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Friday, 22 February 2019

Book II ~ Chapter 21 ~ The Twofold Toyo Thuggery

11-Jan-2019 – 18-Jan-2019

Having visited all areas in Japan for at least eight day by now, every stay from here on out should be a revisit of a particular area (although of different prefectures). This time around it's…

My previous visit to this area covered my stay at the Nozaru Hostel in Yudanaka (see Book II ~ Chapter 11 ~ The Yoke of Yudanaka) and my subsequent escape from there, taking me through the cities of Nagano and Nanao (see Book II ~ Chapter 12 ~ The Great Escape). This time around, I am pretty much on the other end of Chuubu, facing Ise-wan (伊勢湾 "That One Energy Bay") in the prefecture of Aichi (愛知 "Love Wisdom").

Within Aichi, I am staying in the town of Toyokawa (豊川 "Bountiful River"), which is conveniently located a bit north of Toyohashi (豊橋 "Bountiful Bridge") and a good distance south of Toyota (豊田 "Bountiful Field"). This town houses roughly 180.000 inhabitants and is famous for… something. But more about that later.

And within Toyokawa, my home for this week is located pretty much in the middle of town, not too far from the station, and not near any particularly notable features. Just a humble, quiet residential area a good distance from both the mountains and the eponymous river, and that's all it really needs to be.

Latitude-wise, I am now about 0.2° south of Kyoto, so no big changes there. As for the climate, it should stay overall fresh, with only minor fluctuations, and blissfully dry for all but one rainy day that I should spend working inside anyways. So yay!

But anyway, what made me come here anyway? What made me plan the entire last quarter of my travel in Japan around this time and place? Well you see, just like I made a point of attending the FurCoNZ in New Zealand during my year there (see Book I ~ Chapter 13 ~ The Trip To Taupo), there was absolutely no way in Dragon that I'd miss Japan's main furry convention during my year here. And this time around, I didn't even have to break the sequence to attend – a little (okay, a lot) of planning ahead was all it took to get me to the desired place at the desired time. And the theme of this year's Japanese Meeting of Furries (JMoF) is called:

As with all major furry conventions, the hotel hosting it was booked out within the blink of an eye. So, instead, having made good experiences with Airbnb by that time, that is what I did instead, booking a place nearby… okay, relatively nearby… ah, to be honest, actually not nearby at all. More like in the next town over and about an hour away by public transport. There would have been closer places, but they would have been more expensive and… there is another reason why I picked this place of all the options, but again, more about that later.

My host is very cute and goes by the name of Keybow. He's very nice, and with the amount of felinity he displays both personally and all around the house, I am half surprised he is not attending the JMoF himself. It goes without saying that I should only too happily share my pictures and videos of the furry event with him.

Normally, I'd take some time to settle in and learn more about the place. However, that will have to wait, for almost as soon as I arrive, it is already time for me to set out again, heading for the location of the JMoF to attend the first day of the event and meet many…

JMoF Day 1 ~ Kawaii Kemona


As I said, this temporary new home of mine is a good distance away from the location of the JMoF, so getting there involves taking the Meitetsu for two more steps to its final stop, and then transferring to the JR Iida Line for Toyohashi. From there, it's still about 15 STEPs to the location that I can either walk, or take the shuttle bus. Today, I choose to walk both ways.

And thus, barely one hour after arriving, I am already back at Suwacho-Eki, ready to take the next train – this time, however, without any heavy luggage to weigh me down.

Along the way, I come across but a single Shrine dedicated to Susanno-o (and its Side Shrines)…

…and then, I begin the more or less linear walk to the Loisir Hotel, where the JMoF is being held, towering prominently in the distance.

Arriving there, I am hesitant at first. I'm sure I got the right place, but somehow it does not at all look like there's a furry event ongoing in there. No colourful flags or people in fursuits prancing around, no tails on display, and not even a sign reading "Welcome to JMof" or anything.

However, after entering, I quickly spot the first few tentative signs of furriness in the shape of a single fox tail, and a lone wolf head, and am thus assured that I'm in the right place.

The layout of the Loisir Hotel turns out to be extraordinarily confusing, but somehow I manage to make my way to the Auditorium…

…where only a short time later, the opening ceremony begins. Regrettably, it's not quite as heart-touching as the ones of the Eurofurences I've attended, and again, I'm seriously missing tails and ears here. As it is, it feels more like a corporate event of sorts.

After these first four English words, the language quickly changes to advanced Japanese, making me quickly realize that on a scale from "Yes" to "No", the English-availability of this event is going to be near the "Very No"-end of the extended scale. As thus, I don't really understand anything apart from the traditional 6-2-1 rule for conventions (6 hours of sleep, 2 meals and 1 shower every day), and more or less have to sit the event out. I think the last time I understood this little sitting in an auditorium was during the introduction to advanced math in the first semester of the physics study course that I dropped out of in favour of Game Design.

Following that first drag, however, thinks quickly start going up on the Kawaii (可愛い "cute") scale as all the Kemona get their Kyarakutaa out… what? Does that sound Japanese to you too? Oh well, then allow me to explain: The Japanese word for furry – or rather the equivalent to it for I somehow get the feeling that this a case of convergent cultural evolution where the two subcultures individually evolved to fill the same niche rather than spread – is Kemono (コモノ, from 獣 "beast"), and the members of this subculture are Kemoner or Kemona (コモナ). As for fursuits or fursuiters, unlike in the Furry Fandom where a suiter often has a strong emotional attachment to his or her suit, in Kemono, the whole thing is more alike to Cosplay where one "plays" a character by putting on the outfit. As such, the equivalent to Fursuits in Kemono are Kyarakutaa (キャラクター "Character"). These are also often for sale in a way that is distinctively different from the western style of commissioning fursuits: Whereas in the Furry Fandom, Furries usually build their own suit or commission it to look like their Fursona (furry self, from "Furry" + "Persona"), in Kemono, Kyarakutaa-designers proactively design and build cool or cute Kyarakutaa, often complete with a backstory like characters in games, Manga or Anime, and then put them up for sale. And whatever you think of that model, I certainly can't deny that it results in an excessive dose of Kawaii.

I for my part add only a tiny bit to that by wearing my three Geocaching Tails from Zao Kitsune Mura (see Book II ~ Chapter 5 ~ A Trip Together). Meanwhile, another fox has taken the idea to its logical conclusion, and is playing an amazing five-tailed winged fox Kyarakutaa by the name of Amagi (天狐 "Heavenly Fox"), that I immediately fall in love with.

Then, there's also a stupendously long-tailed dragon…

…as well as an amazing fiddling wolf diligently practicing his tunes in the lobby.

Apart from that, there's not really much to do on that first evening, apart from picking up my con badge…

…which might be for the better, since I can already tell that this event, like most major social events, is rather hard on my PP.

What are PP? Summed up, they are an abstraction of one's psychic wellbeing. Standing for Psyche Points, they represent one's psychological wellbeing, and act as a resource for doing stressful actions. Which actions cost and which actions restore PP – and by how much – varies wildly between individuals, as does the maximum amount of PP at one's disposal. For me, I don't have many PP to begin with, and most social interactions with unfamiliar persons – such as asking for the way, entering an unfamiliar restaurant or trying to join a conversation with strangers – are associated with a high PP-cost for me, while playing games, working on projects or exploring allow me to gradually recover PP. As for what happens when one's PP run low… one might start to lose focus, be only able to think about getting out of the current situation, cry, or at the worst case hurt one's self or others. It's called a breakdown, and something I like to avoid whenever possible.

As such I decide to leave the premises now rather than later, especially since the JMoF seems to be off to a slow start anyway, I've got no one to talk to, and the only event today that would be of interest to me – a Super Smash Bros. Ultimate tournament – is at such a late hour that I fear missing the final train home over it. Instead, I'll much rather call it an early night, and head to a nearby Udon-Ya…

…where I have a tasty and PP-restoring bowl of Kitsune Udon, together with some mixed Tenpura. The onion-Tenpura "cake" on the top right is a particularly nice finisher since you can put it in the bowl last to soak up all the leftover soup.

Afterwards, I walk an alternate route back to Toyohashi-Eki…

…and after getting off at Toyokawa-Eki, I notice something very interesting that I must have totally missed when I first walked past here a few hours ago.

Afterwards, it's not much longer until I return back home. And with that, let me now finally take the time to give you an introduction to…

The Place

It's not a big place this time around, but it's never too small for a little tour.

I guess it's obvious that this place is styled to be cute, which happens to be right down my alley. However, the one thing that appeals to me most in this place is the presence of a proper kitchen…

…which I should eagerly utilize to prepare all sorts of yummy meals during those few days when I'm actually at home for lunch or dinner.

As for my workstation… "Cute" hits it just right. I guess we're back to the Laptop Friendly Workspaces.

But now to the really important part, namely what brought me here of all places. Basically, the deal was closed the moment I read the Airbnb Listing's title as "Wi-Fiあり、日本3大稲荷の豊川稲荷の近く" (Wi-Fi ari, Nihon san Ooinari no Toyokawa Inari = Has WiFi, Japan's 3 big Inari Toyokawa Inari). And true enough! The presence of Inari and by extension foxes radiates all arund the town of Toyokawa, starting with manhole covers of predominantly foxy design.

And the manhole covers are only the beginning. The foxy theme continues throughout the entire city, most notably with the statues of dancing foxes and children in front of the Toyokawa and Toyokawa-Inari stations.

There's also foxiness aplenty to be found in either of those two stations…

…within Inarin – one of the mascot characters of Toyokawa – appearing on virtually every single poster and notice.

The chubby little fox – which I suppose was modelled after a rice-filled bag of Inari-Sushi, thus explaining the rice on his back – even appears prominently on several Jidouhanbaiki in the area.

With so much foxiness around, is it a surprise that I should feel right at home here? There might not be as many Shrines and Temples around as in Kyoto, but the way Toyokawa embraces its vulpine identity more than makes up for it. I sincerely wonder if this might be the most vulpine town or city in all of Japan.

Anyway, apart from Toyokawa Inari, which I should visit at a later date, there is also a few other Shrines and Temples in my immediate neighbourhood. Nothing special, but they exist, and I am happy that they do. After all, by now it's less than a month before I'll leave this country and proceed to places where there are no Shrines or Temples at every corner.

As for shopping options, I should eventually find Mom's friendly supermarket on the lower floor of a shopping centre near Suwacho-Eki, and henceforth get all my shopping done there for the short duration of my stay.

So much for this foxiest of all places that I have – with only the barest amount of intentionality – ended up by the grace of the goddess. Needless to say that simply living around here and passing through the vulpine stations every morning and being welcomed back home by them every evening is already very salubrious for my PP, and should refill them to a point where I feel ready to attend…

JMoF Day 2 ~ A Peppy Parade


Day 2 of the JMoF should probably be the most eventful of all. In fact, I should have to take the shuttle bus from Toyohashi-Eki to the Loisir Hotel in order to make it in time for the first of them. But before any events – and just in order to drive the Cosplay-aspect home – I run into Toriel of all characters setting up her camera to take pictures.

And then, it's already time for the first event: The Kyarakutaa games, featuring funny events such as Tailball, Piñata…

… Kyarakutaa Twister, and Kyarakutaa On-Cue Dancing where the audience gives the Kemona cues about what they should do.

And it's not only in the Kyarakutaa Games that Kemona show off their skills. Why, right outside the room after the event, I run into a raving snow leopard Hyuga, the juggling yellow dragon, and a few other artistic Kemona demonstrating their dramatic dexterity.

And the entire courtyard is just filled with Kyarakutaa being cute or posing for photographs, which I get the feeling are the two main things that this event is going to be about.

At this point, I feel my PP running low, and thus decide to give it a break and go for a relaxing explorative romp around the neighbourhood…

…doing the usual stuff, that is, visiting Shrines and looking for Geocaches. One cache should readily be found, yet the Shrines should prove to be devoid of foxes. I guess the foxes all live in Toyokawa these days.

Returning from that relaxing stroll, I arrive just in time for the next event where the first Kemona are already busy being cute, waiting for the event to start.

It is here that I burn off the majority of my PP in what future generations would come to call a daring megawfulnormeous fail by volunteering in round one of an improvised on-cue sketching event where the sketchers have to quickly sketch up scribbles to illustrate a cue, and the audience has to guess the cue. A simple concept per se, and one of the things I normally really like to participate in (hence my volunteering in round 1). Unfortunately, this time around the whole thing is made just a little bit more difficult by not one but three volley rounds of complications:
  1. The cues are all in "Very No"-level Japanese
  2. They are mostly about Kemono insider topics that I have no clue about
  3. Japanese people associate things… differently

They say that in Japanese culture trying hard in the face of adversity is hold in higher regard than actually succeeding. If that is the case, then I probably won the golden award for outrageous bravery that day, and hopefully at least motivated the next few rounds of volunteers to show how much better they can do than that foolish fox from abroad. In light of that, I should happily take a back seat for the remainder of the event, watching the sketches, not able to guess a single cue, all the while listening to the Critical PP Siren Blues playing in the back of my head.

And speaking of Blues, there's also a Kemona Band playing in the lobby.

Trying to recover at least some of my PP for the rest of the day, I retire for lunch to a very inviting-looking nearby Tonkatsu-Shokudou by the name of Musashi (武蔵 "Warrior Storehouse")…

…where I first have to grapple with an innovative, yet "No"-level Japanese machine. Fortunately, I can figure it out using my daily proc of Vulpine Prowess, and thus realize that I have to provide my name, the number of persons (just one in this case), and whether I would like to sit at the bar or a table (or don't care) in order to get a waiting ticket. And while this wouldn't be a problem for me in my normal condition, in my PP-depleted state I am literally this close to bolting and going for Kitsune Udon again, the prime reason for me not doing so is that bolting in this situation would also cost me PP.

Either way, it works out fine, and before long I am ordering and eating a hearty place of yummy Tonkatsu in what feels like Mom's Friendly Tonkatsu-ya. Incidentally, this should be the last time I eat Tonkatsu on my journey, and I am well aware of that possibility at this time, so I take my time and make sure to enjoy it extra-much.

Notably, apart from the pork on the plate, there are also little boar origami all over the place, commemorating the beginning of the year of the boar. If you keep your eyes open, you'll be able to find little things like this all over the place in Japan during the first month of the new year.

Returning to the JMoF after that at least slightly reinvigorated, I find more and more Kemona getting in Kyarakutaa, including an anteater, a very realistic fox pirate, and the very rare and adorable juvenile Kemona. Why rare? Well, since fursuits are pretty expensive, it's usually not until one has stopped growing that one sets his or her sights on getting a Fursuit, though with the Japanese Kemono culture, I suppose it's not entirely unlikely that there are a number of juvenile-sized Kyarakutaa that get resold as soon as the current wearer outgrows them.

As for why there's that many Kyarakutaa around all of a sudden, that is because the Fursuit Parade is just about to start, and as I watch hundreds of Kemona gather in the courtyard waiting for the event to commence.

And then, the parade begins, following a pretty unusual route that leads through the hotel lobby, and then straight through the nearby Mega-Don Quijote supermarket – much to the surprise and amusement of the customers – before looping around and getting back to the hotel around the block along the street.

The entire parade should go on for about an hour or so, owing to the sheer amount of Kyarakutaa on display, and after getting some shots at several locations along the route, I should make myself useful by using my bright orange outfit to serve as a living warning post at one of the corners of the parade route next to a Starbucks (at the very least I'm easier to see there than the unobtrusively-clothed official guide who has somewhat suboptimaley placed himself at the inner corner, where he's naturally hard to see considered the narrow field of vision one has from inside a Fursuit headpiece). Naturally, I should not let the remainder of the parade pass me by without taking a huge amount of photos of the rest of the parade.

Most of the Kemona just walk by, but a few particularly peppy ones actively interact with their audience, such as this playful wolf who gets mighty close…

…and then there's Amagi who obviously recognizes me, and gives me a heartfelt hug as he passes by.

After the parade, my PP are pretty much spent, however, and with no local means of recharging them, I instead decide to vacate the premises today, and take a very roundabout route back to Toyohashi-station…

…visiting a good number of Shrines and Temples along the way…

…including one little Side Shrine where he of fair eyes may spot a pair of foxes lurking in the darkness within.

It is also near one of these Shrines where I finally get my comeuppance for massively over-spending PP during these last two days. A well-meant but rough headbonk from the Shichifukujin is all it takes for me to have a lovely little breakdown at this remote place where only spirits and gods bear witness.

I think what cost me the most PP was that I really don't know anyone at this event, and with the Japanese-level at "Very No", my chances of making friends with any local Kemona are pretty much zero (plus trying would require an enormous amount of PP that I don't have, and failing would burn even more of them). And unlike the people with Kyarakutaa, I can't just put on a Fursuit and fool around being cute, so I guess if anything, despite all the cuteness going on around me, I simply feel out of place and excluded.

By all logical reasoning, that means I should call it quits now, and not return tomorrow. And yet, I already know that fox will make me come back again, not wanting to risk missing something great on the final day, and what can I say, he should be right. For now, however, I continue to make my way back towards Toyohashi-Eki, walking the length of a nameless little channel as night falls over the city…

…and passing by a sparkling display of warning lights that somehow seem like overkill for demarking a pedestrian walkway across a level field.

Arriving at Toyohashi-Eki, I am amazed by the public aquarium they have on display in one of the underground walkways, just like that…

…as well as the resplendent display of lights spanning the northern pedestrian walkways.

Tired, hungry and broken down, I stop by at the Shokudou near that station square that has the lowest PP-cost for entering…

…and subsequently order an Ebi-Fry Teishoku, which turns out to be maybe a little bit overfried, but still tasty.

With that, this second day full of joys and tears comes to an end, and before I proceed to tell you about the final day of the JMoF, let me take this chance to quickly mention…

The Food

Although I should eat quite a number of meals outside the house this time around, I still start all of my days here with a healthy bowl of Müsli and yoghurt, accompanied by a glass of fruit juice and a cup of tasty, tasty Sanpincha.

Sanpincha! That's another boon of this place! Just like me, Keybow is a huge fan of Sanpincha and keeps two canisters of Sanpincha in the fridge, encouraging me to make use of them. In addition, he also has a generous amount of Sanpincha teabags available which I am free to use for my morning teas! Yay! As a consequence, I should not buy a single bottle of Lemon Tea during my entire stay here, and subsist solely on the infinite supply of Sanpincha.

As for lunch, I should only be at home for a total of three days at lunchtime – two of which would be working days – and on those occasions should default back to good old… Yakiudon (or Curry Udon on one occasion)! For one reason or another, I should not eat a single dish of Yakisoba this time around, instead choosing the more chubby Udon noodles over the slender and savoury Soba every time.

At dinnertime meanwhile, I should choose to prepare two different combinations of Gamm Ligeral that would last me for a combined four evenings, using Shimeji and Udon on one instance, and Eringi and Soba on the other.

And with that, let us now proceed to the last day of the JMoF, which against all my fears should turn out to be…

JMoF Day 3 ~ The Fantastic Finale


Having walked to the Loisir Hotel from Toyohashi-Eki on my first day and taken the shuttle bus on the second day, I now choose to try out a third approach by changing trains in Toyohashi-Eki and continuing to the closer Minami Sakae-Eki (南栄駅 "South Flourish Station") by means of the Toyohashi Tetsudou Atsumi Line. Likewise, I should later take the shuttle bus back to Toyohashi-Eki, just so I tried that means of returning at least once as well.

And thus, I board a train of yet another operator in the Toyohashi/Toyokawa area and proceed to travel along another track previously unknown to me.

I mean, it's not like I picked this approach today just because it would take me conveniently close to yet another Shrine. The very idea is absurd!

I should also come across a peculiar building that I first assume is a very rare instance of a cathedral here in Japan. And I am only half-wrong, for while this building is not directly associated with the Christian church, it is used to perform Christian-style wedding ceremonies, which are very popular here in Japan. However, such ceremonies are usually performed by professional actors as opposed to actual Christian priests, and are thus more for show and fulfil less of an actual religious purpose. Incidentally, this "wedding venue" as such places are called goes by the resounding name of "Marriyell".

But anyway, back to the JMoF, where I now on the last day finally find a very inconspicuous JMoF-flag flapping at a very inconspicuous position around the corner.

By now, I think I've been to see most of the interesting Kyarakutaa, but it turns out that there are still some new ones, most notably a quadsuit wolf, designed to walk on all fours.

And much to my delight, Amagi is still around.

Meanwhile, in the "musicians' corner" of the lobby, a Doberman is playing the sax…

…while I, determined not to let my PP run out again, finally accept my lot and start to mingle with the other foreigners, having a significantly better time chatting with other English-speakers than I had during the previous two days.

As a result, I befriend a fox from America who goes by the name of Merlin, and together we go to have lunch at a restaurant that I've had my eyes on for some time now. It goes by the name of Bikkuri Donkii (びっくりドンキー "Surprised Donkey"), and turns out to be a typical Famires.

The menus there are of a very interesting design…

…as are the glasses of Melon Soda that we order. In fact, this is should be the first time Merlin would try this typical Japanese drink, not having heard of it before. I guess it's just one of those Japan insider tips that you need to know about to order it. Once again, I wonder if this might be my last glass of tasty, tasty Melon Soda, especially considering that I still haven't been able to find it for sale in any of the supermarkets or Konbinis, and believe me, by now I am quite thorough about checking the soft drink section for this drink of melony goodness.

To accompany that, I order a plate of Pepper Hind Steak, and while the portion size is maybe just a little bit too small for my liking, neither the taste nor the level of spiciness leave anything to be desired.

Coming back to the JMoF, I find that there are themed Kyarakutaa shots ongoing in the yard, such as the Digimon shot…

…or the orange/red Kyarakutaa shot.

Naturally, Toriel is around for that event as well, which is when I decide to give it a chance and invest a few PP in getting a hug from her. I mean, how many people can say they've gotten a hug from Toriel of all characters?

Simultaneously, behind the hotel, there's a cute little event ongoing known as the extremely dangerous and neck-breaking Furry Segway ride (hands-off solo rides are for advanced users only).

Also, I should run into one particular Kemona that I first met on the EF21 what feels like a lifetime ago with all the stuff that's been happened ever since (see Book I ~ Chapters 1 through 30 and Book II ~ Chapters 1 through 20), and whose amazing performance brought tears to my eyes back then. It goes without saying that I should say hi and give him a heartfelt hug.

The cute red canine's strong suit is juggling and acrobatics, and sure enough he should soon enough give a little performance out there in the courtyard.

And then, the time draws near for the JMoF's grand finale: An epic performance by multiple talented Kemona that goes by the name of FAMILY ¬– Bosu-no Aishita Gekijou (FAMILY – ボスの愛した劇場 "FAMILY – The Boss's Beloved Theatre"). As for the "official" translation for this event's name… my top three guesses involve some weird translation service that is significantly worse than Google, copy pasting from the wrong part of the page, and copious amounts of Sake.

Now, as a veteran of two Eurofurences, I know three facts about the main event:
  1. There is going to be a looooooooooong queue
  2. The event is going to start at least 30 minutes late
  3. But in exchange, it's gonna be amazing
Knowing that much, I get in line as soon as the first people start queuing up, and pass the remainder of the time playing on my trusted 3DS. The remainder of the time, that is over one hour, and yet still not the longest I've stood in line for such an event (that price goes to the most epic Pawpet Show of all times "Keepers of the Light" at EF 20).

The Main Event starts off with an amazing traditional Japanese music performance by a trio of talented furry musicians…

…followed by a dance performance by Green Revive Earth Dragon, the second part of which strongly reminds me of the Yosakoi Soran Matsuri back in Sapporo (see Book II ~ Chapter 7 ~ The Sapporo Strawberry Stay).

Afterwards, there's a short comedy performance featuring the stereotypical big bad wolf, who has finally caught himself a little piggy, and tries to cook it following instructions from a TV cooking show. However, unbeknownst to the wolf, the TV is acting up and randomly switching through various programs such as a dancing course, a fighting game show, and a first aid workshop, causing much amusement as the wolf takes the piggy for a polka, hits it with a punching combo, and eventually tries performing CPR on it.

Next up is a Gazelle who impresses everyone with her balooneering skills, and in a Fursuit nonetheless…

…followed by a number of pre-prepared furry videos, that can readily be found on YouTube, such as:

In the second half of the main event, Hyouga the juggling dragon gives a an amazing life performance featuring both ball and block juggling…

…followed by a little Jazz Dancing routine…

…and finally an epic three-Kemona music medley featuring themes from games, shows and other sources, some of which even I am familiar with.

After that, all that's left is the closing ceremony, where the total number of attendees this year is announced, and while last year the psychologically important 1000-Kemona-mark was missed ever-so-slightly, this year around it was not only beaten by a generous margin, but in what must be the most stylish way possible, with exactly 1337 Kemona (and Furries from overseas such as I) attending.

With that, the JMoF 2019 is coming to an end, and I say my goodbyes to Merlin, who happened to get a gift from a certain balooneering Gazelle…

…and then I take the shuttle bus to Toyohasi-Eki, and from there the trains back home, absolutely maxed out on PP after this amazing final event. This is the end of the main reason of why I came to Toyokawa and Toyohashi. However, this should by far not be the entirety of…

The Flair

Spending the majority of my time on the JMoF here, I shouldn't come across too many curiosities. However, riding as many trains as this time around, I can't help but notice the creative "watch out for the doors" signs. Given how many of those there are around you'd thing the train doors are outfitted with guillotine blades instead of rubber seals.

Walking around the surroundings in Toyokawa, I come across an overly cute Tanuki-themed shop known as the Suwa-Pon Sentaa Jouhou Hasshin Kichi (すわポンセンター情報発信基地 "Suwa-Pon Centre Information Transmission Base"), which might just be responsible for all the cute posters all over the place.

And in Toyohashi, I come across an interesting sculpture of Fukurokuju, one of the seven Shichifukujin, humorously interacting with a Tako (蛸 "Octopus")…

…as well as One Piece-themed roadside barriers, featuring the shapeshifting reindeer-doctor Tony Tony Chopper.

And then, there's these banners advertising for what I think might translate as the 530-year Toyohashi anniversary sports festival. Also, did you notice that although we left the furry event behind, the furry content just fails to stop? One more reason why I love it here in Japan. =^,^=

Back at home, meanwhile, I finally manage to capture the interesting mechanism by which pouring caps can be separated from glass bottles for recycling…

Also, here is for a bit of foreshadowing: Planning to continue my travels around the world for at least some time after Japan, I have organized myself something that I probably should have gotten years ago, and that is a SIM Card that works from all over the world. Granted, the rates are more expensive than sticking with local SIMs, but since I rarely ever make calls or use mobile data, it's more about me being able to do it when I need it, and no matter where I am at that time, so this works out just fine for me. The tricky part here was getting it sent halfway around the world from its retail place of England at stored somewhere that I could pick it up. Fortunately, Keybow was happy enough to oblige, and so I ordered it back when I was still in Onomichi, and now can finally pick it up here in Toyokawa.

So much for the extracurricular flair! After spending the entire weekend on the JMoF, I should barely have any time to work or blog here in Toyokawa, and yet I should still make time for at least one epic stray around the surroundings in the form of…

Day Trip: The Twin Toyo Tour

Distance: 25km
Ascents: 60m
Duration: 8h
69 (12🦊); 28 (1🦊); 1/11🎁︎

Having spent my time here so far divided between the towns of Toyokawa and Toyohashi, it should come as no surprise that the objective of my one stray here should be to connect the two of them. However, that should not be my main objective, which also should not be entirely unexpected: A visit to Toyokawa Inari.

Realizing I have quite a distance to cover on foot today, as well as one location that is very likely to eat lots of my time (Keybow told me some stories about Toyokawa Inari, and with all the foxes around the town, I am pretty much certain that it is going to be worth my time), I depart early in the morning, walking through the streets of Toyokawa…

…I soon come across what I at first figure must be a great Shrine, only to figure out that it's really the Sekai Shintoukyou Honbu (世界心道教本部 "World Shinto School Headquarters") .

Afterwards, my way leads me past some regular-sized Shrines and Temples…

…and then to Toyokawa Inari, which apparently is not only my primary destination today.

But now for the really interesting question: What is Toyokawa Inari? Is it a Shrine? Is it a Temple? Or should we ask? I mean, the Torii all over the place are typical of Shrines, as are the fox guardians flanking the main approach…

…and yet the main prayer area is clearly of Buddhist design, with a gong instead of bells and incense, and the place is also clearly run by Buddhist monks.

The answer is… it's special. In fact, you could call it the perfect representation of how Buddhism and Shintoism co-exist and mingle with one another in Japan. The entire complex consists of a variety of Shrines and Temples existing side by side, and Toyokawa Inari is the popular name given to the entire complex as a whole, while the "main building" if you so will is the Buddhist Temple of Myougenji (妙厳寺 "Exquisite Strict Temple"). There, the Goddess Dakini (荼枳尼 "Weed Tree Nun") is venerated, who is often thought of the origin of Inari worship, since she is often depicted as riding on a white fox.

Anyway, I should actually approach this special place through the "back door"…

…where any second thoughts I might still have had at this time are promptly quenched as I run into forest garden where an array of fox statues stand around in the middle of the forest floor, just like that.

And that should only be the beginning, for following the traces of foxes, I soon enough run into one of those places that instantly causes me a vulpine overload, and thus qualifies Toyokawa Inari as one of the Golden Fox Shrines/Temples. of Japan in my eyes. It goes by the name of Reigitsunedsuki (霊狐塚 "Spirit Fox Den"), and while the minute-and-a-half long approach already features quite a bunch of foxes flanking the path left and right, the genuine article is only to be found at the end of the path, where the number of foxes is… infinite.

I don't really know just which part of this overwhelming display of vulpinity I should be most impressed by. On the one hand, there's the army of foxes flanking the main altar on both sides…

…or the amazing level of passion for detail that is visible on all the sides. Either way, this place leaves me in a daze, and is definitely not good for the loose change in my wallet.

An undefined amount of time later, I manage to break out of the hold that this place has over me, and proceed to inspect the other Shrines and Temples of Toyokawa Inari, some of which feature foxes, while others don’t.

Afterwards, it's out into the main walking mall area of Toyokawa, where the vulpinity continues to run rampant.

There's a painting of a vulpine procession…

…Shrines and statues for sale…

…and I also learn by another adorably cute fox-themed mascot character of Toyokawa. This vulpine girl goes by the name of Koko-chan (狐娘ちゃん "Fox Daughter").

It goes without saying that I should not be able to leave this shopping street prior to purchasing portable pendants of both Koko-chan and Inarin to accompany me on my journey.

Following that, I make the first connection at the dancing fox statues in front of Toyokawa-Eki…

…and from there on proceed to follow the train line towards Toyohashi…

…passing by a multitude of other Shrines and Temples as I do.

One of those, namely Utari Jinja (菟足神社 "Dodder Leg Shrine") deserves particular mention, for not only is it the only Rabbit Shrine I should find in Japan (note the similarity between the Kanji for "Dodder" 菟 and one of the Kanji for "Rabbit" 兔) …

…but it is also home to the OMEGA DEATH RABBIT, similar to how Utuno Inari Jinja (叩寅稲荷神社 "Strike Tiger Inari Shrine") in Usuki is home to the OMEGA DEATH FOX (see Book II ~ Chapter 17 ~ Blue Destination).

I don't know why, but somehow that lapine encounter left me hungry… or maybe that's only because it's past 14:00 by now and I've already been walking for over 10km without anything to eat. One way or another, I promise my belly to enter the first food place that I happen to come across here in the middle of the countryside, which just so happens to be this.

Oh well, nothing to be done about that. In fact, I think this is the only time I should visit a McDonald's on Honshu, with the other two times having been in Sapporo (see Book II ~ Chapter 7 ~ The Sapporo Strawberry Stay) and Okinawa (see Book II ~ Chapter 17 ~ Blue Destination again, but a bit earlier). Interestingly, they appear to have a Sumo-style contest between two burgers going on starting… exactly today! What are the odds?

Of those four, I go for the Chiichii Teriyaki (チーチーてりやき "Cheese Cheese Shining Fry") Burger, although I admit that the Chiichii Dabuchi (チーチーダブチ "Cheese Cheese Double Cheese") Burger also tempted me for the sheer overkill. Also, this time around I pay close attention to the total price of my order, and thus manage to clarify in time that I would like both fries and Chicken McNuggets and not just Chicken McNuggets instead of fries. Yay! Go me! And I only needed like what, eleven months in Japan to be able to pull that off?

After charging up at that calorie filling station, I resume my march and soon cross over Toyokawa Housuiro (豊川放水路 "Bountiful River Bypass Channel"), which cuts through the landscape straight as a knife where the original river takes a more scenic route that's almost twice as long. Fortunately, there's more than enough water to keep both of them supplied.

It's around here that I cross over from Toyokawa to Toyohashi, as can clearly be seen by the sudden change in Manhole cover designs. Who needs town signs?

Moving on, I manage to find the one Geocache I should find on this stray in a standard Japanese Geocaching container…

…right next to the place where they had enough money to build three separate railroad bridges, but it would obviously have killed them to make at least one of them double-function as a pedestrian bridge….

…so I have to take the scenic route along the shore of the actual Toyokawa.

Doing that, I eventually reach one of the main roads… and suddenly realize just for how long this road must have existed already. If you recall my visit to Nihonbashi near the very beginning of my journey (see Book II ~ Chapter 3 ~ Living, Learning and Working...), you might remember that I mentioned that in the olden days, all distances were measured from Nihonbashi, and this is just one such instance, for the inscription on the milestone reads: Edo Nihonbashi yori Nanaju Ri (江戸日本橋より七⺲里 "70 Ri from Edo Nihonbashi" = "280km from Tokyo Nihonbashi"). I should also mention that I am just guessing that the second-to last Kanji "⺲" is an old writing of "十", since that would make sense and this appears to be one of those outdated Kanji that I can't find anywhere anymore.

Moving on, I come across a few more Shrines (though the largest density clearly lies behind me)…

…and after somehow managing to find my way across a "traffic lights are lame" intersection the pedestrian bridges of which are regrettably currently undergoing repairs…

…I finally manage to cross the main Toyokawa.

It is at one of the nearby Shrines – Yoshida Jinja (吉田神社 "Lucky Field Shrine) to be exact – that I learn what the strange tubes on two of Toyohashi's manhole cover designs are meant to symbolize: Those are tube fireworks known as Tedsutsu Hanabi (手筒花火 "Hand Tube Fireworks"), and apparently Toyohashi is pretty famous for their use during festivals.

Also, squat in the middle of the main approach to the Shrine, there's this stone by the name of Yougouseki (影降石 "Descending Shadow Stone"), which among other things is probably famous for the number of worshippers who have struck their toes on it over the course of ages.

Moving on, I walk past Yoshida Shiro Kurogane Yagura (吉田城 鉄櫓 "Lucky Field Castle Iron Tower")…

…and then cross over the main (and only) tram line tracks of Toyohashi.

I notice that Toyohashi has some interesting arc-shaped design elements, such as the Rainbow Pedestrians Bridge (which just like the Rainbow Bridge in Tokyo does not have much rainbow colour on it)…

…as well as two arcs, where they apparently only had enough funds left to finish one of the pair after building those three railroad bridges.

After that, there's some more Shrines and Temples (mostly Temples, actually, this time around)…

…and it is while visiting one of said Temples that I learn about how the rule for "Female left, Male right" obviously also applies to Komainu guardians.

Once again, it's already getting quite late indeed, and the sun is starting to vanish between the building to the west…

…which fortunately just so happens to be Toyohashi-Eki, meaning that after a long stray (and after not-finding a few more Geocaches near the station), I can finally take the train home, and relax, still basking in all the vulpine glory of Toyokawa Inari, and being happy that I was able to make the connection between these two Toyos. I managed to fit quite a lot into my one week here, but now my time is slowly running out, meaning we should now proceed to…

The Retrospective

Keybow's place is one of those that I felt really nice about leaving. I only stayed one week, but during this short time it really grew on me. The infinite Sanpincha might have to do with it, or maybe it was the vulpine surroundings, or the cute-sy atmosphere in the house that made this feel like a true home to me. Although I once again didn't have a proper workspace, I really liked my room and the place as a whole, and sleeping on the futon, while not super-comfy, was not too hard either. Apart from that, the place was quiet, Keybow was super-nice and cute, and the internet was working without problems as well. Also, I can't begin to describe how much it meant to me to have a proper kitchen once again! Temperature wise, the hose was pretty cold, but the AC kept whatever rooms I was using warm (showering was a bit uncomfortable though), and the location was okay – a bit of a distance from both station and shopping, but still okay. Meanwhile, the price-value ratio was absolutely adequate, and all things summed up, this turned out to be the best place I've stayed at since that one night in the Ai Hotel in Kagoshima. No wonder I feel sad about leaving!

It goes without saying that I could not possibly leave this place behind without shooting a little memory of my stay. However, by now I've spent all of my gift artwork slots for the year in Japan, so in lieu of that, I instead prepare a little thank-you sketch which qualifies as a slot of the next lower level, of which I still have sufficient remaining.

And with that, the time to break down camp here has already arrived, and painful though it is to say goodbye to this my home, it is all too clearly that I can hear the inexorable call of…

The Road Ahead


Once again, it is time to leave an empty room behind and be on my way…

…taking the Meitetsu to Toyokawa Inari for one last time…

…and saying goodbye to the dancing foxes in the station square.

My journey today takes me… not all the way to the Radiant Metropolis just yet. Rather, I should make one final stop before completing the circle, and that would be in the city of Numazu (沼津 "Swamp Haven") located within sight of mighty Fuji-san (富士山 "Rich Soil Mountain"). It's a relatively short segment and should only take me into the neighbouring prefecture along a track measuring not even 200km, and yet I have to use five different trains to get there (though the first two are pretty much only for getting from my somewhat remote location to the long-distance departure station of Toyohashi):
  • From Suwacho to Toyokawa Inari with the Meitetsu Toyokawa Line Exp. for Toyokawa Inari (5 minutes ride; 3 minutes to change)
  • From Toyokawa to Toyohashi with the JR Iida Line Express for Toyohashi (14 minutes ride; 21 minutes to change)
  • From Toyohashi to Hamamatsu (浜松 "Beach Pine") with the JR Toukaido (東海道 "East Sea Circuit") Line Local for Hamamatsu (35 minutes ride; 13 minutes to change)
  • From Hamamatsu to Okitsu (興津 "Entertaining Haven") with the JR Toukaido Line Local for Okitsu (88 minutes ride; 11 minutes to change)
  • From Okitsu to Numazu with the JR Toukaido Line Local for Mishima (三島 "Three Islands") (41 minutes ride)

These trains should take me across a number of great rivers, such as Toyokawa, Tenryuugawa (天竜川 "Celestial Dragon River") and Ooigawa (大井川 "Big Well River"), and cut across the mouth of Hamanako (浜名湖 "Famous Beach Lake") by means of a series of artificial islands such as Bentenjima (弁天島 "Benzaiten Island"), before eventually circling around half of Suruga-wan (駿河湾 "Good Horse River Bay").

In fact, the area of Bentenjima and Hamanako is one of those geographically highly interesting areas, that I think it deserves a closer look here. Located just west of Hamamatsu, Hamanako used to be a true freshwater lake before the 1498 Meiou Jishin (明応地震 "Radiant Answer Earthquake") massively altered the local geography, connecting it to the ocean, and turned it into a brackish lagoon. The original lake, which went by the name of Touhotsu Afumi (遠つ淡海 "Distant Fresh-Water Lake") was both smaller and covered only a part of what now is the upper left triangular area. However, not only did the earthquake create a channel, but it also lowered the overall elevation of the area, causing nearby river valleys to be flooded from the ocean, and expanding the lake, connecting it to the sea. Bentenjima meanwhile is not one but rather a group of seven (pretty certainly) artificial islands serving as residential areas and stepping stones for both the Toukaido Main Line and the Toukaido Shinkansen.

However, the main event of this ride should clearly by Fuji-San, which comes into view some time after Okitsu…

…and eventually move into full prominence as we pass through the eponymous town of Fuji.

Apart from that, the journey should be pretty straightforward, and the only leg on which I am not able to grab a seat is the last one from Okitsu to Numazu…

…and the most notable other thing of this trip is maybe the toilet in one of the trains, which instead of a flush button has a much more hygienic flush sensor.

As it is, I get off at the medium-sized Numazu-Eki…

…where before anything else, I run into the local manhole cover designs.

After that, I proceed to walk through the roads of Numazu for a short while…

…before arriving at my next stay place, which this time around is an entire little apartment in a block of flats.

This time around, the check-in process is completely anonymous, and I get the key from a key box, the correct combination for which was previously disclosed to me by my host via Airbnb. A bit impersonal for my taste, but it works!

And with that, I have arrived at the final stop before completing my tour around Japan. I guess it's not hard to imagine why I picked this place of all for my last stopover, and I am going to tell you all about my explorations in this place… in the next chapter of the Travelling Fox Blog.