unallersimple: (hectopus)
Note: This was written in June 2011 and back posted to right time! Yep, that's right, this is the journal of a lying date fiddler.

Today I decided to continue writing about my travels to Matsuyama in Spring 2009. To this day it remains one of my favourite trips in Japan, and I know one day I'll go back.

You can also read about my time in Takamatsu and Kotohira, two other places I visited on the same trip.

Let's introduction!
Matsuyama lies on the top left hand side of the island Shikoku, which is the island almost but a little to the left underneath Kyoto and Osaka. The island has four prefectures (shi means 4), and Matsuyama is in Ehime (say it "eh-he-may") which I find a delightful name to say out loud as it sounds like a cute little sneeze. It's an area famous for udon (thick noodles), mikan (satsumas) and dango, which are three tasty little dumplings on a stick. About 500,000 people live there. It's one of the few Japanese cities that didn't get rid of its street cars.

It was the third and last place I visited while I was on the island. As the train was pulling into the station, the only other foreigner around asked me if we were in Matsuyama. I blurted out that annoying British answer of "I hope so, it's where I'm going!" before I could help myself, but never mind, at least it got the conversation started. I remember he was only in Japan for a few weeks to make a sculpture, which explained why he was in such a random area on his own. He was also from the Netherlands and over 6 foot tall with dreadlocks, and walking out of the station with him was a great way to stand out in a Japanese crowd! I asked him to join me for a coffee as it'd been a few days since I'd spoken English and I'm nosy. I'd never met a sculptor before. We ended up chatting for a few lovely hours before parting ways.

I left my backpack in coin locker at the station (England please, please get some of these!) and walked over to the castle. The charm of the city was already stealing my heart, as it was a beautiful sunny day, and the streets were lines of quaint buildings with rickety street cars rumbling slowly up and down the main roads. It's a real shame more cities in Japan didn't keep them.

The hill with the castle on was surrounded by water full of carps and tortoises (as all Japanese castles are), which were standing on rocks basking in the sun next to water fountains (the tortoises that it, not the carps). So picturesque! I took the back way up to enjoy the hike to the top and when I stepped out into the castle grounds I was in awe. It's huge and full of towering stone walls and gates, so large you can't fit a fraction on it into a photo. The cherry blossom were in bloom and so many people were sat eating and drinking under the trees.

^ A feeble attempt to photograph something huge!

Matsuyama castle is a bit of an odd one as it sits on a hill slap bang in the middle of the city opposite another random hill.

^ Looks like someone accidently hit the "raise terrain" tool in the middle of a commercial zone Sim City style doesn't it?

It was built in the 16th century, though like nearly all Japanese castles it has been rebuilt over time. Each level houses old Japanese artifacts such as warriors' swords or old wooden bowls. The view from the top was so great that you could see all the way out to sea!

^ View on to the castle grounds.

^View of the city.

After looking round I got the chair lift back down and wowzers those babies are fun! The next day I rode them up and down the hill again just for the craic! You trundle slowly up and down the hill one person per chair at a time. It's fun to wave at people walking up to the castle underneath you and feel superior to them.

The next day I walked to Matsuyama Central Park. You could see the oddly shaped castle/wall with turrets from all over the city and I wanted to get up close and park my ass on top of them. The route there looked so simple on the map, but when you get up close, you discover that it's one of those places where you can't find the way to get past the last 100m. At the bottom of the hill I spent a good 45 minutes walking up people's long drive ways, walking into electricity sub-stations or climbing up into another bunch of trees that didn't seem to get me any closer. Eventually, I went for a whatever it takes approach and several minutes of steep hill climbing and pushing through bushes later I found my way in. Victory! Again it was a lovely place, full of elderly people taking a stroll and parents playing with their children. More cheery blossom trees in full bloom lining all the paths. I went to the little castle with turrets thing and climbed to the top, enjoying a good book and writing session with an awesome view in front of me.

You know what's weird? I have absolutely no idea why it's there. I mean it looks cool, it has a European style to it that is unique in Japan, but why is it there?! I don't remember seeing any signs at the park and I can't find any information online either. How bizare.

Still, it was really beautiful and really suited the place.

^ After spending an hour or two there and watching a newly married couple pose for wedding photos, I started the trek back (the right way this time!) to the hostel so I could have another evening in Dōgo Onsen.



Apr. 21st, 2009 04:17 pm
unallersimple: (hectopus)
After staying in Takamatsu for three days in March I took the train to a small town further west called Kotohira. It's one of those tourist traps that's crowded by day, absolutely deserted at night. The main attraction, or indeed the only one, is to climb a mountain to see Kotohira Shrine. The mountain is called Kompira-San, famous for it's ridiculously large number of steps to the top. And believe me when I say there are a lot of steps. So so many steps.

The way to the shrine starts with a walk along a street jam packed with people. All the buildings here are either restaurants or shops selling tourist tat. Once you've pushed your way through it's time to climb, up, up and further still. Thankfully it doesn't take long to reach the top, only an hour or so. It depends on how good you are at battling the leg pain! The challenge though, comes not from the distance but from an ascent of only stairs, but as with all tough climbs the views are worth it. The way up was beautiful; part of it included a walk under a canopy of cherry blossom in full bloom. The mountain also provides some great views of the town and the surrounding countryside below.

After climbing some steps, steps and more steps I finally reached the shrine. This isn't actually the top the of the mountain, but it's where about 90% of people stop to take a picture, then turn around and head back down! I decided to go the rest of the way, for no other reason than to be able to say I'd climbed to the top. There I discovered why so few finish the climb. The final leg was another 20 minutes of steps to reach a really small and grotty shrine! The buildings below, one of which you can see in the photo below, were much more stunning.

Still, it was a beautiful day and a thoroughly enjoyable hike and I can say with pride that I climbed it without being carried by other people! Though I realised later that this is actually a great service for those who would normally be unable to climb the steps to see the shrine.

^I'd be worried about being dropped down the stairs though!

After the visit to the shrine I still had a bit more time to wait until I could check in to my ryokan, the Japanese name for a traditional guesthouse. This time was spent wondering around streets of houses and sitting in the parks causing the locals to wonder what a foreigner was doing on her own there. I desperately studied "What Should I Do With My Life?", a book that I'd picked up in Takamatsu a few days before. While I didn't stumble upon many answers that afternoon, I did find the most horizontal tree I've ever seen. Even if it wasn't a solution to all my quarter life crisis angst, at least taking a photo of it amused me greatly.

^What a lean!

Later I checked into my second experience in a ryokan. Even though most of this experience is all normal to me now (e.g. sleeping and eating on the floor), it was still really cool to stay there. The building was stunning and my room had great views of the river. As it grew dark, a string of electric lanterns were lit on either side of the water. This, combined with the stillness of an empty town after all the tourists had left, created a beautiful evening. I enjoyed a traditional meal followed by a long soak in the shared bath. I then retired to my room for the evening to devour more Po Brosnen chapters before succumbing to sleep.

^The ryokan where I spent the night.

I took the train to Matsuyama, the final place I visited in Shikoku, the following day.

unallersimple: (this way)
One of the things Shikoku is known for is a pilgrimage which includes 88 temples located around the island. The route is over 1,000 km long. Traditionally the journey was done on foot, but these days cars, motorcycles and tour buses all provide a way round. (While these methods may be easier, it doesn't seem as meaningful or spiritually rewarding as the difficulties of walking it to me.)

You don't have to visit the temples in order, or even all see them all during the same trip. You can even do the route in reverse order if you so desire, although this is a little harder because all the signs will be pointing in the other direction!

Pilgrims can easily be spotted by their clothing. They wear some or all of the following items; a large straw hat, a special white coat and a purple scarf. Some also carry a special walking stick. Most carry a special book which is stamped at every temple they visit. When they wear these clothes they're identified as a religious person undergoing the pilgrimage and as a result, people treat them differently. Many locals will go out of their way to help them and give them food and other gifts.

^ A pilgrim in the full outfit.

As with any kind of long trail, a lot of people who set out on foot don't make it to the end! It's also important not to forget that after visiting the 88th temple, you still have to trek back to the first to complete the full circuit!

I saw a lot of people doing the piligrimage during my trip, here are some praying at Yashima shrine (which is near Takamatsu).



Apr. 11th, 2009 08:30 pm
unallersimple: (japan poster)
So the school year ended, my bag was packed and I cycled over to catch the train to Shikoku, one of the islands south of mainland Japan. It was exciting to see all the scenery roll past, arrive at Okayama and change trains to cross the long and mighty bridge connecting Honshu to Shikoku. The journey took about four and half hours. My first stop was Takamatsu. The largest city on the island with about double the population of Matsue.

Takamatsu is a lovely city on the coast with a beautiful harbor. It didn't take long to leave my rainy region behind and find freedom by the sea. I quickly dumped my bag in a coin locker so I could walk by the water. It was nice to feel some sun on my face and feel my worries and responsibilities be blown away with the wind.

Takamatsu is one of the cities in Shikoko to have the kotoden, or electric tram. It's a delightful way to trundle around. Or at least it was, until I spent time in my hotel located right next to the tram tracks. I had to listen to the alarms of the barriers being lowered where the tracks crossed the road every time a tram went by, which was about every 5 minutes. Sanity was soon lost in the evenings.

As I already posted during the trip, the first thing I did was visit the English language section of a bookshop. It felt so good to browse and be able to read things in my own language again! After buying too many books to read, I walked the length of the city centre to Ritsurin Park. It takes at least an hour to explore, and the large number of ponds, twisting paths and bridges are beautiful to drift around.

^ The lakes were full of koi. Big ugly fish which scare the hell out of me!

^You can see some cherry blossom petals floating under the bridge.

^ Merticulously maintaining the park.

On my second day in the city I took the tram and the bus to a small mountain nearby called Yashima which means roof island. Yashima has some beautiful views of Takamatsu and the sea below as well as a shrine. It was also the site of a battle back in 1186, and because of this people buy small clay disks to fling as far as they can off the top for good luck. This is said to originate from the samurai warriers who fought in the battle throwing off their head pieces in victory.

The thing that delighted me most about Yashima was discovering that the shrine there had a smaller shrine in the grounds dedicated to the Yashima badger. I feel that there should be more badger themed shrines in the world. The story of this one goes that when the founder of the temple first arrived, he met a old man who guided him to the site and then disappeared. The man was a form of the temple's guardian animal, which was, you guessed it, the Yashima badger.

Through a beautiful trail of tori (the red gates above) and bamboo a bunch of badgers were sighted!

After the delightful day trip I went back to the hotel to chillax big time with chocolate and beer. I read, wrote and listened to the alarm bells of the barriers being lowered. Every. Five. Minutes.

unallersimple: (lost)
Finally my 3 week stint of 6 day weeks is over! I had my last school graduation ceremony yesterday. (Again, what's with the working on Saturdays people!?)

I've been exhausted recently, have no idea how people work 6 day weeks regularly. Last night I felt so tired I was lost to sleep for about 15 hours. The kind where you accidentally pass out in your clothes then wake up at lunch time the next day.

I'm looking forward to more sleeping and more time off work. The academic year will finish in 1-2 weeks then I'm out of here. This time no international travel for me but a little bit of island hopping instead. I'll be heading to Shikoku, the smaller of the two islands in the south west of Japan.

In the picture it's the area in orange. It's about 5 hours traveling from Matsue. So excited. Not long to go! :D



unallersimple: (Default)

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