August 1st, 2008


87. Weekend Road Trip, Part Three: Imabari to Tokushima

Written from notes taken July 19-21

A. climbed into the front passenger seat later in the night. I was sleeping in the back; A. told me later that he had been scheming a way to get the keys off my person so that he could turn the air conditioning on, especially as the sun was rising and the van began to get hot.

It turned out the others had a busy night – they walked to a convenience store for beer and fireworks, and everyone tried to sleep in the tent, but as these things usually go the snorer got the tent while the others woke up on the sand or on the concrete. Rough night.

Sticky and smelly all, we got ourselves and our things back into the van and set off for an onsen, in the hopes of getting cleaned up. On the way we passed by the campground we should have gone to the previous night; it was an embarrassingly short distance farther down the coast. Eh bien…

We found an onsen in the middle of a small resort area, but it wasn’t scheduled to open until ten o’clock. Rather than wait or wander aimlessly for two hours, we decided to just be dirty for the rest of the day. I set off southwards in the direction of Temple 61. Temple 60 was too far out of the way, and due to schedule constraints we’d have to miss Temples 54-59 in Imabari, although I think none of us wanted to spend another second there anyway.

Once we got to Highway 11 in Saijo, I discovered that we could drive back to the highway oasis – maybe there’d be an onsen and a meal available there – but the place didn’t seem nearly as inviting from the local side, and I had no idea which place was for us. I ended up making a complete circle and coming out again, not before getting stuck in one of those infernal neighbourhoods with the narrow, stonewalled streets. (They’re charming on a bicycle, but downright dangerous in a large minivan.)

So instead of the oasis, we stopped for breakfast at mama’s cafe & kitchin, where “my mama served us homemade cookie” since 1998. After ordering I found the toilet, as I hadn’t seen one since Dogo Onsen back in Matsuyama.

It was an Eastern toilet.

At least I wasn’t so irritated anymore, task completed. We enjoyed our breakfast and set off for Temple 61. 61 was very interesting because it had a very Western central shrine; it was like the Buddhist answer to a modern evangelical church.

As we left, F. requested that we stop somewhere so she could buy shoes. After picking over the van, there was no sign of them – she’d left them at the beach. She’d tried getting around Temple 61 barefoot, but her feet were already hurting. Luckily, there was a 100 yen shop above a grocery store right next to mama’s, and ¥300 later F. was well shod and ready to go.

Temple 62: A very small, roadside temple. It’s notable for the roadside restaurateur who ran out at us when we parked our van in his empty parking lot. His admonishment needed no translation.

Temple 63: Another roadside temple, but bigger than 62. It had springs and some impressively large trees. There was an abundance of cool, drinkable water – a very welcome fountain of such sits in front of the temple office.

Temple 64: Another beautiful temple in a picturesque location. Built on a hillside, it has lots of stairs (but it’s not an extreme case like 10 or 52).

By now it was afternoon, and so we had to take Temple 65 off our schedule to make sure that we reached 66. Temple 66 is usually approached from Kagawa, but the temple itself lies just inside Tokushima Prefecture, so to have achieved the notable task of visiting all the temples in a prefecture (Ikkoku-mairi) as applied to Tokushima, you need to visit Temples 1 through 23, plus 66.

Back on the road, we kept an eye out for three essential things: food, gas, and omiyage. Without the first, the rest of the trip would be miserable; without the second, the trip couldn’t be finished successfully; without the third, this could very well be the last trip we’d finish in this country, as we might be finished!

Outside Niihama, I saw a sign for a MaxValu – I held out hope that it might be part of a larger power centre, and a good chance to get these things taken care of in one stop. But it was one of those ambiguous signs again; it was hard to tell if you had to take a turn, which turn you had to take, and if the distance posted was the distance to the turn, or the distance from the sign to the store.

Naturally, upon taking a (the?) turn, I got stuck among a bunch of bloody hovels again. Argh! Time for some more mirror-grazing fun! Fortunately, A. was happy to look out his window and gauge the inches I had to spare between the van and the stone wall on his side as I gingerly guided mine along my side, hoping that the vines and shrubberies I was disturbing didn’t have paint-piercing thorns.

After this, I vowed to stop at the next non-sketchy looking gas station and at least get that taken care of. And so I did, and the fill up cost about $85. Not bad, really, considering the state of things today. Then as we drove on, I noticed signs pointing the way to Niihama Station. Hmmm… omiyage, perhaps?

Niihama Station is located far from its downtown, as the Yosan Line is on the south (inland) side of the city. The station looked small, and our cause bleak. But lo and behold, there was a small souvenir shop! We got our tokens of consideration to smooth over the antisocial act of actually leaving our town and co-workers behind for a few days, and we also found a pastry shop with the following written on its window:

Willie Winkie

We feel the joy in can help of customer's We try for the shop-making to obtain safety "Health care"through bread of a good quality and trust in appreciation for "Meet" with combustion setting up and a fresh sandwich. the customer.

We answer customer's "Needs", contribute We feel the joy in can help of customer's to"Improvement of the gastronomic culture", "Health care"through bread of a good quality and aim at the company that can contribute combustion setting up and a fresh sandwich. to the region indefinitely.

We were in need of regional combustion ourselves, so we stopped at a CoCoICHI on the way out of town. It was then I discovered how far we still were from Kagawa – it was time to hit the expressway!

Aside: When I mentioned to M2 that we’d stopped in Niihama, he was like, “You stopped there for omiyage, didn’t you?” Heh. He’d lived in Ehime, and coincidentally he didn’t have that high an opinion of Imabari either. =)

Once I got us on the expressway, most everyone else promptly fell asleep, which I guess is a reasonable tribute to my driving. The snoring was probably more likely to wake them up than anything else. =)

The toll from Nihama to Onohara was only ¥1150, and the ride saved a ton of time. And when I got off the expressway, I was immediately greeted by excellent temple signage. I should have taken a picture of it, really – it had Temples 66 through 70 clearly listed. We got on the local main road, and it was easy to spot the turn to Temple 66. The great signage didn’t stop there – the road had periodic reassurance markers, just to let people know they were still going the right way. Thank you very much, Kagawa Prefecture Road Sign People, whoever you are.

We followed our road into the mountains, and for a while I was wondering if we were driving straight to the temple – D. had mentioned that Temple 66 was typically accessed by cable car.

But sure enough, our route terminated at Umpenji-Sanroku Station. The setting (or idea) was kind of reminiscent of the ropeway you take to get to the Gold Saucer.

The ropeway itself was breathtaking. I’m reading now that it’s not only the fastest ropeway in Japan, but also the one with the longest span between towers – 1,882m! Seriously, for a while I was wondering how on Earth we stayed up there. The weight of the cables alone over that distance must be considerable. The return fare was $20, and the last tram down would be leaving at 5pm – so we had less than an hour at the top.

I didn’t think we’d need even an hour, but Temple 66 and the area around it is considerably large. I first checked out the top of a large “snow park” – I don’t know if it was trying to be a ski resort or what, but it was still interesting. In that area there was also a small tower with a large Buddha statue on top of it. As you ascend the ramp within the tower, you pass by illustrations of all 88 temples. The views from the top were of course stunning. It was a clear, sunny day, though a little hazy on the ground as seen from the heights.

In the temple proper were hundreds upon hundreds of guardian statues. If you come to Temple 66, try to budget two hours or more, because these statues are just incredible. Every one of them is a treasure. Each has its own special character. You could easily take a zillion photos – you could, but I couldn’t, because I was already down to my spare 16MB memory card that came with my camera and taking photos at 640 x 480. (I knew I should have offloaded my photos onto my USB stick at that cybercafé, but I thought I’d be visiting another one the following night!)

A few of us got our book stamped at the last minute (the attendant was about to close a few minutes before five), and then we made our way back to Umpenji-Sancho in time for the last decent. On the way up, we were alone – on the way down, it was packed. It got hot quickly; the attendant at the Umpenji-Sanroku’s platform had a giant fan ready and running, aimed at the cabin door even as it was opening.

Now it was time for the long drive back. We snaked our way through the hills to the 192, and then hooked up with the Tokushima Expressway at Ikawa-Ikeda. It was 5:52 as I got on the onramp. The van was due back in downtown Tokushima City at 7:00. Uh-oh!

We managed to make up a bit of time on the expressway, but the platooning really put a limit on how much. Luckily, I got behind a guy who wanted to go even faster than I did, so I let him set the pace, as he probably knew the road a lot better than I did.

Our original plan was to drop everyone (but me) off at the apartments, but now we wouldn’t have time. I drove right to the very end of the expressway and came into town on the new bridge. We topped off the gas tank at a Shell. At least I didn’t need the navigation system anymore – it was still telling us how to get to a Mos Burger back in Saijo that was now nearly 200km away. “Turn around here!” it would seem to say at every intersection. “OK, OK… turn around here!” It’s a sad testament to the blind determination of computer programs.

By the time we got to the rental outlet, we were 12 minutes late. We piled out in a flash, yanked out all of our stuff and all of the garbage, and laid everything out on the curb. (This is where I would lose my umbrella. I’m lucky that’s all I lost.) The rental guys were nice to us and didn’t charge us extra, though they were certainly entitled to.

We walked to Tokushima Station and took the train back here – I forgot to even check if my bicycle was still parked near the rental shop, and when I did come back to get it a few nights later there was a notice on it from the city saying that they thought it might be abandoned and that they were going to gank it if I didn’t move it.

I stumbled into my apartment, weary, exhausted, and smelling like a dump. Ahh, what a great trip! It really was. Trips kind of need to be a bit arduous anyway, or else you wouldn’t appreciate coming home.

Next time, we’ll plan accommodations.

96. Thoughts on a Friday Afternoon

Tokyo, Tokyo, Tokyo. It’s a broken record playing over, and over, and over. I guess it’s a good excuse to sing “Tokyo Love Song!”

I played chess with a Year Two student this morning. I won, but I don’t think I’ll be going far up the World Chess Federation rankings for beating a kid whom I had to remind how the pieces move. =) Nevertheless, it feels really good to say “checkmate.”

Also in day care, I observed how the biggest kid in a North American classroom would be highly unlikely to even have green tea in his Thermos, much less share it with a teacher (F.).

I also discovered an awesome older comic: The Adventures of Sakae-San. Or did I? I can’t find references to it anywhere, so I must be misspelling it. At any rate, you wouldn’t think there was much humour in Japan’s postwar period, but the cartoonist (a woman!) found it and captured its spirit for generations to come.

I’ve got a few plans for Tokyo already – I won’t get into it now, but I have made arrangements to meet Masae (and perhaps her husband as well) on Monday morning after I get my Lloyds Bank stuff taken care of.

I was also stamping pool permission cards this morning and one of the children remarked on the fact that my name was in katakana: ma-se-so-n (マセソン). Of course, the inkan of the Japanese teachers were elegant kanji. I can’t help but feel somewhat second-tier, and I don’t want a linguistic reminder of my transitory status.

I facetiously propose this: that Mathesons in Japan identify themselves as ku-ma no mu-su-ko (熊の息子), or “Bear’s Son,” which is close enough to “Son of the Bear” for our purposes. It conveys the meaning of the name, plus you get some cool kanji. Maybe I should actually identify myself as kuma no musuko when speaking Japanese, and see if it catches on! =)

Alternatively (and this goes for everyone), you could just insist on having your name rendered in Hiragana (mine: ませそん), although I guess that could confuse people. You may wonder why I seem to have something against katakana. Well, it’s used for loan words, and for things from outside Japan – yes, I’m from outside Japan, but that shouldn’t also mean outsider – moreover, I am a person every bit as much, no more, no less, than any Japanese. Lastly, in Japanese, katakana serves the same purpose that scare quotes do in English. Let’s say someone is referring to me in writing and using the form “Maseson-sensei” (though you don’t call yourself ‘sensei,’ in much the same way you don’t call yourself ‘mister’). Normally, they’d use katakana and kanji: マセソン先生 And that’s a lovely-looking honorific. But if they wanted to be cruel, they could use all-katakana: マセソンセンセイ This rendering would be taken to be highly sarcastic, even though it’s orally identical.

Despite all this, though, I think “ma-se-so-n” is a bit more fluidic than “ku-ma no mu-su-ko.” =) And as to appropriateness, I’m uncertain, as 1) I don’t have many Japanese friends and 2) As a result, my true understanding of Japanese culture could maybe fill a few thimbles – and thimbles have holes!

Speaking of appropriateness, one valuable thing about this job is the ever-present opportunity to make a complete ass fool of yourself. Kids aren’t shy about showing wry, askance glances when you do something stupid, to wit:

F. and the big kid were about to play hangman, and they got to talking about how.

Always looking for a place to barge in, I said, “OK, this is what you do. Stand on this chair… OK, does anyone have a rope?”

Bzzzt. GONG

Don’t make jokes about capital punishment. Especially not to kids. Especially not involving the kids. Especially not in a country with such a bloody past history.

(“Past history” seems tautological, but if I were only to say “a bloody history,” people might think such history was still ongoing. Oh, damn, there’s another one again!)

* * *

It seems like every time I turn around there’s a new revelation. You know those after school study sessions that T. started out of the kindness of his heart?

The school charges for them.


Geez, no wonder they were so strict about getting us back on schedule. No wonder they didn’t treat it like the voluntary, working-above-rule thing it had started as. It’s money to them. (And we don’t even get a cut? =) And for the money I hear is charged, the parents could just get a private tutor, which would more directly target a student’s problem areas and give them much better value for their money.

I was also trolling our school’s Facebook group, and I couldn’t believe what I saw – Japanese and foreign teachers freely hanging out, Ms. M. (the big boss) hosting a “Welcome to Japan” barbeque – such things are unthinkable in the current climate.

M. and I had thought that S.L. had oversold S.G., but now I think I know what really happened – she was selling the happy place it was when she was here. It’s not the same now.

It’s not all doom and gloom, but you’d expect that a school based on such a unique idea (partial English immersion – it takes pain to resist using scare quotes on that last word) would be prospering. But it’s not. It’s on life support.

I certainly don’t think the teachers are willing to throw in the towel, though I sometimes wonder why some of them stay. Many labour under the impression that all you need to do is work harder and all will be well. That might work for a superhuman, but I’m not sure about the rest of us.

For example, if I were to say, “Gee, a set of modern science textbooks in English would be nice,” the response might very well be, “Why don’t you just make up the materials or a little textbook yourself?” This is sort of what I’m doing – fortunately, the previous science teachers did a super job of keeping their materials on file, but the end results are amateurish either way. Outside of core English, we’re all faking things to a large extent.

The science lab (before the still ongoing renovations anyway) was a nightmare. No sane person would have wanted to go in there – it was dank, dusty, disused, and everything was rusting and falling apart. I’m not even saying that I’d know what to do with a gleaming bright new science lab, and I can do a fair number of experiments in the classroom with ordinary materials. And I guess it doesn’t matter anyway, because no science-educated certified teacher would work here – this isn’t S.G.’s fault; there are just too many lucrative opportunities closer to home.

When I wrote this, I had a thought: Do I mean disused… or unused? I consulted my desk dictionary and learned something new. “Un” tends to just mean “not,” while “dis” carries nuances of finishing, putting aside, and even destroying. Examples:

Uninterested – Not interested
Disinterested – Not attached, disavowing attachments (a judge should be disinterested in his cases)

Disused – Not being used, no longer used (perhaps because it is in disrepair)
Unused – Not yet used (new)

Unencumbered – Not burdened or liable
Disencumber – To free from such engagement or burden

Unconnected – Not connected (the freeway and the street are unconnected)
Disconnect – To break a connection.

I’d known that uninterested and disinterested weren’t synonymous, but I didn’t know why. Now I know!

And knowing what I know now, the road ahead should be fine. There’ll be a lot of new things, but it won’t be the reinvention of the wheel that the last two terms have been (the first was my first; the second was the first one of this academic year). For this alone, I should be, and am, optimistic. Let’s have a great Term 2!