I had just been re-reading Paul Theroux's African travelogue, "Dark Star Safari," and was up to a part where he explains that he never books rooms on his journeys, just turns up and leaves the rest to chance.

I thought I would test the strategy by not bothering to reserve a bed for my stay in Hagi, but by the time I boarded the single-carriage Sanin Line train at Shimonoseki, it was already well past 10 p.m. Stopping at every station on the line, nothing seemed to stir at these lonely places, the only sign of life the frogs that sat croaking on the platforms and the gentle swell of salt air from the nearby but invisible Sea of Japan.

It was almost midnight when I arrived at Higashi-Hagi station. Even the ticket collectors had gone home. Unlike Theroux's African townships, there were no touts waiting to eagerly press hotel business cards into my hand. The deserted plaza outside the station appeared to present several options, but it was only after knocking on many doors that I eventually found a hotel with just a single room available. I had 15 minutes, I was told, before the baths were shut down.