Best Flea Market Ever

On the 21st of every month there is a ‘flea market’ held on the grounds of the Toji temple in Koyto. Last night talking over our game plan for today we thought we might drop in. It took a train ride and a bit of a walk. When we turn into the temple entrance and walk over the steps it looks like a nice market with quite a few people in attendance. We decided to split up. So Debbie and I wandered one way and R & L another. Our plan was to to meet in 45 minutes. At the appointed time as we converged, in unison Debbie and L said ‘I need more time”.

This is by far the best flea market we have ever encountered anywhere in the world. The crowd is intense. There are so many people, moving forward is impossible at times. Those in attendance are not just tourists, most are local people shopping or just out for a day of fun. Items for sale at other markets throughout the world are themed to the country where the market is but made in China. This is almost always the case. Not so here. There are booths selling second hand goods, some of which may even be of value. A good number of booths are selling high quality Japanese handcrafts, so some shopping is inevitable. And of course there are quite a few booths hawking street food so when noon arrives, lunch is in order. We end up spending the entire morning mooching around the market and have a great time.

Debbie stopped at one of the stalls and was perusing the merchandise. We were talking to each other about the goods on display. The lady selling just sat and watched us and the goings on around. Debbie wanted to know where the things were made and assuming the lady only spoke Japanese used simple words to communicate. To our complete surprise her response was in perfect English. It turns out she makes all of the things on the table. She buys the linen but colours and dyes it. Then constructs what is was meant to be. We had a great talk and end up buying place mats for our dining room table.

I will never stop being amazed at people when they go out of their way to help strangers. Having finished a bottle of coke between the end of the train ride and the entrance to the temple grounds I was in need of a WC. I thought it would be easy to find a toilet as all temple grounds have them. But, the area is huge and it is super crowded. So, I stopped at a booth and asked if there was a toilet near. The fellow immediately grabbed his handbag, jumped from behind the counter, left his wife in attendance and walked his way through the crowd with Debbie and me in tow leading us to the washroom. It was a long way and he did not have to do that. He won us over with his kindness. We found our way back to his stall and purchased one of the hand made cards he had for sale. One for humanity!

Kyoto, Japan

I know that almost every person in Japan has a cell phone. Yet no one is walking along the street, head down with their nose to a 4cm X 10cm screen. The attendant at the luxury capsule hotel we stayed at in Tottori enlightened us as to why. It is illegal to do so. For the most part the Japanese are law abiding folks. Don’t know if it saves lives but people seem to be more engaged with their surroundings and it does make for much easier movement along the public walkways.

My first impressions of Kyoto are quite positive. As far as the built environment goes I already like it better than Toyko . I mentioned Tokyo is boring and I stand by that. Kyoto has some interesting buildings, old and new standing side by side and variation in style. Although the people we met in Tokyo were wonderful, the over all vibe is quite cold. Understandable as the population is 9 million and change. Kyotoians (my word) seem a little more openly friendly but then it is a much smaller city.

Kyoto, Japan

I don’t really mind tourists, after all I am one, but when big in numbers they can be annoying. Kyoto has them in spades. It is one of THE places to visit in Japan and most travelers heed the call. There are places to avoid the hoards and we manage to weave our way on and off the tourist trail. The break from the crowded madness of the popular sites is appreciated and needed.

In my pre-trip reading one of the articles mentioned Kyoto was a walking city but the distances are big. So far we have found that to be true. We have a city map and a reasonable plan for the day but the places on our route are a long way apart. Walking takes quite a bit of time. The train/metro system is not very good and is costly. Even a two stop ride cost 220 Yen ($2.75 CAD). The coverage is poor and when calculating the walks to and from the stations it makes just as much sense to walk. So walk we do and come back to the hotel bagged. Tomorrow we plan our first bus trip, we’ll see how that works.

Kyoto is a city famous for its temples and shrines and tomorrow we have a few more on tap. I am just about templed out so they may be the last ones we visit. There are a few more things that don’t involve religious monuments we want to take in so Wednesday’s tour will involve those.

Kyoto, Japan

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Tottori to Osaka to Kyoto

Toilet instalment #4. As our journey progresses we run into more and more ‘electric’ toilets. The latest gadget I discover is a button on the console that flushes the toilet. Had to figure it out because the toilet had no lever.

In Canada when a public toilet is being cleaned it is closed. “Do not enter, Danger slippery when wet, Keep the hell out.” In Japan, it is no bother and as I stand at a urinal a LADY is busy disinfecting the urinal next to me. No big deal. We sure have a lot of crazy rules and hang ups in our part of the world.

Tottori to Osaka
Early morning on the road from Tottori to Osaka

Today is a day to make time. We are a long way from the car return place in Osaka and we have to have it back by 1:30pm. We opt for the toll roads. The max speed is 80km/hr. There are a few stretches of 70 and a few of 50. I am following the traffic in front of me and trying not to hold up the folks behind me and we move at 100 to 110 km/hr. No one seems to be bothered as we pass very few people. It seems like 100 is the speed to go???

The expressways in Japan do not have passing lanes. They use “Slower Traffic Lanes” to sort out the long line of cars that accumulate on some stretches of the road.

Tottori to Osaka
Tottori to Osaka

Today is a stellar tunnel day. When we were on Shikoku Island, we passed through many tunnels, but neglected to actually count them. Today, mostly to amuse the four math oriented brains in the car, we track the lengths of the tunnels. Here are some stats:

  • Number of tunnels driven through: 39
  • Shortest tunnel: 180 meters
  • Longest tunnel: 2,827 meters
  • Total length of tunnels driven through: 32,271 meters!

We make great time from Tottori to Osaka. Clarice has given us great directions for the last 8 days and she is pretty close to the mark today. Our trouble arises when L uses her phone to get us the address of the car rental place in Osaka. Only a couple of letters makes for a world of difference when you have to get to a specific company. We are looking for Nippon Car Rentals and L has us zeroed in on Nissan Car Rentals. It only took us an hour to figure out our misguided GPS and within 10 minutes of asking the Nissan ladies where the Nippon office is we found it.

Kyoto, Japan
Our first friend in Kyoto

We are now in Kyoto with three full days to see the sights. Here we go!

Kyoto, Japan
Sunset through one of the gates at Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine
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Day 20, Japan

Walking down the street on our 20th day in Japan I noted how clean the streets are. Almost an equal to Singapore. Again it is almost impossible to find a trash can on the street. People here do not throw things onto the street. Why is it so hard for those in other countries to learn such behavior?

I have been driving city streets, secondary highways, and single lane country tracks and today was the hardest and most tiring day of them all. A good portion of today’s route was on the non toll part of the freeway. It was straight, boring and a ton of traffic. Give me a mountain track anytime.

Matsue Castle
Matsue Castle

Debbie and I bag two more worldly bodies of water since we have arrived in Japan. We waded into the western part of the Pacific Ocean and today we dipped both feet into the Sea of Japan. Swimming was not really an option so wading will have to do.

Samurai Residence, Matsue, Japan
Samurai Residence in Matsue

Highlights of today’s touring were the former home of a Sumarai Warri0r, Matsue Castle, one of the 12 surviving Japanese castles and the Sand Museum in Tottori. All really good but the winner is the Sand Museum. There are dunes adjacent to the ocean near Tottori. A sort of an anomaly in Japan. 12 years ago the ‘museum’ was opened and every year since they have invited sand artists from around the world to build sculptures on the years chosen theme. This year’s theme is SE Asia. Truly amazing.

Sand Museum, Tottori, Japan
Sand Museum in Tottori
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On the Road in Japan

The last 6 days I have been driver on our 3 week tour of Japan. I have driven in other countries that believe driving on the left is the proper thing to do, so really that is not much of a problem. For the most part the people here are extremely polite and that carries over onto the road. Even though I have made a couple of mistakes no one has even tooted the horn at me.

The speed limits here are very low by my standards. The highest speed limit I have encountered is on the toll roads, a four lane divided highway. The max speed allowed, and only in a few spots is 80 km/hr. Most of the time the limit is 60 or 70. On the regular highways one is allowed to go 50 km/hr. And through the towns the max speed drops to 40. The city roads are 50 or 40 km/hr. There are some who push the boundaries and fly by us law abiding folks but they are few. It is not like anywhere else I know of.

The result of the lower speed limits is one has to allow ample time to travel from one place to the next. One huge advantage for us tourists is the route finding is much easier at the slow speeds. It is not often we miss a turn because the approach is slow enough adjustments can be made and exiting on the proper ramp is easy.

Japan

In our unending pursuit of adventure we chose a couple of roads MUCH less traveled on our way to and from the Iya Valley. The routes are more or less mountain passes. Up a very steep slope on one side and down a very steep slope on the other. These roads are paved and in reasonable condition but have yet to be widened beyond the one car width they were originally built to many years ago. In some areas this is for good reason because the only way they could widen the road would be to hang the extra out over the very steep valley below. These roads are so twisty and narrow no one has bothered to post a speed limit. The maximum speed one can attain is 40 km/hr anyway and most of the time we move along at about 20. Imagine, we don’t meet a single tourist on any of these roads.

Today we take a much improved mountain road on our way to Izumo. It is pouring rain. The mist swirls about the mountains like the steam from a witch’s caldron. It’s spooky but quite spectacular. The built landscape is quite different along the way. On Shikoku Island the towns and homesteads were mountain dwellings. The buildings were maybe a bit shabby and the yards were natural. North of Hiroshima towards Izumo the houses are quite upscale, very well maintained and the yards are all manicured and kept up. It might be money but I think it has as much to do with location and the mind set of the people who live there.

Japan

We have been ‘experimenting’ with food as we progress our way through this area and that. If we can, we try the local specialty. We did pass on the deep fried batter octopus balls in Osaka. Because Debbie and I scuba dive and have a particular liking of octopus we could not possible eat one. R & L just passed as the timing when we ran into a vend0r was not appropriate. We missed out on the crepe like pancakes filled with everything from soup to nuts that Hiroshima is known for but today we found a place that serves Izumo’s famous food, Izumo soba. The cold soba noodles come in three stacked dishes. A fishy sauce is added to the top bowl and the noodles eaten. What is left is poured into the next bowl and more condiments are added. Those noodles are then eaten. This continues to the last bowl. Not sure what this procedure is suppose to accomplish but that is the way it is done. When we ordered the set meal it came with a bowl of miso soup and some tempura and rice. The noodles were OK and I think would have been better if served hot but I ate them. The miso was very good and the tempura was excellent. All in all a successful experiment.

Izumo soba noodle set meal
Izumo soba noodle set meal

No more toilet updates. Yesterday’s commode was boring. The seat had no electronics what so ever.

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Hiroshima

Hiroshima is an important stop for me on our journey through Japan. In fact, every traveller to Japan should stop here and experience the Peace Memorial Park was created to remind people about the atomic bomb that was detonated over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

Atomic Bomb Dome, Hiroshima, Japan
Atomic Bomb Dome

When the bomb was detonated, the explosive force hit the Hiroshima Perfectural Industrial Promotion Hall almost vertically, so the building’s walls and dome withstood the impact. Everyone inside died instantly and the interior burned, but the shell remained. The Japanese made the decision to keep this shell and maintain it to keep it like is was after the attack as a reminder to the world of the devastation one bomb inflicted upon humanity.

In the park, we visit a number of memorials, the Peace Bell, the Flame of Peace, the Centotaph for Atomic Bomb Victims and the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall. All are designed with clean classic lines, concrete, an airiness and are approachable.

Peace Bell, Hiroshima, Japan
Peace Bell

The Children’s Peace Monument was built to commemorate all the children who died and was inspired by Sadako Sasaki, a young woman who was exposed to radiation at age two and died from Leukaemia ten years later. She set about to fold 1000 origami cranes believing it would prolong her life. There is a group of children at the monument today. A young girl is speaking in front of the group. Cranes are brought by children to the monument everyday.

Children’s Peace Monument, Hiroshima, Japan
The top of the Children’s Peace Monument with Sadako holding a crane
Children’s Peace Monument, Hiroshima, Japan

There are Japanese schools groups everywhere in the park. Elementary to high school aged children. The younger ones wear hats, all one colour for each group, yellow, red, orange. The older students get away with no hats. They are learning about what happened here 75 years ago. It is an intgral part of their country’s history and their lessons.

It is an important part of the world’s history and those far away may be forgetting the devastation and loss of life that occurred with that one act. Not only should school groups from Japan be visiting this park, but school groups from all over the globe, and world leaders, need to be visiting this park so they can learn what happened on August 6, 1945 so it is not forgotten and perhaps repeated.

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Off the Tourist Track

Today we spend most of the day driving from the middle of Shikoku Island to the city of Matsuyama on the west coast. We get off the tourist track by following less traveled routes. The roads are winding and sometimes very narrow, really only a one lane road. If we meet another vehicle, both must squeeze to the side to pass. Makes for a bit of hair raising if there is a drop down down down to a creek bed below us.

Shikoku Island, Japan

We should be doing a bridge count and a tunnel count as we go over and through many. There must have been a time of massive infrastructure construction in this area to build so many structures. The Japanese like concrete. When a road is widened, they pour concrete to fill in the gap through the canyon. No cutting and filling like they do in Canada, just pour that huge concrete block and get ‘er done. Fascinating!

Shikoku Island, Japan

It’s lunch time and we are hungry. We spy a small restaurant and pull over. It is called something like Restaurant 439, which is the highway number we are on. Small place run by two older ladies, one in the kitchen and one serving. With our rudimentary Japanese, a lot of pantomime, the server lady’s rudimentary English and help from a young woman patron, we manage to order chicken and rice. Oh, and we make sure we add in a lot of laughing and smiling when ordering. The food satisfies the hunger pangs and we are on our way again.

Shikoku Island, Japan

When we travel, we attempt to use as many modes of transport as we can. So far on this trip we have traveled by airplane, boat, car, subway train, legs, bullet train, cable car, bus and now today we add chair lift. The Matsuyama Castle sits high on a hill and is accessed by walking (done that), a cable car (done that) or a chair lift. We opt for the chair lift. Not the safest chair lift in the world, but rather fun.

Matsuyama Castle Chair Lift

The castle is huge and has these massive stone walls as protection. We were late so we could only walk around the castle. Impressive and intimating, which I am sure, was the idea.

Matsuyama Castle

Tomorrow we add another mode of transport. The car ferry, as we make our way to Hiroshima.

Don’t mean to take away from the tour of Japan, but this topic has intrigued us all. Installment three in the Japanese toilet series. Messing around with the console control panel I figured out how to raise and lower the seat electronically. Then on another toilet I found the fan was activated once one sat on the seat. These folks have taking potty time to a whole new level.

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The Iya Valley

Today we start our drive across Shikoku Island. We leave Tokushima about 10:00 and slowly make our way into the forest and up in elevation.

As we climb, the road gets curvy and the mist gets thicker. The vegetation is deep green with moss everywhere.

Japan
We discouvered a small bridge along the way.

We have two stops to make today before we reach our accommodation for the night. The first stop is at the Oku-Iya Niju Kazurabashi (Double Vine Bridge). The path down to the bridges is well constructed and maintained. We are surprised at the bridges when we descend to them as they are held together by thick vines, and nicely hidden strong steel cables. The walk across is a breath holding experience as the boards are separated so we have a great view of the creek rushing past many metres below us.

Vine Bridge, Japan

Our second stop is the Scarecrow Village (the Valley of the Dolls). A woman moved back to her small hometown after getting fed up with living in the big city. She was saddened to see so many people gone from the village, so she started creating people to populate the village.

Scarecrow Village, Japan

All along the road there are characters going about their daily lives – the potter, construction workers, farmers. There are folks waiting for the bus, attending a wedding, playing in the haystacks and taking a snooze. From behind they almost look like real people. It is a charming stop on our journey.

Scarecrow Village, Japan

We are staying the night at the Kazurabashi Hotel. One of two nights in very fancy places. This hotel has indoor and outdoor onsens (hot pools) for soaking in. The men and women are separated as soaking is done in the nude. After we check in we partake in a soothing soak with a gorgeous view of the Iya Valley, it refreshes us.

Supper is an experience. Very Japanese. We are not sure what we are eating……

Kazurabashi Hotel, Japan

Except the fish…..

Kazurabashi Hotel, Japan

By the by the food pics were taken by our friend L.

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Indigo Dyeing

Our first stop today is the Aizumicho Historical Museum, the former residence of a very wealthy indigo merchant. Inside the museum we learn how awa indigo was cultivated, processed, sold and used in dyeing.

The indigo was grown in rows, in the plants early stages in between rows of wheat. The rows of wheat protected the rows of indigo from the weather elements of wind and sunshine. The wheat would be harvested first and then the indigo plants would grow to their full size.

When the indigo leaves were harvested, that same night they were chopped into small pieces before they dried out. The next day they would be dried and then winnowed so the veins of the plant were separated from the flesh.

The leaves were then fermented and turned into a pulp, which was ready for market. To use the indigo it had to be mixed with lye so it would liquify. When dyeing, articles had to have oxidation so they would be dunked numerous times before washing and drying.

Many women’s toilets in Japan do not have hand dryers or paper towels to dry hands after washing, so the ladies carry small facecloths for that purpose. I want to try dyeing something, so I buy a facecloth.

Aizumicho Historical Museum
Folding

The first step is to create folds and choke points so the fabric will have a pattern. L helps me and we fold, twist and wrap elastics around the facecloth and then tie it in a knot until it is a little bundle.

Aizumicho Historical Museum
My little bundle is ready for dunking!
Aizumicho Historical Museum
Soaking

I submerge it into the vat of indigo, careful not to drop it or go deeper than my plastic gloves. It soaks for a minute, then I lift it squeeze the liquid out, spread in out abit and submerge it again. I do this three times before the lady says it should be done.

Aizumicho Historical Museum
Squeezing
Aizumicho Historical Museum
Checking
Aizumicho Historical Museum
Rinsing

The lady helping me, cuts off the elastics and unwinds it. It has a greenish tinge to it but as I rinse it in water until no more colour is coming out of it, it turns blue. It is placed in a spinner to get all the water out.

Look what I created!

Aizumicho Historical Museum
My masterpiece!
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And Now We Are Five

Debbie and I started this trip at the beginning of September, just the 2 of us. Last week L & R joined us. When we picked up the car we found a tour guide came with it. So we are now 5. She did not introduce herself so we named her Clarice. It is a bit crowded. C is reasonably competent but she is annoying. Similar to the lady in Safeway’s self check out tills. Every word she speaks is a command and there is no opportunity to question or ask for clarification. “Turn left in 700M, pause, turn left in 300M, pause, turn left at the intersection with traffic lights, short pause, turn left”. On it goes until the last thing she says for the day is “you have reached your destination”.

Towards Tokushima
Towards Tokushima

I generally do not like to travel on freeways. We travel too fast and the walls on the side of the road block the vision of the countryside. Therefore today we get off the toll roads and travel the secondary highways to our accommodation in Tokushima. The trip is along the ocean side, through towns and past some agricultural land. A much better picture of Japan than the ubiquitous asphalt road lined with a metal fence.

The vision is one of SE Asia. Although it is much more modern and in very good repair. The ocean is calm because we are on an island protected from the open ocean by other islands. The towns are quiet and orderly. The agricultural land is green (or golden in the case of rice) and organized in neat rows.

Air BnB in Tokushima
Arty corner in Air BnB

We arrive at our Air B&B house to find it a very small, older Japanese house. Two floors, a living area, kitchen, dining area, living space, two bedrooms and one bath (in North American terms). It has a Japanese dining table and a western sit down dining table. The part we are surprised at is there is food in the fridge and food prep supplies in the cupboard. The place was a bit expensive but if you calculate the included meal stuffs it is quite a good deal.

Air BnB in Tokushima
Teeny tiny kitchen in the Air BnB

The house is the source of my second Japanese toilet installment. This can has the usual heater, rear washer, and a localized exhaust fan, almost boring by now. The cool thing is that the lid (not the seat) lifts as you open the WC door and closes once the toilet is flushed and the door shut. Spooky the first time you enter.

Air BnB in Tokushima
Our bedroom at the Air BnB

We constantly heard from others how expensive Japan is. I therefore budgeted for meals at a slightly inflated amount to cover off lunch and dinner, 12oo Yen each for lunch and 2500 Yen each for dinner. After 6 days here we have only exceeded our budget twice. Once when we took someone out for dinner and the other time when we were in a Japanese Restaurant and our basic Japanese was not adequate enough to know what we were ordering or what it cost and the bill came to slightly more that 10,600 Yen for the four of us. The rest of the time we spend less then 1/2 what we expected.

We have one day in the Tokushima area and then the next few days we will be about as far from civilization as one can get in Japan. Should be interesting.

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Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge

We stay at Guesthouse Geragera in Kobe the night of the typhoon. We have a great view of the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge. R and I are, of course, fascinated with it. Here is a day in the life of the bridge.

Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge, Japan
Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge on the edge of the typhoon
Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge, Japan
Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge, Japan
An artsy view
Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge, Japan
The morning after

Today we drive across the bridge on our way to Shikoku Island.

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