – in search of POPITA, 1900 year old shrines, the ropeway up to the 497.1m peak that is Mt. Hodo or wherever else you want to go.
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Hodosan Jinja in Nagatoro, Saitama - providing spiritual solace for 2000 years, with a dash of color thrown in