Really, Japan is not that bad – don’t let my writings dissuade you from coming here for the right reasons. I said to Joe that there was little I could recommend, but I was really thinking in terms of employment. And even that said, there are opportunities here, especially if you have a special talent. If there’s something that you’re good at besides just teaching English, you could probably have a good go at things here.
Me, I’m still a one-trick pony, but I hope to change. The catch is that you practically can’t develop your budding skills here, unless one of your skills happens to be being a Japanese language whiz. Especially when you’re in a job that’s not really conductive to full-blown language learning. (From my language-learning perspective, the difference between Japanese and Ukrainian is eight hours on a plane.)
Maybe I have special needs – so far in my life, the only two things that have really worked for me have been: 1) living in a host family in Poland 2) taking part in a French immersion program at Universite Sainte-Anne. The list of things that didn’t work for me is about ten times longer. Oh sure, I could “go out and make my own opportunity,” but let’s get real here – you, yes you there, reading this – you have the opportunity to study any language you want via internet tutorials and library resources – why aren’t you getting on that? Huh? Huh? Huh? Words are only for recreation or for assistance (when you need to look something up). The effective experiences of 1) and 2) above – and I think most effective experiences – can’t be bound inside a book.
But here’s an effective experience I did have here, though it’s not really language-related:
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Temples 20 and 21
On Saturday, I biked all the way down to the Temple 21 ropeway, visiting Temple 20 along the way.
Getting to 20 was tough, but not impossibly so. I approached, and recommend approaching it, from the North – it’s a moderately easy bike inland along a river before you have to climb.
Of course, this part of the journey was not without its tribulations – there were gigantic gravel trucks going by me about once a minute, which really mystified me until I biked past a quarry. I could hear the distant sounds of blasting right up until I left Temple 20.
About halfway along, I found a beautiful little waterfall – I took a wrong turn there and ended up climbing a hill unnecessarily, but I did find the waterfall, and I had a rather peaceful, contemplative time observing it. I got back on the road and while I was looking sideways at a decrepit roadside bus that was functioning as a liquor purveyance, I heard a horrible screeching sound. Oh, my basket was scraping the guardrail. Good thing it was there, or I would have gone into the culvert. Mega-ouch that would have been.
I eventually got to a small town where the road up the mountain left from, and there was a 3km walking route and a 5km road route. I walked my bike up the road – it was about 3km of steep uphill slogging and remembering to breathe right, but it wasn’t worse than the worst parts of the hike between Temples 11 and 12. I can thus recommend this method, but it is difficult, I have to warn you.
Once you get to the top of the hill on the through road, there is an additional 2km road that snakes its way to the temple itself. Exhausted and sick of pushing my bike, I left it at the intersection and walked up the road for a few hundred metres, then joined the walking path. As you just read, the total walking path is about 2km shorter than the road, but you can’t take your bike up the walking path. Anyway, the walking path by that point may have saved me a couple of hundred metres, and since I was feeling every metre I was grateful.
Temple 20 was nice – a bit small, but nice. It wasn’t expansive like 12, and I suppose 12 is all the more impressive because it really is in the mountains in the middle of nowhere. 20 is a short (albeit hilly) southbound drive from / northbound drive to civilization. It’s in the middle of nowhere too, but in this case the nowhere is smaller, if you follow me.
Of course, walking down from 20 and then biking south down the mountain was a cinch and took barely twenty minutes. I was back down on level ground following the river to the Temple 21 ropeway before I knew it.
This was a long ride, but nothing too strenuous – the inclines were short and not too serious. There were only one or two places where I hopped off and walked, and only for a few steps even then. Still, I noticed that there weren’t exactly a lot of bicycles in the area. In fact, there wasn’t a lot of anything. The road was one lane for numerous stretches.
Temple 21 can be accessed various ways, but for those who put a nominal dollar value ($24) on not having to fall over and die on the way up to it, I recommend the ropeway. When D. first told me about it I scoffed at the expense, but that was before I realized how far out of the way the place was and how much of a climb it would be. Please, I’m begging you, splurge on the ropeway, unless you have a motor scooter or rented car or something.
Of course, getting to the ropeway base station is not easy. It’s on the southwest side of the mountain – which is about as inconvenient as it gets if you’re coming from the north.
But anyway, once you’re there, you realize it’s a special place – the base station itself is very nicely appointed, and once you fork over your car payment to the clerk she’ll give you a photocopied (but translated!) booklet about the temple, and you’ll be whisked away to the top in no time.
Temple 21 was gorgeous – I’d say it’s one of the best ones I’ve seen. I mean, I came just so I could cross it off my list, but it’s worth visiting on its own merits. The trees are a sight in and of themselves – just picture a beautifully landscaped and ornamented hillside with trees as tall as office buildings and as stout as two or three sumo wrestlers. It’s fantastic. It’s also about the right size, too – I had about two hours to wander around before catching the second-last ride back down the mountain at 4:40, and that was comfortably enough. (Temple 66, on the other hand, is a half-day sort of place, but we barely had three-quarters of an hour there.)
I also want to mention how friendly the people were there. People approached me out of the blue and asked where I was from. The clerks at the summit station (Tairyuji-Sancho) offered me mushroom tea, which I politely declined. =) (On second thought, it might have been osettai, so I should have forced myself to drink it – I did, though, say that it was because I didn’t like mushrooms.) But anyway, the people were just fantastic – they seemed as pleased as punch that I paid them a visit. I don’t think I’ve ever been so warmly received travelling alone in my life.
My presence might have been slightly – just slightly – out of the ordinary; I overheard countless people referring to me in giddy whispers among themselves. I could tell it wasn’t mean, so I was cool with it. I dunno; maybe they thought I brought good luck? =)
Okay, that just leaves the trip back. I biked to the intersection where I’d come down from the other mountain, and I figured, hey, a little bit further and I’d be on the 55 again.
No, I had a long (~20km), twisty, scary ride through hamlets and hovels with only the moon and my feeble dynamo lamp (which generates more noise than illumination) to light my way. I’d see a bridge or something coming up, and I’d keep hoping it was the 55, but later I discovered that I wasn’t even close.
I attracted some curious stares from the few locals as I went – I don’t imagine they expected to see a lone foreigner cruising through their cantons on a shopping bike after dark.
Years seemed to pass. A scary dog chained to a stake in a rice field barked at me while I unfolded my prefectural road map in the light of an intersection streetlamp. Panic was starting to set in, especially as the next turning I was to take took me into total darkness. I mean horror-movie, “Don’t go in there!” kind of darkness. Fortunately, this wasn’t for long, and I soon reached a sublime combination of a streetlamp, an overhead sign, a blind curve, and some vending machines. (I’ll be sure to share the photo when the time comes.) The overhead sign said that I could continue around the curve to Tatsue, or, if I liked, I could take the next turning and go to Tatsue.
I had to laugh. I did. And I checked the clock on my camera and found that I’d only left the ropeway 90 minutes ago! To enlighten me further, another placard on the overhead said that I could get to Temple 19 by taking the turning. I happened to know that was near the 55, so I took the turning.
The road I took was blissfully straight – it wasn’t very well-lit, but it got me where I needed to go. It turned out that I was driving on a completely new road, one that wasn’t on my 2007 map. I loved that, but as new roads tend to do it ended rather abruptly within sight of the 55. I pondered my map for a minute before figuring out what had happened, and then I headed in the direction of Temple 19. It wasn’t like I was lost, and there wasn’t much further to go, but it was still disheartening to have to pedal even a bit more to get back to civilization and known ground. I mean, I could see the gas stations and cheap apartments for crying out loud.
At length, I got back on the 55 and started north. I got to go through the Akaishi Tunnel again, which was fun.
I should add that I was ravenously hungry at this time. I hadn’t eaten since I stopped at a Lawson Station convenience store around 11 in the morning on the way to Temple 20. I finally, finally, finally got to a McDonald’s – I was craving a Big Mac or McMega meal, but I ended up getting a McRib – it was OK, but a straight hamburger would have been much better. Plus, I was still hungry! I ended up stopping at the next McDonald’s 10km up the road and getting a ¥100 hamburger. I also wanted to come in from the cold. It was only 16°C – right now, that's quite cold for me.
By the time I got home, my legs were like Jell-O. I muttered unspeakable things under my breath as I climbed the stairs. I opened the door and looked at the clock on my microwave. It was 20 after 9 – twelve hours and twenty minutes (and nearly eighty kilometres) after I left. To say I was exhausted would be a ridiculous understatement. Thank goodness I didn’t have to work the next day.
Thanksgiving Day in Canada happened to be Health and Sports Day here in Japan, and so we had the luxury of time to prepare a Thanksgiving-esque potluck for a pleasant Monday evening at F.’s apartment. No turkey, but we did have chilli, rice, salad, and pasta. A fine feast.
All in all, a productive weekend. I’ve visited all of the canonical temples in Tokushima Prefecture. Next is Temple 88 (which is even more distant than Temple 21, but the roads look easier), then probably a rental-car road trip to Kochi in Novemeber to get Temples 24 and beyond (getting to 36 would be nice). I’ll keep you posted!