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Saturday, 29 December 2018

Book II ~ Chapter 17 ~ Blue Destination

4-Dec-2018 – 8-Dec-2018

With only two more months to explore to Japan, I am now e-route to fill in the final blank spots on my map. I have started on Honshu, travelled north to Hokkaido and south to Kyushu – I have even visited Sado on the way and Okinawa afterwards – but there is still one major island of Japan that has eluded me, and that is Shikoku (四国 "Four Provinces"), which is also known as Aoi Kuni (青い国 "Blue Country"). That land should be the destination of the journey I embark on today.


However, from my currently rather remote position, such a journey naturally takes some time. I could probably have done it in two days by taking a direct flight from Naha to Shikoku, but since I really like circles, I instead opt to return to Kagoshima on Kyushu, and thus continue my journey from where I left off, going by train up north along the coast, and then taking a ferry over to Shikoku. Altogether, it should take me four days to reach Shikoku, and then one more day to get to my destination on the Blue Country, the city of Matsuyama (松山 "Pine Mountain").


Incidentally, this should also turn out to be a trip from summer to winter in five days flat, with the temperatures dropping a solid 5°C every day, starting at 28°C in Tokashiki, and ending at 8°C at Matsuyama five days later. In effect, that would mean that I would have to don one additional layer of clothing every day, departing with light summer gear, and arriving in heavy winter gear.


Effectively, what the temperatures are doing feels just a little bit like this scene from ASDF Movie 5.



Now then, the first leg of this new journey should take me away from Tokashiki and have me spend…

Day 1: A Night in Naha

4-Dec-2018

To pick up from where the last chapter ended, I have just boarded the Ferry Tokashiki after saying goodbye to my home and friends on Tokashiki with a heavy heart. The weather is rather unstable too: It has already rained today, and on our way to Naha, the conditions should gradually deteriorate. Fortunately, the Ferry Tokashiki, being a strong and sturdy ship, is more than capable of…

Piercing through the Storm


Just like during my trip to Tokashiki, the weather is not exactly what you'd call ideal cruising conditions. However, unlike then, this time around at least the view is clear, and by some miracle it should also not rain in spite of the threatening sky.


In compensation for that, the winds tear and rip at the ship, making me fear that my little camera gets blown away. Thus are the circumstances I experience as I leave Tokashiki behind me, passing Maejima along the way, as well as the Aqua Liner that is headed the other way right now. As we approach Naha, I witness a plane on approach to Naha airport, and finally, after a journey lasting a little longer than an hour, we reach the port of Naha, and make landfall not long after.



But before we do, I get a really good view of Naha Airport, which is literally just build right next to the sea port.


And by the way, that's not a cruise ship…


that's a cruise ship.


Another prominent feature of the portscape of Naha is this structure, that I somehow can't help but think of as a giant pair of egg warmers.


But anyway, before long I get off the ferry in front of Tomari port's distinctive arcades…


…and subsequently have to walk for about 15 minutes down the road to get to my hostel for tonight.


And I mean that! Thanks to me booking this particular stay well in advance (near the end of my stay in Fukuoka, actually), I was able to secure a bed in a hostel that is both cheap and central, and the way there is so incredibly straightforward that it's almost boring. But then again, lugging baggage around which at this point is only insignificantly heavier than me, I'm actually quite grateful for any circumstances that minimize my risk of getting lost along the way, like what happened back in Niigata (see Book II ~ Chapter 10 ~ Sadistic Sightseeing).


My stay place for the night is a guest house by the name of Umikaji (海風 "Sea Breeze")…


…where I am just absolutely thrilled and exuberantly excited to find out that my dormitory is up in the fifth floor…


…and while there is a luggage elevator of sorts, the staff should not offer me to use it, and neither should I witness any of the other guests using it. I guess it must just be for show.


As for the dormitory itself… this one is clearly the biggest dormitory I've ever stayed in: It's effectively one big hall-like floor filled to bursting with bunk beds. Altogether, there must be around 50 beds or so in this single room, which I guess explains the incredibly low price of only 1,170¥ per night.


Apart from that and the… let's call it "staircase workout"… this place is actually quite nice, with room names themed after sea creatures – I for my part happen to be staying in the one by the name of Jinbeizame ("Whale Shark")…


…and the common room is quite nice too, featuring even the obligatory wall of Manga books decorated with Pokémon merchandise.


Meanwhile, the toilets have once again instructions that make me wonder just how some people must have tried to use them in the past.


It goes without saying that my luggage is far too big to fit into my flimsy assigned locker, but since this is Japan I have no worries about just storing it on my bed instead. Meanwhile, I myself should head out into what should turn out to be…

One Soggy Evening

Distance: 7km
Ascents: 160m
Duration: 4h
43 (7🦊); 3; 2/4🎁︎

Since it's only late afternoon by now and thus still light outside, I decide to go for a little walk around the town, hoping to find some more Geocaches, maybe a random Temple or Shrine, and finally something to eat. Had I known of the soaking that would await me along the way, I would just have grabbed something from the next Konbini and eaten in the hostel.


At first I head northwest across the big thoroughfare, and then through little side streets, where I find pictures of Shiisaa prominently integrated into the pavements at various crossroads.


My first destination is Naha Fukushuuen (那覇 福州園 "What Leadership? Lucky Province Garden"), a beautiful little garden in the heart of Naha…


…which is regrettably already closed at this time. As such, I should also not be able to find the Geocache located within, which is precisely why I don't like caches in non-public areas and don't think those should be allowed. Oh well…


From there, I walk southeast past some rather tropical XMas decoration, and it is at this time that the sky begins to break up again, and rain comes pouring down. Light at first, then gradually getting stronger and stronger until we have reached a fully-fledged Stage 4 downpour, and I have to hide in the entranceway of a shop, although I'm pretty much already drenched to the tails that I'm wearing due to having intended to find Geocaches today.


Fortunately enough, I had the foresight of bringing along my emergency rain poncho, but against this magnitude of rain, even that is only of limited use. Fortunately, the mighty deluge is of only limited duration, and while what remains is still about Stage 2.5 rain, by contrast that only feels like a drizzle now. Moving on, I should fail to find another cache, which I now realize was hidden inside the Irish pub (and let me tell you there's a lot of those around here)…


…and instead proceed to search for a place to have dinner, coming along the most adorable XMas decorations en-route.


Once again, the selection of food places is subject to the unholy trinity of "too many", "too expensive" and "too crowded", and so I end up wandering around for quite some time, before I eventually end up at a Teppanyaki (鉄板焼 "Iron Plate Frying") restaurant right around the corner from the hostel.


It turns out to be a cosy little place, and although it's already dark outside, the evening is still young, and so I'm actually the first customer for the night (though more should arrive while I'm having my meal).


I order a plate of good old fashioned Yakisoba and a glass of Sanpincha. Now, as I should learn, a special treat of this place (in conjunction with the seat I picked), is that the food actually gets prepared right there in front of me atop a huge, horizontal heated surface on the upper-tier of the bar, and let me tell you it's not easy to stay patient when you're hungry and delicious food is frying right in front of your nose.


Fortunately, Yakisoba is a quick meal to prepare, and so I don't have to wait for long until I'm allowed to dig in, and although the taste is nothing special, the portion size at least is nice and filling.


After that, I return to the Guest House Umikaji and set up my work station in the hostel's common room, where I work on my blog for a few more hours…


…before finally retiring for the night. After all, tomorrow I should be getting up super-early in order to embark upon…

Day 2: A Volcanic Voyage

5-Dec-2018

The goal for my second day is the city of Kagoshima. I already passed through that city before on my way down to Okinawa, but this time around I plan to stop there for one night and explore the city a little bit while I'm there.


And since I've already taken the ferry to get down to Naha from Kagoshima (see Book II ~ Chapter 15 ~ Shipping Southwards), I take the liberty of massively shortening my return trip by taking…

An Aerial Abbreviation


Going from Naha to Kagoshima by plane is not only over five times as fast as taking the ferry even after taking check-in and the transit from the rather remote Kagoshima airport into account (one-and-a-half hour flight plus three-and-a-half hours of check-in and transit, as compared to 25 hours of journey by ship), but is also substantially cheaper: Whereas the ferry ticket to Kagoshima featuring a narrow mattress in the Tatami-room cost me 15,030¥, this time I got the flight together with a single room in a hotel, breakfast included all for approximately the same price.

Now then, since I plan to spend the day exploring Kagoshima, I have naturally booked the earliest flight available. As a result, I once again get up as early as 5AM, dropping my "key" in the return box on the way out…


…and then depart into the predawn gloom. Naturally, it's still raining, but fortunately my intermediate destination is only 3 STEPs away from the hostel.


Even without the rain, the airport would be too far away to walk to with my kind of luggage. Fortunately, as you might recall from my relatively recent day-trip to Naha, there is a monorail, which ever-so-conveniently runs directly to the airport, and has a station located almost directly in front of the Umikaji Guest House.


Now, the bad news is that they don't take IC cards, or at least not IC cards from "Mainland" Japan. Instead, the only IC card that works here is the Okinawa-only OKICA. However, I've got to hand it to them that they managed to communicate as much in a clear and intuitive way that does not require any Japanese skills whatsoever.


And also, for once the network plan is refreshingly easy to read, so the only obstacles standing between me and getting the required 260¥ ticket from the Jidouhanbaiki are 50kg of luggage firmly strapped to my body, but I manage to get there in the end.


Naturally, I departed early enough that even this minor delay does not cause me to miss the very first monorail of the day (and even if it had, the buffer I routinely plan in for air travel is generous enough to allow me to miss five trains before I would sart getting into trouble). As such, I actually still have some time to spare while waiting on the elevated and blissfully dry station for the monorail to arrive.


Thanks to the early hour, I am privy to the enchanting sight of the lights of Naha passing by beneath and below us as the monorail proceeds along its elevated path – at the very least until we reach the military base surrounding the airport on all landward sides, and the only indicators of movement are the street lamps of the lone road below passing us by as we cover the remainder of the distance to the monorail's Shuuten.



My arrival at the airport station marks another milestone: Although this is technically not a railway, the Naha Airport station is still officially Japan's westernmost station, even featuring a little monument commemorating as much (since the monorail line turns north to get to the airport in a hook-like manner, the southernmost station is actually the second-to last stop, which goes by the name of Akamine (赤嶺 "Red Peak")).


From the station, it's only a short walk across roofed walkways to get to the airport building…


…which is properly decorated to celebrate XMas Okinawan-Style.


And luckily, I manage to complete my check-in and get my boarding pass just before an entire school trip's worth of uniformed students arrives. Actually, I'm quite relieved that my name – which is officially only recognized as pseudonym or artist's name – doesn't cause any problems here as it did back in New Zealand (see Book I ~ Final Chapter ~ The Tail of the Tale), so that's already one load off my mind.


However, all hopes of smooth sailing go up in smoke as I reach the security checkpoint…


…and realize that I have totally forgotten that I naturally would have needed to check in my tools as well, since marginally sharp short metal edges are naturally a totally unacceptable safety hazard and cannot be permitted in the cabin. I could probably cause more damage with my pens or some of the heavier stuff that I carry than with my tools.


Anyway, I explain my situation to the personnel, and they say it's no problem, I just have to go back in to the check-in where I can check in the forgotten items at no additional cost. I figure I'm not the first person this happens to if they already have a smooth pipeline for this sort of stuff. However, naturally, this time around the process takes quite some time as I have to wait in line with the scores of Japanese middle-school students.


In the end, everything turns out alright, however, and in the absence of a proper suitcase, the airport staff even provides me with a makeshift cardboard case to put my forgotten items in. Did I mention that they have a great pipeline for this sort of situation?


After that, I can finally go through the security check, where they have me unpack pretty much all of my electronic devices and the dozens of cables and chargers that somehow have found their way into my carry-on luggage (have I mentioned that the cables would probably make good makeshift weapons as well?) and give them bonus rounds for individual screening. However, you have to hand it to them that they are very polite about it all, always ask permission, and sincerely apologize for the inconvenience, which makes the entire process seem only half as bad. Despite all that, I still have a little more than an hour left before my plane departs, so I make myself comfortable in the departure lobby…


…which I notice for some reason has a very German carpet design…


…and after being awake for almost three hours already, finally allow myself some breakfast in the form of a Sushi box purchased from one of the local stores…


…all the while watching departing planes take off through the windows.


One hour later, at 8:45, it's finally time to board the plane, which this time around is only a small Boeing 737-800…


…and as we taxi down the runway to the sound of the ever-present safety instructions, we pass along quite the display of military jets prominently on display in front of the Naha Airforce Base, as seen on the official Naha Airforce Base Curry.


Following that, the mighty thunderbird points its nose northwards and lets out a roar as it proceeds to race down the length of the runway, eventually taking a flight, and leaving the island of Okinawa behind. Regrettably, the weather is quite cloudy and hazy, so I can only catch the most distant of glances of the Kerama Shotou to the east as we climb into the sky. However, I do get an amazing view on the much closer islands/sandbars of Kamiyamashima and Nagannushima , which I last saw coming back from Naha to Tokashiki via the Aqua-Liner. Continuing rom those, I can just barely make out Maejima in the distance, and I know that Tokashiki must be hiding right behind it, obscured by a band of clouds. After that, we soon climb up into the grey of the cloud layer ourselves, and once we emerge again, all that's left to sea is an ocean of clouds upon a sea of blue as far as the horizon stretches.



You might notice that this time around, I am sitting on the left side of the plane as opposed to my usual seat on the right side of my travelling vehicles. This has a variety of reasons, first and foremost of which is that choosing a seat with the letter "A" is pretty much guaranteed to land you a window seat in a plane of any size. However, in this case, another reason was the (regrettably unfulfilled) hope that I'd be able to see the Kerama Shotou from the air during takeoff, even if it means that for the rest of the trip I'D mostly see only water and clouds, since almost all of the Ryukyu islands are to the right of our flight path. The sole exception here is Kuroshima (黒島"Black Island"), which is already located within reach of mainland Kyushu.


After that, it's already time for the landing approach to Kagoshima Airport, first crossing the Ibusuki (指宿 "Finger Dwelling") Peninsula with the distinctive Ikedako (池田湖 "Pond Field Lake") – a caldera lake, and at 11km² the biggest lake on Kyushu, which is said to be the dwelling of Nessie's Japanese cousin Issie – and then to my very, very great delight it turns out that the wind conditions today favour a landing from the southeast, meaning that our approach leads us past the right side of Sakurajima, giving me a fantastic aerial view of the monumental, scenic and smoking volcano before the mighty thunderbird makes its final descent, passing some absolutely amazing forested hill valleys along the way, which are but a small sample of the breathtaking landscape that Kyushu has to offer



And just like that, I have arrived on Kagoshima Airport, and am once again back on Kyushu, another island full of beautiful memories.


Now all that's left is to get my baggage at the luggage claim, and I am not only relieved by the fact that I am able to reclaim both my regular big backpack and my tools without any problems, but also impressed by how quickly my luggage arrives: Familiar with baggage claims, I had mentally prepared myself or a long wait, but actually the conveyor belt starts moving almost as soon as I get there, and both of my items are among the first pieces to arrive. Lucky!


Now, one thing to keep in mind is that unlike Naha Airport, the Kagoshima Airport is quite a ways away from the city – a little further than the Munich Airport is from Munich, actually – and since the closest train station is about 4km away from the airport, I instead opt to take one of the shuttle buses to town, which are thankfully readily available.


As we pass through the landscape from the Airport to Kagoshima, I realize that during the month of my absence, autumn has come and gone, leaving the land in the iron grips of winter with bare trees abounding as far as the eye can see and yellowish-brown grass eagerly awaiting to be covered up by heaps of snow... Hahah, just kidding. Being roughly at the latitude of Jerusalem, this area is as lush and green as ever, and I don’t think the rest of Kyushu is looking much different.


Interestingly, the bus trip to Kagoshima takes almost half as long as the entire flight, but afterwards I get dropped off at a nice and central location near the Tenmonkandori (天文館通 "Heaven's Gate Hall Street")…


…from where I can already see the hotel in which I'm going to stay tonight.


Naturally, it is yet still far too early to check in, but the staff is more than happy to store my luggage for me, and gets quite excited to see me put on my tails and head out on my exploratory romp through Kagoshima. After over a month of vulpine abstinence, for me it's now…

Foxes or Bust!

Distance: 19.7km
Ascents: 224m
Duration: 6h
20 (4🦊); 1; 4/7🎁︎

Having gone without visiting a single vulpine Shrine since 25-Oct-2018 now, I naturally researched the precise location of fox Shrines in Kagoshima. The result: There are not terribly many, but they exist, and one of them is within about 20 STEPs of the hotel. That's still walkable distance, although getting there and back again is going to be quite a day trip – especially considering that I am naturally going to take the scenic route in order to grab some Geocaches and other Shrines along the way.


That stray should eventually lead me to the northern reaches of Kagoshima. But before that, I should come across the first Don Quixote that adequately lives up to its name…


…as well as the first few Shrines, which turn out to be particularly impossible to miss.


Subsequently, I proceed to climb Shiroyama (城山 "Castle Mountain") by means of the most crooked staircase I've ever seen (which is fittingly accompanied by an equally crooked sign)…


…and soon enough find the Geocache hidden up here under the watchful eyes of a cat sitting in a tree, just like that.


However, my main reason for climbing Shiroyama is clearly the view of the city and Sakurajima I should get from here, and although the light conditions are not as epic today as when I first passed through the city over a month ago, the mighty volcano smoking in the distance on the other side of the bay is still an awe-inspiring (and slightly unsettling) sight.


Afterwards, I follow the ridge of the Shiirasu Daichi (白洲台地 "White Sandbar Tableland") along some crooked stairs and gnarly trees…


…where I come across the most curious barrier, cordoning off a roughly 10m long stretch of way connecting two parallel paths – which actually appears to be perfectly usable – because… green pigs are taking a bath in hot springs??? I want the stuff they were smoking while coming up with those signs!


Oh well, the other path leads me off the mountain just fine as well, and it's actually only after I've made it back into the city proper that I run into problems with my route planning, such as a bridge with no pedestrian walkways which forces me to backtrack and find an alternative route.


Instead, I run headlong into a piece of Japanese history, namely the place where the famous Japanese samurai Saigou Takamori (西郷 隆盛 "West Town Noble Prosperity") performed Sepukku on 24-Sep-1877. Commonly dubbed as "the last true Samurai", he was one of the three great nobles who led the Meiji restoration, which transformed the isolated feudal Japan into a modern industrial nation. Naturally, this massive change did not happen without its share of conflict, and Saigou was the leading figure in several of them, such as the battle of Toba–Fushimi, the siege of Edo-castle, and the Kagoshima Rebellion, during which he was grievously wounded and chose to end his suffering in the traditional warrior's way as opposed to slowly succumbing to his wounds.


Following this little unexpected dive into Japanese history, I pass by some more Shinto Shrines and Buddhist Temples…


…before finally arriving at my destination: A generically named Inari Shrine located in the eponymous district of Inari-chou (稲荷町 "Inari Town"), which turns out to be noteworthy in two ways: First off, in addition to its Torii, it also has a massive stone arc gate that is just a little bit to small for me to walk through normally, and secondly, instead of a pair of white foxes, this particular Shrine is flanked by one white and an orange fox, making it the first Shrine in all of Japan where I've seen such a thing. These two elements are clearly this shrine's trademarks, and can be seen repeated all over the place, such as on paintings inside the shrine, as well as on the prayer plaques. With that, I am doubly delighted as my first vulpine experience after forty days of foxy fasting turns out to be something unprecedented and special! Inari be praised! =^,^=


After that, I should run into the next route-planning blooper, as I attempt to cross over the nearby hill and to the sea by means of a road network that can only be described as labyrinthine.


And if the map alone wasn't as of yet confusing enough, the actual thing looks like this, and the map on my trusty tri-Comm is only about half as detailed as the one above.


At first, I try my luck with the upper road, which turns out to lead onto the helix road and would probably take me dragon-alone-knows-where. So, eventually I decide to turn back and try making my way through the tunnel with the extremely generous sidewalk. Fortunately it's only 360m long. Also, looking it up later, I figure there might also have been another route across the hilltop, but good luck finding that one in this complicated tangle of roads and side paths (many of which are not on the map and terminate unexpectedly).


On the other side, I realize I have arrived at the very top right corner of the KAGOSHIMA City Central area tourist map…


…and proceed to visiting the one publically accessible Shrine – Tsurugane Jinja (鶴嶺神社 "Crane Peak Shrine") – while simultaneously passing on the subject-to-entry-fee Sengan-En (仙巌園 "Hermit Boulder Gardens"). I mean, I'm sure they're great and probably worth the fee, but since my time today is limited and I still have to walk all the way back to the hotel, I figure that it's probably not worth it, especially since according to my research no vulpine Shrines await within (there is supposed to be a cat Shrine, however). Oh well, maybe another time.


Another reason for me scorning the gardens is that it's 14:00 by now, and my last meal has already been about 7 hours and 7 kilometres in the past (some of which were with heavy baggage). As such, I pretty much home in on the nearest restaurant, which just so happens to be a Famires by the vivacious name of Joyful.


Now, after ten months in Japan, you'd think I would have seen it all. However, it is here at the top right corner of the KAGOSHIMA City Central area tourist map that I become acquainted with another new concept, and that is the drink bar flatrate: Basically, instead of ordering drinks, you pay a fee that gives you unlimited access to the drink bar, allowing you to help yourself to as many drinks as you want. And since I'm quite thirsty after this long walk, I naturally make good use of this feature and help myself to quite a number of glasses of tasty, tasty Melon Soda to go along with a hearty set-meal that goes by the very descriptive name of Baraetifurai Teishoku (バラエティーフライ定食 "Variety Fry Set Meal"). In addition the various fried goods such as yummy Tenpura, the set also include a bowl of rice, some traditional Japanese pickles, a salad, as well as a cup of Misoshiru.


Afterwards, I start on the way back south, but not before taking note of some informational boards identifying this area as the location of some of Japan's first industrial facilities, such as the Kagoshima Spinning Mill which got constructed here in 1867, at the very dawn of the Meiji Restoration…


…as well as finding a very clever geocache, hidden in plain sight.


While following the coastal road south, I am not only privy to an almost completely uninterrupted great view on Sakurajima…


…but also come across quite a number of Shrines – some big, some small – along the way. One of them – Suguhara Jinja (菅原神社 "Sedge Meadow Shrine") to be precise – is particularly noteworthy for featuring carvings of what I figure must be Baku under it's roof. Baku are another type typical Japanese mythological creatures, which feed on dreams and nightmares and may be invoked after waking up from a bad dream to take the memories of said dream away. They are traditionally portrayed as tapit-like in appearance, with an elephant-like trunk and tusks.


Also along the way is the (former) Ryukyu Pine, which used to be and yet is again a famous landmark for ships arriving from the Ryukyu Islands. The original tree, aged 142 years, appeared to be cradling the lantern on this rock in tis branches, but was eventually cut down in 1953 and replaced by several other trees. However, in 1973, to commemorate the first-year anniversary of Okinawa's post-war reunification with the rest of Japan, Naha gifted the city of Kagoshima with a new pine, which is now growing on the right side of the lantern.


Eventually, I arrive back in central Kagoshima, where I first pass through a park with interesting gates and interesting bridges across interesting… uh… "exemplary rivers"…


…and subsequently pass by an arcade featuring a slogan that I could not agree more with.


Finally, I come across these very lifelike statues standing right by the side of one of the major thoroughfares of Kagoshima, commemorating the Honeymoon of Sakamoto Ryoma and his newly-wed wife Oryo, which is believed to have been the first western-style honeymoon in all of Japan…


…and subsequently go to visit the Maruya Gardens, an idyllic little rooftop garden atop a shopping tower just one block away from my hotel.


After that, I finally return back to the hotel to check in. Interestingly enough, the elevator has a mechanism where you first have to put your key card against a sensor before you're able to go to your floor.


With my floor being the 12th one, I get an amazing view of the city, as well as Shiroyama, which I climbed earlier, from my room. Also, the bed is really comfortable, I have a good place to set up my workspace, and there's free tea too. What more could one expect from a room?


I could have just called it a day at this point, but there's one thing that is still bugging me: When I first came to Kagoshima, I arrived at the Kagoshima Chuo Station and made a beeline for the Okinawa Ferry Terminal. Today, however, I arrived from the Kagoshima Airport, and will tomorrow be departing from the Kagoshima Station (not to be confused with aforementioned Kagoshima Chuo Station), and with my stray today having been entirely northwards directed, that means my paths have yet to cross if I want to truly continue my journey of Kyushu from where I left off. Fortunately, compared to my earlier stray today, this is only going to be a rather short jaunt, and since I have to go out to get dinner anyway at some point, I figure I might as well kill two birds with the same stone here.


Now, some of you might have noticed that I did not nominate the earlier vulpine Shrine as the southernmost I've visited in Japan, despite not having found any on Okinawa. There is a reason for that, and that reason begins with me running right into Matsubara Jinja (松原神社 "Pine Meadow Shrine") as I try to connect to my old route.


That Shrine does not only prominently feature a very original Zodiac-Side Shrine…


…but also the southernmost fox Shrine I would visit in Japan.


It might not be the southernmost one in the entire country, but it is the southernmost one that I should be able to visit, and thus completes the tetrad of cardinal vulpine Shrines together with – in order of appearance – the little vulpine Side Shrine of Koyasansaihokudaishi Shingonji in Wakkanai to the north (see Book II ~ Chapter 6 ~ A Hokkaido Homerun), Fushimi Inari Jinja in Urahoro to the east (see Book II ~ Chapter 8 ~ An East Side Story), and the little private fox Shrine on Shikashima to the west (see Book II ~ Chapter 14 ~ Fantastic Fukuoka Family Friendliness).


Moving on from there, my way leads me past a very colourful little well…


…as well as an interesting little artistic installation that I am going to spontaneously name "DIE SHISAA! DIE!!!"


Eventually, my paths cross along a rather unspectacular road in the middle of the city…


…and I subsequently make my way to the Kagoshima Chuo Station (not to be confused with the Kagoshima Station), where I just happen to notice that someone has put a giant, colourful ferris wheel on top of the building, which illuminates the darkening night sky with a multitudes of ever-changing psychedelic patterns.



I could probably have found a good place to eat right there and then in the station, and yet I decide to continue my search in favour of trying to find one of the places that I am still missing on my list.


The particular place I'm after today is cheap chain of stores similar to Nakau and Sukiya that goes by the name of Matsuya (松屋 "Pine House"), and is characterized by a bright yellow logo and its name written in Kanji and only Kanji. I've seen them quite a number of times in Tokyo and elsewhere, but back than lacked the confidence in my Japanese skills to actually go inside. Now I have that confidence, but have yet to find one of these stores. As I search for one herein Kagoshima, I come across the statue of another historic personality of the Meiji Restoration. This one depicts Ookubo Toshimichi (大久保 利通 "Great Long Time Protection Profit Road"), the second of the three great nobles who led the Meiji Restoration. Together with his friend Saigou he fought to overthrow the Tokugawa Shogunate and facilitate the modernization of Japan. While Saigou focused on the modernization of the military to be able to match the western powers, Ookubo promoted the establishment of modern infrastructure and the industrialization of the country. Eventually, however, in a twist of fate so dramatic that it might be straight from a movie script or JRPG, he was forced to oppose his old friend in the Kagoshima Rebellion, outlived Saigou by only a few months before being assassinated by followers of his late friend on 14-May-1878 outside the gates of Edo castle.


After that, I proceed to stride through a walking mall where the XMas preparations are already well underway…



However, despite taking the scenic route back, I would not be able to locate a Matsuya, so instead I default to the Sukiya right beneath the Ai Hotel, where I order a tasty plate of Cheese Curry Rice, and am instead served an equally tasty bowl of Cheese Gyuudon. Oh well, whatever works, I guess.


It is only after this that I am finally ready to call it a night, and retire to my hotel room, where I inspect the few souvenirs that I made today, including a Shiisaa souvenir coin from Naha airport (yes, that was still today, even though it already seems like so long ago by now), and a number of keychains which bought from a little souvenir shop atop Shiroyama, including two vulpine keychains from the Japanese Hayato Project (with which I am not familiar at all), as well as finally the Kyushu Island Seal in the form of a metal keychain prominently featuring Sakurajima.


After that, I finally set up my workstation to do a few updates on my blog, sipping delicious Macha as I do…


…and also make good use of the bathtub in my room's bathroom unit to take my first bath in over a month…


…before finally retiring for the night from a day that has been going on for almost 19 hours at that point. Tomorrow should not feature quite as early a start as today, and thanks to some late night route optimization I did today would take me…

Day 3: Straight to Saiki

6-Dec-2018

The next day begins with what I reckon is going to be one of my last traditional Japanese breakfasts. This time around, it's a buffet, leaving me with the agony of choice. Eventually, I take a bit of mostly everything, together with some Misoshiru, rice, Umeboshi, and tasty, tasty Natto, which turns out to combine neatly into a filling and yummy Japanese-style breakfast.


Afterwards, I proceed to pack my things, and as I do, I come across one last curiosity in this hotel: While the English label on the faucet in the bathroom concisely states "Drinking Water", the Japanese version is much more verbose about it and reads, very roughly translated: "Because this water is made for drinking, please feel free to drink it". I guess that goes to show something about the cultural differences between Eastern and Western communication.


Anyway, while Kagoshima was the logical stopover after my flight from Okinawa, my next waypoint should be the small city of Saiki (佐伯 "Assistant Chief") in Ooita-ken (大分県 "Big Part Prefecture") on the east coast of Kyushu. There, I plan to stay another night, before taking the ferry over to Shikoku the following day. However, as I should soon find out, the railway connection up there is somewhat suboptimal, leaving me with…

Limited Choices


For some reason, there appears to be only single valid railway connection using local trains from Kagoshima to Saiki, and that one should have me arrive at Saiki no sooner than 20:44 at night. It would have gone somewhat like this:
  • From Kagoshima to Miyakonoji with the JR Nippon Line for Miyakonoji (89 minutes ride; 21 minutes to change)
  • From Miyakonoji to Miyazaki with the JR Nippon Line for Miyazaki (64 minutes ride; 95 minutes to change)
  • From Miyazaki to Nobeoka with the JR Nippon Line for Nobeoka (85 minutes ride; 24 minutes to change)
  • From Nobeoka to Saiki with the JR Nippon Line for Saiki (71 minutes ride)
Naturally, I am not very happy with that, especially the 95 minutes of transit in Miyazaki (宮崎 "Hall Cape"), during which I wouldn't even be able to leave the station without having to buy a new ticket. As such, I decide to make this one of the few train routes in Japan where I go by limited express instead, since the connection is just so much faster and more convenient, and also leaves me with ample time to explore Saiki in the afternoon, and all that for only 2,460¥ more – an adequate price, I feel, since it effectively cuts a 7-hour-journey in half, thus saving me a whopping 3.5 hours. Also, while there is only one connection using local trains that day, there are actually several choices for Limited Express connections, allowing me to pick an earlier one that coincides nicely with my hotel's check-out time, and thus gives me yet another extra three hours in Saiki. As such, my revised travel plan and route would look like this:
  • From Kagoshima to Miyazaki with the Limited Express Kirishima 8 (125 minutes ride; 20 minutes to change)
  • From Miyazaki to Saiki with the Limited Express Nichirin 14 (130 minutes ride)

After checking out of the hotel, I have to get to Kagoshima Station (not to be confused with Kagoshima Chuo Station), and even though I could probably walk there, I decide to do myself a favour and take the tram, especially considering that the station is right in front of the Ai Hotel, and the tram line goes directly from Kagoshima Chuo Station to Kagoshima Station. The tram lines here in Kagoshima, by the way, are another story all by themselves. For one, they have super-old (but remarkably well-maintained) cars running side-by-side with fancy modern next-gen models…


…and during peak times, there are so many of them running on the ϸ-shaped network that you can't stand at a station for more than a minute without having at least one tram arrive. That means I shouldn't have to wait long at all before a tram comes along to pick me up – this one being one of the older variety. The tariff system is also refreshingly straightforward: No matter how many stations you ride, it simply costs 170¥.


The Kagoshima Station Tram Station turns out to be a three-track railhead, and as fate would have it, there presently happen to be exactly three trams here, each from a different generation. And did I mention that they're all pretty diverse and colourful? I really like that. =^,^=


Thanks to some very clear signs, I am also able to find my way to the Kagoshima Station without any problems…


…which is not as straightforward as one might think, because unlike the Kagoshima Chuo Station with its mega-freaking HUGE ferris wheel on top, the Kagoshima Station is apparently undergoing a complete reconstruction at the moment, and currently only exists in the form of a rather underwhelming containerized instance. Oh well, at least it's nicely decorate for XMas.


Subsequently, I then purchase the tickets for my trip from the Eki-In at the Madoguchi rather than the Jidouhanbaiki, which apparently is not outfitted to handle trips of this distance…


…and wait for a little while in the waiting room, noticing not only a poster for the Kagoshima XMas market which is scheduled to start exactly today, but also an interesting neologism for containers into which to discard refuse: Forget trash cans, litter bins and waste baskets, for here comes the dust port!


About half an hour later, I cross over to the departure platform, and along the way not only spot a movie poster for the newest Dragon Ball instalment, this one featuring Super Sayajins in all colours of the rainbow…


…but also a poster for a very foxy Inari Shrine which I figure has to be somewhere in Kyushu. However, due to the name being written in Kanji that are as a of yet above my level, and the one photo of the poster that I should take regrettably ends up being somewhat blurry, so I can't read the name, which – in opposition to anything I learned during my study of media design – is written in a small font at the bottom left of the page as opposed to being central, big and legible. Oh well, I guess I'll never find out where this particularly foxy place is, which might be for the better since I'm about to leave Kyushu anyway. Still, if any of you, my readers, happens to come across this poster at any time, fox would be really grateful to have his curiosity satisfied and learn the name and location of this particular Shrine.


Down on the platform, I once again stand in awe of Japanese precision and efficiency as I marvel at the amazingly intuitive array of indicators at the edge of the platform, clearly communicating the exact positions of all the doors for all the trains, colour-coded by the type of train, and presumably in the actual colour of the respective train too.


It's not much longer now before the Limited Express Kirishima arrives, and the only words that readily come to mind when trying to describe to describe the jet-black, shark-like train "modern beast."


Interestingly, this one seems to be of a particularly new variety, and even features safety sheets that make me feel more like I'm on a plane again as opposed to a train.


And thus begins the first proper train journey I should have in over a month, and I have to say it feels good to be on the tracks again, leaning back and looking out of the window as the landscape flies by. First, we leave Sakurajima behind us as we travel along the length of Kagoshima Bay for a bit, and then the Nippon Main Line takes us inlands, past harvested rice fields, through towns and the mountains. It is only after leaving the midway transfer stop of Miyazaki behind us that I should get occasional brief glances of the eastern Hyuuga Nada (日向灘 "Sun-Facing Open Sea") in the distance, and before long the tracks should led us back into the mountains again, where we would remain all the way up until reaching Saiki.



In Miyazaki, I change trains to the Limited Express Nichirin, which is more serpent-like in design and apparently comes in exactly three different lengths.


Also, for some reason, this train and this train alone features separate toilets for males and females. Can't say I've ever seen that before.


It is also here that I go about eating my lunch in the form of a Melon Pan and a Butter Stick, which I wisely procured at a Konbini early this morning prior to my departure, knowing fully well that I would not get the opportunity to purchase anything along the way.


Thanks to that, I am well-nourished when the train arrives at Saiki at precisely 14:39 (I am going to miss that dead-on punctuality)…


…which turns out for the better, since my hotel for the night is about 10 STEPs away from the station, and proper public transportation is hard to come by in this little town.


Tonight, I am staying in a place by the name of Business Hotel Sansei…


…which features very cute themed door signs and keys. I also take note that there is no "Room x04" on any of the floors, though this place does have an fourth floor with rooms 401, 402, 403, 405 and 405. I guess they simply couldn't find room 404.


The room itself doesn't leave anything to be desired either, and even features a proper office chair. I guess that's what puts the "Business" into the hotel's name.


However, there is one really embarrassing shortcoming, and that is the internet. Mind you, it's not the rather rustic combination of a router that I have to get at the reception and plug into the wall slot to activate WiFi for my room. Although old-fashioned, that works. However, at one point, the internet would simply stop working altogether, and I'd only be able to get some limited access by logging into one of the (thankfully unsecured) access points from the neighbouring rooms. Considering that I am paying a whopping 6,000¥ for my one night here (breakfast included), I consider that extremely poor form, especially taking into account that I've gotten better WiFi at places like the Guest House Umikaji for less than one fifth of the price.


Fortunately, I should not be too dependant on the internet (at first), since I should leave the hotel right away after checking in, and set out on what should turn out to become…

A Stray too Long

Distance: 9km
Ascents: 100m
Duration: 2.75h
13 (1🦊); 2

With about two hours of daylight remaining, I resolve to take at least a little stray around Saiki. There are no Geocaches to be found in this remote location, and no Inari Shrines are marked down on my map either, but I figure I might as well do a loop to the western mountain, then to the harbour, and finally back again, visiting whatever Shrines and Temples I pass along the way. Saiki also happens to have a castle, and it would even have been in walking distance, but in the opposite direction for the harbour, and so I end up picking the natural beauty of the harbour over the castle, which probably looks more or less like so many other Japanese castles I've seen by now (the old Samurai were not terribly creative with their designs).


Immediately after heading out, I take note of a Bento-Ya by the name of Hokka Hokka Tei (ほっかほっか亭 "Hokka Hokka Restaurant") just across the road from the Hotel. Right now, it's still far too early, but I make a mental note of it for later. Who knows, it might yet come in handy at some point.


Small though this town may be, it does not lack in creative art, and so I soon come across statues of a Kappa boy and a warring Oni priest…


…even before running into my first shrine across the railroad tracks…


…where the local birds are once again preparing to intone a deafening tune.



Also, to my very great delight, I find out that this very first Shrine already has a very foxy Inari Side Shrine by the name of Shouichii Goshou Inari (正一位五所稲荷 "Highest Ranking Five Places Inari"), which was not on the map. Now that is what I call a good start into the stray!


Moving on from there, my way to the harbour should feature quite a number of further little Shrines, as well as a couple of Jizou, some in the town proper, and others on the slope of the western mountain.


And now it's quiz time! Which normally ever-present feature was missing in Kagoshima?


If you guessed "Manhole Covers", then congratulations, you are correct! Apparently, with Sakurajima looming on the horizon, no one is looking down enough to notice them anyways, and thus the big city of Kagoshima only features rather bland manhole cover designs, unlike Saiki which prominently features its castle on its designs (giving me yet another reason for why I don't have to visit it).


But let that be only a minor side note here. More interestingly, as I climb the forested hills, I notice that there must have been quite the storms raging here lately: For one, I come across a branch that is missing an entire tree!


And then I also come across this sign that appears to be saying: "Please don't park your truck right across the tracks." Yes! Good idea!


Oh, and have I mentioned that Saiki is apparently also a fishing port? And you know what that means: Cats! Cats everywhere! Maybe not as many as in Aharen, but still clearly above the Japanese average.


The final Shrine I should visit before reaching the harbour is elevated on the hillside, giving me a great view of the little city…


…and then I reach the waterfront, from where I get an amazing view of the islandscape formed by Onyujima (大入島 "Big Entry Island"), which shelters off the harbour against the ocean's mighty waves. As I take in the panorama, a couple of fishermen are just setting up their equipment, while a number of cats gather nearby, hoping for some spoils.


On my way back, I come across a bus stop, the timetable of which impresses with its detailed breakdown of all available buses. Did I mention that the public transport here in Saiki kind of sucks?


Moving east along the waterfront, I soon come across an memorial arc that reminds me just a little bit of the one at cape Nosappu in Hokkaido (see Book II ~ Chapter 8 ~ An East Side Story). I wonder what this one is for.


Regrettably, I don't have the time to check it out, because I apparently took quite some time to visit all those Shrines and Jizous on the western hillside, and thus it's actually already starting to get dark.


Not that such a thing should be particularly bothersome to me personally – not with vulpine eyes capable of piercing all but the darkest nights and all – but it should prove to be somewhat detrimental to the pictures of the remaining Shrines I should visit along the way.


Knowing when I'm beat, I subsequently walk back to the Hotel via more or less well-illuminated streets, always keeping an eye open for inviting places to eat dinner at…


…but I should not come across any, and thus default back to getting a bento from Hokka Hokka Tei upon returning to the Business Hotel Sansei.


I go for something with Tenpura, which I subsequently devour in the privacy of my hotel room…


…while also preparing a cup of tea on the very interesting single-plate induction stove.


Setting up my workspace in front of the first office chair I've sat on ever since departing from Sapporo at the end of June (see Book II ~ Chapter 7 ~ The Sapporo Strawberry Stay), I completely ignore the readily available TV set in favour of getting some quality time with my blog…


…and eventually retire for the night relatively early, which should turn out to be for the better. After all, tomorrow should turn out to be…

Day 4: The Day the Ferry did not Come

7-Dec-2018

The morning begins with the second-to-last traditional Japanese breakfast I should have during my trip. Regrettably, it's not as good as I would have hoped for the price I'm paying for the hotel. I don't know what, but something just seems to be missing, and the fact that the egg is raw and I don't really feel like risking salmonella on a travelling day doesn't make it any better.


It's about 10AM when I finally check out of the Hotel with the bad WiFi, and lug my heavy baggage all the way to the ferry port, which is a good 15 STEPs away. Quite an exhausting distance with the amount of luggage I'm carrying, but fortunately I don't have much else planned today other than finally crossing over to Shikoku by means of the Sukumo Ferry.

With those expectations having been set up, imagine the mental devastation that I face when I reach the ferry terminal and find it desolate and empty, with no sign of any recent activity to be found within. It looks like the Sukumo Ferry has gone out of business at some point in the not-too-recent past, leaving all information about this route still coursing around the net ¬– including on Google – and thus leaving me stranded here on the coast with all heavy luggage on my back and a hotel booked on the other side of a strait that I cannot cross. I guess that means that this part of the trip is officially…


Or so it would have been, were it not for one last vulpine trait of mine that ended up saving me from running right into this one. Now, when you think "fox", many very appropriate adjectives may come to mind. Cute, sly, cunning, smart, fluffy, lithe, fast, elegant and adorable are all among them, but it should not be either of those traits that made a difference for me at this point.

The one trait that many people overlook in foxes, and that would be of utmost importance here, is fear.

Or maybe "wariness" is a more adequate term. Despite all things, we foxes are still small animals, and as such are constantly on the lookout for dangers despite being predators ourselves. I should first learn to fully accept and embrace this vulpine fear while mapping the farm of John Donaldson in Opotiki (see Book I ~ Chapter 26 ~ The Opotiki Opportunity), where it made me feel truly in touch with the fox in me to be out under a threatening sky with a paper map that I could not let get wet lest hours of my work go up in slush, constantly worrying about the rain to start while pressing on with my work.

This kind of fear has been my constant companion on this journey, and ironically, it is nothing to be worried about. Rather, it is this sort of wariness that makes me be extra-alert and on the constant lookout for things that could go wrong. So yes, maybe I am at times worrying off a tail or two – especially on a segmented journey like this one where a single blooper would mean the disruption of all my subsequent plans – but it is precisely this sort of fear that would safe me here and now. And thus, calamity should be avoided thanks to a proper portion of…

Vulpine Vigilance


Now then, let me go back a little bit in my story and fill in a few gaps that you probably did not even note that I made. It starts during my stray around Saiki, which, among other places, also leads me past the Station, and with it the tourist information. Now, the really embarrassing part here is that even though I specifically asked the lady at the counter about this, she was not able to tell me whether or not the ferry would be running as scheduled. However, she did point out that I should better call the ferry company just to make sure, and while I initially dismiss this as just another instance of Japanese over-planning, I still save it at the back of my mind, which naturally causes fox to worry about it just a little bit.


However, the main triggering event – and also admittedly the actual reason why I chose the harbour over the castle – is my pre-emptive visit to the Saiki Ferry office, which is already quite desolate on that very day (although an open side door allows me to actually go inside).


As a result of this gradually more and more ominous sequence of omens, I should feel compelled to check the website of the Sukumo Ferry upon returning to the Business Hotel Sansei that evening, and while it certainly does not have the look of a website about a company that has gone out of business…


…by now I can read Japanese well enough that the one tiny little post in the news section at least grabs my attention. I may not be able to read all the words properly, but at the very least I can gather that the string "運航休止のお知らせ" means something like "Way Ship Holiday Stop something something knowledge something". Properly translated it reads "Unkou Kyoushi no Oshirase", which translates into as much as "Ship Operation Cessation Notice". The full article says then something about the ferry going out of service from 19-Oct-2018 (written in the typical Japanese notation of 平成30年10月19日, which writes the year as "Heisei 30", referring to the 30th year of reign of the current emperor Heisei) due to rising fuel prices, which is actually exactly the sort of news that you would expect to be prominently displayed on the front of a company's web page in a font type significantly bigger than 10pt, and preferably red, underlined and blinking (and possibly with a cure "we're sorry" image in the form of a broke otter or something because this is Japan after all).


Wanting to make extra sure that I'm just not reading it wrong, I face my phone-shyness and give both offices a call both at that night and the next morning, but receive no answer from either one of them. Naturally, at this point I am already heads over tails in making alternative plans as fast as the crappy internet here will allow me to. The next morning, finally, an already very concrete fear becomes reinforced to the point of certainty as the hotel staff also confirms that the ferry has gone out of business. That is the point when I finally cancel my reservation at the Hotel in Sukumo, and decide to wing it with Plan B, which is to take the train up the coast to the next port town of Usuki (臼杵 "Mortar Pestle"), and from there take the ferry to Yawatahama (八幡浜 "Hachiman Beach") instead, which the hotel staff assures me is up and running, and with a large number of boats going each day.


Hence, I leave the hotel an hour early, with only a very vague plan of where to go – curtsy of the internet at the Business Hotel Sansei finally going on a rather permanent hiatus – and arrive at the Saiki-Eki shortly after. A wise decision, since it should result in me catching one of the few regular trains (black numbers) bound for Usuki (right half), with the red ones being all limited expresses. Also, looking on the left side of the schedule, I think I now see the fundamental problem behind my initial plan of riding a regular train to here.


The ticket for Usuki comes at an affordable 560¥ and is easily procured from the admonishing Jidouhanbaiki (which warns people that travelling without a valid ticket might incur them a charge from 5,000¥ to 10.000¥), and I subseuquently get onto the neat little Wanman, which is already standing in the station, just waiting for the time to depart to arrive (or maybe it's waiting for the time to arrive to depart?).


Thus begins what is probably going to be the shortest train inter-city segment of my journey, going only as far as 6 local stops, and pretty much taking me only into the second-to-next valley over, which is not even 20km away as the dragon flies. The entire ride should not even take half an hour, but along that short distance, we should pass through a rather impressive number of tunnels while also zig-zagging our way more or less parallel to the coastline.



Not wanting to risk running all the way to the ferry terminal in vain with my luggage, the first thing I do after getting off at Usuki is to visit the tourist information, which is conveniently located inside the station building. Unexpectedly, I find that they are perfectly prepared for English-speaking patrons since they have a guy from Australia working for them. As such, I can get it in good faith that the ferries from Usuki to Yawatahama are up and running, so I will not have to rely on Plan C (continuing to Beppu (別府 "Separate Storehouse") and taking the ferry from there), Plan D (continuing to Kitakyushu and taking the ferry directly to Matsuyama from there) or Plan E (continuing to Honshu by train, then going east and crossing over to Shikoku from the north via ferry, bus or something).


The Australian guy also recommends me to take some time if I can to see the sights of Usuki, and although I don't really feel like sightseeing with all my baggage, I should find that it's kinda hard to avoid running into things here, such as the stone Buddha sitting right outside the station building.


He also suggested that I might wanna go and see the castle grounds, but honestly, with all the weight on my back, it would need something like a sign in giant flaming red letters reading "HERE BE FOX SHRINES" to make me climb any kind of mountain like this. However, since it's more or less along the way to the ferry terminal, I figure I might at least walk past it to get a look from below.


With that decision, I have already lost the battle, not even knowing it yet. The first sign comes in the form of giant flaming red Torii reading "Utuno Inari Jinja" (叩寅稲荷神社 "Striking Tiger Inari Shrine") on its plaque…


…soon to be followed by the second – a characteristic flaming red Shrine atop the castle mound clearly visible from the road that I'm walking on….


…and as I draw closer, my curiosity clearly piqued, fate delivers the finishing blow in the form of a tunnel of flaming red Torii leading up the way that I am obviously destined to ascend, heavy luggage or no.


So, I know that I am beaten (or maybe I should rather say, I know when fox has me beaten), and resign myself to the fate of ascending the mound. Fortunately, it's not too tall, but my heavy luggage regrettably relativizes any vertical ascent. Howeveer, my efforts should not be in vain, and soon enough I should arrive at the top, exhausted, and get rewarded by a Shrine that is not only attended to by two pairs of vulpine guardians standing vigil to either side…


…but also turns out to be the home of the OMEGA DEATH FOX, who appears to be buried in the castle mound, only its head peeking out, sheltered from the elements by a little Side Shrine building. I wonder if it was him who called me to this place? After all, with all the unforeseen events that led me here, it hardly can be attributed to chance, now can it?


Moving on, I quickly cover the rest of the ground to the ferry terminal…


…where I am able to buy a ticket for the next ship over without any problems, costing me an adequate price of 2,310¥. Also, in case anyone was yet doubting that "fate"-thingy that I appear to have going on, I just want to mention that two different companies run ferries between Sukumo and Yawatahama, and without aiming for it or even knowing about it in the first place I end up getting a ticket for none other than the Orange Line ferry.


With that, I am finally able to relax as I sit down in the waiting room of the ferry terminal as I let the minutes left to boarding time pass me by, looking forward to finally crossing…

The Strait to Shikoku


As it happens, I should still end up departing from Kyushu at roughly the time I planned, albeit from a different port: Come 11:15, it's time to board the ferry by the name of Orenji Kyushu (おれんじ九州 "Orange Nine Provinces")…


…and after taking off my luggage in one of the traditional Zashiki (座敷 "Sitting Room")…


…I am free to explore the interior of the medium-sized ferry, which features among other things a lounge, casino corner, board cinema, store, and a hermetically sealable smoking room.


At 11:35, the time of my second and this time around final departure from Kyushu is at hand as the Orenji Kyushu weighs anchor and sets out toward its blue destination at the other side of the Bungo Suidou (豊後水道 "Bountiful Back Channel"). owing to the unique geography of this particular area, we should only be in truly open waters for about 10km, as the majority of the distance is covered in the wake of the very pointy Sada Misaki Hantou (佐田岬半島 "Helper Field Cape Peninsula"), which looks pretty much exactly like the head of a glaive you would expect to drop from the third boss in the Fell Temple of Xul'an-Karub - aka exactly the sort of thing you would not want to get stuck in your ribcage. Actually, I wonder how long it will be before they build a bridge across that particular strait? After all, man-made constructs covering similar and longer distances exist all over the world, most prominently the Aqua Line of Tokyo Bay, a tunnel/bridge combination stretching across a total of 14km.


As a result, it should turn out to be a rather relaxed journey, and although for some reason the outdoors deck is closed to passengers today, I should still get a good view of our trip looking out of the window of my Zashiki, recalling the wonderful times I had on Kyushu as we leave the island behind us, pass Takashima (高島 "Tall Island") in the middle, and finally wondering what adventures should await me on Shikoku as Sada Misaki Hantou comes into sight. This looooooooong peninsula should dominate the panorama of most of the journey, and near the end, we pass yet another island named "Kuroshima" (popular island name, that), before pulling into the port of Yawatahama.



It is approximately at the midway point of my voyage that I celebrate finally having been able to acquire my favourite travel rations of a Yakisoba Roll and a Chocolate Melon Pan this morning by ceremoniously devouring them. Unfortunately, having to spend the day thus far in my jacket, and thus tightly pressed to my body by my backpacks has left them slightly oblated, but they are nonetheless equally delicious.


Meanwhile, I watch the outbound ferry pass us by…


…and also take note of the dedicated street alignment along Sada Misaki Hantou, which features some pretty spectacular bridges. At this point, it is also worth noting that the peninsula is also rigged with impressive numbers of wind turbines, which I figure makes perfect sense, as the winds must be blowing pretty hard up there, considering it's not only a long ridge, but also perpendicular to an ocean strait the practically funnels the winds to blow this way.


And then, it's time to make landfall, and set foot on the final of Japans big islands. With this, I have now officially visited not only the four, but six biggest islands of Japan (along with a number of smaller ones, and as I walk into the ferry terminal here, I feel quite accomplished as I am greeted with the phrase "Yokoso, Aoi Kuni Shikoku-he" (よこそ 青い国 四国へ "Welcome to the blue Land Shikoku").


As soon as I step outside the terminal I realize that today was obviously brought to me by the letter "Orange", for the first thing I see in a nearby park is local citizens constructing what appears to be a giant orange… out of oranges – an artistic feat that does not only attract my attention. In fact, since I just happen to be wearing exactly the right colours to fit the theme as well, I would soon end up becoming the next object of Mystery Photographer "O"'s attention, and by now have probably ended up on page 3 of a regional newspaper or something, along with the giant orange sculpture.


However, right now, I have more pressing issues to worry about, such as that I have ended up in a small port town without a place to stay the night at, and that in a culture that likes to book its trips three months in advance. Also, thanks to the internet not working properly back at the Business Hotel Sansei, I could not adequately familiarize myself with the layout of this town, and as such have no idea where to look for accommodation. Fortunately, however, fate takes me by the hand, and points me straight towards the Information Centre, which is located only a short distance away from the giant orange. Another way to say it would be that fate lured me here with the giant orange, so that I would end up within eyesight of the Information Centre, whichever version sounds better to you.


In there, I first have a bit of a fun time using my limited Japanese skills trying to explain to the employee there that I am not looking for the location of the hotel which I naturally booked three months in advance, but that I – incredulously as that must sound to his ears – have somewhat ended up in this town entirely unprepared and without a booking, and am now looking for a place to stay the night at. Fortunately, after I elaborated about the full spectrum of circumstances that ended up in me being here instead of Sukumo (and proceeding to explain that I am not interested in the way to the train station so that I can get to Sukumo), I finally manage to get through to him, and he tells me that he knows a super hotel that might be able to accommodate me for the night.


Unfortunately, after walking there, I am told that they don't have a room available after all. However, the lady at the reception is happy to refer me to the next hotel over, which goes by the lustrous name of Century Hotel Ito…


…which thankfully has a room available…


…although at the stiff price of 7,020¥ (breakfast included), which I am only willing to pay due to the unfortunate nature of my predicament.


Oh well, at least I have a nice view of the town from my room.


The hotel which I booked in Sukumo would have cost only half as much, and due to my short-notice cancellation, I fear that I will be asked to pay the full price despite not staying there at all on top of this. However, fate reinforces yet once again that it intended for me to take this route, with my original hotel in Sukumo thankfully waiving its claims for compensation after I wrote them the unfortunate reason for my cancellation on the booking.com website, as well as explaining it to them over the phone (in Japanese) later that night.

Either way, here I am now, my original plans broken, yet new plans put in place and well underway, my journey back on track again. With that, I now can breathe easy again, and set out to spend the remainder of the day exploring the…

City of Oranges

Distance: 7.4km
Ascents: 69m
Duration: 2.5h
15 (1🦊); 3; 2/2🎁︎

Yawatahama occupies the connected valleys bewtween the hills of this area, and over the course of my stray I should make it first to the southern slopes of the hills, then east to the train station, subsequently cutting north to the opposite hillside, and eventually west all the way to the harbour. Unfortunately, I should not find a single one of the three Geocaches hidden in this area (one of which I actually attempted earlier on, right after getting off the ferry and before going to the Information Centre).


However, I should find a modest number of Temples and Shrines, including one with foxes… well, fox.


It is also starting to become clear what's the deal with all the orange-themed things I've experienced on my way here: Apparently, oranges are this particular region's prime crop, and even though the temperatures are already quite wintery and I have since yesterday started wearing my trusty coat Krevyasz again, there are still oranges to be found hanging on the trees all over the town, as well as on the terraced hills flanking Yawatahama and the bay – maybe not as abundantly as in the prime season, but nonetheless.


The citrusinesic identity of the city is also further reflected in the town's manhole cover designs, which prominently feature the fruit in each of their variants, including the one in which Yawatahama's mascot character – the "Beach King" – is depicted.


And I guess it also shouldn't come as a surprise that the city is looking forward to a…


Despite all the orangey-goodness, the main event of this stray should nonetheless be the impressive Hachiman Jinja located atop a central hill, from which the town of Yawatahama got its name.


We now interrupt the report in progress for a lovely little interlude of…


We have already covered that the Japanese language has several thousand Kanji in addition to a few dozen Hiragana and Katakana, which is approximately several thousand characters too many for my taste. However, if you'd think that that's as far as the inconveniences go, then you are way off the mark. The Japanese language has yet many other nifty features which make learning it a royal pain in the tail, and today we shall cover of those the topic of homophones and homograms.

Let us start with the example at hand: I am in Yawatahama (八幡浜 "Hachiman Beach"), which was named after Hachiman Jinja (八幡神社 "Hachiman Shrine"). If you look closely at the Kanji, that makes perfect sense: The first two Kanji of both names are "八幡", which literally translates into "Eight Flags" and has been the name of the patron god of warriors, Hachiman, since time immemorial.


In this case, we have a wonderful example of homograms: Words that have the same meaning and are written with the same characters, but are pronounced differently based on context. This is one of the prime nightmares when learning Kanji, that pretty much all Kanji have several ways of reading them, so just because you know the meaning of a Kanji does not necessarily mean that you can pronounce it. The "tame" Kanji have only two different readings: The Kun'Yomi (訓読み "Japanese Reading"), which is used when the character is standing on its own, and the On'Yomi (音読み "Sound Reading"), which is used when the character is standing in compound with other Kanji. Meanwhile, the "fun" Kanji have all sorts of different Kun'Yomi and On'Yomi, making it sometimes impossible to know exactly which one to use even with context. My favourite one in that regard is "生", which depending on context and the original intent of the writer can be pronounced as "i", "u", "o", "uma", "umare", "ha", "ki", "nama", "na", "mu", "sei" and "shou".

On the other hand, we have the homophones, which are words that sound the same, yet mean different things. Most of the time you can get the meaning from context, but it deserves to be mentioned that with such a multitude of reading and only a limited amount of syllables available, there are quite a few Kanji that share the same reading. So far, the syllables that I have identified with the most Kanji assigned to them are "Shi" (支, 市, 死, 氏, 四, 子, 始, 紙, 仕, 至) and "Kou" (公, 校, 行, 交, 紅, 幸, 降, 好, 荒) and for some extra fun you might as well add to those the very similar-sounding syllables of "Ji" (事, 示, 治, 辞) and "Ko" (小, 湖, 子, 古). So if you ever feel like annoying a Japanese teacher, ask him/her what "Shikou" means (at least 39 valid words and probably over a hundred possible combinations), and make sure to mumble a bit so it could also be "Jikou", "Shiko" or "Jiko". Some of the possible – all correct yet highly contrasting – answers would be: "thought", "execution", "dental plaque", "taste", "perfect fairness", "supremacy", "construction" or "four lights".

The reason behind this… uhh… debacle… is that Japan imported the Chinese alphabet, and instead of taking decisive action just sort of let it ferment in the juice of Japanese language, which resulted in the same Kanji being used for different sounding words with the same or similar meanings (or sometimes even completely different meanings), and so over time the Japanese spoken language and the Chinese-imported Kanji have grown together in an amalgamate that is the linguistic equivalent of over a millennium of unmaintained code.

But back to my exploration of Yawatahama. With Hachiman Jinja being located on a prominent promontory, I figure this is a great place to get a good look on the city below…


…which is also what this guy must have been thinking before sitting down here and turning to stone – and I guess that's all the better for me since the name plaque clearly identifies the man as "He-Whose-Name-Cannot-Be-Pronounced".


Meanwhile, after descending the bonebreaker staircase back to the main town…


…I come across an informational board marking Yawatahama as the birth place of Chuuhachi Ninomiya (忠八二宮 "Eight Loyalties Two Halls"), a famous Japanese aviation pioneer, who observed the flight of crows and noticed how they could glide without flapping their wings. This gave him the idea for a fixed-wing aircraft, and on 29-Apr-1891, it was time for the first test flight of the Karasugata Mokei Hikouki"(烏型模型飛行器 "crow-type model aircraft"). Being quite heavy, it only flew for 10m on its first attempt, and 36m on a subsequent one. Eager to pursue the idea, he sought funding, but sadly no one with the necessary funds was willing to support him. However, he diligently worked towards his dream, founding a pharmaceutics company to make a living and raise money, but was regrettably beaten to the skies by the Wright brothers in 1903. It was only after that that people in retrospective began to respect him as a visionary and received commendments from the army and Japanese royalty for his innovative ideas.


Eventually, as it starts getting dark I am keeping my eyes peeled for a place to eat at, and eventually find one near the harbour, just a few minutes before its opening time.


This place goes by the name of Douya Shokudou (どーや食堂 "Douya Canteen"), and turns out it's little more than a wooden shack with rather spartan furnishings…


…but the food… oh Divine Dragon, the food! For only 900¥ I get the Douya Teishoku (どーや定食 "Douya Set Meal") – the special of the house – and it should easily beat pretty much everything all the hotel breakfasts combined. There is Tenpura, rice, tofu, Misoshiru, salad and pickles in plentiful supply and great quality, resulting in a meal that makes you want to keep on eating until you can eat no more. At an unbeatable price, this hearty meal rivals the expensive dishes that Robert and I ate at the Suzukiya Ryokan near Shiroishi (see Book II ~ Chapter 5 ~ A Trip Together). I don't think it's likely that any of you will ever make it to this rather remote town of Japan – much less stay the night – but if you do, I highly recommend going to the Douya Shokudou and getting the Douya Teishoku.


By the time I've finished the tasty and nutritious meal, night has completely fallen over the town. Fortunately, it's only a short way back to the hotel back through the dark streets of the town.


Back in the hotel, I set up a temporary workstation for one last night, ignoring the TV yet again, but making good use of the water cooker to prepare myself some tea as I work on updating my maps and blog…


…but am quickly dismayed to realize that the internet here is even worse than the one I had at the Business Hotel Sansei in Saiki. It would almost seem like the quality of the internet connection is reversely proportional to the price of my accommodations.


The most annoying part of that is that I should not be able to check up on my train connection to get to my next destination tomorrow. But oh well, I figure that since it's not far away at all, it shouldn't be a problem to get there. Also, I still have my original route planning coming from Sukumo, and since that route would have taken me through Yawatahama later that day, I pretty much know the train lines and station, and am just missing the departure times earlier that day. That, I figure, should be enough information, and after some more productive hours in the evening, I should eventually go to bed. With that, this eventful day should come to an end, and tomorrow, I should finally…

Day 5: Make for Matsuyama

8-Dec-2018

The next day should begin with my final traditional Japanese Style breakfast. This time around it's good… but not great. Somehow, it just feels like something is missing, and the addition of yet another raw egg does certainly not make up for it. Oh well, at least the view is nice, with the restaurant being located at the very top of the hotel tower.


After that, I am quick to depart, and make my way towards the station through the Yawatahama walking mall, which also displays faint traces of XMas decoration already.


On interesting thing I notice along the way is the street-crossing flags for children on crossroads, which I mentally file somewhere between "cute" and "totally unnecessary overkill". Basically, on either side of crossing across the major thoroughfare of Yawatahama, there are little baskets with yellow flags in them, and children crossing the street (when it's green for them and red for the cars) can take a flag and carry it across the street with them, depositing it in the opposite basket. I'm sure that will help against those cars that drive across the intersection even though it's red.


Not much later, I arrive at the Yawatahama Station…


…where I should buy one of my last paper train tickets in Japan after finding the correct price on the refreshingly straightforward network plan from an Orangey-goodness Jidouhanbaiki…


…before sitting down in the waiting room, which is thankfully warm. By now, the temperatures have dropped far enough that I am wearing full armour, and even carrying all my luggage I don't get particularly hot.


But exhausted, oh so exhausted and weary of all that frantic recent travelling I am. As such, I am quite happy to know that I only have this one last leg to go before finally staying in a place for a couple of days, and now all that's left is…

Taking the Trains Through the Terrain


You might already have guessed it from looking at my originally planned route from Sukumo to Matsuyama, but Shikoku is rather mountainous. As such, trains and roads don't necessarily go along the fastest route, but rather the one that is topographically feasible. That being considered, my route today is actually rather straightforward, and should only contain two transfers, with the first one taking me from the JR Network into the Matsuyama Public Transit network with its three different types of lines. Interestingly enough, said transfer point should not be the Matsuyama Station, but rather one of the Teminal Stations of the local transit lines, owing to the fact that for some strange reason the JR Matsuyama station is not directly or even remotely connected to the local network.
  • From Yawatahama to Iyoshi with the JR Yosan/Uchiko Line for Matsuyama (94 minutes ride)
  • Walk from Iyoshi to Gunchuko (3 minutes walk; 13 minutes to change)
  • From Gunchuko to Matsuyama City Station with the Iyo Railway Gunchu Line for Matsuyamashi (24 minutes ride; 13 minutes to change)
  • From Matsuyama City Station to Iyo-Tachibana with the Iyo Railway Yokogawara Line for Yokogawara (3 minutes ride)

As fate would have it, the Wanman for the JR Segment to Iyo (伊予 "That one District") should not be any one ordinary Wanman, but the very special and overly cutesy Ehime mascot train. I am getting a cute-gasm just getting in that thing!


Inside, the cuteness shifts up into a quasi-educative gear by presenting an over-cute map of Ehime-Ken, thus teaching me that apparently this prefecture is further subdivided into three districts: Chuuyo (中予 "Central District"), Touyou (東予 "East District") and Nanyou (南予 "South District"), with Nanyou being the one in which Yawatahama is located, and which is apparently the prime focus of this train, as all the local mascot characters are displayed, including Yawatahama's Beach King. My personal favourite, however, is clearly the cute otter from Ainan (愛南 "Love South"), which happens to be just across the border from Sukumo in Kouchi-Ken (高知県 "High Wisdom Prefecture). That is the one thing that upsets me most about the ferry to Sukumo having been cancelled: Had I stayed in Sukumo and taken the scenic route from there, I would have been able to visit one more prefecture of Shikoku and see quite a lot of it along the scenic route through the mountains, whereas like this I only get to see Ehime. Oh well…


And so it happens that I embark for Iyo aboard the Mascot-Over-Cute-Train, taking me out of the Orangey-goodness valley and through the mountains of Shikoku, across Hijikawa (肱川 "Elbow River") with Oozuji (大洲城 "Large Country Castle") in the distance, and all the way to the plains of Matsuyama, where I should transfer to the local trains and cover the rest of my trip through the sprawling cityscape covering one of the few big plains of this mountainous island, formed by the mighty Shigenobugawa (重信川 "Respected Faithful River") and its tributaries.



Although I have to change only a single time, that particular transfer should be quite the adventure. You see, it is just before trying to leave through the ticket gate at Iyoshi-Eki that I realize that my ticket has gone missing! That is particularly upsetting, since I showed it to the driver of the Mascot-Over-Cute-Train when exiting, so I know I must have lost it somewhere along the way. Running back to the platform across the bridge, I find that the train is still waiting on the tracks, and explain my predicament to said driver (in Japanese, naturally), hoping that he can help me out somehow. Fortunately, it is no sooner than I have finished explaining that I spot my ticket in the corner of a waiting shelter on the platform, and pounce down on it before the wind can blow it away.


My transfer station here, which goes by the name of Gunchuko-Eki (郡中港駅 "District Middle Port Station"), is just over the street, so even this slight delay should not cause me to miss my connection. However, even though they do have IC card readers, I soon figure out that – just like the monorail in Naha – they only accept their own regional IC card.


Oh well, at least the network is very overseeable. However, it means I should have to purchase yet another paper ticket. I should not see it coming at this point, but this one should actually turn out to be only the first of a number of paper tickets to Matsuyama I would buy at this station.


And by the way, the line to/from Gunchuko is not only orange on the network plan… the trains really are orange (at least on the outside)! Yay for more Orangey-goodness!


Also, this particular route clearly readjusts my definition of what a city-train really means: Not the fully fledged railroads that run in the cities of Europe, with meters of space to either side, but quite literally a line running through the middle of the city, sandwiched tightly between roads and buildings.


My final transfer is at the Matsuyamashi Station, where I transfer from the orange Gunchu Line to the blue Yokogawara Line, which incidentally runs all the way to Toon Town (東温市 "East Warm Town")…


…but I only ride for two stops, before arriving at my destination station of Iyo-Tachibana (いよ立花 "Iyo Standing Flower"), which is notable for its very interesting infrastructure design. I'm sure my architect would like that one as well.


From there, it's only a short walk through quiet streets to the Airbnb place that I booked…


…and before long, I finally arrive at what should be my home not only for one, but for a total of seven nights.


Finally, I can unbuckle my backpacks, taking pleasure in the idea of not having to don them again for another week, making myself comfortable in the nice little room that I booked.


Of course, I should still manage to keep myself quite busy during that time, and I shall already tell you at this point that it is not without reason that I decided to come here of all the places. Do you want to find out what manner of attraction lured me, the travelling fox, into this particular part of the Blue Country? Then stay tuned for the next chapter of the Travelling Fox Blog!