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Monday, 7 January 2019

Book II ~ Chapter 18 ~ Matsuyama Madness

8-Dec-2018 – 15-Dec-2018

After a long and exciting journey (that did not always go quite as planned, I have now finally made my arrival on the last of Japans four big islands, the wonderful land of…

Shikoku forms the southern boundary of the Japanese Inland Sea , and is bordered by Honshu to the north and east, Kyushu to the west, and the pacific ocean to the south. At almost 4 million inhabitants spread across 18.800km², it's it ranks on the second-to-last place of the regions of Japan in terms of both population and land area (followed only by Okinawa in both cases), making it just a little bit more populous than the North Island of New Zealand, and a little bit smaller than Sardinia. In terms of population density it ranks third-to-last before Touhoku and Hokkaido with 212 people per km², which is pretty much the same as that of Nigeria.

Now, since I've already gone overboard with most of the other chapters, I'll have to redact the following description of Shikoku's geography for brevity:

Shikoku: Mountains

…what, do you think that's to short? Okay, I guess I can be a little bit more verbose without exceeding the limit.

Shikoku: Mostly Mountains

still not enough? Fine, screw the limit! But don't you blame me if your internet gets too full!

The landscape of Shikoku looks pretty much exactly what you'd expect to happen if several choice deities play around with the "mountain" settings on the terrain generator for a while and then just leave it at that. Seriously, unlike any of the other islands of Japan – including most notably Hokkaido from which you would not expect it – Shikoku is pretty much, from north to south, east to west, Scenic All-Mountain Island Royale. The sole exceptions to this are the area surrounding Matsuyama in Ehime-Ken (愛媛県 "Favourite Princess Prefecture") to the west – where I am right now – the coast surrounding Kouchi in the south, the Kagawa floodplains in the north, and the Tokushima river valley to the east. Apart from that, the continent looks like a x10^9 magnification of coarse sand paper… which is not a bad thing, but I am simply astounded by it. I don't think I've ever been to nor do I know of any other extended landmass with such a stupendous mountains-to-anything-else ratio.

Within Ehime, I am staying in the city of Matsuyama (松山 "Pine Mountain"). At a population of a little over half a million, it is already Shikoku's largest city, and sprawls over much of Dougo Hirano (道後平野 "Plain Behind the Road"). Although it houses about the same amount of people as Nürnberg, that population is spread over an area almost twice as big, putting it at half the population density of the German city. Geographically, Matsuyama is located in a more or less triangular flat area with the mountains forming two edges, and the Japanese Inland Sea the third.

Finally, within Matsuyama, my home for the next week is located pretty close to the centre, only two train local stops away from the Matsuyamashi central station, an just a little bit further from the JR Matsuyama station. By the way, the –shi-suffix present in many station names around here (such as Iyoshi and Matsuyamashi) is the Japanese equivalent for –city (市). "Iyo", meanwhile, turns out to have been the ancient name of this prefecture back when it was still one of the four Kingdoms that gave Shikoku its name. As a result, many places and station names around here bear the Iyo-prefix to distinguish them from other places of the same name in Japan (some of which I have already visited), such as Iyo-Nagahama or Iyo-Tachibana.

In terms of latitude, I have returned a good way north from my southernmost turning point on Tokashiki, and am now located at 33.8°N, which is almost north enough to intersect with Europe, passing just south of both Cyprus and Crete. At the same time, it's also almost as far away from the equator as the northernmost tip of Northland in New Zealand, meaning that I am as of yet more in more tropical regions than at any point during my New Zealand trip. And on a more local scale, I am now a little bit north of Fukuoka, and pretty mmuch at the same latitude as Munakata Jinja, which I visited together with Sumire, Hikaru, Colin, David and Louie about a month and a half ago (see Book II ~ Chapter 14 ~ Fantastic Fukuoka Family Friendliness).

Oh, and speaking of tropical… the climate is pretty much everything you think of when you hear the word "tropical"… except not. Apparently, I managed to plan my trip back north just in time to run right into a massive cold front making its way south…

…and recovering from that, the temperatures should actually rise ever-so-slightly during my stay here, while still remaining comfortably in the "not so comfortable"-range.

Yet despite the relatively cool temperatures, this place should soon become the setting for another episode of the Chronicles of the Travelling Fox:

The Foxes the Cats and the Castle

This time around, I'm staying at a lovely little Airbnb place without a particular name, and that naturally means that the circumstances are quite a bit different from the majority of my other stays in New Zealand and Japan. Most notably, I don't have to work for my host, but rather pay my bills by performing the modern equivalent of sorcery, aka programming, which averages out at about 26 hours a week or so. And since I am more or less my own master this time around and from here on out, that should mean no problems with being exploited, and as such plenty of time for exploration, blogging and learning Japanese.

Anyway, it's still sort of like a homestay, only with my end of the bargain being upheld in monetary form this time around as opposed to work. My host is a woman by the name of Hiro…

…who apart from renting out a room in her house as an Airbnb place also runs some sort of home-run beauty-therapy programme…

…and is a single mother raising a 9-year old boy by the name of Ririto.

As a result, there are quite a few funny toys to be found around the place, as well as the ever-present and still quite intimidating Kanji learning sheets (although by now I have all of the first grade Kanji, most of the second grade Kanji and some of the third grade Kanji down, with quite a colourful mix of upper-class and even some unclassified Kanji making up for the rest).

Anyway, since I now already started about it, I might as well tell you about the remainder of…

The Place

There is one thing and regrettably one rather annoying thing that I should remember about this place more than anything else, and that is that it's COLD. And not just cold COLD but COLD COLD. The house should turn out to be about as well insulated as your average blend of Swiss cheese, and the only notable differences between outside and inside temperatures should be around noon, when it's actually notably warmer outside than inside. As a result, Hiro should usually be walking around the house in über-warm fluffy pyjamas, and Ririto can usually be seen either wearing a jacket or taking shelter under the heated Kotatsu (炬燵 "Torch Foot Warmer"), a type of heated table with a blanket on top of it to trap the heat below, that is very popular in Japan during the wintertime (cuz why build warm houses?).

Meanwhile, I should only grudgingly and out of sheer necessity conform to wearing my trusty jacket Krevyasz inside the house as well, for example while cooking. All in all, you could say it's not so bad once you get over the idea that being inside is any different than being outside. However, while I'm certainly not an expert in the accommodation business, I'm still somewhat sure that it says somewhere in the big book of hospitality that if your guests start wearing jackets indoors, then your place has a serious problem.

Fortunately, my own room at least comes with a Heaty-Puff Jr. that manages to keep the temperatures at acceptable levels as long as I don't have to go to the bathroom. However, the main problem with my room is clearly the huge windows, which suck out the heat of the room like a starving oversized mosquito, and since the cable-situation in my room results in me sitting directly between the Heaty-Puff Jr. and the window, I should often end up in a situation where my left side is too hot while my right side is freezing.

But anyway, enough of being cold. Let us now get warmed up with a nice little place tour around the house. One thing that I should point out at this time is just how amazingly quiet it is in this area. No traffic noise, no noisy people, not even screaming birds (I guest they must have frozen to death or something). It somehow feels like the world has fallen into a deep, deep slumber and left me alone awake.

Also, staying here for one week means that I should have to do a load of laundry. Fortunately, the use of the laundry machine is included in the price, and I am actually looking forward to utilize this feature advertised on Airbnb, which I did not get to use since my stay at the Secret Base 2 in Nanao (see Book II ~ Chapter 12 ~ The Great Escape):

..however, in truth, the drying situation should end up looking more like this. In fact, Hiro asks me to hang my clothes outside on the teeny-tiny balcony, but since I do not want to risk them freezing and shattering, I end up just ignoring that directive and hang them up in my room, using the Heaty-Puff Jr. (which only barely satisfies the amenity of "Heating") to get my laundry dry. Oh well, maybe the words "Heating" and "Dryer" have simply come to bear different meaning in this rather remote part of the country.

Oh, and speaking of which, so apparently has "Laptop-Friendly Workspace". I mean, it's certainly not bad or anything, but somehow, when I read the phrase "Laptop-Friendly Workspace", I, in my boundless naivety imagined something more along the lines of a 1.5m² surface area desk paired with a chair that has a proper back rest.

Moving on to the surroundings, there are quite a number of Shrines and Temples in the immediate vicinity of my home…

…and although none of them feature foxes, a few should instead have orange trees, which apparently are a trademark of the entire Ehime prefecture, and not just Yawatahama (although that area sure was particularly orangey).

Maybe most notable of all those Shrines and Temples is Daionji (大音寺 "Loud Sound Temple"), which is the only place that I have seen in Japan thus far where all of the seven Shichifukujin are prominently displayed right next to one another. So here they are, from the top left corner in clockwise order:
  • Juroujin (寿老人 "Longevity Old Man Person"), god of longevity
  • Fukurokuju (福禄寿 "Fortune Allowance Longevity"), god of wisdom
  • Bishamonten (毘沙門天 "Helping Sand Gate Sky"), god of exorcism
  • Hotei (布袋 "Linen Bag"), god of carefreeness
  • Daikokuten (大黒天 "Great Black Sky"), god of craftsmen
  • Ebisu (恵比寿 "Blessing Ratio Longevity"), god of fishing
  • Benzaiten (弁財天 "Speech Property Heaven"), goddess of art

Another interesting thing I find in a nearby park is a permaflush toilet, in which the water is running all the time. I can only assume that it gets its water naturally from the nearby hills since the notice only says – in the typical Japanese explain-the-obvious style: "Since this is a toilet where the water is continuously running, please use it while the water is running".

While we're on the topic, Matsuyama naturally also has its own variant of the cutesy "pick up after your dog"-signs…

…as well as its own array of manhole covers. This time around, there are quite a few very colourful ones among them with different palletes being use in different parts of the city.

And finally, there are naturally a number of supermarkets around, of which I should visit the as-seen-before Aeon Mall, as well as the more local Fuji, which continues the tradition of highly local supermarket chains and supermarkets with individual names. Counting this one (and excluding the bigger malls and smaller Konbinis), I have now seen and visited a total of 20 supermarkets with unique chains all over Japan. Can you match that in whatever country you're from?

Naturally, the first supermarket visit after a month on a little island is always a bit of a shock, and the sheer selection serves to spontaneously stupefy my senses…

…though naturally there are some drawbacks that come with increased patronage.

On a note unrelated to this, either the supermarket staff has just recently reorganized their setup, or there are so few people around here who can read the mega-freaking HUGE English words that no one has noticed that the "Dairy" shelf has ended up being full of Natto, kelp and Aburaage (while the actual dairy products are in a completely unrelated fridge on the other side of the store).

Also, it is with great pleasure that I notice how both of these stores have (at least symbolically) declared war on the waste of plastic bags, each in their own way: While the Aeon Mall places a miniscule price on plastic bags (3¥ to 5¥), the Fuji goes the other direction and gives me a miniscule (2¥) Eko-Nebi (エコ値引 "Eco-Discount") for providing my own bag. Logically, the price is so low that it should not work as an incentive, but realizing how people generally can't properly evaluate the value of money (aka "20$ for a movie that lasts for 90 minutes is okay, but 20$ for a book that lasts for 20 hours is too much"), this might just work.

Most of these things, however, I should only discover later during my stay here in Matsuyama. Because you see, it is already on the very day following my arrival in the Land of Blue that I set out on what should not only turn into the longest stray in Japan, but also the longest stray on all of my travels so far, as well as quite possibly my longest stray ever. And to think that I should put myself through it not only willingly, but also happy and eagerly, and it is should all be…

Day Trip 1 ~ For a Fistful of Foxes

Distance: 28.9km
Ascents: 103m
Duration: 8.25h
85 (6🦊); 19; 3/5🎁︎

On the very first full day of my stay in Matsuyama, I set out to pay my respects to the Lady Inari – not an easy feat as it should turn out, for Inari Shrines are still far and few in between in these lands, and while there is a notably big one within borderline walking distance of 14km, down at Iyoshi where I changed trains yesterday, I'm not crazy enough to do that long of a stray, especially considering that I know it would end up being at least twice as long, what with me zig-zagging around the place in order to grab all sorts of Shrines and Geocaches along the way.

…aaaand, it looks like I messed up my Lunacy Check again. Oh well, here we go, taking a very scenic walk first through southern Matsuyama, then through the town of Masaki (松前 "Before the Pines"), and finally to Iyoshi with its interesting lake-speckled landscape. It turns out to be quite a harrowing walk, which is why I'm all the more glad to have answered the existential question of "Tobe or not Tobe" with a clear "not".

Anyway, my stray begins in the streets of Matsuyama, where I come across the ever-present orange trees, as well as a very creative pavement pattern that must have taken some work.

From there, I take some green shortcuts between the houses…

…cross a massive thoroughfare that easily puts anything we have in German cities to shame…

…and soon enough make my way across Ishitegawa (石手川 "Stone Hand River") one of the tributaries of Shigenobugawa.

Naturally, I come across quite a number of Shrines and Temples along the way, including a single tiny Side Shrine with a single tiny foxie. It's not even an Inari Shrine, but I am happy to see it nonetheless.

My way also happens to lead me past the quite impressive Ehime-ken Budoukan (愛媛県武道館 "Favourite Princess Prefecture Martial Arts Hall")…

…which is also where I happen to find my first Geocache on Shikoku, this one coming in the typical Japanese standardised Geocache box form.

After that, it's time to cross the mighty Shigenobugawa, which due to its sediment-rich nature and currently low water level resembles more a string of elongated lakes in the riverbed than a coherent river.

With that, I have now officially left the city boundaries of Matsuyama, and am now located within Masaki, where I follow the course of the river downstream for quite a while in order to get to my first major waypoint.

Along the way, I come across what sounds like a canine birthday party. I'm sure curious about what's going on in there, but with no realistic way of finding out, I eventually just continue on my way.

Anyway, aforementioned waypoint is the Inari Shrine of Nishitakayanagi (西高柳 "East High Willow"), which might not exactly be brimming with vulpinity, but after the all-time vulpine low in Okinawa, I am already quite grateful to see as much as a tail in the distance.

From there on out, I zig-zag my way through Masaki, crossing the line of the Iyo-Railway, traversing fields and walking through little villages and hamlets…

…naturally running into all sorts of Shrines and Temples along the way.

One of them is particularly notable, for I should walk in on a number of locals in the process of knurling a new Shimenawa, and in another one, I should actually end up getting interviewed by the locals, and my picture taken to appear in yet another local newspaper. I guess it's not often that an European like me finds his way into the back country of this land, which somehow feels more remote than Okinawa despite being located in the middle of Japan.

Another interesting thing I come across at those Shrines are the Furuofuda Nashho (古神札納所 "Old God Note Store Place"), which are effectively being used as collection containers for old Shrines, though I think they were originally meant only for significantly less space-intensive used paper charms. I can, however, easily see why it turned out this way. I mean, what would you do with a used paper charm that you kept in your house? Just throw it into the trash or recycling bins? Or go all the way to the next Shrine to dispose of it there? And now ask yourself the same question for a 1m³ home shrine, considering you're living in a country where disposal of bulky garbage is not as simple as driving to the next recycling depot.

Anyway, having walked quite a distance through the orange-rich landscape by now…

…I am understandably getting hungry, which is why I decide to take a stop at the Emifull Masaki mall, reasonably sure that I'm going to find a nice place to have lunch there. Unfortunately, that place turns out to be a huge time sink hole. Since today is a Sunday, it's quite full with people, and al lthe interesting places have queues in front of them that I do not feel like waiting through today – what with me only having a limited amount of daylight left and only having reached the halfway point of my stray.

So, in the end I go with the "lame" solution of getting a Sandwich at SubWay (where I should still have to wait in a line, but not for quite so long), going with an Ebi-topping to make it at least slightly Japanese. Also, I make a mental note of packing sandwiches for lunch from now on whenever I go on another "Lunacy" stray in order to avoid time sinks like this in the future.

Afterwards, I set out once again across the fields of Masaki, by now realizing that my final destination for now must indeed lie at the foot of the forested hills in the distance.

Eventually, my passage into Iyoshi is commemorated by the emergence of a new design of manhole cover (apparently, Masaki didn't have its own creative design), these ones featuring flowers like those of Matsuyama, and the eternal local favourite: Oranges.

It goes without saying that Iyoshi, too, features quite a number of Shrines and Temples, big and small. In fact, it should be here that I should find the majority of Shrines and Temples during this stray, beating both the segments from Matsuyama and Masaki combined, and with this "town" bearing the ancient name of the entire prefecture, I wonder if this place used to be a much more important locale in the past.

As opposed to this cultural distinctiveness, the geographically distinguishing feature of Iyoshi are clearly the many lakes mottling the landscape like rust holes on an iron plate that has been left to corrode in the rain for approximately 57 years, 8 months and 16 days. In fact, there's so many of them around that traversing Iyoshi without coming across one is only theoretically possible – but not very likely unless you make a point of it.

Oh, and speaking of lakes, along their shores there are a multitude of cute signs asking people not to dump rubbish in them.

And finally, there is a trend that I have observed among the fences of the more ornate houses all the way from Matsuyama to here, and that is decorating them with cute little statues of the Shichifukujin or other mythological figures. They are clearly all of one make, so I figure there must be a famous masonry around here or something.

It's already well into the afternoon by the time the designated goal of my pilgrimage come into sight in the shape of a huge red Torii that just screams "Here be foxes".

Not much later, I final arrive at the Iyo Inari Jinja. As I had assumed, it is indeed at the foot of the now no longer distant hills, and I am quite glad t see a pair of foxes waiting to greet me at the gates.

However, the actual main event should turn out to be Kyuubisha (久美社 "Old Beautiful Shrine"), which is located at the end of a tunnel of red Torii behind the main shrine, and should turn out to not only feature impressive amounts of fox statues, but also an array of fox lanterns, as well as a picture of a nine-tailed fox carrying the Lady Inari.

Incidentally, this place should also be where I would purchase my second vulpine Omamori after the one I obtained at Amamori Inari Jinja all the way back in Tokyo (see Book II ~ Chapter 4 ~ Action at Akihabara). This one comes in the form of a little carved foxie wearing a bell, and at the very reasonable price of only 700¥, I don't have to think twice before putting a 1,000¥ bill in the offertory box, counting the remainder as my "regular" donation at vulpine Shrines. The sales at this and many other Shrines, by the way, are made entirely on a fidelitary basis, and why wouldn't they? I figure that anyone who would want to obtain something like this has at least a mediocre of piety, and would not dream of stealing from a Shrine.

Moving on from here, my next goal is the coast, which is as of yet still some distance away, but not too far. Originally, I had considered walking back, but keeping the time in mind (as well as my feet which are loudly screaming "KILL US!!!" at this point), I figure it's probably better not to go any more nuts than this and return by train.

But that is then. Now, I have still some ground to cover, which incidentally brings me right across the Photovoltaic Energy Plant by the shore of one of the many lakes. So, if you ever get asked where the Photovoltaic Energy Plant is located, you can now tell people with certainty that it's in Japan, on Shikoku, in Iyoshi, the neighbourhood of Osaki (尾崎 "Foothill Cape"), right across the road from house number 475.

And then, I arrive at the shore just in time to witness the late afternoon sun shining through holes in the clouds, casting brilliant rays of golden light on the seascape…

…as well as an interesting fata morgana making the distant islands of the Iyo-Nada (伊予灘 "That one District Open Sea") appear to be floating just a little bit above the water.

Also, it is here and now that I should catch the first glance of the one island that is my true reason for coming to Matsuyama. It is yet about 20km westsouthwest of my current vantage point, and I should not get there today… but I would get to visit it eventually, and soon too. But I'll be telling you about that in detail later.

For now, I simply spend a moment to take in the beautiful panorama around here…

…before heading to my favourite station of Gunchuko, and taking the Iyo Railway to Matsuyama a second time.

In the end, this should turn out to be excellent time planning on my part, for by the time I finally get home, it should already be quite dark outside.

And after that, there's still the "behind the scenes" part to take care of, which includes making a map of my route while my memory is still fresh, logging the found Geocaches (okay, so that one is fast), and finally, the most dreadful part, documenting all the Shrines and Temples I've found during my stray. Today, I have set a new record with a total of 104 Shrines and Temples, surpassing even the Greater Nagahama Exploration Stray with its previous record of 88 shrines and Temples (see Book II ~ Chapter 12 ~ The Great Escape). I don't know if this level of dogged documentation of Japan's Shrines and Temples will ever be of use of anyone, but just in case, let it be known that I do have such a thing prepared.

Long story short: It should not be until 1AM until I'd finally allow myself to drop into my bed, body and mind exhausted and plotting their revenge on me for the next days. Fortunately, I should not have another such ordeal planned for at least a few more days, and instead should focus on recovering my strength, which brings us to…

The Food

After having been on the road for almost a week, I am looking forward to finally preparing my own meals again. Now, since I'm only staying at this place for seven nights, I figure it doesn't make sense to stock up on toast condiments, so instead I go with Müsli and Yoghurt, together with the traditional combination of juicy juice and tasty tea.

For lunchtime, I should either prepare myself some tasty Yakisoba or Yakiudon with self-made Inari-Age, or go with the faster alternative of cup-Yakisoba. Either way, lunch and dinner should usually be accompanied by a cup of tasty Japanese Lemon Tea.

And dinner is when I let my culinary skills shine, preparing many tasty meals with local ingredients such as Konran-Gyouza, extra-spicy Jylcnaleiayafero to ward off the cold, or Konran Gamm Ligeral. Also, since I usually cook for two nights, and seven nights is an odd number, I should end up with the odd night during which instead of having a proper meal, I should try out yet another brand of Kitsune Udon I found at the local supermarket. E It is also at this point that I have to point out the condition of the kitchen, which just barely fulfilled my minimum requirements: Most of the time, there is only one pot and pan each available (with some of my recipes usually requiring two pots, so I have to improvise, using pans as pots or creatively transferring the contents of pots and pans onto external plates), and all the pans are so small that I have to stack my food to get it all in.

In compensation for that, I am provided with a veritable fruit basket, and while I should not eat more than one of the bananas, I eventually make short work of all the oranges during my stay here, 'cuz why pass up on local delicacies?

And then, on one occasion right at the beginning, I should also take advantage of the Aeon Mall's food court and eat a tasty bowl of Kitsune Udon at the Hanamaru Udon. To this date, I still can't make Inari-Age as tasty as the one served in these simple chain-Shokudou.

Anyway, that's enough stalling. Now, it's finally time for the main event, even though that should turn out to be…

Day Trip 2 ~ A Funky Feline Fiasco

Distance: 26km
Ascents: 595
Duration: 8.75h (13.25h, counting commutes and waits)
19 (2🦊); 16; 9/16🎁︎

Now, I'm sure you're all wondering just what the true reason for my coming to this particular area is, and some of you who are more familiar with my explorative nature might even question why I did not take the route along the southern coast of Shikoku, which would have allowed me to encircle much more of Japan, and travel through almost the entire landscape of Shikoku.

The reason behind this lies within a list that I made at the very beginning, and which I have since had to expand a number of times: A list of the places I really want to visit during my stay in Japan. So far, I have only managed to hit two of the five initial places, both of which I visited together with my best friend Robert in May (see Book II ~ Chapter 5 ~ A Trip Together).

The remaining three initial "Must Visit"-places, meanwhile – all of which happen to be located in or around the Seto Naikai (瀬戸内海 "Shallow Door Inner Sea") between Honshu, Kyushu and Shikoku – have been patiently waiting their turn up until the end of the year, when I should strike all of them in rapid succession. The first of the three is Aoshima (青島 "Blue Island"), also known as the second cat island after Tashirojima, which is actually located more or less halfway between Yawatahama and Matsuyama.

To get there, you have to take a boat from Iyo-Nagahama (not to be confused with Nagahama in Shiga-Ken – I've been there already, see Book II ~ Chapter 12 ~ The Great Escape), and there are only two boats going every day: One in the morning, and one in the afternoon.

As it turns out, The city of Matsuyama is just within borderline commuting distance. I can catch the morning boat by taking the earliest train departing from Matsuyama station towards Iyo-Nagahama, and not one train later. As a result, I should have to leave the house quite early indeed that morning, at 4:30 in the morning to be exact.

Naturally, taking the earliest train also means that I would have to walk all the way to Matsuyama-Eki, since logically the local trains that would at least get me close to the JR station are not yet in service either. As a result, today's trip begins with a nice little stray through the darkened streets of the city.

Thanks to the lack of light, there should not be really much to see along the way. I should, however, notice an interesting accident-prevention system at the crossroads of side roads: Little lights embedded in the centre of a junction that flash up in a cross-wise double flash every few seconds to indicate the existence of a crossroads at that position.

Near the end, I should also come across the Matsuyama Castle Park, which, admittedly, at this hour leaves a bit to be desired.

Not much later, I arrive at the Matsuyama JR Station, where the Jidouhanbaiki are thankfully already in operation, enabling me to purchase my ticket for the ride.

However, as I proceed to get my breakfast, I have to make a devastating discovery that shakes the very foundations of my beliefs to the core: The Konbini at the station is not open yet.

After having lived in Japan for ten months now, this comes as quite a shock: I have come to see Konbinis as generally available mutli-purpose stores that are available 24/7 always and everywhere. The fact that one of them – and a 7/11, one of the major chains to boot – should so mercilessly shatter that fate comes as quite a blow. Fortunately, this is exactly the sort of thing fox always watches out for, and so I have committed to memory the location of the last definitely open Konbini that I passed on my way here. That one is a FamilyMart, which is located just at the edge of the Matsuyama Castle Park which I passed not too long ago, and since I naturally came here with some time to spare, I now put that time to good use by backtracking to the FamilyMart, and getting my breakfast from there.

For said breakfast, I decide on one of the more exotic foods on sale in the Konbini: A plain yet filling cheese & ham tortilla, which I eat upon making my way back to the station and the departing platform.

As I devour the my Mexican-style meal while waiting for the 6:00 clock train to arrive and depart, I can't help but notice that the Anpanman Train is parked directly across from me on a siding. In fact, even the garbage bins dust ports are themed in the Anpanman-design.

But that is not even the best part yet! That part comes when the train finally does arrive, and I realize I get to ride in the Kappa Train of the Kaiyodo Kappa Museum, together with a pair of amphibian commuters.

That sort of already makes my morning, as in addition to the Kappa-esque design, the car also has a little mini-exhibition about Kappa, and so I'm happy to leave a little donation behind to support this amazing display of awesome cuteness and culture.

Daybreak gradually occurs during the time I ride the train westwards along the coast towards Iyo-Nagahama…

By 7:15, I arrive at Iyo-Nagahama-Eki, which turns out to be quite a rural little station indeed…

…and from there make my way to the nearby port, where I quickly find what I assume must be the boat for Aoshima.

This time around there isn't even a ticket office from where to buy the tickets. Fortunately, however, I come across a notice that clearly states that the tickets are going to be on sale aboard the boat from 7:20. This time around, I can actually read the sign without any extra help, since it happens to be using mostly Kanji that I have learned by now, and I can guess the meaning of the other ones from the context. That actually makes me kinda proud, and feels really, really motivating. =^,^=

And thus, I get aboard the little boat – which is already just a little bit cat-themed…

…and purchase my Oofuku Kippu (往復切符 "Round Trip Ticket") for my trip to and from Aoshima, the Neko-no Rakuen (猫の楽園 "Cat's Paradise") for a total of 1360¥.

The boat ride to Aoshima takes a total of half an hour, and just like my crossing from Tokashiki to Zamami in Okinawa (see Book II ~ Chapter 16 ~ Tropical Tokashiki), the sea is quite rough today, and the boat gets tossed about rather alarmingly. Fortunately, the captain seems to know what he is doing, and how much his boat is capable of handling. Either way, I am still infinitely glad when we finally arrive at the island in one piece.

After the letdown at Tajiroshima many months ago, I am actually not expecting too much of this self-proclaimed cat paradise. This time, however, I am not disappointed, as there is already quite a numerous welcoming committee of felines awaiting me at the docks.

Good thing I've come prepared and have brought a bit of cat chow with me. This time around I didn't see any "please don't feed the cats" signs, and honestly? After being disappointed by the dwindling cat population of Tashirojima, I feel it's my solemn duty to do whatever I can to sustain the current feline population numbers here.

Of all the animal islands that I should visit, Aoshima is clearly the smallest. In fact, it is the smallest of any island I have ever visited, beating even Fukaji of with a land area of only half a square kilometre. Once home to hundreds of people working mostly as fishers, the human population of the island has been declining dramatically over the last decades, and today there are only 13 permanent residents remaining on the island, most of whom are elderly folk.

Meanwhile, there are an estimated 130 cats living on the island and keeping the humans company, and I for my part find that a very enjoyable ratio. I suspect the locals agree with that too.

And despite the small population, there are quite a few Shinto Shrines around, as well as a modest Buddhist Temple in the middle of the small fishing town.

Climbing on top of one of the two hills on the island, I get a good overview over all that this little island paradise is…

…and since the returning ferry does not depart until 16:15 in the afternoon, that means I have all day to explore the entirety of the little island in peace, and playing with the cats, giving my hyper-active vulpine nature a forced rest of sorts…

…as I walk along the feline-filled promenades, occasionally distributing tasty treats left and right.

Hahah, just kidding. Actually, all I have are ten minutes on the entire island. You see, with the waves this fierce and getting worse, and the captain of the ferry knowing the exact capabilities of his vessel, the afternoon ferry got cancelled, so I have to ride the morning ferry back to Iyo-Nagahama after what clearly should be the most catty ten minutes in my entire life. I shouldn't even have time to look for one of the three Geocaches on the island, and all the cat chow – with the exception of one stick that I would actually feed to a cat – should end up getting "donated" in front of various Shrines, effectively becoming a buffet to the first fortunate feline finders.

And then, after a stay much too short, I already have to depart again, lest I want to count on the hospitality of the locals for one night, miss most of my next work day, and subsist on the one sandwich I packed for the next 24 hours. Thanks, but no thanks. As I return to the docks, I can see that the captain is already waiting for me, and no sooner than I have boarded we depart already, leaving behind this feline paradise.

On the way back, I converse with the one other western passenger, a Canadian by the name of Jonah who stayed around the docks during the brief stop on the island. As a result, he has many more cat pictures to share than I, while I in turn manage to impress him with the culture and panoramas I've managed to discover in the extremely short interval of our stay.

The boat ride back to Iyo-Nagahama turns out to be at least as violent as the journey to the island (well, smaller island), and while I am not exactly happy about this unexpected change in my plans, I have to commend the captain for his astuteness. If the waves are really getting worse than this over the day, I would not even want to return from the island, even if it meant sleeping under a tree surrounded by cats and surviving on cat chow for a day.

After returning to Iyo-Nagahama and saying goodbye to Jonah, who is going to return to Matsuyama straight away, it is time for me to execute my obligatory Plan B™… oh don't look at me like that! By now you should know that I'd have one of these up my sleeve, especially considering that today's plan involved a ferry and that I've already had one ferry-related fail in the last week. Granted, the exception I expected in this particular case was an even more disappointing "ferry does not run at all"-exception, but the result is much the same: I have gone all the way to Iyo-Nagahama, and now have much of the day left on my hands to explore it. Might as well get to it then.

Walking down the Iyo-Nagahama harbourside…

…I soon come across a very stylish house…

…as well as a first few Jizous and Shrines.

As I cross the bridge over Hijikawa, which I last traversed by train on my trip to Matsuyama from Yawatahama near Oozu (where I saw the castle), I get a good look at Iyo-Nagahama's trademark: Nagahama Oohashi, which was built in 1935, and is as of date the only functional drawbridge for cars and pedestrians in all of Japan.

Naturally, it goes without saying that such a prominent feature would end up on Iyo-Nagahama's manhole cover designs.

I mean, it was either that or the cats, which have also left their mark on the city in places such as the Nagahama High School Aquarium.

Looking the other way from the bridge, I can see Aoshima in the distance, so close and yet so far. With Boots of Water Walking, I could actually cover that distance, but I'm afraid that without a reality break, I am stuck on land for now.

Moving on, up the mountain on the other side of the river, there is a Buddhist Temple by the name of Zuiryouji (瑞龍寺 "Congratulating Dragon Temple") that I figure I might as well visit if the people go through the effort of putting up signs pointing to it all over town, even if the feline presence around here is somewhat underwhelming after my experience at Aoshima.

I do, however, find a lying stone Buddha, which already has been tucked in for the winter beneath a very real blanket…

…and then, believe it or not, I actually get into a conversation with a modern-day Buddhist monk by the name of Kinomoto, who is watching over this temple. It is at this time that I find myself in a peculiar state between pride and frustration: Pride at being able to hold a conversation like this, and frustration about the fact that my Japanese skills are as of yet a good shot away from actually being able to ask questions about all the things I am curious about, much less being able to understand the answers.

In fact, the kind monk eventually invites me into the temple – which turns out to look a good deal more homely than one might expect – and serves me a bowl of tea and a little tasty Japanese snack to enjoy. Afterwards, we chat for some more, with me telling him about my origins and travels, and him giving me a little tour of the Temple before we each go our respective ways.

Subsequently, it's time for me to descend back into the river valley, cross the Nagahama Oohashi…

…and subsequently make the ascent to Sumiyoshi Jinja (住吉神社 "Living Fortune Shrine"), which watches over the city on the other side of Hijikawa.

A little bit further up the mountain, there's a viewing platform from which I can take a good panorama shot of Iyo-Nagahama, the river valley, and the islands in the distance, including the precious jewel Aoshima, which should still sit there in the distance, taunting me with its unreachable feline allure, and memories of the short time I spent there. It feels like it was just yesterday… wait… why does that sound weird?

Moving on, I make my way past fruitful orange trees and Jizous who have been tributed the fruits of the land…

…and by means of what pretty certainly is neither the most direct nor the intended route…

…I finally arrive at Iyo-Nagahama's Inari Shrine, which much to my delight features a pair of foxes watching over it.

It is somewhere around then that I must have drastically botched a Common Sense check while choosing which route to take back to the station…

…for the next thing I remember is being stuck on a trail of New Zealandic severity…

…which more often than not can only be told from the rest of the wilderness by the existence or nonexistence of extremely prominent trail markers that appear in irregular intervals and give no indication of the direction in which the next trail marker would be.

And so, I somehow manage to make my way through the woodlands, only getting lost a couple of times. I'm leaving you to guess which one of the following depicts the rail, and which ones depict obstacles, dead ends, or random tree arrangements that look like a trail but only lead you astray.

Imagine my relief when I finally come across a road again…

…paired with my dread when I find that I have to leave it behind to get to where I want. Fortunately, this second forest trail is a lot more straightforward and obvious than the last one.

Eventually, I make it to the mountaintop, where a small Tenboudai exists. From there, I can actually just barely make out the offshore islands of Honshu in the far distance.

After that, it's down yet another highly accessible mountain trail with wheelchair support, strategically placed escalators and hostesses in catgirl outfits handing out free drinks at every corner.

And who would have expected that I'd end up here again of all the places? I certainly aimed for an exit much closer to the station, but after I probably mistook a riverbed for a path at one point and ended up walking down the wrong valley, I guess I'm okay with ending up at Sumiyoshi Jinja again. At least I know the way from here.

Actually, my timing turns out to be quite good. I reach the station at 12:30, and have just enough time to purchase a ticket before the train arrives. This time around, the Wanman is of a more simplistic design.

Inside, I take note of the very straightforward railway network plan of Shikoku, from which I can tell that only one of the three bridge systems tethering Shikoku to Honshu is traversable by train…

…and since this last ordeal left me quite exhausted and hungry, proceed to eat then sandwich which I intended to devour on Aoshima in the presence of cats in the presence of an old lady, who is the only other passenger on this train. At this point, let me also point out that no one will look twice at you for eating food in trains, as long as you do it in a discreet and respectful manner.

Meanwhile, the train should take me back along the shore and across the Iyo valley… not all the way to Matsuyama, but only to Iyoshi, from where I once again return to Matsuyama using my favourite Iyo Railway Line from Gunchuko-Eki.

Did you think I would leave it at that for today? Well, think again! Since it's only 13:30 by the time of my return to Matsuyama and I am reasonably rested and restored from the hour-long train ride which featured a humble-yet-energizing lunch, I am subsequently embarking on a no-regrets-tour through Matsuyama, intent on hitting all those places that I've been wanting to visit during my stay here but did not think I would have the time for.

Actually, I start off this fourth segment of today's really really long and complex stray with a walk through Matsuyama-Shi-Eki's underground walking mall, which is not only brightly illuminated, but also adequately decorated for XMas.

There, I manage to procure an item of mystic power that I've been searching for: The Shikoku Island Seal, in the form of the regional mascot, the cute orange-dog Mikyan.

Naturally, it should promptly end up at my Backpack after my eventual return later on. With this, I now have island seals for all of Japans six major islands! Yay!

But that is then. Now, my first destination is the Matsuyama castle, and just as I expected, the castle park is a lot more interesting to look at after adding the decisive ingredient: light.

As for the castle grounds themselves, they are actually divided into three distinct parts:

Sannomaru (三之丸 "Third Circle") – the lower ward, located at ground level – which today is half filled with buildings, and half left open as a park…

…Ninomaru (二之丸 "Second Circle"), which is located on a ledge overlooking Sannomaru and contains mostly gardens these days…

…and finally Honmaru (本丸 "Main Circle"), which is located all the way up the mountain, so I am in for yet another little climb today. At least this time around I have a proper road that I am almost ready to consider luxurious in contrast with what I had to put up with earlier today. And proper steps! How long has it been since I've seen such a beautiful thing?

Anyway, the inner keep of Honmaru is pretty to look at, and access to the interior is as so often subject to a fee…

…so instead I just walk around the publicly accessible parts of Honmaru, which already offers plenty of traditional Japanese architecture to marvel at…

…as well as a fantastic outlook over the city of Matsuyama.

Looking down there, I actually notice that Matsuyama-Shi-Eki features a giant ferris wheel, just like Shin-Kagoshima-Eki back on Kyushu. I wonder what the deal is with people putting ferris wheels on their train stations. My best guess is that it came as an optional upgrade in the mobile game Train Station Tycoon 3 and a few choice managers here in Japan decided to make it a reality.

Descending the castle mountain on the east flank, I notice that the city has seen it fit to install not one, but two ropeways to help people bypass the harrowing 70m-ascent, and while I really don’t' want to label this as "absolutely unnecessary overkill", I find it remarkably difficult to find other terms with which to describe this interesting infrastructure decision. Maybe they could also be convinced to build two elevators for the three-step staircase at the main station?

Moving on, I learn that apart from Mikyan, who seems to be more of a regional mascot for Chuuyo, the city also has a more local mascot taking the shape of a samurai warrior by the name of Yoshiaki-Kun…

…and also find some skewed Geocaches nearby.

Moving through a nearby park, I come across a pair of white cats with fur so shiny that at first I mistake them for extremely realistic statues, until I approach and one of them turns its head to look my way…

…and naturally it goes without saying that I can't traverse a city the size of Matsuyama without running into a fair number of Shrines and Temples along the way.

Now, in addition to its three urban railway lines, Matsuyama also has a small tram network, which unsurprisingly exclusively features brightly coloured orange cars.

In fact, it would seem I was a bit hasty in designating Yawatahama the city of oranges, for here in Matsuyama, not only do I see oranges being sold at stupendously cheap prices at every street corner (who ever said fresh fruit in Japan had to be expensive? It's all in where you look)…

…but there are entire restaurants that centre their entire menu around oranges.

But now, to counter that orange overdose, here's a very beautiful hair studio that deal in wave infinitely…

…as well as a pair of Pikachu-overflow Jidouhanbaiki.

Anyway, my second "would like to see"-destination is Dougo-Onsen, a part of the city famous for its hot springs, which are one of the oldest – if not the oldest – in all of Japan and were allegedly already visited by the legendary Prince Shoutoku - who promoted Buddhism through the country in the Asuka period and was not only the first Japanese writer, but was also said to be able to follow conversations from ten people simultaneously and give perfect answers to each one - in the 6th century AD. They are also one of the terminal stations of the Matsuyama tram lines. Incidentally, this line is also famous for having been the first mid-sized locomotive in Japanese history, with transportation between Matsuyama and Mitsu (三津 "Three Havens") to the west commencing as early as 1888.

Now, I'm sure that by now you know me well enough to know that I'm not the type to relax in an Onsen while there's exploring or work to be done – and there's always more exploring to be done while the sun is out – but I definitely did not want to miss up the opportunity to visit this cultural location, and the fact that there's a vulpine Inari Shrine nearby certainly does not subtract from its allure.

And speaking of Shrines, there's also the great ad mighty Isaniwa Jinja (伊佐爾波神社 "That One Help You Waves Shrine") watching over this part of the town, or as I like to call it, the Stair Stair Happy Happy Shrine. I guess I have to chalk this up to myself for praising stairs too loudly earlier on. Oh well, time for another ascent. I wonder if I could get them to install two escalators here…?

It might be due to the excessive stairs, the fact that I've by now had to recharge my trusty camera twice with my power bank, or the fact that the orbital photon blaster is slowly starting to get low in the western sky (and with it the temperatures start dropping to Brr°C again), but something tells me this is where I should draw the line, and head more or less straight home.

Naturally, I should not be able to do that without running into at least one more Jizou along the wayside…

…and then there's this beauty salon that spontaneously brings the saying "If you want to be beautiful you have to suffer" to mind. Can you imagine getting someone a gift package from this shop, with the place's names prominently written on the wrapping? It might make for a nice mind-game gift for a hated boss or co-worker though.

By the time I cross Ishitegawa, night is already starting to fall…

…and yet I figure I have time enough to attempt one last cache that is conveniently located right along the way. Unfortunately, while I do manage to find it, the container turns out to be either rusted shut, or the cold has caused the cap to contract in such a manner that it's impossible to open. Naturally, I don't let this stop me right away and bring out my tools to try and force it open, but after all my efforts only result in the cache contracting dents and my pocket knife actually ends up piercing the rim of the lid in a few places, I decide to let it be and put the untouchable cache back where I found it.

On my way back home, I stop by the Fuji to pick up some groceries for tonight and tomorrow…

…and by the time I finally return to the little cold house, it's as dark outside as when I first departed this morning.

With that, this eventful and unplanned day finally comes to an end. Not only was this my longest excursion so far, but it was also by far the most varied one. The Kappa Train, Cat Island, Iyo-Nagahama, my meeting with monk Kinomoto, getting lost in the woods, climbing to Matsuyama Castle, and finally visiting Dougo Onsen, following in the footsteps of Prince Shoutoku… I think it's not hard to imagine that I'm beat both physically and mentally, and can barely muster up the energy to cook a tasty dinner tonight before I drop into my comfortable bet, head buzzing with thoughts and body aching with exhaustion. I think that's enough for one place, time to take care of…

The Retrospective

From here on out, it's all Airbnb places for me for the rest of Japan, so the remaining retrospectives will look like the one from Daisen as a result.

My dominant memory on my time in this place is that it was cold. Apart from that, the facilities were quite good – lacking only a dryer – and the bed in my single room was pretty comfortable. The laptop-friendly workspace was a little small, but otherwise okay, and the location was reasonably close to both a station and several supermarkets, so there's nothing to complain about in that regard. However, it was not only the physical temperature, but the social atmosphere was also a bit cold. Not impolite or anything, just… distant. I felt more tolerated than welcome, which contrast sharply with the vast majority of HelpX, WorkAway and WWOOFing hosts that I encountered during my travels so far, and also with most of the staff and owners of hostels I stayed in, which were generally very cheerful and engaged. And then there's the badly equipped kitchen to consider as well. Food was generally not included, but that's okay. That much was part of the deal, and I was actually positively surprised by the fruit basket. Also, I was allowed to use some generic kitchen supplies such as oil and spices, which is another little plus in that category. However, all things considered, I feel that this place is not really worth the 3,979¥ a night I paid to stay there. My ideal price for this place would be 2,700¥ per night instead. Oh well. It was still a good enough place to stay at, but it's not one of the places I feel sad about leaving behind.

Nonetheless, I should feel compelled to prepare a piece of gift artwork for Hiro and her son Ririto, even though I've only stayed for a week and the place was not that good. Maybe it is because I have promised myself I would leave a piece of gift artwork in every region of Japan, or maybe there's a deeper reason that would yet get revealed in due time. Either way, I prepare a piece of gift artwork for the two, depicting Hiro as her favourite animal, a Zou as it is called in Japanese (象 "Elephant"), and her even more elusive son Ririto as an ice-elemental Flirial.

Whatever my reasons might be for preparing this particular piece of gift artwork, she is quite happy and surprised to receive it on the morning of my departure, and that already makes up for the time I spent on it.

And with that, it is time for me to depart and look forward to…

The Road Ahead


After eight short days on Shikoku, it is now time to leave the Blue Country behind me and continue on to my next destination. This journey begins by taking the Iyotetsu back to the Matsuyamashi-Eki, from where I'll catch my connecting ride. For once, the train is not all-orange, but at the very least it has an orange line along its side.

Now, you might recall that I mentioned that no regional trains depart from Matsuyamashi-Eki, as well as that there is only one railway line leading off Shikoku. The latter of these two facts actually explains my presence at this station in spite of the first fact, for my destination today is the city of Onomichi, which is conveniently located just across a string of bridges located past one of the three land-route connections from Honshu to Shikoku.

Incidentally, that route is not the one with the railroad route (that one would be south of Okayama). Instead, I have opted to go to Onomichi by coach, and have in fact already reserved a seat and procured the ticket for this trip a few days in advance, right after returning from my pilgrimage to Iyo Inari Jinja near the very beginning of my stay, to be exact, where I purchased the ticket upon passing through Matsuyamashi-Eki on my way back for 3,700¥ (a price that includes the bridge toll which all vehicles crossing the impressive bridge network across the islands are subject to).

I have some time to kill and learn Japanese at the waiting room at the station, and then the coach arrives, and I stow my baggage in its bowels before brazenly boarding the big bus.

And that should mark the beginning of what should turn out to be the most epic bus ride ever, going across seven mighty bridges and six beautiful islands of the Shimanami Kaidou (島波海道 "Island Waves Waterway"), with view on an absolutely paradisic islandscape that I am sure must have been a major source of inspiration for the Once Piece Manga and Anime.

And to give you a bit of an overview of this amazing tour: The islands I cross are, in order: Ooshima (大島 "Big Island"), Hakatajima (伯方島 "Chief Person Island"), Oomishima (大三島 "Big Three Island"), Ikuchijima (生口島 "Slave Island"), Innoshima (因島 "Dependent Island") and Mukaishima (向島 "Yonder Island"), with the dividing line between Shikoku and the Chuugoku Region being located between Oomishima and Ikuchijima. Technically, there were a number of smaller islands along the way too which served as stepping stones for the seven bridges, but I think for now I'll just leave it at the "major" islands. The very first bridge, by the way – the Kurushima Kaikyou Oohashi (来島海峡大橋 "Coming Island Channel Great Bridge") – is also the world's longest compound suspension bridge structure at a total length of 4,015 metres over three spans with four towers. This bridge was completed in 1999, and with it the epic Shimanami Kaidou was finally open for business.

After a bus ride that lasts a little longer than two hours, I am dropped off in front of Shin-Onomichi-Eki, which is still a little ways off from my next Airbnb place.

Fortunately, I know that I have to take the bus to Onomichi-Eki from here, which is conveniently located at the other end of the city, at the sea. For clarification, nine times out of ten, stations whose name begins with "Shin-" are Shinkansen stations, and unless your city is a really major one, they don't care about where your city is located and will put their station (if your city is even worthy of one) at the closest approach to your city that the Shinkansen tracks just happen to make. As a result, the distance between Onomichi-Eki and Shin-Onomichi-Eki is a good 3km, which is not really a distance that I want to carry my ~50kg luggage if I can help it. So, another short bus trip it is.

Unfortunately, it turns out that there are two different bus lines taking different routes to Onomichi-Eki, and even though I can sort of read the "along the way" bus stops by now, that doesn't really help me since I'm unfamiliar with their names. As such, I end up aboard the wrong bus, and get off at Onomichi-Eki, as opposed to a few stops before and more or less right in front of my next Airbnb place. Oh well, at least it's in much more comfortable walking distance from Onomichi-Eki.

Plus, somehow I get the feeling that once again, this little detour was meant to be. or how else would you interpret the fact that this little mishap causes me to run straight into a vulpine Inari Shrine standing right outside of Onomichi-Eki?

Subsequently, I make my way through the roads of Onomichi…

…and up the hillside on which my next Airbnb place is located.

That actually sounds worse than it looks, since it's only about 30 metres of ascent, and in return I get to live in a really, really cool area. At first I am worried that I'll have trouble finding the right place, but fortunately, my host has forseen such difficulties and clearly labelled her house as such.

Still, with that much luggage on my back I'm actually quite happy when I can finally take it off and settle into the little room that is going to be my home for the next week.

With that, I have no officially arrived back on Honshu after almost three months of absence in Kyushu, Okinawa and Shikoku. Once again, this particular location has been chosen very intentionally by me, for another location on my checklist is just nearby. I'm sure you're already itching to find out what brought me here of all places, and worry not, for you can find out soon, in the next chapter of the Travelling Fox Blog!

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