Just like in New Zealand, I have now finished my tour across the southern islands of the country, and thus logically, when I make landfall on Honshu again, it is in one of the regions which I already visited before. To be specific, I am now back in…
The last time I was here was in September, just after my great escape from Yudanaka. Back then, I was staying in Daisen (see Book II ~ Chapter 13 ~ Daring Daisen) on the northern coast of Chuugoku in Tottori-ken, and incidentally, my current whereabouts are almost straight south of there, at a distance of about 120km in Hiroshima-ken (広島県 "Broad Island Prefecture"), and at the southern coast of Chuugoku.
The city I am staying at here goes by the name of Onomichi (尾道 "Foothill Trail"), and is home to about 140.000 people. It is located to the southeast of the prefecture and forms the northern terminus of the Shimanami Kaidou. As such, one of its primary functions is as a crossover station where travellers that come by coach from Shikoku can transit to the Shinkansen or other trains, but is also known for its multitude of Temples and Shrines, all features that are quite appealing to me, even if they are once again not the reason for me coming to this particular place.
One thing of note is that thanks to the unique topography and the way in which the city wraps and stretches around the mountains here, the city layout of Onomichi is very, very cool. You could almost say it's harp-shaped, with main roads and their offshoots running north through a number of gradually longer parallel valleys, connected by roughly perpendicular thoroughfares at the seaside and further inlands. My home is at the side of one of those valleys, halfway up one of the hills, and located at a position that is simply impossible to reach with any sort of land-based vehicle.
In terms of latitude, not much did change since Matsuyama. I am now roughly 60 km further to the north, but my circle of latitude still falls about 50km sort of intersecting with the southernmost point of Europe, the Greece island of Gavdos south of Crete. As for the climate, with the cold font moving on, the temperatures should get somewhat warmer again, but still stay within ranges that unmistakably identify the season as winter.
Now, if you think the last chapter already kept me quite busy, then you're absolutely right. In fact, I already knew back on Tokashiki that the remainder of my time in Japan would be quite hectic, and this particular episode should probably be the busiest time of all. Somehow, fate has conspired against me to keep me occupied with all manner of things while here, and thus despite (or maybe because of) me staying here for only one short week, I would soon enough be busy…
Bouncing all over the Place
Once again, I am staying at an Airbnb place, this time in the form of a rustic little hillside house, and paying my bills with three days a week's worth of remote Software Development work.
My host here is a woman by the name of Yoko, whose cheerful and outgoing nature could not contrast more sharply with that of my last host. I instantly feel welcome and at home here, making me realize just how much a good atmosphere means to me.
Since this place is a proper guest house, I should also occasionally run into other guests staying at the two other rooms, but quite possible due to my extreme business at this time, I should not get to interact with them much. So instead let us not waste any time here and proceed straight to…
I could talk a lot about this place – and in fact that's what I'm going to do – but first, in order to give you a live impression of this place and how the different areas are linked together, here is the traditional tour of my current home.
This time around, I have a traditional Washitsu once again, complete with futon, and even the laptop-friendly workspace is – like everything else – on the floor.
Now, once again, this place is far from perfect. In fact, if anything, it has even more issues than the last place. For one, the inside temperature should routinely be more or less in perfect harmony with the outside temperature…
…which might be owing to the fact that the window panes do not even completely fill out the frames, leaving little gaps that automatically make the rooms well-ventilated – like it or not.
Fortunately, however, instead of a Heaty-Puff Jr., all the rooms and common areas come equipped with powerful AC units that are capable of warming the rooms up to a tolerable level, even if, say, the shower room and the bathrooms should still remain dreadfully cold. And speaking of which, the toilets in this place are really something else! Lacking access to the sewer, this house is outfitted with water-free composting toilets in two variants: Traditional Japanese…
…and Black Hole, both of which open up to a latrine pit below. I am sure you can imagine the… olfactory impressions, and even the valiant attempt of freshening up the air with a powerful scenting agent only means that it smells as if a truck load of lavender had crashed into the municipal septic tank.
There is an alternative to using either of those, and that is a urinal. However, this, too, should come with its own challenge: Since the urinal is uncharacteristically low and small (and also waterless) – more fitting for use by a 6-year old boy rather than a grown man – using it should always end up being a bit of a pisser.
As for the laundry, once again there is no dryer, but at least this time there is a really good place to hang it in a part of the house that I am sure has a flowery Japanese name, which I unfortunately did not think of to ask about. Basically, it's a very narrow roofed veranda just outside the traditional small hallway separating the Zashiki from the outdoors. And since it's facing to the southwest, that means my laundry should get dry quite quickly on a sunny day.
Now, despite all these shortcomings, I somehow can't help but feel that this place is a lot better than the last one, which might have a bit to do with the atmosphere here, but I'm sure that another factor is the mazing sight of Onomichi that I have from my window.
And then, there's the fact that the surroundings, the entire city in general, and this particular location on a metre-wide pathway up the side of the mountain is just really, really cool. It's hard to put into exact words, but somehow, of all the places I've stayed at over the years, this one feels like the "cool cat" place (and not just because of the temperature). Exploring the footpaths of the hillside is like navigating a maze, and every little path should end up taking you somewhere else, yet in the end I should still end up where I want to get. And then there's the views, the quiet, the air, the birds… it might not be convenient in any sense of the word, but something about this location resonates with me and makes me feel like this is just the best I've ever had.
However, I am pretty glad that I did not decide to go for the super-duper-discount deal. That one might have been a little over the top even for my level of lunacy.
Thanks to the overview granted by my elevated home, finding the nearest supermarket – which happens to come in the form of an Aeon Mall – is really easy too…
…and once inside, I am just a little bit surprised that the first thing that jumps into my face is… More Christmas!
Anyway, so much for the place. I said my stay at this place would be busy, and I meant it, for on the very first day after my arrival I should already set out on…
Day Trip 1: No More ~ The Spiritual Satiation Stray16-Dec-2018
52⛩ (20🦊); 27卍; 5/10🎁︎
The first the three daytrips I should embark on during this busy week is dedicated to the exploration of the city of Onomichi itself. Hailed as a cultural jewel box of Buddhist Temples, I can imagine that there must also be quite a number of Shinto Shrines around, and with it quite possibly vulpine ones. And indeed, during this stray I should come across quite a number of them – more than I had reckoned, and evidently also more than I should be able to handle.
But more about that in due time. For the beginning, my first destination is Onomichi Castle, which stands prominently atop the top of the hill on which my present home is located.
Getting up there naturally involves finding a way up the mountain through the maze of pathways… and interestingly along the way I do not only find a scooter that has made it impressively far up the mountain, but also quite a number of felines prowling through the alleys, further reinforcing the idea of this as a "cool cat" place.
And I suppose it goes without saying the way up there should involve quite a generous number of stairs.
Either way, while I don't think I've ended up taking the most direct route, I still soon enough find myself standing in front of Onomichi castle…
…where I find out that unlike many other Japanese castles I've visited on my journey, this one is not open to the general public. Oh well, it's not like I intended to go inside anyway.
Right next to the castle, there is the actually-not-so-expensive Onomichi View Hotel Seizan, which I figure must be a great place to stay as well, what with the amazing view and all. Also, if I interpret the Santa-Mobile parked in front of the entrance correct, they do seem to have a shuttle service for picking up and dropping off guests.
And just a little bit further up the hill, there is a Tenboudai from where I can get a great view on Onomichi, the Geiyo Shotou (芸予諸島 "Craft Preparation Island Chain"), and beyond it, in the far distance, the Blue Country Shikoku.
Moving on from there, I come across the really, really cute Yumi Katsura Lover's Sanctuary…
…which for some reason is also the place where the anchor of an ancient ship is on display. This fossilized artifact clearly dates back to the dinosaurian high culture of the Maastrichtian age and must have lain submerged for millions in front of the neo-Eurasian coast of years before it was eventually uplifted roughly 50 million years ago by tectonic activity to its current location, and eventually excavated by present-day archaeologists as a remnant of an era long since past… or how else would you plausibly explain the existence of a rusty anchor roughly 100m above sea level at a location that has nothing and really absolutely nothing to do with nautics whatsoever?
Anyway, opening up with aforementioned Shrines, the very first one I found is right at the top of the mountain, and to my very great delight, while old and somewhat dilapidated, it turns out to be an Inari Shrine with foxes in attendance! Yay! Go me for a great start into the stray!
Only a short distance away, I come across a cleverly hidden Geocache, and once again I am deeply impressed by the amount of creativity and craftsmanship that some people put into their hides.
Moving on from there past orange trees and golden statues…
…I walk down the opposing side of the mountain along a rather rocky road…
…and end up coming out in the back of Senkouji (千光寺 "Thousand Lights Temple") – one of the major Temples of Onomichi – where I am privy to observe a very zodial display of statuettes accompanying an array of Buddhas, Kannons and Bodhisattvas.
Apart from that, Senkouji is a big Buddhist Temple with many Side Temples and Shrines – including even a tiny vulpine one if you know where to look. On interesting thing that I should only observe here in Onomichi are the giant ropes of prayer beads replacing the traditional gongs in front of a few choice Temples, and while it might be an interesting idea, I can see why it's not more widespread, for people end up queuing up in front of those Temples to go through the lengthy process of cycling to what I am willing to bet are exactly 108 prayer beads on the string.
Moving on from there, my next goal is the elusive and well-hidden Neko-no Hosomichi (猫の細道 "Cat's Alley"), which is a three-forked path located right here:
Coming down from Zenkouji, the easiest way to get to this hidden gemstone is to keep a look out for this pagoda to your left, and before passing it taking a turn to the left, leading you parallel to the hillside just above the pagoda.
Now, where do I begin with this? There's no way to draw a clear distinction of where Cat's Alley begins or ends… rather it just keeps getting cattier and cattier, and then gradually tapers off. For example, it begins with feline references on location plans and crude catty cartoons…
…continues with signs and paintings of varying felinity…
…and before you know it, you are in the middle of it all with artistic displays of cat-likeness surrounding you on all the sides, including down.
Now, do you remember my visit to Cat Street in Tokyo all the way back in March (see Book II ~ Chapter 3 ~ Living, Learning and Working)? Back then, I was not sure what I had expected when I was going to cat street, but now I have an answer: It was this! So everyone, forget about Cat Street in Tokyo and come see the Cat's Alley in Onomichi instead! It's way more feline!
Okay, so it's more of an artistic project than an actual feline hotspot, but it is definitely catty, and there are also definitely feline inhabitants around. At the time of my visit, it's still quite early, and most of the shops are still closed, but I can imagine that in the afternoon, this location can get quite busy with both humans and felines.
Moving on, I continue weaving my way through the maze of paths that exists on this side of the hill as well…
…and at more than one point, I have to adjust my route in response to… uhh… ongoing clearing work yet in progress. Do you remember the massive Typhoons that hit Japan over the course of the last year, and one of which I experienced firsthand (see Book II ~ Chapter 12 ~ The Great Escape)? Well, I am now standing face to face with one of the consequences of this Tensai (天災 "Heaven's Calamity" = "Natural Disaster"), and even half a year later, the scars are still running deep.
Continuing through the maze, I should eventually come across a few more tiny Shrines and Jizous – some more vulpine than others…
…and eventually manage to make my way down to the nearest "harpstring" road.
It is here that things start getting out of control Shrine- and Temple wise. At first, everything is still well and good, with me finding a few Shrines here, and a few Temples there… but before I know it I have entered a district that seems to consist almost exclusively of Shrines and Temples, calling me from every direction, and I have to muster every ounce of willpower to just keep going straight into one direction without being sidetracked at every crossroads. Even so, the Shrines and Temples, and all their Side Shrines and Jizous soon pile up into numbers that are neither fair nor festive.
And apparently, the jump to Honshu made the decisive difference, for now all of a sudden, vulpine Shrines once again make up for a significant proportion of the Shrines I should find here. As a result, I end up running out of Komakai Okane (細かいお金 "Small Money" = "Loose Change") to donate to the Lady Inari and her faithful vulpine followers even before I run into the obligatory multinational "May Peace Prevail on Earth"-pillar in front of one of the Temples.
Said Temple goes by the name of Taisanji (大山寺 "Big Mountain Temple"), which is not to be confused with Daisenji (大山寺 "Big Mountain Temple"), which is located a good 113km north-northeast of here (do we remember the lection "Why Japanese is Horrible" from Book II ~ Chapter 17 ~ Blue Destination?). Conveniently, this one has an explanatory pillar capable of playing back exposition in five different languages. However, since the weather forecast for this afternoon is rain, I pass up on that right now…
…and instead proceed to the three foolish monkeys. This time around, I am in luck and find a plaque informing me of their official names, which are (right to left, in a typical Japanese fashion) Iutegosaru (いうてご猿 "Speaking Monkey" = "Talking about you"), Mitegosaru (見てごらん"Looking Monkey" = "Looking at you") and Kiitegosaru ("Listening Monkey" = "Hearing about you").
Rain is also anticipated by these diligent men who are in the process of knitting a new and rather massive Shimenawa for Kubo Hachiman Jinja (久保八幡神社 "Long Time Protection Hachiman Shrine"), and have wisely positioned themselves along with the length of dual-twisted dried rice straw rope beneath a protective shelter that proudly and clearly announces the name of the Shrine.
Said Shrine is also notable for being yet another of those railroad Shrines. like Hiyoshi Jinja in Yodoe. Unlike that one, however, the railroad does not go straight through the Shrine grounds for this one, but rather passes right in front of the Shrine. Either way, the result is yet again that the main approach to the Shrine involves a level crossing.
From here on out, I continue my way through the heart of the town, and soon enough run into a sign reminding me in a rather brusque manner that lunchtime is rapidly approaching.
However, since my main concern for now is the threatening sky above, I decide to postpone the "eating" part until after I've returned back to my hillside home, and process to explore the inner town, coming among quite a number of more Shrines, many of which I've already collectively covered before in the Shrine-plosion. And yet, one of them is special enough to warrant an explicit mention at this point. It is an Inari Shrine (Duh!), and a tiny one at that. But within, it harbours a little compact pocket sanctuary the likes of which I have not seen before. Small enough to comfortably fit into one single hand, this little masterpiece impresses through its level of detail, and the amount of love, effort and devotion that must have flown into this tiny treasure is clear for me to see.
After what clearly was the densest accumulation of spiritual places on my journey thus far – beating even Nagano – I feel like just having had the religious equivalent of a 10-course banquet with appetizer, soup, salad and dessert. At this point, I pretty much feel ready to turn around and call it a day… and yet…
Okay, so obviously, there is no way in Dragon that I can pass up what obviously is a big Temple that is right across the street, calling out to me, and while I know exactly that the problem here in Onomichi is that the Shrines and Temples here are interconnected like dew drops on a cobweb, and going to any one Temple or Shrine will automatically put me in reach of at least three others, I promise myself that I will check out this one last Temple and then head back… little knowing that "this one last Temple" – which goes by the name of Joudoji (浄土寺 "Pure Earth Temple") and is one of the Temples of the 33 Chuugoku Kannon Pilgrimage Route – should turn out to be a complex consisting of quite a number of Side Temples and also Shrines.
It is in one of said Side Temples that I am approached by an attendant showing me how to pray properly at this particular temple, and I am embarrassed to say that I already spent all my Komakai Okane at other places. But she ensures me that's fine and hands me a couple of cookies before sending me off with a smile. I should later taste them and find them sweet and crunchy, and even though I probably don't understand their significance, I am nonetheless touched by the kind gesture.
And I should soon enough figure out why fate saw it fit to lure me to this one last Shrine, for one of its Side Shrines – Takano Oomyoujin (高野大明神 "High Field Great Gracious Deity") to be exact – should turn out to be a Silver Fox Shrine, not a vulpine Shrine in itself, but carrying in its wake a generous amount of vulpine Side Shrines that should easily leave me with a fox-gasm.
Incidentally, by now I have almost arrived at the Shin-Onomichi Oohashi (新尾道大橋 "New Foothill Trail Great Bridge"), and could probably get there within 10 minutes.
Normal people who do not take extensive detours for Shrine, Temples and Geocaches at every corner could get there within 10 minutes. Overambitious foxes who take extensive detours for Shrine, Temples and Geocaches at every corner could not get there within 10 minutes.
Right... I knew that... so rather than taking that risk of extreme sidetrackage, I decide to call it quits right there and then, and proceed to make my way westwards along the coast, ever-wary of the threatening sky above.
Naturally, that should not prevent me from running into more Shrines that are literally right along the way. Those things are just all over the place!
And apart from that, there's also quite a number of other curiosities along the way, such as this massive, water-spewing Inoshishi in front of the Matsumoto Byouin (松本病院 "Pine Origin Hospital"). I can't read the entire description, but I can read enough of it to determine that it seems to be an original from the Italian sculptor by the name of Pietro Takka (1577 - 1640), which is named "Porcherino". Now, I am not 100% certain about this next part, but I think this statue was a gift from Onomichi's partner city of Florence, which in Japanese is spelled "フィレンツェ" and pronounced "Firenshe".
Then, there's these really artistic and triangular street lamps…
…and an old movie projector standing in front of the Onomichi Eiga Shiryoukan (尾道映画資料館 "Foothill Path Movie Museum").
Shortly thereafter, I arrive at the Onomichi Walking Mall, which is also already decorated for XMas, albeit significantly more sparingly than the Aeon Mall.
As I arrive at the station square in front of Onomichi-Eki, I run into a colourful troupe holding a performance in front of the Mukaishima Docks across the street, defying the beginning rain and inciting even me to stop for a little while to watch them perform. In retrospective, I imagine they must have been doing charity work, especially considering the season, but since this is the first time I witness such a display here in Japan, the thought doesn't cross my mind until later on.
Not far from there, there is one of several small ferries that cross the 200-300m wide strait over to Mukaishima, and with the connecting bridges being quite some distance of from this location (and also subject to tolls), I can see why the ferries are still in business even to this date. Since the distance is really short, they also traffic quite regularly, and so it isn't so much by chance as much as scheduled frequency that I happen to see one arrive at and depart from the Onomichi-Eki docks while I go after another geocache nearby.
As I finally approach my momentary home again, I have yet to face one last Jizou and its feline guardian…
…and then, so close and yet so far, I have to take shelter beneath a permanent scaffolding of sorts as a mighty downpour hits just after I started climbing the hill. Fortunately, I only have to sit tight for a few minutes as the heavens' gates empty their aqueous load upon the world below, and then I can make the rest of my way up the hillside reasonably dry. Either way, I am quite glad to be back home again, and since I didn't have lunch yet and it's already quarter to "Eat or Die", I am ravenously looking forward to…
Once again, my days here start with a bowl of Furugura (フルグラ "Full Grain" = "Full Grain Müsli"), a glass of fruit juice and a cup of tea, the latter of which is on the house this time.
And my lunches, as usual, mostly consist of Yakisoba, though at one point I should also try a (not very successful) experiment involving Ramen, and following above stray, instead of cooking I just take the easy way out and go for a serving of cup-Yakisoba. By now, I do have my favourite brands, and this one – Ippeichan Yomise no Yakisoba (一平ちゃん夜店の焼きそば "One Peaceful Night Store Fried Soba") – is clearly the one I like above all others. That name actually holds a lot of history from the Edo-era, when shops selling Yakisoba to passers-by were a common sight on the streets of Japanese cities at nighttime.
As far as dinner is concerned, I am happy to announce that I find a fully functional kitchen waiting for me in this place, and although I have to share it with the other guests, I'm nonetheless delighted to be able to prepare my own tasty dinners with a variety of pots and pans in all sized to choose from.
Using those, I prepare all sorts of tasty variations of Gamm Ligeral during my stay here, trying out sampling the different sorts of Japanese mushrooms in the process. I think, by now I can say with relative certain that my favourite ones are Shimeji, which come in double-fist-sized bushels and can be easily separated by hand.
At one point, I should also try to go to a nearby Okonomiyaki Shokudou recommended by Yoko, but I arrive there only to find that its manin (満員 "Full Person" = "Full with People" = "Full House" = "No Vacancy"). Oh well. What a shame. No matter. I can make all the tasty food I desire.
Anyway, well-nourished as I am now, I think I'm ready for the main event of this place, and prepare myself for…
Day Trip 2: A Lagomorphic Landing ~ The Barrows Bursting with Bunnies18-Dec-2018
Duration: 3.5h (+2.25h commute)
13⛩ (3🦊); 5卍; 3/5🎁︎
Even after going north along the coast of Shikoku to visit the cat island Aoshima, I could still have taken a more scenic route along Shikoku to see more of the island. I could have taken the train to Marugame (丸亀 "Round Turtle") and from there taken another train across the one railroad connection from Shikoku to Honshu and ended up in Okayama, or I could have gone as far as Naruto (鳴門 "Howling Gate") – famous for its fierce whirlpools and its whirlpool-shaped fish cake named Narutomaki after which the famous Manga and Anime character Naruto is named – and taken the Kobe-Awaji-Naruto Expressway across Awaji-shima (淡路島 "Fleeting Path Island") Japan's seventh-largest island after Sadogashima, crossing over the Akashi Kaikyou Oohashi (明石海峡大橋 "Morning Stone Channel Great Bridge"), the world's longest single suspension bridge with a length of 3,911m by bus in the process, but I have chosen to forgo either of these tantalizing options and proceed from Matsuyama straight to Onomichi, and what for?
The answer lies once again within the list of places I want to visit while in Japan, and just like my desire to visit Aoshima brought me to Matsuyama, now the lure of another animal-island within reach of Onomichi explains my presence there. This time around, I am headed for the rabbit island of Ookunoshima (大久野島 "Great Old Time Field Island"), which is only a short train-and-ferry ride away from Onomichi, with one transfer in Mihara (三原 "Three Meadows") along the railway line, and another transfer from rail to ferry at Tadanoumi (忠海 "Faithful Ocean").
Unlike the ferry to Aoshima with its rather sparse schedule, the ferry to Ookunoshima traffics quite regularly, which is probably owed to the much more accessible location of Ookunoshima, as well as the fact that the ferry also continues to Oomishima, taking Ookunoshima as a stepping stone along the way since it's conveniently located in the middle. Either way, that should mean that I'm not on a tight schedule today, and that my venture today is also less likely to be derailed like my cut-short trip to the island of cats.
As a result, I don't have to get up quite as early, but since I do want to have plenty of time on my hands, I decide to set out at the time of sunrise (at around 7:30 in the morning) anyway.
Once again, the adventure already begins on the way to the station as I find a new way through the mountain-maze, and come across another hidden Jizou along my way down to the valley.
And then, I arrive at the train station, where I not only find more X-Mas decoration, but also a very creative way of using the "dead space" below the platforms by writing the track number and connections on it in easily legible big letters, and also an advertisement for nearby photo spots. Whoever is in charge of this station sure knows how to make things user-friendly.
Before long, the cheerful yellow train arrives…
…and then I'm on my way, past the city of Mihara, and along an idyllic mountainscape…
…before finally arriving in Tadanoumi, where the stationmasters obviously know exactly what most people who get off here are coming for.
The ferry terminal is actually only a bunny-hop away from the train station, but since the train schedule leaves me with about one hour before the next ferry departure, I decide to take the ultra-scenic route to the harbour…
…and as a result end up visiting quite a number of Temples, Shrines and Jizous right then and there.
Also, I notice a lonely house – or quite possibly a Shrine or Temple – wedged precariously just below the summit of nearby 270m high Kurotakiyama (黒滝山 "Black Waterfall Mountain"). Had this been my base of operations, I would surely at one point have staged an excursion up there…
…but as it stand, I've already used up the majority of my extra time here in Tadanoumi, and fox is starting to get nervous about missing the next boat, so I decide to finish this little pre-exploration and head to the Tadanoumi ferry terminal…
…where I purchase a round trip ticket to Ookunoshima for the risible price of only 620¥. I guess the low price comes with the significantly more substantial patronage of this route.
After that, I still have to wait for a little bit at the pier, gazing out at Ookunoshima – clearly marked by a power pole of unusual size, supporting a power line crossing the entire strait – and Oomishima behind it, which is already a part of Shikoku. The boundary between Chuugoku and the Blue Country happens to run directly between Ookunoshima and Oomishima, meaning that today's day trip should not temporarily take me back to Shikoku.
Contrary to my expectations, the boat I should take is not the Marine Rabbit II that is waiting in the port…
…but rather a significantly bigger car ferry, that is of the same double-sided type like the ferry between Onomichi and Mukaishima, only one size bigger.
Another notable thing to mention here are the diligent dockworkers who are making repairs to the pavement – including flamethrower an all – right up until the point of the ferry's arrival, and then use wather to solidify their work just in time for the cars departing from the ferry to safely drive over it.
Inside, there's a sheet with rules regarding good behaviour on the Rabbit Island…
…and after a comparably brief stop, the ferry already departs again and I am now officially en route to Ookunoshima, the last Animal Island I've vowed to visit.
The crossing takes only about 15 minutes, and after that, I have finally reached it. Everyone, welcome to Rabbit Island!
Much to my delight, and contrary to some comments I've read in advance, there really are rabbits all over the place here, similar to the cats of Aoshima, and although they are all wild animals, belonging to no one but themselves and having the whole 70 hectare island as their home, they've got the act of being cute and adorable down to an I, and subsist largely on the food which tourist from all over Japan, and the world, are only happy enough to provide for them.
In fact, they even have made the island's two most important rules cute and adorable. Who would ever want to break those and harm the poor, innocent little bunnies?
Thanks to the ferry trafficking frequently and in regular intervals, I have absolutely no time pressure, and am free to explore the entire island at my own leiseure. As such, I should eventually end up taking a grand tour around all of Ookunoshima, walking along the coastal pathways, and eventually making a counter-clockwise loop around the entire island.
The island with its lapine population is truly a wonderful place, but how did it come to be? Well, as it turns out, that goes back to the island's rather grim past prior and during the second World War. Starting in 1925, the Japanese Government had made plans to turn Ookunoshima into a secret base for the production of poison gas, and started developing under the pretext of building a fishing outpost there. Also building a fish canned food factory on the island, the government ordered a complete extermination of the island's extant mammals, slaughtering wild cats, Tanukis, foxes rats and mice until the island was completely sterile for "hygienic reasons". Over a decade later, in 1938, the island was converted into a military installation, erased from all maps, and converted into a top-secret poison gas production facility, with rabbits covertly bought from farmers' markets all over the country serving as the poor test subjects. After the end of the war in 1945, the factory was demolished, and the extermination of all surviving rabbits was ordered. At this point, the accounts diverge, with official accounts saying that the original rabbits were all killed and the rabbits currently existing on Ookunoshima were introduced later as part of developing the island into a nature sanctuary, while other inofficial accounts say that the rabbit handlers defied their orders and released the rabbits into the wild, thus explaining the wide variety of breeds since the rabbits were originally bought from all over the country to avoid suspicion. Which one of these accounts you believe is up to you, but either way, the ruins of the poison gas facility are still all over the island, and clear for everyone to see.
One common feature of the island are the drinking bowls found all over the place where the rabbits can get easy access to water. In fact, tourists walking around the island are encouraged to refill water bowls with fresh water. Had I known that, I would have brought some extra.
Oh, and speaking of knowing in advance, I end up finding out the hard way that there is no rabbit food on sale on the island, and I should have brought some from the mainland like the other people apparently did. Oh well. Fortunately, even without me actively feeding the Usagi (兎 "Rabbit"), they are still all over me.
Originally, it was my plan to take a ridge walk along the top of the island as well, but I soon find out that the mountain paths are all off limits for one way or another. Oh well, the coast road is pretty nice too…
…and along the way I get a good look on the surrounding archipelago, featuring a mega-freaking HUGE tanker ship by the name of Yang Ming.
By contrast, the other side of the island is prominently ship-free, which may or may not be due to what I imagine must be called the "Whoa Fuck Rocks", a small submarine mountain protruding from the water just enough to be fatal to vessesls of pretty much any size, yet still small enough to be easily overlooked.
And on the landwards side, there are the secret tennis courts where the Japanese elite forces must have practiced their secret tennis special squad in an attempt to humiliate their opponents to death at the 1940 XII Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, only to have their plans foiled due to the games being cancelled because of the war. Otherwise, the Japanese Elite Tennis Squad (JETS) would surely have obliterated the morale of their enemies and thus ensured a decisive factory for the glorious Japanese empire… or not.
Following that, there's the marked designated Japanese Garden, which I admit has probably seen better times, though it does remind me a bit of my own garden back home.
But back to the bunnies. It's amazing how tame they are, allowing themselves to be handled and petted by complete strangers and even foxes like myself, without a hint of fear or doubt, even if no food is involved. I sure wish I could allow myself such a carefree existence.
Eventually, I arrive at the sunset hill zone at the southern tip of the island, from where I get a good view across the strait and onto the blue country of Shikoku…
And then, I arrive at the Ookunoshima Toudai (灯台 "Light Stand" = "Lighthouse")…
…where a lone rabbit is watching over the lone Jizou I could find on the island.
Finally, after finding the island's lone Jizou, I also come across Ookunoshima's lone Shrine, which – just like the Japanese garden – has clearly seen better times.
And do you remember the custom about folding a thousand paper cranes to make a wish? Well, there is quite a few wishes hanging around near here.
Before I depart from the island again, I naturally get myself a little souvenir, and by now I'm sure you can guess that if I get one and exactly one souvenir from one place, that souvenir comes in the form of a keychain. Gosh, I wonder how that happened? It certainly is not related to me wanting to see which form my Keyblade takes when I attach each new keychain to it in turn. Dragon forbid! The very idea is absurd!
Anyway, before I return to the mainland, I take a short break outside to eat my lunch, not without some lapine interference. I'm glad I did go for a Yakisoba sandwich as opposed to anything with salad, for I'm reasonably sure the salad would never have made it into my own stomach. Or maybe I should have brought one with salad and volunteered it to the rabbits as a way of making up for not bringing any actual Esa (餌 "Animal Feed")? Oh well.
And then, the ferry arrives, and it's time for me to bid my farewells to this Lagomorphic landscape after a satisfying four hours on the island. Sure, I could have stayed longer, but with the ridge path off limits, and no rabbit food for sale on the island, my options of things that I can and want to do here are limited, as opposed to the amount of stuff on my to-do list, which knows no end. And such, I decide to call it a day for now, and get on board of the 13:45 ferry, which takes me back to Tadanoumi.
A short time later, I arrive at the Tadanoumi Station, where I witness a critical user-friendliness fail: Since there are no signs indicating on which Noriba (乗り場 "Boarding Platform") the train will arrive, the would-be passengers sort of spread out evenly across both the platforms, and when the train finally does arrive, half of them have to hustle across the bridge with all their heavy luggage. I, meanwhile, knowing my luck, decided to minimize my risk by guaranteeing I'd be exactly half-wrong in either case, waiting atop of the bridge, from where I just have to go down to the right platform once it becomes apparent.
On the way back, I enjoy the amazing panorama of the islandscape, and get one last look on Ookunoshima with its massive, towering telltale power pole…
And then, I'm back in my good old home in Onomichi, my mind being overwritten with rabbits instead of foxes for once.
Thus, my second day trip here in Onomichi comes to an end. It should not yet be the last one, but before we get to that, let me tell you reveal to you some of…
While this section was mysteriously missing during the last chapter (aka: all the interesting stuff was spread about the other subchapters), it now makes a class comeback for all the interesting stuff I came across in Onomichi, starting with some interesting stuff around the house, such as a lobster made entirely out of yarn resting atop a shelf right outside my room's door.
Also, there are a number of decorative telephones around. At least I think they're decorative, for they don't seem to be connected to any kind of wire, and something about their design makes me believe that they are not quite outfitted with mobile technology.
It is also good to know that this home is protected by the Lord Hachiman, for I find a Omamori Fuda (お守り札 "Protective Note" = "Paper Charm") from the nearby Usui Hachiman Jinja (烏須井八幡神社 "Crow Necessary Town Hachiman Shrine") affixed to one of the sliding doors in this place.
And speaking of doors… you know how sometimes push/pull doors in unfamiliar places can trip you up, especially if you're in a hurry? Well, here in Japan, there's an entirely new dimension added to this as there's quite a number of public places where neither push nor pull is the correct course of action. Instead, you have to slide the door to the side to get in. Let's just hope no one takes inspiration from the Legend of Zelda and implements doors that you have to lift up on top of that!
I guess that only goes to show that you really should be careful of the doors! Seriously! They're everywhere, they're evil and they're trying to kiiill yooouu!!!
But anyway, back to more pleasant business, such as the beautiful sunsets I am able to experience from my elevated enclave.
And following the sunset, I naturally also get a really neat nighttime panorama from up here.
Moving out into the city, I run into a "Vending Machines for Dummies"-crash course…
…and also run into a hairdresser that picked a really clever name, ranking it on the same scale as the Gratis Market in Bibione, Italy.
Finally, during one of my earlier and local explorations, I should run into something that looks like a temple of sorts at first glance… but somehow different.
Naturally, I walk right into what I presume to be the public area, open gates and all, and before I know it I am talking with two of the caretakers of this peculiar place. I demonstrate my limited understanding of the Japanese language, and they try their best to explain the nature of this place to me. I don't understand all of it, but apparently it is a place of worship that is neither Shinto nor Buddhist, but something else. We talk for a while, with me introducing myself and telling them about my travels, and how I've been visitng Temples and Shrines all over Japan, and eventually they even offer me a look inside this peculiar place.
Naturally, I should not leave it at that, and once at home, I should follow up on this encounter. Using the name of this place (which thankfully was written in very legible Kanji), I quickly figure out that it was a Konkoukyou Kyoukai (金光教教会 "Golden Light Teachings Church"), and that Konkoukyou is a faith of Japanese origin that has approximately half a million followers worldwide, with the majority of them being located in Japan. Konkoukyou is a very interesting religion that holds the belief that everything in existence is permeated by the divine golden light, which makes up the entire universe. In a manner of speaking, it means that all things and beings, including ourselves, are part of an all-encompassing divine whole, and promotes harmony, appreciation for all things, and helping one another out – not unlike the concept of Flirials and fliriality which I came up with some time ago (see Book II ~ Chapter 11 ~ The Yoke of Yudanaka]). The crest of Konkoukyou is a bright, red, eight-leaved flower inscribed with the character 金 ("Gold"), making it easy to pick out even from a distance.
So much for the generic curiosities that I should encounter during my stay here in Onomichi. But that's certainly not all there is here. As I mentioned, this place should keep me quite busy. Originally, I had only planned to make two day trips during my week-long stay here, but as fate would have it, the time of my stay here should coincide with the time of a fellow Flirial's stay in a relatively close locale, and so I should only be happy enough to make some space on my schedule for…
Day Trip 3: A Joyous Reunion ~ The Oddball Okayama Operation20-Dec-2018 – 21-Dec-2018
Duration: 6h (+2.75h commute)
24⛩ (10🦊); 5卍; 0/2🎁︎
It was on 26-Jul-2019 that I first crossed paths with Chiara in Appi-Kogen. Working side-by-side with the girl from Germany, I should first feel the spirit of fliriality as we worked together to make Pension Mutti a better place, washing dreadful amounts of dishes and making rooms and cleaning on a daily basis. Now, while I sped ahead and completed the entire southern circuit, Chiara took a more relaxed approach down south, and thus it is only logical that we should eventually have a point of "closest approach" where our respective homes would be closest to one another, before the distance between us should increase once again.
That time is now.
While I am currently based in Onomichi, Chiara's current whereabouts are in a town by the name of Hinase (日生 "Sun Birth"), and since the two of us stayed in touch ever since our meeting in Appi-Kogen, we started plotting our meeting now quite some time ago. The plan is that we both take the train towards each other, and eventually meet in the city of Okayama (岡山 "Hill Mountain"), which we figure is going to be a nice place to explore together.
And thus, I depart from my hilltop home one more time, picking yet another route to get down to the station...
…taking the train into the opposite direction this time around, heading past Fukuyama (福山 "Lucky Mountain") to Okayama. It is at this time that – just like all the place names starting with "C" in New Zealand – a selection of several similar-sounding names of places I've been to in Japan start – such as Fukuyama, Fukuoka, Okayama and Morioka – blurring together in my head as the synapses in my brain frantically try to figure out unique XPaths for them.
The train ride takes me about an hour, and en route I first pass beneath both the Onomichi Oohashi and the Shin Onomichi Oohashi, before crossing Ashidagawa (芦田川 "Reed Field River") and later Takahashigawa (高梁川 "Expensive Fish Trap River"), and subsequently arriving in Okayama.
Within the station, I come across another of these unusual zig-zag escalators, the only other instance of which I've ever seen was in Naoetsu (see Book II ~ Chapter 10 ~ Sadistic Sightseeing)…
…and once outside note that the station square is already all set up for XMas.
Now, since this is a new city for both myself and Chiara, the most important thing is an unambiguous meeting point near the station that we can both find with ease. Fortunately, Okayama-Eki offers just such a thing in the form of the statue of Momotaro and his companions. The story of Momotaro is a popular Japanese fairy tale, and tells the tale of Momotaro, a boy who was born from a peach and befriended a dog, a monkey and a bird while on a quest to defeat the evil Oni (鬼 "Ogre") of Onigashima (鬼ヶ島 "Ogre Island").
I should not have to wait long for Chiara to make her appearance, and heartfelt hugs are henceforth exchanged, before the two of us set out to explore this brave new city together.
Fortunately, our respective goals for the day in the city are perfectly compatible with one another: I strive to visit as many Inari Shrines as possible, while Chiara wants to visit the Okayama Castle. And so, we set up on a sort of roundabout way to the castle, before eventually looping back to the station area, chatting happily away all the while and exchanging stories from our respective experience since our last meeting almost 5 months ago.
One of the first things we notice about this city is that it obviously has some very catty connections, for a good number of the buses and trams we come across during our stray are very clearly felinely influenced. I should later learn that Okayama is among other things the home of the Manekineko Bijutsukan (招き猫美術館 "Waving Cat Art Museum") with over 700 Manekineko on display, as well as the Yumeji Kyoudo Bijutsukan (夢二郷土美術館 "Dream Two Birth Place Art Museum"), which displays the works of Yumeji Takehisa (夢二竹久 "Dream Two Bamboo Long Time"), including very lifelike paintings of a black cat by the name of Kuronosuke (~"Black Boy"), which subsequently became the museum's mascot.
The other thing we realize is that this city clearly has a very strong connection to Momotaro, as becomes apparent not only in its manhole cover designs…
…but also the decoration of one of the nearby walking malls. Unsurprisingly, I should later find out that Okayama is where the story of Momotaro originally originated from, with the real-life equivalent of Onigashima believed to be Megijima (女木島) about 30km south-south-west, just off the coast of Shikoku.
Incidentally, the weather is not exactly three-star exploration weather, but fortunately the rain – which starts at Stage 2 – should soon enough taper off, and leave us with a nice, overcast day to explore the city together. It goes without saying that we should run into quite a number of Shrines (and some Buddhist Temples) along the way – and quite a number of them fortunately feature foxes.
Just across from the station, we run into what must be the Melon Pan Paradise. Featuring an amazing selection of Melon Pan, I wonder if they even have (*dun dun dun*) melon flavoured Melon Pan.
A little further down the way, next to the bridge of the Momotaro Oodori ("Peach Boy Big Road" 桃太郎大通) across a perpendicular channel, there is an interesting fountain installation suspended over the waterway which I am sure would look spectacular in action, especially at night with all those lights directed at it. Unfortunately, it appears to be inactive during the winter months.
And then, there's this… café… I guess? Or is it a bicycle rent shop? Or a night club? Or maybe it's just an artistic installation, who knows?
As we make our way through town, we also run into some surprising German influences, such as the Acht Herzen ("Eight Hearts") Café…
…and a bakery that sells Deutsches Brot ("German Bread")*.
* not actually German bread
Also, we run across some interesting modern art. Specifically, the first piece we find is labelled "A&A", while the second one is "A&C". I wonder if there are 24 (or even more) other installations of abstract alphabet art hidden throughout the city?
It is at Okayama Jinja that things end up getting really interesting. Not only can you buy Hello Kitty-themed Omamori here…
…but we also happen to witness a Miko (巫女 "Shrine Maiden") performing a ritual on a car in the presence of its owner. Now, while this should seem… exceedingly amusing to us at that very moment, I should later learn that apart from the sale of Omamori and other articles and donations, another source of revenue for Shrines is performing rituals. Basically, people can come to a Shrine and have a ritual performed for them for a fee, such as a asking for divine guidance in a specific endeavour, a particularly important wish, or even a blessing for a new car. It takes me some time to wrap my mind around it, but in the end I figure it's not a bad system at all, since for as long as there are people to whom these services are important enough around, it will ensure that the Shinto Strays stay around even in the ever more increasingly fast-paced and capital-driven world of today.
By now, we have arrived at our destination of Okayama Castle, and it is with delight that I notice that this one is different from all the other castle's I've visited in Japan thus far: Unlike the "standard" Japanese castles with their white exteriors, this one is covered with dark wooden planks, which has also earned it the nickname Ujou (烏城 "Crow Castle).
Like almost all other Japanese castles, this one, too, was destroyed during the massive air raids of the Second World War, and later reconstructed. However, there are a few parts of the original castle that survived the air raids, such as the Tsukimi Yagura (月見櫓 "Moon Watch Watchtower") on the far side of the main castle yard.
Apart from that, however, there is not really much to see here other than large stones (and medium-sized stones and small stones, though those are apparently not important enough to be explicitly labelled).
Moving on from there, we come across a bar that apparently sells fucking delicious burgers and fruits…
…and eventually make our turning point at the southern end of the really long Hibimae Shoutengai (干日前商店街 "Before Dry Day Shopping Street").
Although it sure starts slow…
…it should soon enough turn into a variable treasure trove of curiosities, of which the shop selling Manekineko but also Tanuki figurines is only a humble beginning.
Following that, there is a row of "Alice in Wonderland"-themed statues…
…as well as an entire miniature clock tower standing squat in the middle of the walking mall…
…and then a freaking dinosaur breaks through the wall of one of the buildings to kill us all.
After respawning at the nearest Inari Shrine, we are naturally quite hungry. Following Chiara's suggestion, I try out an interesting fish-shaped pastry by the name of Taiyaki (鯛焼き "Fried Sea Bream"). Much like how Melon Pan doesn't actually have any melon in it, or Kaki no Tane are not actually persimmon seeds, the only thing that connects Taiyaki with fish is its distinctive shape. Effectively, it's a filled waffle, with the traditional filling being red bean paste. However, since this is my first time trying one of these, I trust Chiara's recommendation and have one with custard filling, which turns out to be quite delicious and energizing indeed.
As the day draws to a close, we take quick detour through the local Aeon Mall so Chiara can pick up some supplies. As we do, neither of us is pleased to find a "Pet to Go"-shop right there in the middle of the mall. Now, while the concept of pet shops per-se is not that bad, the problem lies in the fact that these chains attempt to sell only puppies and kittens for their cuteness factor, and now guess what happens when some puppies and kittens don't sell while they're still small and cute?
In light of that, the video which I captured back in Matsuyama of what I first naively assumed to have been a dog birthday party gains another and quite horrible potential interpretation, especially considering about how the loudest and closest of the canine voices all cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced, while more yelp in the distance, awaiting their inevitable demise.
On a merrier note, there are XMas decorations all around here, including in the middle of a public aquarium, which is something I definitely have not seen before.
Simultaneously, the station square outside has been illuminated with myriads of resplendent lustre…
…among which there is also a wireframe-peach that people can freely enter and exit (although Chiara insists that it's a magical hyper-pink Cinderella coach pumpkin… or something like that).
And to wrap things up for the day, we locate one of the few remaining restaurants on my personal "to eat at"-List, namely a Matsuya (松屋 "Pine House")…
…where we both find an affordable-yet-tasty option for dinner after a busy day of walking around the city. Chiara is particularly taken with how there's different sauces for her to experiment with, while I naturally go for a dish that comes with a bowl of Kitsune Udon.
The next morning, we proceed back to the Okayama station, which is decidedly less spectacular during the daylight hours…
…and have breakfast at a bakery chain with the very exotic name of "Vie de France". Since I sort of skipped lunch yesterday, I now compensate for it with a very hearty breakfast including a yummy Chocolate Croissant, a Special Cheese Something (fox made me try that one), a Sausage Roll, tea, orange juice, and a bonus egg which I get for free because apparently my order inadvertently also happened to fulfil the conditions for a secret menu set of sorts.
After that, it is finally time to say our goodbyes at the ticket gate, knowing we likely won't meet again for another five months ago, before we're both back in Germany again.
Thus, this third and last day trip of the Onomichi Overdrive comes to an end as I ride the train back to my ephemeral home town.
Since today is already the last day of my stay in this kinda sleepy but very cultural town, that means it is now inevitably time to think about…
Looking back at this place from now, I recall it as rustic, but very, very cool. The amazing hillside location and the maze of pathways certainly played a major part in that, as did Yoko's sunny demeanour. Apart from that, the facilities were …okay, with interesting smelly composting bathrooms outside the rooms, and a free washing machine (but no dryer). The beds were traditional futons, so not exactly comfortable, and somehow despite the crispy temperatures at night, I ended up sweating in the blankets. The accommodation was a nice single room, although we will have to talk about the definition of a laptop-friendly workspace (which by Airbnb standards is defined as "A table or desk with space for a laptop and a chair that’s comfortable to work in"). Food, as usual, was not part of the deal, but the WiFi was incredibly good, beating most other locations I've been to by at least a full order of magnitude with download speeds of 220 Mbps+ (by contrast, the second-best I've had in Japan was 50 Mbps in Sapporo, and the lowest was 0.27 Mbps on Tokashiki). Despite being on the hillside, the place was actually pretty close to both the station and a mall, and although the temperatures were pretty chilly outside my room, the AC kept the inside quite nice and cosy. Finally, I had a properly outfitted kitchen, which I should soon learn is something that means a lot to me, but more about that in the next chapter. Altogether, I can say that this one is definitely a place I enjoyed staying at. I feel kinda sad about leaving it behind, and if it weren't for the smelly and awkward composting toilets, the gappy windows and the fact that the air in the shower room was cold like in a freezer, I would now be feeling totally sad about leaving it behind. The price-value ratio was really good too, and while I still feel like the 2,888¥ are maybe a little bit more than this drafty place is worth, it's certainly not too far above the ideal price to make a fuss about it.
With only one week here and a schedule full of amazing stuff to do, I shouldn't have the time to prepare a gift artwork, and yet I should not depart without at least leaving a little something behind in the guest book.
That having been taken care of, all that's left now is…
The Road Ahead22-Dec-2018
Just one day after my return from Okayama, the time of my departure is at hand, and once again, I leave another empty and clean room behind.
One last time, I walk the amazing mountain path maze…
…and much too soon, I arrive at the station, from which my train is going to depart shortly, but not without running into a bunch of workers trimming a tree Japanese-style: That is, one person doing the actual work, one person holding the ladder for safety, and half a dozen more people watching to ensure that everything is done correctly.
Now, here's something I've already noticed the last two times I departed from the station: Other than in most of the "backwater" stations I've been visiting over the course of the last eight months or so, here in Onomichi, there's a veritable orchestra of sounds and jingles whenever a train arrives. First, music starts playing to the ever-prevalent and endlessly repeating recordings of birds twittering, followed by an almost melodious announcement, and finally a jingle playing and repeating until the train has finished pulling into the station, and naturally stops directly in front of the door markers on the platform (give or take 20cm).
My destination today is the final stop I've been intending to visit from the very start, and it is also the one I've intentionally kept for the final act, to turn it, as is only appropriate, into the climax of the Grand Finale. It is a place with a long history, and the historic capital of Japan. My goal for today is none other than Kyoto! Compared to some of the earlier stages of my journey, this should be relatively straightforward, and feature one extraordinarily short leg between Aioi and Himeji.
- From Onomichi to Aioi (相生 "Developing Together") with the JR Sanyo Line for Aioi (160 minutes ride; 2 minutes to change)
- From Aioi to Himeji (姫路"Princess Route") with the JR Sanyo Line for Himeji (19 minutes ride; 2 minutes to change)
- From Himeji to Kyoto with the JR Special Rapid Service for Yasu (野洲 "Field Country") (92 minutes ride)
En route, I realize just how much I've grown used to being in the backcountry over the last months, hardly able to believe the amount of civilization I should encounter along the trip. There is a short stretch of fields and valleys between Okayama and Aioi, but apart from that, and especially from Osaka (大阪 "Big Slope") onwards, the vast majority of the landscape should be covered in city.
The transfers at Aioi and Himeji are both pretty tight, but conveniently, the train I need to get into stops just on the other side of the platform (one might even assume that smart schedule designers did that on purpose). However, unfortunately, both of those trains are pretty full, and so it shouldn't be up until Osaka that I would finally be able to grab a seat again.
And then, I arrive in Kyoto, where after an initial shock at the ticket gate, where my IC card produces an error. Fortunately, I am able to "manually" get checked out at the nearby office, so everything turns out alright. Apparently, that's just what you need to do if you go from one non-consecutive IC area to another, even if they are operated by the same branch company of JR as is the case here.
From the station, it takes me about 15 minutes to walk to the hostel which will serve as my base of operations here…
…and settle into my very minimalistically furnished room there.
After a very busy three weeks of journeying during which I travelled an approximate average of 100km each day, I am quite grateful to have reached my last big stop in Japan. From here on out, I am going to be spending 20 days in Kyoto, exploring the city and its surroundings, and as a direct consequence also experiencing both Xmas and New Year in this place. I am looking forward to seeing how this is going to turn out, as well as telling you about it in the next chapter of the Travelling Fox Blog!