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Finally, Bring the Clan Home

Monday, April 10, 2006
A whirlwind adventure spanning across Japan, giant neon-lit avenues, ultrafast trains, magnificent temples and quiet old cemeteries. What do we do when we get to quaint little Osakikamijima?

Go look at a sunset, obviously.

After a week and a half of non-stop sightseeing, it was time to slow down a bit. I had to get back to work, and I wanted the family to get a taste of life on the island. Truth be told, we didn't slow down much. Nearly the entire first week was booked solid with school visits, dinners, tours, and things to see. First on the list (of course) was meeting Mori, who had just received a new boat. The boat (which I neglected to photograph from land) is big, fast, and in Mori's words "so sick." We got ramen at the awesome ramen shop on the island, and then went out for a tour of the island by (new) boat.

Our intrepid captain.

Since this picture was taken, the boat has been refitted with long benches and other gear for charter fishing.

Mori decided to take us by the "Factory Island" - it's a little rock that sticks up out of the sea that has been completely paved, walled, and covered with a foundry. It's my next photo-taking destination, but it's only open to the public on certain weekends, and it's not the sort of thing I could do without an interpreter. Soon.

The whole middle is just a giant concrete-covered slag heap with all sorts of vents and pipes sticking out of it.

The school visits were all great, with minor familial resistance over some of the school lunch dishes. We taught lessons, played games with elementary schoolers, watched ceremonies, and had a very cultural time. After only five days, Leila and Maud had to go, so we loaded onto the ferry and headed out to sea.

A while ago, before Cory and Megan left, we were on the ferry and I said "The day will come when I don't take pictures of the ferry crossing, but it hasn't come yet." About six months later, it still hasn't come.

My parents stayed on another two weeks, which were significantly more relaxed. We went for walks, they did stuff while I was at work, we had various adventures. We walked on the far side of the island in Kinoe, where I again defeated myself in my personal flower photo competition.

The standings in my flower competition: 1st place: Ben, 2nd place: Ben, 3rd place, Ben. Honorable Mention: Ben.

The weather also started getting warmer, which means Neko has discovered sitting out on the windowsills and carefully monitoring the comings and going of everyone and everything in my neighborhood.

We took a two day road trip to Shikoku, the mainland/big island south across the Inland Sea from Hiroshima. An hour and a bit on a car ferry and we were in Imabari city, a pretty standard mid-sized Japanese city. Leaving Imabari, we got on a mountain road due south to the Pacific. As soon as we left the city, the landscape changed dramatically. Shikoku's mountains are a lot bigger and a lot steeper than the mountains in Hiroshima. It was strange. It was like we had traveled hundreds of miles to another country, but all told, we were about 30 or 40 miles from my house. As we drove along huge stone cliffs dropping down into a rushing river of turquoise water, giant pines reaching up to snowcapped mountains it was exciting, like getting off a plane in a new place seeing new things and really appreciating them.

I stupidly never pointed my camera down off the road into the river. Imagine rushing rapids around huge house-sized boulders scattered along the bottom of a craggy valley far below the road. It would have been a nice picture. I'll go back.

Along the side of the road, we also saw dozens of little waterfalls cascading down the hills.

We don't have this rock in Hiroshima-ken.

An hour and change through the mountains, and we arrived at Kochi city. Kochi is on the Pacific, my first trip to the ocean in my time here. Before checking out the water though, we went to a market. It was a good market, one where you could find all kinds of cool stuff, including some seriously impressive knives. I bought a little cheap one, but I have regretted that decision since. I will be back, with money.

They don't all have glowing orange blades, cool though that would be. They were under an orange tarp.

Also in Kochi city - a nice old castle and a park. So you know what that means - another entry into my flower blogging competition.

After the market and the castle, we got back in the car and headed towards the ocean. It was cloudy and getting towards evening, so there was some concern that once we got to the coast, there would be nothing to see. These concerns were increased when we got into a mega traffic jam (almost unheard of in Japan). It turned out to be a multi-house fire that had just been put out. As we rolled by, I snapped some pictures. I tried to keep the subjects in the middle, but the fact that we were moving by made some very strange pictures. In each picture only one thing is in focus, and everything else is blurry. The pictures remind me of photographs of miniature landscapes, and frankly, I like them.

After we passed the fire, the road opened up and we made it to the ocean. Again, like the mountains near Imabari - the coast is like nothing I've seen in Hiroshima.

A grueling drive, a business hotel, and a continental breakfast later, we were back on the road, driving up the west side of Shikoku. The water was calm and clear, like the water near my house, but the coast was still different.

Shikoku is a ways south of Hiroshima, and had been getting warmer weather. What that means in Japan is that the wild cherries burst into bloom. You always see the pictures of cherry-lined streets in Japan, but it's easy to miss the fact that the mountains and forests are dotted with cherries too, and when they bloom, the mountains get dotted with bursts of pink.

We kept on driving north, passing through Uchiko, a small city that has a famous street of old houses and delicious oranges.

This is a traditional old-style Uchiko house. It looks completely different from an old Kyoto house, or an old Tokyo house.

The last stop along the way back was Matsuyama. A pretty big city, we spent a good few hours there. At the top of a long flight of stairs up to a temple, a boy in a kimono gave me a sassy look:

I'm not sure what this says, but it's pretty cool graffiti.

The last place we went in Matsuyama was a temple on the famous pilgrimage path. Japanese people can do a pilgrimage around Shikoku, visiting 88 special temples. They wear special straw hats and white clothes, and I'd imagine the walk takes a very long time. The last temple we stopped at was number 56 or something, and it was a very different experience than any of the huge beautiful temples of Kyoto. It was a living temple, with tens or hundreds of worshippers coming every day to pray and leave notes and offerings. It was a mishmash of all kinds of things, austere and old, garish and new, beautiful, ugly, the whole place showed signs of a sort of temple-design-by-committee.

Every surface was covered in stickers left by passing pilgrims, some with names of places, some with messages or names.

People fold hundreds of paper cranes and leave them in thick mats hanging from trees.

There's constant fires and incense, this lamp has seen better days - but in some ways it hasn't. It's perfect. Clean and new, it would have none of the interest and beauty it has now.

Completely randomly, there's a doorway going into the mountain behind the temple complex. It's an enormous tunnel complex, curving corridors, alcoves, dead ends, and a straight shot that goes all the way through the mountain. All along the tunnel are devotional items. The whole thing is pretty surreal.

At one exit from the tunnel is a white board where pilgrims can leave messages for each other.

And that was about it. We hung out for another week, we went out to dinner, Fred and I went fishing on an awful stormy day, movies were watched, cats were petted, and general relaxation occurred. A good time was had by all. Don't even think for a second that we didn't catch a couple nice sunsets.

Speaking of sunsets, they are working out for me. A sunset just got me a tote bag.

And so the parents headed out. It was a great time, and now I have to deal with my cat's craziness all by myself. Speaking of that cat, as Leila got ready to leave, she looked at me sincerely - seeing her brother for the last time for another five months or so and said "I'm going to miss your cat so much!" Thanks, Leila.

It's understandable though.