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Thursday, 18 October 2018

Book II ~ Chapter 13 ~ Daring Daisen

6-Sep-2018 – 27-Sep-2018

After having traveller around Japan for seven months, I now arrive in the westernmost region of Honshu, namely…


Coming from Tohoku, this region is located at the far end of the banana-shaped main island. It can be a little bit confusing at times, since 中国 can refer to both China ("Chuukoku") or the Chuugoku region, depending on how it's pronounced. Anyway, with only 7.5 million people living here, Chuugoku is the third-least populous region of Japan (after Hokkaido and Shikoku), as well as the fourth least densely populated. Size-wise, it's also the third-last, surpassing only Shikoku and Kansai with its roughly 32,000km². That makes it somewhat bigger than Belgium (although the latter has close to twice as many inhabitants).


Within Chuugoku, I'm located along the northern shore, about 60km south of the Oki-Shotou (隠岐諸島 "Hidden Crossroads Island Chain") – which gave birth to the legend of the White Hare of Inaba. Regrettably, I should not find the time to visit the islands, for there was just so much stuff to be done closer nearby.


On a smaller scale, Daisen lies right on the shore of Miho Irie (美保湾 "Beautiful Protection Bay"), not far from Nakaumi (中海 "Middle Sea") – a large brackish lake that is directly connected to the ocean by means of a roughly 300m wide channel south of jutting mountain range by the name of Mihonoseki (美保関 "Beautiful Protection Barrier") – and, while not lying directly in the shade of it, also reasonably close to the 1,729m high Mt. Daisen, from which its name is derived.


The town of Daisen is… well, not exactly a town. Rather, it is an administrative district containing a number of villages surrounded by fields that has been defined as a town ¬– though personally I have trouble accepting a place where it takes you need at least five minutes by bike to cross the fields separating one group of houses from another as a town. But anyway, within the "town" of Daisen, I am staying in a "district" (read: village) by the name of Yasuhara (安原 "Peaceful Meadow"), and the name is actually quite fitting. After spending the last month first working for and then running from a certain Hot Spring Mountain Witch, a peaceful, relaxed place like this is just what I need.


I should stay here for a full three weeks, during which the temperatures should stay on the comfortable side of "summery". Actually, I don't think the climate here could be much better. There are some hot days during which I' grateful for the AC in my room, and on a few nights it should even get cool enough that I would keep the window closed, which averages out at quite possibly the most perfect temperatures I've experienced thus far in Japan.


Owing perhaps to Chuugoku's low population total, I was not able to find a HelpX or WorkAway host in this region. Instead, I am spending the entire three weeks in an Airbnb place, sustaining myself with my remote Software Development work, which provides sufficient income for me to afford living in this place while still giving me enough time for some…

Bilateral Biking


My host this time is a friendly woman by the name of Minako Saiko, who is happy to rent out the upstairs of her house to travellers like myself. I should not see much of her since she's out of the house most of the time, and I unexpectedly find myself unaccustomed to not constantly having people around, after that has been my way of living for the last few months.


Occasionally, the house should get quite busy however, since Minako (or Mina for short) is also a certified Yoga instructor…


…and regularly holds classes in her house.


Incidentally, the living room is right next to the dining area, and visible from the kitchen by means of a service counter, so I should not only regularly get to watch the class in action, but would also generate quite some attention from the class to myself by cooking and eating "exotic" meals right next to the yoga area.


And since I've already started, I might as well proceed to tell you about the rest of…

The Place


This time around, the place I'm staying it doesn't really have a name. It's simply a nice little country house, and I have the entire upstairs all to myself.


This features not only a bedroom, but also a working room right next, neither of which is what I'd call small.


As for the rest of the place… I'll simply show you around.



The kitchen features a device the likes of which I have not seen for what seems an eternity: A dishwasher. Or rather, a dishwasher lite. This cute little contraption is so adorable that it takes me several days to even recognize it as a dishwasher (I thought it was only a drying rack, or maybe an electrical drier). Unfortunately, it's not really in use, and even if it was, it would be one of those rather questionable models where you have to wash your dishes before putting them inside. I really don't get the point of those devices. If you have to wash your dishes, then put them in the dishwasher, then run the dishwasher, and then put the dishes away, wouldn't it be easier to just skip steps 2 and 3 and just wash the dishes yourself and put them away? Anyway, that's the course of action that I decide to pursue while I'm here (while looking forward to one day having a real dishwasher again).


Also, while I have used quite a number of washing machines thus far, I don't think I've ever stopped to explain how tricky it can be to correctly configure a washing machine when you have no manual and only understand maybe 20% of the cryptic signs painted on the device. Thus far, I have always had to rely on my hosts to show me how to operate them, and this time should not be any different. Fortunately, most machines have a default auto setting that is quite easy to use once you know how.


I've also got a great view towards the distant bay on one side…


…as well as the mountains on the other side. And no, that's not Daisen, but rather Koreizan (孝霊山 "Child's Resect Soul Mountain"), which sits squat between my home and Daisen, so I can't actually see the big mountain from where I live.


The JR San-In Main Line runs past my house at a distance of not even a hundred metres, and before long I should become used to the sounds of the nearby railroad crossing and the trains going past from 5 in the morning till late at night. One might think that would be annoying, but I personally find it very relaxing. It somehow adds to the rural character of this particular area.



And because this is Japan, trains are not simply trains here. Apart from normal trains, I should also see the Detective Conan Train, as well as a train from another manga that I can't quite identify.


The scenery at night is especially nice, with the lights of the nearby city of Yonago (米子 "Rice Child") visible across the bay in the distance giving this place a mystical flair, like an earthly reflection of the Milky Way.


Getting around in such a rural environment is not easy. Fortunately, Mina has anticipated this and routinely provides her guests with not one, but two bikes to get around! I quickly pick my favourite, featuring an astounding 7 gears, and with it, all of the surrounding area is pretty much at my fingertips… after I get some air into the tires, that is.


I should not hesitate long to explore the immediate vicinity, which features not only fields, but also hidden underpasses, and a great many narrow village alleyways, some of which are more adventurous to ride with a bike than others.


Most notably, the bay is only one kilometre away from my house, and using my trusty bike, I can get there in less than five minutes, enjoying the wondrous panorama whenever I feel like it.



One striking feature of this area are the windmills generating power all along the coast and even some ways inlands. One of them is even visible right from my bedroom window, both at day and as a blinking light at night.


And naturally, there is also a number of Shrines around – not all of them without foxes.


In fact, one time I should pass by one Shrine right during a service, and am able to capture a part of the sublime ritual, which begins with some traditional drumming followed by the characteristic song-like prayer. The implement wielded by the priest is called a Gohei (御幣 "Honourable Offering"), and consists of a simple wooden staff wand with two paper streamers cut in the distinctive zig-zagging pattern, symbolizing bolts of divine lightning.



And what would a proper Japanese town be without its own set of manhole covers? Being on the administrative border of Daisen and Yodoe (淀江 "Pool Creek"), I frequently come across designs of both types in my immediate surroundings.


Quite possibly the most important reason to have a bike here is that the nearest supermarket – which goes by the name of Marugo this time around – is about 10 STEPs (Subjective Tactile Expanse Perception, a measure for how distant a place feels, regardless of objective distance) away. That is technically close enough to walk, but really not the sort of distance you would want to carry groceries for on a regular basis. Good thing I have a bike. With that, it only takes me about 10 minutes to get there. And for those who are interested, here's a short reference for the STEP distance measuring system:
  • 1 STEP: Right outside the door, if you live on the ground floor (+1 STEP for every two floors, +2 for elevator)
  • 3 STEPs: A short distance away; one or two blocks, can get there within a few minutes, a convenient distance
  • 5 STEPs: A comfortable distance away; can get there within about 10-15 minutes, close enough for relatively comfortable shopping; might warrant using a bike
  • 10 STEPs: A good distance away; okay for a relaxing stroll, but not a distance you want to carry groceries; warrants using a bike, and might warrant using a car
  • 25 STEPs: A hike taking one or more hours; bike use encouraged; warrants using a car
  • 100 STEPs: Beyond walking distance; an extended bike trip; warrants using a car or train
  • 500 STEPs: Borderline biking distance; warrants using a car or train
  • 1.000 STEPs: Beyond biking distance; warrants using a car or train, or possibly even a plane
  • 10.000 STEPs: Beyond car or train distance, unless a multi-day road trip is planned; warrants using a plane
  • 100.000 STEPs: Say hi to the astronauts while you're up there
  • 1.000.000 STEPs: Hey look! Earthlings! It has been like what? 46 years? Have you come to see rabbits or fight Nazis, or do you just want some rocks again?
  • 10.000.000 STEPs: Depending on whether you're male or female, two distinctly different travel goals fall within this category
  • 100.000.000 STEPs: Is it just me or is it getting kinda hot over here?


It is with those shopping trips that the bike's basket really does come in handy. However, having used bikes of both types, I can clearly say that bikes with a back-mounted basket handle better than those with a front-mounted one.


And lastly, there's also a pair of Konbinis about 5 STEPs away from my home: A Lawson, and a chain by the name of Yamazaki that appears to be the southern equivalent of Hokkaido's Seicomart. In good old Konbini tradition, they are only 3 STEPs apart from one another.


Anyway, with a bike at my disposal, it's a given that I should soon set out on a number of ambitious rides around the area… maybe a bit too ambitious. In fact, right at the beginning, my ambition should spectacularly backfire on me, and as a result what I had planned to become an epic, record-breaking ride should instead become known as…

Interlude: The Odyssey Ride

11-Sep-2018
Distance: 76km (61km ride, 15km walk)
Ascents: 284m
Duration: 10h
66 (17🦊); 8; 3/3🎁︎

Originally, I planned for this to become an epic ride up to Sakaiminato (境港 "Boundary Port"), then across Nakaumi via Ejima (江島 "Bay Island") and Daikonjima (大根島 "Large Root Island"). The latter island is a shallow volcanic island formed by a shield volcano, and is only 42m tall at its highest point. Its name comes from the large winter radishes grown on it, which are generally known by their Japanese name "Daikon". Moving on from there, my aphelion should be the city of Matsue (松江 "Pine Creek"), located between Nakaumi and the larger freshwater lake of Shinjiko (宍道湖 "Meat Road Lake"), and from there I would return back to Daisen via the land route… or at least that was the initial plan. It was meant to be a personal record-breaking bike ride of over 100km.


And I might even have been able to do it! However, due to unforeseen circumstances, my ride should come to an end somewhat earlier than expected and still last longer. But more about that later.

For now, let us start at the beginning, which happens to be at 6AM when I leave the house and set out into the fresh morning air, racing past the rice and vegetable fields in pursuit of my lofty goal.


Since my goal is quite far away, I try to avoid local Shrines and Temples, which I'll also be able to visit on a later date. Nonetheless, I still come across a Torii… however, this one does not belong to a Shrine. Instead, it's a sample from a masonry with the Shrine's name not yet inscribed on it. That same masonry also appears to cater to the needs of Temples, which just goes to show that over here just like in Europe, religion is the main customer of masons nowadays.


My first waypoint is the Yonago Kitaro Airport, named and themed after the titular character Kitaro of the Manga and Anime series Gegege-no Kitaro. This series, which is particularly popular in Japan, features Kitaro, a young ghost, who experiences all sorts of scary adventures together with his supernatural friends, all of which are based on Youkai (妖怪 "Bewitching Apparition") from Japanese Mythology. The Manga's author, Shigeru Mizuki, was raised in Sakaiminato, and just like Ishinomaki takes pride in being the home town of Cyborg 009 author Shotaro Ishinomori, so does Sakaiminato – and by extension Yonago since the two cities have grown together into one big urban conglomerate spanning the entire of the peninsula – take pride in its artistic prodigy.


The temperatures this early are a comfortable 20°C, and since I picked a mostly overcast day for my daring endeavour, it thankfully shouldn't get much warmer than that either.


For the first part, it's a pretty straightforward ride, and before long I cross Hinogawa (日野川 "Sun Field River") and make it onto the peninsula, with Miho Irie on one side and Nakaumi on the other.


It is here that I first deviate from my original plan. I had initially planned to follow the main road all the way to Sakaiminato in order to get there quickly, but after stopping at three red traffic lights in a row, I figure that for a bicyclist like me, the side roads might actually be faster. Thus, I take a turn towards the bay… and promptly run straight into the first Shrines of the day. Yet more proof that I can't go anywhere in an urban area without finding vulpine Inari Shrines.


So far so good. Going forward from there, I should indeed make better progress in the less busy side streets…


…though I should naturally still stop for the occasional creative manhole cover design…


…as well as that.


And then, there's this emergency shelter. Somehow, I can't quite make up my mind if I should find the existence of such a facility reassuring… or scary. Well, at least I know where I have to go if Trump decides to throw Putin the big ol' Annihilation Ball.


Amazingly, I should only run into one more Shrine (plus Side Shrines) before making it to Yonago Kitaro Airport. The road alignment here is also another case of engineering brilliance. I don't know whether it was the road planners or the airport architect, but at one point, one of the parties involved apparently went "Whooops! Runway!", and consequently a 400m-radius dent ensued in both the main thoroughfare and the adjacent railway line.


And then, I'm officially in what might as well be called Kitaro City.


Apart from a good number of murals…


…there are also a good number of statues depicting characters from the show…


…as well as the Youkai Map of Japan, painted by Shigeru Mizuki himself.


Even the "Don't smoke while walking"-signs are themed Kitaro-style (ooOoOOooOOoo… doOn'T smOoOke ooOr the ghooOoOst will coOome and get yoOouuUu~~~…)


And finally, there's the Kitaro fountain, featuring the entire core cast of the show somewhere on its premises.


For fans of the series, there's also the Kitaro Warehouse to explore here, and while I think the series is interesting, I don't have the time today to visit this place. As a matter of fact, it's not even open yet, since it's only 9:00 by now – later than I would have liked, but still more or less good time.


Moving on, I reach the waterfront of Sakai Mizudou (境水道 "Boundary Channel"), and have to make a decision. Should I try to exceed and head across the channel and east towards the cape of Mihonoseki, which allegedly has a nice vulpine Inari Shrine, or should I skip the 12km detour and head on west across Nakaumi straight away? Since I'm already late by about an hour, I decide to pass on the side trip and head across the sea straight away. Was that the right decision? Or would I have been able to avoid calamity had I taken the more scenic route? We may never know.


So my next stop is Ejima, and along my way there I that my route should inadvertently come to coincide with the Nakaumi Cycling Course for some of its length.


So, how am I going to hope across not one but two islands on a bike you ask? Well, fortunately, the islands are well connected, and the first hop is facilitated by the big… no sorry… huge Ejima Oohashi (江島大橋 "Bay Island Big Bridge"), which is the largest rigid frame bridge in japan, and the third-largest in the world, measuring 44.7m at its highest point, and 1.7km across, with a longest span of 250m. It is beneath this bridge that ships from the Sea of Japan pass when going to the many industrial ports around Nakaumi.


With a maximum gradient of 5.1% on the Tottori side, the ascent is just barely manageable with my humble 7-gear bike, and I am quite grateful when I reach the apex and get a good view of the blissfully flat islands that lie ahead…


…as well as the entirety of Nakaumi beneath and all around me.


This bridge also marks the border between the prefectures of Tottori and Shimane (島根 "Island Root") prefectures, making this one of the few times on my journey that I should make it all the way to another subregion by bike, the only other occurrence of which that spontaneously comes to mind being the Plucky Paparoa Pilgrimage in Northland, New Zealand (see Book I ~ Chapter 29 ~ Mangapai Mania).


Since Ejima is not particularly large (and I have quite some momentum coming down Ejima Oohashi), I should cross it in a flash, and before long I am on the causeway connecting it to Daikonjima. Technically, I guess that would make the two islands into one, though since the causeway is of human make, I'm not sure if the definition of an island applies here or not.


On my way across the islands, I should come across only one Shrine. Well, technically two, but there are certain complications that should prevent me from actually reaching the second Shrine… such as my bike being not all the buoyant.


Moving on across Daikonjima and back onto the mainland commences by means of yet another causeway. Thankfully, this one ends in a bridge, thus clearly defining the border between mainland and island, and saving me the question of whether I've been on any island at all.


Next, I have to choose between three different routes to take me to Matsue City. All three of them clearly lead through some mountainous terrain, but I have no way of knowing which one is the steepest, and thus spontaneously decide on the northern approach, which also takes me by a proper Shrine, as well as a little roadside Shrine and Jizou on the pass. However, it turns out that the following mountain road should be too steep for me to handle on my current bike, forcing me to get off and push for the worst part. Turns out that this one was the middle ground, not as bad as the southern approach, but definitely worse than the central and relatively even route.


And then, I have finally reached my destination of Troy… I mean Matsue!!! And that means… more manhole covers! Being a cosmopolitan city, Matsue has not one, not two, but a total of three different designs, some of which are even coloured!


And this is where today's Shrine and Temple onslaught begins. Within the hour, I should visit more Shrines and Temples than in the entire last week combined. As a result, I should lose quite some time of my schedule here. However, that was all accounted for, and since this is definitely the only time I'll ever come this far from my current home, I deem any time spent visiting Shrines and Temples here well invested.


However, the absolute climax of this ride should not occur until I enter the Matsue Castle Park…


…and come across Jouzan Inari Jinja (城山稲荷神社 "Castle Mountain Inari Shrine"), which clearly qualifies as a candidate for a Golden Fox Shrine, with foxes flanking my way left and right even as I just approach the Shrine.


And then, a very strong candidate instantly becomes a clear winner as I turn to the sides and back of the Shrine to find what I can only begin to describe as "Unlimited Foxes".



With that, this one is clearly the fourth Golden Fox Shrine I should find on my journey, right after Anamori Inari Jinja and Sawazoushi Inari of Tokyo (see Book II ~ Chapter 4 ~ Action at Akihabara), as well as Sakakiyama Inari Jinja of Morioka (see Book II ~ Chapter 5 ~ A Trip Together). Even the Side Shrines around here feature obtuse amounts of foxes.


I don't exactly remember what happened next, but I imagine it must be related to my mind being overwritten with foxes… and I probably generously distributed the contents of my loose change wallet into the offertory boxes spread around the Shrines. It should take several hours for the idiotic grin to wear off my face.

The next thing I clearly recall is sitting in a different part of the park and eating my lunch – a humble sandwich bought from the Lawson at the very beginning of my journey. The best part here is: It's a Yakisoba sandwich! Yum!


Notably, in this part of the park, there is what appears to be an art project featuring paintings of local legends. I can't quite understand what it says, nor do I get any of the references, but find it nonetheless pleasant to look at while I eat.


Regrettably, I should only get to see Matsuejou (松江城 "Pine Creek Castle") from afar since even getting into the inner courtyard already requires a fee. Oh well, I don't really have time for that anyway. I'm not exactly late, having just eaten lunch on the halfway point, but I don't exactly have time to share either.


I should, however, have enough time to find a googly-eyed geocache hidden in the wall of the castle, and it's not the first today either! I already found one at the Kitaro Fountain in Sakaiminato.


Speaking if which, the next one is located at the Matsue station, which features and interesting water fountain obelisk thingy.


Fortunately, I should find this Geocaches as well. Not only does it appear to be from the same person who hid the one in the castle, but it also features the very rare log entry written in the same colour as my ones.


Next up, I come across what appears to be a combination of a gas station and a 100¥ shop. It is… pink.


And suddenly, my worst nightmare becomes a reality. At first, I only think that the road is getting a bit rugged, which is not surprising since I, as so often, have taken to the sidewalk in lieu of a proper bicycle track on a busy road – a common and tolerated practice in Japan. However, then I notice that it's taking me significantly more effort to propel the bike forward, and then there's that awful rubbery noise coming from my back wheel, and I get a sinking feeling – quite literally.. At first I don't want to believe it, but eventually I have to stop and face reality: The tyre is flat. The back tyre to be exact, and a stereotypical tack is to blame.


And so, my ride comes to an early end after a mere 61km, still 39km short of my home, even assuming I should take the direct route. But there's nothing to be done about it, and Bicycle Repair Man regrettably fails to make his dramatic entrance. So I have little choice but to proceed and push my bike further along the way, hoping to miraculously find a bicycle repair shop in the vicinity. And for the record, I would have run directly into one not 500m away if only I had taken this underpass at that point. However, even with a cellphone and mobile data, it's not exactly easy to find a bicycle repair shop in Japan, especially when some Zevi-brained menace has miscategorised the closest one as a motorcycle shop.


Eventually, I figure that if I am to wander around more or less aimlessly, I might as well pursue the Shrines in the area. And I do come across a number of Shrines, including some very foxy ones…


…as well as yet another one of those Island Shrines. This time around, however, my bike is even less buoyant than before.


However, none of the Shrines are dedicated to the god of bicycles, and thus my prayers go unanswered. I should be forced to trudge along the road, passing by scores and scores of shops selling tyres… car and motorcycle tyres that is. It feels roughly like wandering the desert along the shore of the ocean, thirsty with water that you can't drink right in front of you. Seemingly unlimited amounts of almost, but not quite what you need.


Eventually, I make my way to Higashi-Matsue-Eki (東松江駅 "East Pine Creek Station"), from where I hope that I will somehow be able to get my borrowed bike back home.


However… my hopes are dashed against the cliffs. The Japanese way is hard and rigid as obsidian, and the railway system knows no such thing as bicycle tickets. As I try to get my bike on the train, a number of conductors rush to intercept me, and although I try my best to explain the situation to them – that my bike broke, and I'm far away from home, and I need to get it back since it's only borrowed, even offering to pay a full person's extra fare for it – they prove utterly unhelpful and inflexible, telling me it's simply not possible and I have to leave my bike behind. In a manner, I can understand them. After all, they have been raised on rigid rules with no exceptions, and the train really would get a bit crowded if a few dozen more people brought their bikes on it over the course of the next six stations. The valiciousness of it is just too much to me, who thrives on Flirial values of being there for one another and helping each other out in times of trouble. As I hoist my bike back across the walkway and out of the stations, I have a crying breakdown well out of sight of any heartless Japanese people who might be inconvenienced by such an emotional display.


It takes me some time to calm down to the point where I'm able to make rational decisions again. I am still deeply hurt by the sheer lack of empathy I just experienced. Had this been New Zealand, they would not have barred me from entering the train. Had this been New Zealand, I could have asked the driver of any pickup truck going my way to take me and my bike along for a bit. In fact, the first or second pickup truck driver seeing me miserably trudge along the side of the road would probably have stopped and asked if I needed any help. Instead, hundreds of cars passed me by just like that, and even though there is a pickup truck obviously waiting for someone right in front of the station, I cannot bring myself to approach the driver and ask for help. After all, I wouldn't want to inconveniate anyone into being forced to say saying that they're afraid they can't help me. That's just the way the Japanese society works. Everyone keeps their troubles to themselves. No wonder they have such a high suicide ratio.


So, what to do with me and my bike stranded in front of Higashi Matsue Station? Eventually, I call my host and ask her, and after a little bit of back and forth between me, her, and her English-speaking son, we agree that I should park the bike at the station for now and come home by train. We should then figure out a way to get it repaired later.


The decision making process should take a total of two trains, which amounts to about a one-hour delay. The next train running my way is already the late afternoon train, and is consequently significantly fuller than the one on which my broken bike would easily have fitted.


I had originally planned to get my shopping for today done by bike on the way back, but regrettably that plan now blows. Instead, I ride the train one station further than necessary to Daisenguchi (again), where I know there's a supermarket by the name of M-Mart in convenient walking distance of the station. By the time I get there, it's already pretty late.


Regrettably, the M-Mart is about 10 STEPs away from my home, and with night rapidly falling that means I would get to trudge over the fields with a heavy bag of groceries in the night, having the occasional train rush past me. Good thing that unlike my camera, I as a fox have proper night vision, so for me it's not actually as dark as the pictures make it look.


So, in the end, what started as an epic bicycle round-trip across Nakaumi should become a joint bicycle, train and hiking trip with more stress and less Shrines and Geocaches than initially anticipated. But at the very least I made it home safe and sound, and the discovery of the fourth Golden Fox Shrine at least helps to mitigate today's breakdown a little.


However, this should not yet be the end of this adventure. For now, however, it's time for a short…


So let me use this time to tell you a bit about…

The Job


As I already mentioned, I'm staying at an Airbnb place this time around, so instead of working for my host, I compensate them with a nightly rate of 4,115¥. That's a bit above what I feel comfortable with, but considering I have two rooms and a bike, I think the price is okay. To cover that cost, I up my allotted software development work time for Netfira to three days a week, which still gives me enough time to explore the area and work on my blog, while also providing me with sufficient income to sustain myself in this place. I am so happy that I managed to find this job! As for my workspace… it has a really great view, and the internet connection is reliable and reasonably fast too. The only problem is that the chair is a bit uncomfortable, but over time I should get used to it.


And that's already all there is about the Job, unless you want me to bore you with incredibly exciting protocols about technical issues and figuring out why things don't work like they're supposed to (which amounts to a perceived 90% of my job). For me, the entire thing is like a big, endless puzzle game of sorts, but imagine not everything would share my passion for figuring out intricate problems like this.

Instead, let us continue on to something you will probably find more interesting. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, from the maker of "The Odyssey Ride":

Interlude: The Odyssey Ride II ~ The Returnening!

13-Sep-2018
Distance: 50km
Ascents: 217m
Duration: 7h
72 (12🦊); 9; 4/4🎁︎

The next day, my host, her son and I should come up with a plan: They arrange for a bicycle repair shop to pick up and repair the bike on the day after that, and I will ride it back home. And so it happens that two days after the eventful Odyssey Ride, I walk to the station past fields filled with Egrets in order to finish what I started.


This time around, I walk to the closer Yodoe Station (only about 7 STEPs), where I get a ticket from the Jidouhanbaiki using the very clearly labelled station cost chart as a reference.


Okay, just kidding. Fortunately, there is a network plan available that depicts the costs to the stations in a more easily understandable manner – and the bigger stations even have their names translated into English!


The way to (and from) Higashi Matsue as actually a two-step journey: First I have to get to Yonago using a cute one-car-Wanman-car, and then I have to change into the train bound for Matsue.


We did already cover the Kitaro-fixation of Sakaiminato during the first part of the Odyssey. This time around, however, I take note that it has spread as far as the Yonago station, where, the characters from the show have aggressively invaded the platform from whence the trains to Sakaiminato depart. Well, at the very least people will definitely know they're on the right platform, and it sure beats the traditional monotone station look.


And then, while I pass the overpass to my next platform, I come across these adds for exciting new trains. Which one do you prefer? The Hello Kitty Shinkansen or the Anpanman Wanman?


In the train to Matsue, I am graced with the presence of very old-school air conditioning in the form of rotating fans hanging from the top of the cars. It's not the first time I've seen them, but I did not think to take a picture of them up until now.


A few stations down the line I also notice this curious sign combination at the station of Iya (揖屋 "Meeting House"). The warning reading "Abunai" ("Caution") written on an absolutely normal post on the middle of the platform is already curious enough (probably as in "Caution! Do not accidentally walk into this post. Oops, too late…"), but in combination with the station name, it becomes "Iya! Abunai!" ("Ahhh! Watch out!").


Arriving at Higashi Matsue Station at 10:45 – 15 minutes before the earliest time which the bicycle repair guy said he could make it – I find the man waiting for me already, and within a few minutes, he has my broken bike strapped to the back of his white pickup truck. And no, it's not the same white pickup truck that was standing in front of the station two days ago. I checked the licence plate.


From there, he gives me a lift to the relatively prominent bicycle repair shop, which as I mentioned before turns out to be only a few hundred meters away from where my bike's tire went flat in the first place. In fact, it's right along the main street that I walked along for 3.5km on my way to the Higashi Matsue Station. In double-fact, I backtracked along that road for some while in hope of finding a nearby bicycle repair shop, and would have walked right into this place had I only kept on walking the other way for 500 more metres. Oh well, hindsight bias.


It takes about half an hour longer for my bike to get repaired in the little back workshop of the bicycle store, and costs me a total 0f 1,500¥ – an absolutely fair price considering pickup was also included – and then I'm good to go again, and set out on the second part of the Odyssey Ride.


Wanting to continue the ride exactly from where I left off, I head north to the fateful place where misfortune befell me last time, very carefully checking the path such as to not accidentally ride into another tack, before turning south, and hitting some local Shrines and Temples in the vicinity.


There is quite a number of vulpine Shrines to be found within the immediate vicinity, and as such my return should not only be delayed, but I'd also suffer a critical "Out of LOOSE_CHANGE"-error as I feed the offertory boxes watched by the foxes – the last ones of which are the luckiest ones, receiving the valuable 100¥ pieces that I tend to hoard since you need them for everything here in Japan.


So, I make a highly unusual strategical lunchtime decision by going to the nearest Family Mart and purchasing the sandwich that will result in the biggest amount of loose change for a 1,000¥ bill. Together with my 258¥-sandwich, I should receive two 1¥ coins, four 10¥ coins, two 100¥ coins, and a highly priced 500¥ coin for a very lucky special fox shrine. With that, I should at least have the next 13 vulpine Shrines covered (though I shouldn't run into that many more during this stray, thus avoiding another shortage).



What I should not be able to avoid, however, would be… another flat tyre! This time it's the front one!


Fortunately, after the traumatising events from two days past (and quite possibly the guiding hand of the Goddess slowing my progress with generous amounts of vulpinity), I am as of yet very close to the bicycle repair shop, having gone a round it in counter-clockwise crescent shape. As it is, I am not even 300m away from the shop right now, and thus can conveniently push it back over there to have it repaired again, this time eating my lunch while waiting.


My Japanese is not quite good enough that I can be perfectly certain what's the issue this time, but I think it might have been a faulty or missing O-ring on the front tyre's valve. Much to my delight, the friendly and helpful repair guy says that I don't need to pay anything this time around, apparently because of a combination of customer friendliness and the issue not having been a hole this time around. Either way, I am very pleased and make a point of later on going out of my way to correct the wrong entry on Google maps for the store – it now correctly says "Bicycle Store" in the English translation. May it result in some additional business for the good man!


Anyway, off I go, this time for good, onto the second part of my Odyssey. This time around, the route should lead me more or less along the railroad tracks, and also enable me to pick up a number of Shrines, Temples and Geocaches along the way.


Although the Shrine density is not as high as in Matsue, there is still quite a few of them around, and since the way home is still over 40km long, I should run into quite a few Shrines and Temples.


Naturally, I should also run into a number of new manhole cover designs, so without any further ado, here's (starting top left and going clockwise) the manhole covers of Higashi Matsue, Higashi Izumo (東出雲 "East Protruding Cloud"), Yasugi (安来 "Peaceful Become"), as well as an alternate design for Yonago.


Maybe the most curious thing I find on my way back is this thing. As I ride past it, I can't make out what it is, and since it has piqued my interest, I turn around and have a closer look. Turns out it's actually a vending machine… for eggs! An egg-vending machine, or Tamago Jidouhanbaiki (卵自動販売機)! What an interesting approach, but I wonder what they do with the eggs that don't sell for a while?


For the most part, the going is pretty easy, and I make good progress across the egret-filled fields…


…that is, until I reach the town of Yasugi, where someone clearly neglected to label his cache with a 🚲 = ☠ tag.


Thankfully, my efforts are rewarded, and although I have to carry my bike up a long way and spend quite some time searching (while getting bitten by dozens of mosquitoes), I eventually manage to find the cleverly disguised cache. It's refreshing to see some lovingly handcrafted non-standard disguises for a change.


…though finding a good old geocaching convention N°7 standard cache can also feel satisfying: You arrive at the rough location, spot conventional hiding spot N°7, reach inside and find the cache waiting for you without ever having to check the descriptions or hints. I call this a "Direct Assault", or just "Direct" for short.


The Yasugi station apparently has also been infected by Sakaiminato's and Yonago's ghost fever, for there are these little things standing in front of the station. Or is it supposed to be anthropomorphic tadpoles? It's kinda hart to tell… Let's just call them tadpole ghosts.


A little bit further down the road I come across a café. Now, since I don't drink coffee, I don't have any incentive to go in there, and even if I did, I would think twice about going into this particular one. I wonder if they use strange purple salvia to make their products?


As I finally approach Yonago again, I spot a mysterious theme park-like phantom playground in the distance. There's actually a perfectly good way to get there on foot if you know how, but it's nonetheless a good bit out of the way, with now residential areas around it and all. I wonder who built such a thing in such an unusual location. It's a relatively recent addition too, and doesn't even appear on most maps. Maybe it's a phantom playground that's only appears when the moon is standing in the eight of Aquarius and lures innocent children to their doom? Creepy…


Moving on, I finally arrive in the big city of Yonago after a round-trip around Nakaumi that unexpectedly extended to two days instead of one.


One of the fox Shrines here is particularly noteworthy since it has a fox hole integrated into its design. It would seem that around these parts, the fabled hospitality of Inari that bought her the respect and services of the foxes in return is still being held in high regards, and thus foxes can find a home in this and a number of other Shrines that I should yet come across.


One common feature of bigger Shinto Shrines are these circular structures, which sometimes are roofed or with benches nearby, and sometimes only consist of a simple rope circle on the ground, often on a slight elevation. Those are Sumo rings, and their presence on these holy sites can be traced back to the roots of Sumo, which was originally a sport held primarily for the entertainment of the gods, and as thus were organized by Shinto priests who performed the ceremonial aspects of the match. Today, professional sumo is no longer linked to religion (though ceremonial matches may still be held at some Shrines), though the clothes of the Gyouji (行司 "Conducting Director" = "Referee") still bear close resemblance to Shinto garb. A Sumo match, by the way, is a lot faster than the weight of the combatants would suggest, and is typically over within seconds, with one combatant losing either by being forced out of the ring or by touching the ground with any other body part but the soles of his feet.


Regrettably, I am not the only being that is drawn to Shinto Shrines. Mosquitoes also love to perch in the shady and cool copses surrounding these spiritual places, and thus I have pretty much resigned myself to being bitten at least a few dozen times whenever I enter one of those. And I still haven't been able to find any mosquito spray!!


Even so, I drop by a few more Shrines on the way back, taking a bit of a detour despite the sun already starting to set in the west, and as I cross back over Hinogawa a few kilometres to the south, I get my first good look on Mt. Daisen, as well as a lateral view of Koreizan which stands directly between my home and Mt. Daisen.


Presently, it's really starting to get late, so I try to map a more or less direct route that will get me home with the least amount of effort. Now, regrettably my offline map does not feature elevations, but by now I have become familiar enough with Japanese geography and house/farm building preferences that I can tell that the wedge-shaped green strip up ahead simply screams:


It might not be a big one, but after six hours on the road even a little hill can be a big delay, so instead I decide to turn a left and ride along a nice, straight and flat road all the way back to Yodoe.


As I approach the town, night slowly begins to fall. Now the good thing is that this bike actually has a dynamo and light… and for those of you who followed my adventures back in New Zealand I probably don't need to mention that either one or the other is naturally broken. Instead of providing light, all it does is provide a sound equal to the wailing of a thousand banshees being dragged across a chalkboard, screaming. It would seem my Curse of Darkness™ holds strong even in this corner of the world. I should probably go and visit a Shrine of the sun goddess Amaterasu about that sometime.


Oh well, fortunately it's not all that dark yet, and as I mentioned before, I do have good night vision (and bright clothes that you can probably spot five miles against the wind), and so I continue onwards on my way past a lovely little cemetery…


…and back into Yodoe…


…where I pay a visit to the good old Marugo before finally returning back home.


What a day! What a trip! I might not have been able to beat the psychologically important 100km mark, but at the very least I made it all the way across Nakaumi, to Matsue and back again on my own strength. With that, one of my goals for my stay here has been achieved. Now, it's time for me to rest and take some time to appreciate…

The Food


Since I've eaten mostly Müsli for breakfast lately, I decide to turn things around and go for a healthy mix of bread and toast this time around. Also, staying in a place for three weeks actually mans that I can stock up on a number of condiments such as jam, mayonnaise, mustard, tomato paste, as well as a Nutella-like cocoa-nut spread by the name of Chokoreenakriimu (チョコレーナクリーム "Chokorena Cream"). This is usually accompanied by a glass of multi vitamin juice and a cup of Matcha.


One interesting combination I should come up with as a result of these different colours and the shape of the bread is the Yin-Yang Bread, made from mayonnaise, mustard and Chokorena Cream. Unfortunately, it doesn't taste all that interesting, so you don't have to try that one out. (Yes, I'm looking at you!)


For lunch, I probably don't have to say it, but naturally I'm mostly making Inari-Age again to spice up my good old Yakisoba and Yakiudon.


Apart from this new timeless classic of mine, I should also eat some other things occasionally, such as cup noodles and instant Ramen…


…and also decide to give pizza one last chance.


The verdict: Guilty as charged of being not that tasty. I sentence it to be condemned to the deepest reaches of the Abyss and roasted until golden brown and crunchy.


The bacon pizza bread is better, but seriously… for the price of that thing I could easily have made this myself and included with it an amount of bacon that is actually visible to the naked eye.


Something new is this set of Kitsune Udon, which allows me to actually prepare the tasty dish myself, with soup and everything included. And oh is it ever so tasty! Only the size of the serving leaves a bit to be desired.


However, near the end f my stay, I should also add something new to my list of quick, home-made lunches, and that is… Curry Rice! The supermarkets usually have a stupendous selection of different curries, which I have thus far ignored due to a rather stupid blunder during my first weeks in Japan: Having been used to convenient "all in one" ready meal packages from Germany, I purchased a bag of curry and was surprised to find only sauce and meat inside, with nothing else, and with all the stuff that's been going on in my life (and quite possibly my mind being regularly overwritten with cute foxes) it never occurred to me that the way this was meant to be served was as a sauce for previously prepared rice to make curry rice (you try reading package instructions in a language that uses over 2000 different characters!). Having finally realized as much, I promptly proceed to buy myself some curry (choosing more or less randomly from the impressive selection) and while I'm at it also get a bag of cheese to turn a portion of tasty curry rice into an even tastier portion of cheese curry rice. The convenient thing about having a rice cooker around is that I can simply set the rice to cook one hour in advance, and then prepare the sauce on short notice once it's done. And since I usually prepare two servings of rice, I can put the other half in the fridge and then warm it up the next day together with the next serving of curry.


As for dinner, I should mostly go with my usual rotation of Gamm Ligeral and Naleiayafero, and would occasionally break the sequence with dishes such as Käsespätzle (using Udon in place of Spätzle), Schweinegeschnetzeltes, Togitsune, and occasionally some humble cup noodles. Most notably, I should also further Japanize my recipe for Gamm Ligeral by utilizing Gyouza as an alternative to the normal meat component, which ends up tasting quite good.


I should also sample quite a number of different snacks during my time here, including some free snacks provided by Minako on my departure…


…as well as quite a selection of different brands and flavours of chips. Unfortunately, Japan doesn't really have a big or interesting selection, but I should still be able to pick my favourites, those being the unique-to-Japan Umeboshi-flavour and the more traditional STRONG Sour Cream and Onion chips. Note that even though it says STRONG in capital letters, that cancels out with Japan's tendency to mostly use rather subtle taste on chips to create a normal-strength snack. As such, I mostly tend to buy from the STRONG or ム~チョ (Muucho) brands, which advertise strong taste. My favourite Umeboshi chips, for example are the Suppa Muucho (すっぱム~チョ "Sour Muucho"), and the Asia Muucho (アジアム~チョ) variety which I see here for the first time is also quite interesting… and spicy. Finally, the Calbee Potato Chips are pretty much the generic brand, selling mostly bland or salt-flavoured chips, though they also come in an interesting variety called Konsome (コンソメ), which is pretty much soup flavour.


Another popular and quite tasty snack are Kaki-no Tane (柿の種 "Persimmon Seeds"). Not actually persimmon seeds, they are roasted rice cracker fragments in the shape of seeds, often glazed with some sort of flavouring and mixed with peanuts. They are often used as a bar and picnic snack and consumed with beer, though I personally also find them quite tasty without relying on alcoholic beverages as a condiment. Incidentally, they also come in Umeboshi flavour among others.


And do you know these Japanese-branded chocolate sticks with the exotic name of Mikado? Guess what? They have them over here too, but with a more western-sounding name to keep the equally exotic over here!


Staying on the topic of exotic western snacks, here's some Tomato Pretz! These tomato-flavoured pastry sticks are actually quite tasty, especially when consumed straight from the fridge.


Finally, for something a little bit more exotic, there's this snack known as dried Ramen snack. I should try it three times: The first, last and only time. Maybe I ate it wrong, but the Yakisoba ended up getting all over the place, and I would find pieces of it all over the place for the rest of my stay here, despite having vacuumed the place.


I should also try a new drink that I did not see around before: Grape Tea, from the makers of Lemon Tea. Unfortunately, it should prove to be not quite as captivating as its lemony precursor, and as such I leave it at one pack.


It should yet be some time until I would feel sufficiently revitalized to go on any grand trips again, but nothing should speak against a more relaxed short trip across…

Interlude: The Yards of Yodoe

15-Sep-2018
Distance: 10.5km
Ascents: 58m
Duration: 1.75h
10 (1🦊)

One cloudy afternoon, I should embark across the seemingly endless rice fields of Yodoe astride my Odyssey-worn bike…


…and set out on a little circuit to visit the more local Shrines on my way to the supermarket. Incidentally, I should completely inadvertently manage to utilize the two most direct routes to get to out of Daisen and into Yodoe,thus maximising the Yodo/Daisen ratio for this ride.


Along the way, I should come across some pretty skewed Shrines…


…as well as an ancient Houki (伯耆 "Chief Senility") village park, that I elect not to visit because of two reasons:
  1. It costs 200¥ to enter the park.
  2. It only opens at 9:30, which is still about an hour away.
…okay, so it's mostly for the second reason. I may be a bit of a miser, but 200¥ would have been absolutely okay. I routinely spend more on… pretty much everything. But if the park's not open yet, then there's nothing to be done…


This is also where I come across that fateful sign that should put a crazy idea in my head. And you all know me. Once that idea is in place, there's nothing that can stop me for pursuing it. But this particular cupful of crazy should yet wait until a later date.


Of the Shrines I should visit today, Hiyoshi Jinja (日吉神社 "Sun Good Luck Shrine") is perhaps the most remarkable, for it features an avant-garde design element that I have not yet seen in any other Shrine up to date: A railroad crossing!


That's right! The San-In line goes right through the Shrine grounds of Hiyoshi Jinja, and there's a fully-fledged level crossing with barriers and everything. How serene! Fortunately, it mostly separates the ante court from the main Shine which is located on the forested hillside, so once you're past the railroad tracks you can wander around the Shrine grounds in peace and enjoy being drained of tension and blood (sponsored by yours truly Maggot Inc.).


After my visit to the Shrine, I try out a different supermarket by the name of A-Coop. This one is a little bit further away than the Marugo, but conveniently located 3 STEPs away from the Shrine, so this is the perfect time to see if it might be worth the extra steps.


Unfortunately, it's not really an improvement over the Marugo, and while I'm at it, let me dedicate a paragraph to discuss bread. When you're talking about bread in Japan, you're typically talking about toast, and what Japan makes up for a lack of different bread varieties, it makes up in different brands of pretty much identical white bread toasts, as well as different slice thicknesses. Hence, the same pack of toast usually exists in three slice variations: Eight, six and four, or as I like to call them, regular, supersized and complete overkill. And sometimes, as is the case here, the eight-pack is absent and instead replaced with a five-pack, cuz who needs thin toast?


Finally, on the way home, I should come across this really cute design from a local masonry. Did I lately mention that I'm going to miss al the cuteness when I go back home to Europe?


And that's already all for today's ride. Feels kinda anticlimactic after the Odyssey, doesn't it? But don't worry, more would soon be to come, but for now, let me get to…

The Flair


Allow me to start off this section with a beautiful sunrise I should witness really early one morning before one of my early rides, The unique lay of the land and the clouds of that particular morning give this one a unique profile rarely seen anywhere else.


Now then, while not quite as bountiful as the Secret Base in Nanao in terms of Engrish, this place should also have its hidden gems for the attentive observer.


Now, let's head to the supermarket for a spell, for there are a few things I want to show you there, one being this interesting chocolate flavour that I should notice on my way out on my last day, and thus wouldn't be able to try out. How do you even make roast milk?


The other is this section of "luxury meat" which you'll find in most supermarkets. The characteristic marbled texture of the meat is most well known in the western world as Kobe Beef, but there are actually many different variants of this luxurious delicacy… all of which are fiendishly expensive for something that won't last the evening. You can easily spend over 1,000¥ on only 100g of this stuff.


One day, as I return home from a shopping trip and park my bike in the garage, I notice that I am apparently not the only one who uses this space. Looking up I find two artfully crafted nests hanging from the ceiling beams. I wonder how the birds even got them to stick to the slick wooden surface.


While we're near the bikes, did I mention that in Japan, bikes also have licence plates? Well, licence stickers, actually, but every bike needs to be registered, just like a car or motorcycle.


And speaking of bikes, there's also some really nice bike parking spaces in front of the post office.


While I'm outside, I can also observe people drying rice straw on the fields, the telltale shape of which finally answers a question that has been left open since two months ago: That fence I saw on Sado really was made from dried rice straw (see Book II ~ Chapter 10 ~ Sadistic Sightseeing). The only question that I cannot find an answer to is why they would leave the rice straw to dry out in the rain as opposed to a dry place, such as a roofed, open-air shelter.


Another thing I observe while outside are those poppy, yet strangely alien autumn flowers that are beginning to spring up all over the place. Does anyone know what they are called?


And then, there's these little bugs that I have nicknamed maize crickets for their peculiar yellow-and-green appearance. On certain days, I encounter them by the score whenever I bike across a rarely trodden field road, with them jumping out of my way in a veritable cascade of crickets, escaping to the lateral fields.


By the way, how – you may wonder – do the Japanese keep their homes insect free? Well, apart from the obvious solution such as meshes on every door and window, there is also the traditional Japanese technique of burning incense, which is sold in all stores in a characteristic spiral shape.


And then, there are also a good number of insect traps to be found in strategic positions throughout the property. Actually, come to think of it, I believe I've seen them in other places before, but never made the connection up until now.


I already mentioned that this place was pretty quiet. As such, I should rarely get any kind of disturbance here, and the loudest recurring sound would be the passing trains and the ringing of the nearby level crossing. Every new and then, however, there would also be a few kids around, playing in the backyard behind the house, and jumping the little channel in front. Every now and then, I should find myself watching them for a bit.


Another day, I should unexpectedly hear ritual Shinto drums outside. I shyly peek out of my window to inspect the source of the sound, and glimpse what appears to be a wandering Shinto priest just before he disappears around the corner. I should never find out what his purpose was…


Three times per day, this area receives a free musical interlude brought about by the emergency broadcasting speakers. In order to test their continuous functionality, the municipality of Daisen plays a little song in the morning at 9:00, at noon, and in the evening at 17:00. In a land without bell towers, that also serves as a reliable way to keep track of the current time if you don't happen to have your phone at hand. How audible they are depends on how close you are to the speakers, and the wind's direction, but generally the idea is that you should be able to hear them from everywhere in the area.



And finally, let's end this section with a wonderful sunset that I should behold right here from my bedroom window, with the orbital photon blaster setting behind Mihonoseki in the distance.


Now then, the next point on my task list should be…

Interlude: Some Serious Shopping

18-Sep-2018
Distance: 23km
Ascents: 39m
Duration: 3.25h
23 (2🦊); 5

Counting New Zealand, I've been on the road for about a year and a half now. Naturally, that means that my equipment is starting to show some wear and tear, and while I can fix some of it myself, there are other things that simply need to be replaced. Now, as fate would have it, I happened to pass an Aeon Mall about 20 STEPs away from my home early during the Odyssey, and that is where my trip today would take me… along a rather scenic route, naturally.


Right at the beginning of this commercially oriented ride, I befittingly run right into what appears to be Apple's new product. You've got the iPod, you've got the iPhone, you've got the iPen, but have you got the iTown?


Once again, I should primarily plan my route to maximise the number of Shrines and Temples along the way. Regrettably, there are no Geocaches to be found in the area, but fortunately I can content myself with the plentiful cultural riches of this area.


Of those Shrines visited, one deserves particular attention, and for once it is not a fox Shrine. Instead, this time it is an absolutely astound and awe-inspiring dragon carving that decorates the pediment of Kayashima Jinja (蚊屋島神社 "Mosquito House Island") that has captivated me.


And one temple seems to be on particularly good terms with the local stonemason, for in addition to many religious statues, there are also a good number of purely decorative stone ornaments around.


I also come past a house that I am simply going to describe as "approved!"


The Aeon Shopping Mall is within the Village of Hiedzu (日吉津 "Lucky Day Haven") – one of the rare places that use the "Dzu"-syllable (づ), that is essentially more or less pronounced like a "Zu"; at the very least I can't tell the difference – and naturally that should mean yet more original Manhole Covers to dis-cover. Apparently, the symbol of this village are tulips.


After a few navigational bloopers resulting in a back of forth, I eventually approach the Aoen Mall from a completely unexpected direction. Note that while supermarkets have different names all over Japan, Aeon Malls can be found all over the map.


My first stop is the drug store, where I hope to find something against those pesky mosquitoes. However, wither the section is wrongly labelled, or I am simply out of luck today.


One thing I've been wanting for a while now are fox chopsticks. However, while there is a sheer limitless selection of chopsticks available with a bah-zillion different themes and motifs, none of them appear to feature foxes. Oh well…


And naturally, the mall also has its own arcade for parents to park their kids while they go to do some shopping. Convenient, isn't it?


This mall is actually quite big. In fact, it is so big that even in this rural area, it was not able to fit in a single road block. As such, it is divided into an eastern and a western part, the two of which are connected by bridge.


It is after crossing over from east to west that I unexpectedly run into something I've been keeping my eyes peeled for for months. You see, Wolf, a dear friend of mine, is an enthusiastic model builder, and has been asking me to look for something he's been wanting for ages while I'm over here: A model of the anime classic Space Battleship Yamato from the anime of the same name. One wouldn't think that such a thing would be hard to find, with hobby stores stocking model kits by the thousand, but annoyingly they all operate on the "more of the same" principle, and thus, all I've found thus far is Gundam robots and other more contemporary popular models.


However, my luck should turn around in a little niche store in this mall, which goes by the name of "Hobby Zone".


Ever the pessimist, I go in without expecting to find anything but more Gundam. Imagine my surprise when I first come across this cute little model…


…and then upon making an extended scan of my immediate surroundings with my now-primed senses, located this thing standing on the top of the shelf.


At this point, Fox takes over. I don't care how much it costs, I have to buy this and get it to Wolf. After looking for it for eight months now, there's absolutely no way I am going to leave without it. At 10584¥, it isn't even all that expensive for a model this size. A rare model this size which my friend has been unsuccessfully looking for for years, mind you!

But now what? That thing is definitely several sizes too big for me to take along my journey. In fact, it is several sizes too big to fit on my bicycle. Fortunately, as if I had seen this coming, I did take note of a post office just behind the mall on my way here (which I wouldn't have discovered had I come in from another direction), and that's where my path now takes me. I manage give the office clerks a good challenge trying to come up with a way to package this monstrosity (turns out they don't have packaging paper, because why should a post office have such a thing?), and end up paying another 5,000¥ to send it on its way, hoping that it will arrive safe and sound.


Wolf and I would have to sit for a while with our fingers crossed. You, meanwhile, can skip all the anxious waiting, and go straight to the outcome, which is that this package eventually manages to make its way to Wolf with only minor delays.


I feel a bit woozy after spending so much money on a gift like that, and before you say anything, yes, this isn't like me at all. However, over the last decade or so, Wolf has shown me so much generosity, including a gift of a very fluffy tail, that I am happy for a chance to pay him back for all he's done for me, so I guess that's alright. Now if you will, I need to sit down for a while…


After that, I stock up on some decidedly cheaper crafting supplies at the Pandora House…


…and since it's already noon by now, I decide to go and get some lunch at the Food Park.


There's so many different food places here that it's hard to decide what to get, so I do what I always do in these situations and default to an affordable-yet-tasty serving of Kitsune Udon, this time at a chain by the name of Hanamaru Udon, at which I last ate during my stay in Akihabara (see Book II ~ Chapter 4 ~ Action at Akihabara).


They also have a Baskin Robbins Shiten (支店 "Branch Store") here, and while I'm not that big a fan of ice cream, I still think that the sheer selection of flavour mixes is worthy of attention. And if it's not that, then it is what I can only begind to descrive as "ice pizza".


Subsequently, I come by a loooooooooong row of capsule machines…


…one of which manages to hit my critical weakness. With four out of five prizes being vulpine, you'd think the odds are in my favour, yet it should still take me three attempts of 200¥ each to get something different from a mini-shrine. Oh well, but… FOXES!!!


The last stop of this shopping spree should be the integrated supermarket, where I not only find exotic specialities from distant lands…


…but also unexpectedly and blissfully find Hello Kitty ~ The Insect Spray. Naturally that one goes into the basket without a second thought. It also helps to know that the article I'm looking for is called Mushiyoke (虫除け "Insect Remover") in Japanese.


The way back should lead me along the beachfront in a more or less straight line, since I don't want my groceries to go bad in these admittedly somewhat considerable temperatures.


Nonetheless, I should take some time to admire the excellent view of the wind park that I can get from here…


…as well as watch the ducks at the banks of the unusually-shaped mouth of Hinogawa (or did I watch the unusually-shaped mouths of the ducks at the banks of Hinogawa? I can't remember).


And then I return back home cycling along one of the many little channels of Yodoe, which also serve as convenient places for people to hang their clothes on laundry day.


After returning to my little home, it's time to evaluate the spoils of my little raid. For starters, I got myself a replacement geocaching mirror after another of my original Kira Resari mirror broke (the last one having breathed its last in New Zealand). Let's home this one will last me for the rest of my trip. And by Grabthar's Hammer, I swear that one of those years I am going to complete a trip without breaking one of my original Kira Resari mirrors.


Next, I got myself a shiny new belt as replacement for the one I bought in Christchurch, New Zealand. I didn't use to be a belt person before, but after the first months of New Zealand took over 10kg off my weight and my hosts were starting to complain about my pants slipping, I figured that getting a belt would be the cheaper alternative as opposed to getting all my pants adjusted. The belt I got back there served me well thus far, but now it is starting to fall apart, and even my makeshift fixes are starting to fail, so time to get a new one. They didn't have an orange one, but I kinda like the two tone pattern of this one. Incidentally, I even though this belt is Japanese size, and I took one of the smallest ones, I should still have to put not one but two tighter holes into it. Maybe I really should start eating more… or go on less criminally insane rides.


Do you remember my trusty satchel which I fixed two times already? That, too, is now finally getting replaced. At first I am worried about whether the new model will be able to hold all the stuff that I crammed into the old one, but by cleverly combining the new, red satchel with the Kitsune bag that Kat gave me back in Tokyo, I manage to create a construct that is convenient, reliable, and superior in every way to my old satchel. Still, after it has accompanied me all the way around the world already, I'm feeling kinda sad about having to let it go.


And then, remember the shopping bag I bought on the Kitami Kitakitsune Bokujou in Hokkaido (see Book II ~ Chapter 8 ~ An East Side Story)? I've since used it to replace my old Trip Advisor shopping bag which I got in Singapore, and which has since then become rather ratty and worn. However, I since had to find out that the straps of this new bag are not only highly uncomfortable to carry as they cut into my hands, but also rather unreliable and tend to pop out at rather inopportune moments. Thus, I bought two sets of potential replacement straps at the Pandora House – a flat strap that I'm sure will be comfortable to carry, but which I'm not sure will fit through the holes of the bag, and a cord that I'm sure will fit through the holdes, but probably won't be as comfortable to carry. I am in luck, though, and the flat strap fits only just, creating a construct that is comfortable to carry, and also quite reliable.


Finally, there's the one capsule Kitsune, which was not on my shopping list, but made it into the basket anyway along with two shrines. Oh well.


So much for that, and as I sit down to tally today's expenses…


…mother Nature sees fit to ease my pain by treating me to yet another beautiful sunset.


So much for this expedition. It should not be the last one but before we continue on to the grand finale, let us take a little break for…

The Retrospective


Since this place wasn't a HelpX or WorkAway host, I can't make a classical retrospective at this point, so instead here's the adjusted retrospective for Hostels, Hotels and Airbnb places.

The facilities were good, with a bathtub for me to use, and a free washing machine. However, there was no dryer, and the bathroom was not only outside my room, but also downstairs. Meanwhile, the bed was very comfy indeed, and not only did I have my own room, but also an entire additional work room. The atmosphere was comfortable and relaxed, and I fully felt at home during my stay, so it couldn't have been better. Food-wise, I was entirely on my own, but that's okay (this category exists to offset places like pensions and hotels that include food, such as the Suzukiya Ryokan I stayed at with Robert during my trip to Shiroishi (see Book II ~ Chapter 5 ~ A Trip Together)). The location was a little bit remote, but that was compensated by the fact that I had a free bike available. On top of that, I had reliable and good free WiFi, a fully functional AC, and a properly equipped kitchen to prepare my meals in. Added up and divided by the price, I must say that I find it was maybe a little bit expensive, but I certainly don't regret having stayed in this place.


Since I've stayed here for three weeks, I think it's only fair that I prepare a piece of gift artwork for Mina, even though I've technically bought my stay here. Nonetheless, I am still happy and grateful, and so I think that she deserves at least that much.


And let's be honest, I do this as much out of gratitude as in anticipation of the smile on her face when I present it to her.


She promptly puts it up on the wall too, right above the map of home locations of the people she's hosted. Naturally, I should get to place a pin on my home town too.


Now then, my time here is slowly running out, but before it comes to an end, I should embark on my greatest challenge yet and head all the way from…

Interlude: Seashore to Summit

23-Sep-2018
Distance: 57.4km (Ride: 46km; Stray: 11.4km)
Ascents: 1900m (Ride: 519m; Stray: 1,381m)
Duration: 12.25h
34 (2🦊); 10 (1🦊); 3/7🎁︎

For this most ambitious of my endeavours yet, I literally have to get up at first light. Incidentally, today is the vernal equinox, meaning that I have exactly twelve hours of daylight to complete this challenge.


My tour today should take me first a little bit north to the seashore, and then from there up all the 1,711m to the summit of Mt. Daisen (and a bit extra, for my route would take me up and down a few inclines along the way.


It goes without saying that I shouldn't make such a long trip without preparations, so I end up emptying out my orange backpack and filling it with supplies for my trip, including emergency jacket, water, extra water, first aid kit, torch, map, and a bunch of other things. Better safe than sorry, right?


And then, this might be an instance of Japanese over-cautiousness, but there is actually a mountain climbing registration form. Mina says I don't have to fill it out, but I figure if I'm going all that way, I might as well bring it along in case anyone wants to see it.


I manage to get out of the house around 6:15, and thanks to the mountains to the east, that's actually still a short while before sunrise. I already expect this to become another sunrise to sunset escapade, just like the Collingwood Challenge (see Chapter 20 ~ The Golden Getaround).


I quickly stop by the nearby Lawson to get myself a sandwich (as well as an emergency sandwich) for the road, and by the time the sun finally clears the eastern horizon, I have almost reached the seashore already.


The first milestone is quickly reached, and before I know it, I am standing at the shore of Miho Irie, where a woman appears to be gathering sea food. And just to make it official, I go the extra mile (well okay, it's more like 30m either way, so sue me!) to go all the way down to the water and touch the ocean waves before going on my way along the promenade.


Now then, it's now 6:40 and time for blooper of the day. In an attempt to go all the way along the seashore for a while, I daringly choose to go where no bike has gone before (or at least not in a very long time).


However, ever so gradually, the way goes from "no" over "very no" to "you still wanted to go up the mountain today, right?". So I am eventually forced to stop and turn around. Annoyingly, it would have only been another 50m or so before I would have reached a proper road again, but I don't think I could have made my way through that thicket without a machete. I probably couldn't even have made my way through there with a machete.


My next milestone for today is the wind farm that I have seen from the shore near the Aeon Mall, and by 7:00, I should reach the closest one of the three-armed giants diligently working to power the region. I sure wish we had more of those where I come from. I for my part am always impressed seeing one of these impressive masterpieces of clean energy up close. From a distance, they always look so thin and filigrane, but once you're near them it really sinks in that their mighty propeller blades are larger than the wings of most aircraft.


And that marks the end of the easy part of the journey. Turning my back to the sea, I start heading inlands, and that means from here on out it's an uphill battle for me and my bike. Uphill all the way to Mt. Daisen, which is now already visible in the far distance.


Naturally, I have picked my route in a way that should lead me past a number of Shrines along the way, and on top of that I should run into some additional Shrines (and Temples) along the way.


One of those apparently hasn't seen much patronage lately, or at least that's what lady Muffet's presence inside the Torii indicates.


This is also as close as I should get to the one windmill that it visible day and night from my bedroom window…


…nd then, there's more of those alien autumn flowers all along the way.


One peculiar practice that I have now observed a couple of times is the burning or smoking of fields. This time around my way leads me right past an entire embankment that has been covered in smouldering ash. I wonder, could this have to do with soil quality? Or maybe is it a means of getting rid of vermin? Who knows?


Anyway, for the most path, the going is relatively smooth along more or less straight paths, that go sometimes down, but most of the time up along gradients that range from "barely noticeable" to "considerable"…


…but when I reach the final approach to Mt Daisen, around 450m of altitude (and a little bit after 9:00), the incline suddenly shifts its game up a notch and goes "hey look, here's 10%!". Unfortunately, that is more than my humble 7-gear bike can handle,


Now then, once again my route does not precisely follow the official Sea to Summit track (in fact, any concordances are purely coincidental), but from the fact that this part of my route is also part of the official track, I can only conclude that those ☠@✊︎⚡︎ sadists who laid out the routes have obviously never tried to ride them themselves (I already had that suspicion ever since I went along the Nakaumi Cycling Course for a while, and ran into comparably mean inclines followed by "Fuck You!" traffic lights right after a nice downhill segment.


Oh well, taking my sweet time to get up here at least means I have the liberty to appreciate the little stone Buddhas standing along the roadside in regular intervals. Here's hoping they protect me from bears, which once again are said to roam this area.


I should be pushing my bike for about 3km and with it 300m of altitude before I finally reach my next milestone. Motivatingly, there are signposts here every 100m of altitude, so I can at least take pride in my painful progress, and by 10:00, I have finally cleared the 700m mark.


Shortly thereafter, I finally reach the resort town in the shade of Mt. Daisen, where I park my bike and continue onwards on foot. Up here, it's only 19°C, but with the exertion I've jst gone through, it feels at least 5° hotter to me.


Looking for a place to submit my mountain climbing registration form, I notice the tourist information, and the employees in there are indeed exceedingly well prepared. After trying to explain them my desire, the male employee at the counter goes and gets his female co-worker, who promptly fetches her tablet and tries to communicate with me using a voice translation app, never mind that I addressed them in Japanese. After a bit of pointless translation limbo, they manage to communicate to me that I can't submit the form here, and instead have to go to a mail box that is around here somewhere. Now, I could probably have spent another half an hour or so trying to decipher the hand-drawn map I was handed,but I eventually decide that it's probably overkill, and the fact that they don't have a process for this at the Tourist Information probably means that no one does it anyways.


Besides, maybe it's because today is a Sunday, but there seem to be quite a lot of people around to climb the mountain today, so I figure that even if something happens, there will be enough people around that at least one of them won't be inconveniated by helping me in an emergency situation, such as me being attacked by a bear after slipping and falling and being buried by an avalanche while also under attack from a cobra and being repeatedly struck by lightning for good measure.


The next, not-so-distant milestone is Daisenji (大山寺 "Big Mountain Temple"), where it is customary to say a prayer and ring the big bell before ascending the mountain. I should hear that bell approximately five times a minute for the next two hours or so. The road up to the mountain is already a no-bike zone, and for once I'm not upset about it, because this road continues the trend of being too steep to scale with all but the best bikes. I recommend 14 gears upwards.


As I reach Daisenji, I witness something unprecedented. While the Temple itself is already quite nice, the truly astounding thing lies in one of its Side Temples, which happens to go by the name of Shimoyama Tatsuonken (下山鉄音萱 "Below Mountain Iron Sound Reed"). I am used to foxes standing guard in front of Inari Shrines, and sometimes also Shrines of other deities, but this is the first time I see a skulk of them watching over a Buddhist temple.


Moving on, the next milestone – and the last outpost of civilization for quite a while – should be Okumiya Jinja (奧宮神社 "Inner Hall Shrine"), located officially beyond the reach of any sort of landbound motorized vehicle, surrounded on all the sides by forested hills and mountains.


And that should finally mark the end of the beaten track. From here on, the going gets tough, and it's still about 3km and about another 850m in altitude to the summit.


As for my route up and down the mountain, ever eager to avoid repetitions as much as possible, I should go up along the slightly longer Gyouja Tozandou (行者登山道 "Pilgrim's Mountain Trail") passing through the idyllic Motodani (元谷 "Origin Valley") – certainly not only because that path is the logical continuation of the way to Daisenji and Okumiya Jinja, and also features two Geocaches – which eventually converges with the Natsuyama Tozandou (夏山登山道 "Summer Mountain Mountain Trail") main route between the 5th and 6th waystation. Afterwards, it should be a linear path for some time, that eventually splits into a figure-eight path near the very summit.


And for those of you who are interested, here's a height profile of the entire ordeal, featuring Gyouja Tozandou in red, and Natsuyama Tozandou in black.


Okay, so let's get this show on the road. At first, it's mostly steadily ascending forest paths, occasionally augmented with borderline boardwalks and steep stairs…


…and before I arrive at Motodani, which is an ephemeral river valley that is currently dry and safe to cross. From here, I get my first really good view of the day, and I can see all the way t the wind farm at the seashore which I passed several hours ago. As expected, I am not the only person up here: There's enough people around that finding the nearby Geocache relatively undetected should be quite a difficult feat indeed.


It's after there that the true torture triggers. From here on out, it's stairs after stairs, and although I am generally a person who takes the stairs whenever possible, I have soon reached the point where I occasionally revert to climbing the endless stairs on all fours, always aware of my need to make good time since I still need to cycle all the way back home after my mountain tour. As it is, it's about 11:30 now, and I haven't even made it to Natsuyama Tozandou yet.


However, my rate of ascent should soon be slowed by unforeseen circumstances, for right as Gyouja Tozandou converges with Natsuyama Tozandou, I run into humans.


Many humans. Many, many humans. Many, many, many humans. Many, many, many, many humans. Many, many, many, many, many… you get the picture. As you can probably imagine, this narrow mountain paths was not meant to facilitate what feels like the entire population of Chugoku, and the logical consequence of that is what I can only describe as a mountain jam.


I should later learn that this unexpected occurrence was the logical consequence of me choosing one of my favourite days of the year – the vernal equinox – for this endeavour. You see, unlike in Germany, where the four solar festivals are largely being ignored, here in Japan they are all public holidays, and since today is a Sunday, another interesting regulation takes effect: When a public holiday falls on a Sunday, the following Monday automatically becomes a holiday too. This is called a Houtei Kyuujitsu (法定休日 "Law Determined Rest Day" = "Bank Holiday"), and while this regulation may seem like a dream come true to westerners, please keep in mind that this is pretty much a desperate measure from the Japanese government to stop people from overworking themselves. The average Japanese employee rarely has more than 20 vacation days a year, of which most people only take about half because they do not wish to inconveniate their co-workers by their absence. As a result, obligatory bank holidays like these resulting in long weekends are a prime opportunity for hard-working families to do things together, such as climb the highest mountain of Chugoku together with over 9,000 other people who had the same brilliant idea.


Anyway, it's a little after 12:00, at the 6th waystation at about 1350m, that I decide to sit down and have my lunch – a tasty Yakisoba sandwich. This is maybe the most notable of the waystations short of the summit, since it marks the border between the woodland below and the shrubland above. Fromm here on out the trail should leave the shelter of trees and continue through bushes that are only about man-height.


Moving on with fresh strength, I endure the stop-and-go of the mountain jam for about another half an hour before I reach 1,500m, and get yet another beautiful view down. This time, I can see all the way to Koreizan – the mountain hiding my home from view – Miho Irie, Sakai Minato and Mihonoseki behind it.


From there, it's not much further to the figure-eight wooden boardwalk around the summit, and 99% of the people choose to ignore the scenic route and go the direct and hopelessly over-crowded path to the left. I will never understand this sort of herd-mentality, but in this case it plays out in my favour, since it means that I have the longer walk to the right almost exclusively to myself, and can finally walk at my own pace again.


One thing of particular note along this path is this old stone hut, which was built by monks in the year 1920 and harbours a little Shrine up to this day, albeit the structure is a little bit dilapidated by now.


And then, around 13:00, I finally reach the summit, which as you might expect is (un)reasonably over-crowded with humans.


Oh well, at least I still get a nice panorama of the surroundings, even if it is a little bit hazy today.



Now all that's left is the way back down, and since I already covered the less crowded routes on my way up, that means that I have to take the busier routes back down. The good news, however, is that by now most of the people who were going up the mountain have reached the summit, and as thus, there are only few people coming the other way by now.


And since I didn't take an extended break up at the mountaintop rest station, I managed to leave a good number of the others behind me. However, that still leaves me with at least a few hundred in front of me slowing my descent. As such, it should take me more than a full hour until I'm back at the sixth waystation again.


Now then, as those of you who frequent the mountains on a regular basis may know, there are multiple ways of going down a mountain, and most of them are more or less hard on the knees. The controlled, steady descent, ideally using hiking sticks – which interestingly are called "Sutokko" (ストック, from German "Stock") in Japanese – might be the safest and most sustainable one, and is also the one which most of the people in front of me apparently prefer.


I, however, am hard pressed for time, and thus I decide to use a Shadow technique – that is something that I know fully well is going to take its toll on my body, and can be potentially dangerous. Calling upon my full potential as an amazing climbing grey fox, I make use of every opportunity to pass the slower people in front of me, and begin more or less racing down the mountain. Instead of breaking downhill, I am determined to convert as much of the potential energy that I painstakingly accumulated on my way up into kinetic energy, leaping down ledges up to a metre in height and taking stairs two or three steps at a time. I fox out and let my vulpine instincts guide my every step, and without a thought, my feet find the correct footholds every single time, and I know precisely at which places I can go fast, and where I have to exercise caution. Amazingly, my Geocaching tails – which I am naturally wearing – do me another great service here. I would have imagined that the humans would be upset by my daring rush down the mountain, but apparently the sight of my vulpine tails placates and enchants them, as the only words I hear from the people that I pass by are "Kitsune" ("Fox"), "Kawaii" ("Cute") and "Sugoi" ("Amazing"), not a node of anger or annoyance in their voices, but rather amazement and surprise. Eventually, it appears that I have passed most of the people in front of me, and the path becomes more quiet again, and by 15:00, I am near the lower end of the trail, and back on schedule, wondering whether my daring dash down Daisen did give birth to another local legend about a fox that ran down the entire mountain in one go. At the very least, a good number of people will have something unusual to talk about tonight.


Now, down on this end of the trail, there are also some cultural treasures, such as the legendary invisible Shrine…


…as well as Amidado (阿弥陀堂 "Increasingly Steep Corner Hall"), which is home to the second Geocache I should find today (apart from the one cache hidden in Motodani, I didn't have any luck with the Caches that were supposed to be on Mt. Daisen itself).


As I walk back to where I parked my bike (hoping that the tyres are not flat again), I cross a bridge spanning the lower end of Motodani, and get a good look up to where I just came from.


Fortunately, it turns out that my bike's tyres are still blissfully full – despite me having parked right next to a pile of shards that I noticed only too late – and that means that now it's time for the moment I've been waiting for all this time: From here on until further notice, it's downhill all the way. I don't know how fast I'm going down the 10% incline, but if I don't use the brakes, I can easily keep pace with the cars, hich I estimate are going at about 6km/h despite the 40km/h speed limit on this nice, straight piece of road.


Naturally, I should take a different route back home in order to visit yet some more Shrines (and Temples)…


…as well as a very compact Geocache, this one found beneath a bench at a motorway rest station.


My route back should also take me through a couple of new districts, and with it yet another couple of new creative manhole covers, both of which prominently feature Mt. Daisen in their designs.


And then, there's this one very interesting little settlement that had caught my eye on the map some while ago, and which I simply have to check out now that I'm in the approximate area. Turns out that the concentric circles are kinda tricky to navigate once you're in them, but even though I don't quite manage to stick to my intended route through this little labyrinth, I still find a way out without having to rely on a red thread.


By now it's well past 17:00,by the way, and as I race past an eye-catching local confectionery styled after a Japanese castle, the sun is mercilessly starting to set in the west once again.


All my efforts to make it home in time should be doomed by my old enemy: Distance. And as such, I am in for another ride through the sinister streets of Yonago, and across the dark fields beyond.


This, however, should turn out to be a great boon for me. It happens at the final underpass I need to traverse on my way back home that I see a shy animal peek into the tunnel at the far side, and quickly duck back into the bushes upon noticing me. At first, I think it might have been a cat, but as I emerge from the other side of the underpass, an all, too familiar shape quickly darts by me and into the tunnel. It's already too dark to tell for sure, but the shyness, the size, the shape of the head, and most importantly of all, the fluffy tail all indicate that I have just seen the sixth wild fox I've seen in my entire life. That makes three times in Japan now, two of which have been in Hokkaido, and that means that I have now officially seen as many wild foxes in the last 4 months here in Japan as in 30 years in Germany. Amazing!

With that, my daring adventures in Daisen are coming to an end. I should, however, still have to pay the price for my use of the Shadow technique to quickly descend Mt. Daisen and get back on schedule: For the next three days, my legs should be the next best thing to completely unusable, the most horrible ordeal I should have to endure multiple times a day being the dreadful descent down the stairs whenever I need to go to the bathroom or kitchen. Fortunately, I had anticipated this possibility, and wisely planned for some time between my trip up Mt. Daisen and my departure from this place, such as to allow my body to recover. Working on the computer has never felt so good!

An after those three days, it's time for me to move on and get ready for…

The Road Ahead


27-Sep-2018

At three weeks, I have stayed longer at this place than at most places in New Zealand, yet shorter than in any of the places I've stayed in Japan for an extended amount of time. One way or another, my heart has grown quite fond of this place, which I am proud to call one of my true homes here in Japan. Now, however, the moment of my departure is at hand, and now, for me it's…


As such, I have to pack up my things and leave the place as empty as I found it.


Mina kindly delivers me to Yodoe-Eki, and it is there that we say our goodbyes. It has truly been a wonderful time for me, and I am sad to leave this place behind.


Despite being a little backwater station at which Kyuukou do not stop, this little stop has an advanced LCD screen informing passengers about train departures. It does not, however, tell me on which of the two tracks the train will arrive – I still have to figure that out from the good old-fashioned timetable.


And then, there's the same old issue with the ticket and the Jidouhanbaiki not selling the ticket I need. Good thing I have by now figured out how to use the Seisan system, and so once again I just purchase the most expensive ticket on display with the intent to have it adjusted into the ticket I need at the next longer intermediate stop.


My journey to Kashii-Eki (香椎駅 "Incense Mallet Station") in Fukuoka (福岡 "Lucky Hill") today should be another of those ones. Not only do I plan to jump to the next of Japan's big Islands – Kyushu to be exact – but I have also gotten it into my head to go all the way along the northern and western shores of Chugoku on my way there, and thus following the San-In Line all the way to its southwestern terminus. Good thing I already have some practice planning stupidly complex routes by now, for this should be yet another seven-segment trip. And here is how it goes:
  • From Yodoe to Yonago with the JR San-In Line for Yonago (21 minutes ride; 17 minutes to change)
  • From Yonago to Masuda (益田 "Profit Field") with the Aqua-Liner for Masuda (Kyuukou; 223 minutes ride; 74 minutes to change)
  • From Masuda to Nagatoshi (長門市 "Superior Gate City") with the JR San-In Line for Nagatoshi (110 minutes ride; 3 minutes to change)
  • From Nagatoshi to Kogushi (小串 "Little Skewer") with the JR San-In Line for Kogushi (75 minutes ride; 5 minutes to change)
  • From Kogushi to Shimonoseki (下関 "Lower Connection") with the JR San-In Line for Shimonoseki (45 minutes ride; 26 minutes to change)
  • From Shimonoseki to Kokura (小倉 "Small Storehouse") with the JR Sanyo Line for Kokura (14 minutes ride; 6 minutes to change)
  • From Kokura to Kashii with the JR Kagoshima Line Section Rapid for Omuta (大牟田 "Big Moo Field") (Kyuukou; 61 minutes ride)


The very comfortable part should be that I would get to ride the entire length of the Aqua-Liner from Yonago to Masuda, and thus have a long and relaxed ride there before the train-change shuffle starts. But for now, I first have to ride to Yonago along a good old Wanman car.


So another journey begins, and this one should take me along the shore of Chugoku before crossing over into Kyushu by means of an undersea tunnel, and even though I start as early as 7:52 in Yodoe, it should be well after sunset by the time I finally arrive. Going first past Nakaumi and Shinjiko, and then along the coast, this should be my most varied railway segment so far, as sprawling serene rice fields, valleys, and the majestic Japanese sea constantly give way to one another. Occasionally I should even get to see a city, but there aren't many of those around in these parts of the country.



My first transfer should be in Yonago… or so I thought! Once in the station, the train I'm on magically transforms into the Aqua Liner. Disappointingly, it does so without a special-effect-heavy Anime transformation sequence ("Aqua Line Crystal Power! Make Up!!!"). To compensate for this, the Detective Conan Train is standing just on the next platform over, allowing me to get a closer look at it, and consequently figure out that this train is sponsored by the Manga Ookoku Tottori (まんが大国とっとり "Manga Kingdom Tottori").


Since the following part of the journey aboard the Aqua Liner is kinda long, I find myself having to use the on-board restroom. Much to my delight, it has a modern seat disinfection spray available. I wish trains in Germany had such a thing.


It is at my next stop of Masuda that I have my ticket adjusted. Once again, the process goes without a hitch – partially also owing to my gradually increasing proficiency in the Japanese language. Having now learned the word Futsuuressha for normal trains, I can convey to the station attendant that I do not want to go to Fukuoka by Tokkyuu, but rather prefer the more affordable and scenic route around.


Once again, the process takes a while – which makes me assume that the software solution they use to create those tickets is probably not as streamlined as it could possibly be – but afterwards, I proudly hold my final ticket for today in hand.


Matsue-Eki is also a special stop in two more ways: Not only is it the location where I should devour my lunch in the form of a twisted spiral baked good by the creative name of Kuchidoke-no Yoi Biggu Denisshu Doonatsu (口どけのよいビッグデニッシュドーナツ "melting-in-the-mouth-good big Danish doughnut") and a quite tasty Fukkura Baagaa (ふっくらバーガー "soft and full burger")…


…this area is also home to an "OMG SO ADORABLE CUTE *dies*"-mascot that can be found all over the station.


Anyway, moving on. My next ride is a somewhat more rustic vehicle, that is nonetheless still quite comfortable. Plus I love the color.


By contrast, the following train should by quite yellow indeed.


And then, my route takes me beneath the sea for the second time during my journey, this time through the tunnel beneath the barely 1km wide and 47m deep Kanmon Kaikyou (関門海峡 "Barrier Gate Sea Gorge" = "Gateway Strait") separating Honshu and Kyushu. There is also a bridge available, but I'm afraid that one is for cars only. Incidentally, this should also be the shortest segment of today's journey, since it pretty much only covers the trip through the tunnel before I have to transfer again,


That last transfer should be a bit tricky too. Since the train goes by an unfamiliar name, I have trouble finding it instantly, and have to go to the ticket gate, ask a station attendant which track it departs from, and then hurry to the right platform… all in only 6 minutes. But I manage to make it in the end. Unfortunately, the train in question is a little bit full, so I should have to stand the rest of my way to Fukuoka.


By the time I arrive at Kashii-Eki, it is already dark outside fortunately, I do not have to wait long for my host to pick me up.


Subsequently, we go for a quick dinner to a local and very tasty Udon buffet restaurant…


…before retiring to the place that should be my new home for the month to come.


What sort of adventures should await me in this place? Find out in the next chapter of the Travelling Fox Blog!

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