Tuesday, August 29, 2006


This sunny Monday found us heading for the beach at Kamakura. Yuigahama, to be specific, a city beach located just off a noisy road; happily less polluted than the beach at Sumoto, we spent a few merry hours frolicking in the waves and ordering takeout food and cokes from one of the many beach shacks equipped with rudimentary kitchens and toilets. Beware - boogie board rental is so expensive! Better to buy your own at Don Quixote than to pay 1000 yen to borrow them for two hours from the extortionists.

Having swum our fill, we ventured back to the main city to see what we could manage to in the early evening - which turned out to be not much. We were able to wander around a temple or two, though. I prefer the Shinto shrines, especially at night. Pared down, lantern lit. Buddhist temples are bright and gaudily colorful, though, presenting quite an entertaining pantheon of gods and guards, deities and devils.

Friday, August 18, 2006


Word of the day: zurui. Some of my students use this on each other when they're messing around before class, playing games.
It means sneaky.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

heading back

Kobe is such a shorter distance from Yokohama than Takamatsu, so we got a late 10am start.
Friend Edmund was spotted in Maibara - someone had obviously stood on that very spot some months before...
Unfortunately, we missed some of our rapid connections and rode way too many locals, finally landing in Azamino about 930 pm. A long day to end our trip.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Awaji-shima and Kobe

Interested in Awaji-shima, the island between Tokushima and Kobe, we had asked the front desk clerk for bus schedule information as the island has no train service. After a lengthy wait, she produced a bus schedule that showed the route from Tokushima station to the terminus in Sumoto. And so the next morning, there we went.
The bus was about 1800 yen and passed through the town of Naruto, past the famous Naruto whirlpools. Awaji island seems to be a sparsely populated tree covered rock, with a freeway running the length of it, linking Honshu to Shikoku.

We alit in Sumoto city. As the LP barely mentions Awaji at all, we had no real idea of where to go. I had a rough idea of the geography of the island, but not even a good grip on what cities or towns might be present. Wandering over to the information counter, I perused the maps and flyers on offer. The two workers manning (and womanning) the station studiously ignored me. Finally, I said Sumimasen! and the person sitting farther away, a slightly portly younger-middle aged man, jumped to attention. I asked him about beaches and told him that I wanted to be in Kobe in the evening. He seemed very relieved that I was speaking Japanese - I think they ignored me because they didn't know what to do. Though there was a beach that sounded lovely on the far side of the island, we opted for one that happened to be only a 5 minute walk from the bus terminal - Ohama.

The sun was brutally hot, and after settling onto our stripped-off Tshirts, we slathered on the sunblock. The sand was incendiary, and the water pleasantly cool. There were even little fish swimming around in the shallows, and the view was decent. However, there was a fair amount of trash floating just off the shore. Unfortunately, it marred the beach experience for me considerably. I hear that this is a common problem in the inland sea.

After a couple of hours, we had had quite enough of the noonday sun and hightailed it back to the bus station, slightly burnt despite our sunblocking ministrations. We purchased tickets for the next bus to Kobe and stocked up on Awaji omiyage, things like sweet potato caramels and sables and sudachi candies.

It took another hour or so to get to Kobe. I had never before been to this city, site of the great earthquake a few years ago and birthplace of Haruki Murakami. We oriented ourselves and located our next Toyoko Inn. Then we set out to look around the city and find something to eat.

Not far from the station, we found a swanky looking dining bar, King Dining O-ja, with fancy high tables, leather zippered walls, and a posh staff. The yobidashi girl standing out front didn't bother to yobi us... I felt a little affronted. Don't foreigners have to eat too?
The atmosphere inside was pretty neat, albeit smoky, and the food was decent and not very expensive. However, the rest of the staff followed the yobidashi girl's example and were patently unfriendly. Based on the shitty service, I would recommend NOT going there and finding culinary refuge in one of the many many other like establishments lining the streets.

After dinner it was getting dark enough to proceed to my mom's suggestion: Mt. Rokke. She had been 20+ years ago and mentioned that it might be worth checking out - so we rode the subway to the ropeway substation and rode the long cable to the top.
Kobe is beautiful at night! Surrounding the harbor in a colorful array of lights, the smallish city glows invitingly from the heights, and the other ropeway pods, lined with blue lights, look like alien ships passing in the night. The herb garden below lends to the otherworldly feeling, with the glass greenhouses eerily emitting unearthly light.

Once at the top, we found it was too late to walk down the mountain through the herb garden - a shame, because it looked so pretty from above. However, the shop was still open for a few minutes and I got some lovely teas, seeds, rose hip candies, and lavender cookies. We wandered around the patio buildings, peering over the edge of the retaining wall at the city below and exploring curlicued ironwork balconies. Lit with small white lights and sparsely scattered with visitors at 9pm, it was a wonderful place to visit.
After a short rest and some more city-gazing, we boarded the ropeway for the descent into nighttime Kobe.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


The next morning saw us checking out of the comfy home base of Takamatsu's Toyoko Inn and boarding the train to Tokushima. The crowded little train bore us along for about an hour before depositing us at Tokushima station, all a-bustle with excitement for the biggest event of the year - the Awa-odori festival. The station was packed with visitors, hawkers, and information booths.
Still too early to check into our next hotel, we called the Jurobei Yashiki to find out the next showtime for the bunraku show. I had never seen Japanese puppet theater but had always wanted to, so when we found out that the show was in a couple of hours, we headed to the bus terminal to find out how to get to the puppet house. Unfortunately, the buses run quite infrequently to that area - perhaps fewer than one an hour - so we opted to take a taxi. It cost, I believe, about 1500 yen.
Bunraku was really wonderful. The spare building was reminiscent of a prarie church, all whitewash and high ceiling and bare wooden planking and long pews, but the smell was of cedar.
The show was short but great, the puppets skillfully handed by teams dressed in head-to-toe black sheaths; but the show stealer, for me, was the fact that, unlike kabuki, the artists were all women. The handlers, the narrator, the shamisen player, even the ushers, ticket sellers, and souvenir shopkeepers were all female. Very refreshing after many repeat visits to the admittedly lovely kabuki in Tokyo, which is of course so male-dominated.

Returning to town in time for the festival, we checked into the hotel and wandered the streets gawping at the dancers and searching for vegetarian food, which was incredibly hard to find. Even Italian places, usually ubiquitous in even small to medium sized Japanese cities, were conspicuously absent. We finally stumbled upon a Doma Doma, packed to the rafters with festival goers, and snagged two seats around the big central shared table, where I had my usual buttered corn, edamame, and garlic fried potatoes. We ate & drank our fill and paid our check.
And danced into the night.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Demon island

After a leisurely start and a late breakfast at dotour, we bought some St. Marc chocolate croissants and bided our time shopping and browsing before boarding the 1310 ferry bound for 女木島 - Megishima - aka 鬼ヶ島 - Onigashima.
In Momotaro's legend, the Peach Boy and his band of animal friends went off to an island to defeat some unruly demons that were making local life miserable. He did so and returned home to his village victorious. This island is where the battle is purported to have taken place. There is even a cave where the demons are claimed to have resided, which also apparently sheltered some pirates way back when. It's unclear to me whether the pirates and the demons ever coexisted, but that would make for an even better story.
We toured the cave, very cool (in both senses of the word) and extensive, and with many strategically placed demons. But Onigashima is much more than just a podunk tourist attraction - the island is actually fairly large, with a year-round population and lots of breathtaking nature. The views from the top of the island are particularly nice, with the various islands dotting the Inland Sea and the clouds high over the water. The swimming was adequate, as well, and all in all a pleasant afternoon was spent.

Sunday, August 13, 2006


After all that travel, we slept in, and plodded downstairs to renew another night.
We had wanted to hit the Noguchi sculpture garden, but it turns out that you need a reservation and that it's only on certain days - so calling in advance is a must.
It also turned out to be a bit too late to go to Megi island, also known as Onigashima, or demon island. Ferries only depart until about 4, last return is at 5ish. We would only have been able to spend a couple of hours, and we wanted more time than that so - put it off too.
Instead, we hopped on the local train and headed over to Ritsurin park, a beautiful garden about 400 years old. The grounds are quite large, and there's lots of wildlife swarming the various ponds, including a bunch of turtles just aching for attention.
We ate the local specialty of sanuki udon, guaranteed vegetarian by the old man vendor, though I doubt it was truly vegetarian, even though he claimed that there was no fish in the broth. We also sampled karin juice, which translates as quince in my dictionary.
Later, a delicious yuzu smoothie at a cafe in Kawaramachi arcade, gazing down as herds of girls decked out in festival gear paraded by.
Dinner was more sanuki udon for him and potato pizza for me.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Kyushu or Shikoku?

Two southern islands I'd never been to. Both have beaches. Both have allure. Which to choose?
Travelling by Seishun 18 kippu helped to make that decision. Dirt cheap, but you can only take JR local trains, or at best, JR Rapid or night trains.
The night trains get booked up months in advance. I tried to secure a booking on the Moonlight Nagawa, the best way to get to the tip-top of Kyushu in one 24-hour period, to no avail. Manseki.
So Shikoku it was.

We left pretty early - around 6am, and got our ticket stamped at Yokohama. From there, it was a steady stream of local trains, changing at such hot spots as Atami, Maibara, and Ogaki. Tired around 2pm, we deboarded in Kyoto to get some lunch at an Italian place in the station.

We finally arrived in Takamatsu at around 830 pm, and wandered around searching for the hotel that we had reserved through the Tocoo system. When we finally found the place and tried to assert our rights with our reservation number, the grumpy man at the counter told us it would be impossible. He didn't have our reservation, he claimed. Muri - dame, he said. How rude. Fuck you, Tocoo. Either that, or the guy didn't want to deal with us.

So we walked in to a Toyoko Inn and asked for a room, and behold! They had one for us. We got a single, double use, for about 7000 yen. A great deal, especially for a walk-in! I highly recommend this place - we stayed at Toyoko Inns for the rest of our trip, and were very happy. They have free internet in the lobby, free breakfast in the morning, and the single room is neither cramped as the LP claims nor is the bed a single bed - it's quite a comfortable double, in fact bigger than some of the "semi-doubles" that I've paid for in other business hotels.

By the time we got checked in and accommodated, it was too late to go anywhere for dinner. There's a Lawson right next to the hotel, though, so I got my usual wakame onigiri and made dinner of conbini-fare.

Travelling on the train all day takes it out of you. I slept an exhausted sleep.