August 22nd, 2008


102. (6.) Osaka to Tokushima

Written in Kyoto on August 6th.

8am. I’m in a McDonald’s eating breakfast and charging my batteries (and I’m not the only one doing that). I grossly overestimated the time it would take to get here, but this is a good thing.

Phew! I just had an egg and sausage and bacon McMuffin! Yum! And, I’m stuffed! A good value at ¥480, I’d say – how many times can you say you’re stuffed from a fast food meal? I’d better sit a while and let this digest!

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Kyoto is a tourist Mecca! It’s worse than Tokyo! =) It’s a pleasant, pretty place, and today’s tour was fascinating – but it was really hot. Like stupidly hot. (I also had to do it under long pants and long sleeves, too, for the sake of sun protection.) Johnnie had a sense of humour about it and tried his best to get us under air conditioning when he could, but it would have been a little more enjoyable in spring or fall. I’m also curious to know what he does differently when it rains. I will probably take his tour again just to see how he improvises and adapts. He’s a first-rate guide.

There’s a night tour tonight (boy, talk about your tautological moments) – it starts at 6, and it’s after 3 already, so I might as well stick around. I’m a glutton for punishment, you know. I dearly hope I can at least reach Okayama, but I might have to settle for Himeji. I’d like to stay overnight in that region, then hit a few temples in Kagawa on the way home.

I had come into this shop for a break and a beer – I was so hot and sticky, I could have died. I’d like to at least do the Philosopher’s Walk – I’ll give some of the temples here a miss, as there are just too many of them. They have some, erm, interesting music playing here: Paul McCartney’s “Hi, Hi, Hi,” ABBA’s “Chiquitita,” and Donna Summer’s remake of “MacArthur Park” are among the more dreadful selections.

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Now I’m standing under an awning waiting for the rain to stop or at least abate. And now it’s a hammering downpour. But those can’t last.

If rain is in the long-term forecast, I ought to get on the train again and leave the rest of Kyoto for another time. On the walk up to Kiyomizu-dera there was a HUGE crack – as if the hill had erupted in gunfire, or been targeted by aerial bombers. Many people were startled and frightened, I included. But it was just lightning, lightning that portended the rain to come.

Well, Kyoto may be Japan’s tourist trap, but it’s a darn good one, and a worthy place besides. We are all fortunate that it escaped bombing during WWII. (The city had been razed enough times due to fires – in a very real sense, they’re lucky to have as much as they have.)

* * *

Back on the trains…

I made it back down the hill and to a bus stop (Johnnie’s terrific map showed the location of the stops, what number of bus to catch, and how much they cost) without getting completely soaked, but it looked like the entire metropolis had the same idea about going to the station because the bus was jam-packed. I mean, it would have made many African busses seem spacious.

It rained, and rained, and rained. This was a major storm – it was even raining inside the station! It has a roof, but it’s of an open-air design.

I caught one of those lovely special rapid trains again. It rained and rained all the way into Osaka. I was worried that I had made a hasty choice, but no longer – the night tour would have begun in the rain.

Wow, we’re past the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge already! I thought it would take a long time to get here, but we’re really hauling ass. This train is phat.

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Good, I’m on a local train to Okayama now, so I know I’ll get at least that far. I had some help in Himeji – a kind fellow told me to switch at Aioi and to stay on the Sanyo Line, because I don’t want to end up spending the night in Ako!

This trip has been worthwhile, but it hasn’t been nearly as easy as I thought it would be. My first mistake was assuming that cybercafés would be ubiquitous and easy to find – if Tokushima has a nice one, and Matsuyama had a huge one, they must be all over the place, right? Wrong. (Unless you know where to look, I suppose.) They’re also hard things to ask for – believe me, you don’t want the embarrassment of asking for a cybercafé when it’s obvious from your belongings that you’re looking for a place to spend the night. People think you’re a lunatic. And while many are open all night, not all of them have showers, and some are quite expensive, even in the wee hours, discouraging overnighters.

My other mistake was not researching the train logistics thoroughly enough at all. To be fair, even some Japanese people find reading train schedules and maps to be tricky. Just because someone understands the language that a map or chart is written in doesn’t mean that they’ll be adept at interpreting it, unless they also happen to be good at reading charts and maps. I’m in the reverse situation, and besides that the details are so well-crafted that I can often find my way around visually. It must be a product of a culture that doesn’t name its streets.

This part of the Sanyo Line would be something during the day. It feels like we’re way up in the hills. It’s another one of those funny gaps in the express services, and I’ve been through three or four so far – there are Shikansen services through these areas (often far removed from these old lines), but they carry a heavy premium.

Okayama is a large city – it won’t be another Okazaki. Yeah, if you’re going to try traveling like this yourself, either book an overnight train well in advance, or get going early in the day. I mean like 7am early, if you can. That way, you’re not trying to beat the clock before the trains shut down for the night, and you can also see a lot from the windows (assuming you get a seat eventually).

Wake Station. Here’s a pronunciation pitfall – if you call it Wake Station (as in, “Wake up!”), few will understand. It’s really pronounced wah-kay. I remember at Christmas time my father was reading Japanese place names from an atlas and trying to sound out each letter (or pair) – I was like, what are you doing, just say it the way it’s written. But he must have instinctively known that the transcriptions were based on Romaji; they weren’t anglicized. It must have been his Japanese girlfriend from college!

From Kyoto to Himeji was ALL city – now it’s all darkness, hence the aforementioned gap in services, I guess.

Hey, why don’t I go to Hiroshima tonight or tomorrow instead? It might make more sense than trying to get to temples at the end of a long, tiring trip. Hiroshima was my original plan, anyway. Hmm!

I didn’t get to see real geisha in Kyoto (though we did visit a former geisha district and the outside of a geisha school). Real geisha are as rare as hen’s teeth these days.

Geisha have nothing to do with prostitution, by the way, though there are some reasons for the association. At one time, during isolation, three licensed occupations were opened to women: tea house proprietress, geisha, and prostitution, and these activities all took place in the same specially designated districts. It also doesn’t help that some prostitutes came to superficially resemble geisha. Your understanding is appreciated. =)

Gee, maybe there’s even an express train straight to Tokushima? Probably not at this hour… it’s just after 9pm, and we’re still on the way to Okayama Station. The trains shut down in two hours.

I feel guilty for not visiting all these beautiful cities! (Okazaki, Ogaki, Kobe, Himeji, and many others!)

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Well, well! Now I’m on a special train to Takamatsu! It’s LOADED with travelers returning to Shikoku. I see lots of packs and packages. This is a good sign.

Another problem with traveling this way is that there’s no time to decide what to do. You pull into a station, and the subsequent train is leaving in two minutes!

I don’t even want to know what the fare I would have racked up so far would be. I’ve been traveling for more than five hours now.

There’s not much to see from the rail deck of the Great Seto Bridge at night. It felt good to get back onto Shikoku, though. I feel like I have a system for understanding Shikoku.

I was wondering if I should stop in Sakaide, but there were no obvious hotels within sight of the station, and I’m not in the mood for more late-night duffel bag exploring. Takamatsu is a safer, but by no means sure, bet. Fortunately, its station is smack in its downtown.

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Ha-ha! You know what? I’m just going home – I’ve spent enough money! I want to enjoy Awa Odori and Obon – I’ll do the temples on another (day) trip. I got mileage out of the calligraphy book anyway by showing it to Masae, who couldn’t understand the calligraphy – I guess it’s at least a little akin to the experience of laypeople like me trying to read Old English. She said it was beautiful, though. She really liked the pencil sketches on the pages, too, and looking at the image of Temple 61 she remarked on its Western-looking sanctuary and remarked how it was such an oddity.

At Takamatsu there were two trains to Tokushima – one limited express, and one local. I thought about taking the limited express, but it would skip Yoshinari and require me to backtrack on a non-existent local. Local it is. And now I’ll sleep in my own bed tonight. (Or so I think.)

If you had asked me if I’d be back Wednesday night, I’d have said you were joking!

There was also enough time to buy a sandwich, and that was sorely needed. It was the first thing I ate since the snacks (samples of vegetarian sushi and bean pastries) on the tour.

This train consists of two cars, and one is closed. On a layover, I saw a train with the playplace car go by. Imagine – a train car with little slides, jungle gyms, and ball boxes! (You know those things filled with balls that kids can dive into? What are those called? [A reader suggested "ball crawls."])

Thinking back on Kyoto, that tour could have been longer, but we were tuckered out, and the rain that came later would have driven away a bullfrog. The tour really puts people in the right direction, though. A good teacher or guide is one who gives you the tools to interpret and experience on your own, and Johnnie does that.

Yoshinari is the (drumroll) 26th station from Takamatsu. Hoo-boy! I really hope this train doesn’t just stop somewhere, or break down, or I could very well be sleeping on a bench in a deserted, dark village station tonight. We’re still less than halfway.

Every time we stop at a station, I listen intently to the motor, hoping it won’t turn off. I watch every move the conductor makes, dreading his emergence from the control cabin and living in mortal fear of him saying the Japanese equivalent of, “OK, we’re done for the night.”

After Hiketa, I was the only person left on the train. We’re just over halfway, and this next stop is the last one in Kagawa. Whew!

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At last! The fare from Takamatsu would have been ¥1240. The time: 12:15am.

* * *

I got home and slept through the night. And then I slept virtually all the next day, too. It was so bad that I got up for “breakfast,” put some eggs on to boil, then crawled back to bed for just a little more shut eye – I woke up to a loud crack, and I jumped up and raced into the kitchen to find that the water had boiled away and the eggs had busted open and were partially burned. Eiy. I turned off the burner and went back to sleep. In the few brief waking moments I had on that Thursday, I wondered if I had a glandular prob- ZZZZZZ.

I made contact with F. and K. that night, and made plans to go on a trip to Temples 11 and 12 on Sunday. In the intervening two days, I got a lot of little things done around the apartment (when I wasn’t sleeping) and watched the Olympics (when I could keep my eyes open).

Next time: Temples!