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Published: March 15th 2014
Fountain in Okayama
Statue is of a crane and a woman.
March 14, 2014 Okayama
Around 2:00 in the morning I awoke from an interesting dream. All my friends and family were on a train together and by changing trains we could explore different branches of branching time, different strands in a web of possibilities. By traveling this way, I could find all my friends from across my life and gather them together. Grandma was there, too, and she was so young. It was bright and sunny and everything was happy. It felt so good being all together again, transcending the distance created between us in time.
I awoke to the room shaking, starting slowly at first and then growing more intense. My first thought is that it was the shinkansen passing by. Then I realized we’re nowhere near the track.
The last time I was in an earthquake, Uncle Bob thought I had thrown something in the pool that made the water slosh out. This time, when I tried to rouse Ellen, she thought I had done something.
Her phone started saying, “Jishin. Something jishin desu,” over and over again in a calm but urgent voice. We both went under doorways and
White Day Dinner
Ellen's special dishes.
waited for it to pass. Luckily there was no damage. A few things fell over but nothing broke. The aftershock was smaller and I didn’t bother to get up and went back to sleep.
The next day the trains were delayed, so I decided to go to Okayama instead of Himeiji as I had planned. My first stop in Okayama was the Okayama Shrine, along the river, where I got another shoin for my book. I thought I was doing better with my Japanese because they didn’t ask about until the end.
After that I went to Okayama castle, which was mostly rebuilt because it was destroyed in the war. The sign claims that it had been restored “perfectly” but you can see the screws holding the dragon-fish roof ornaments together. I’m starting to see that the loss of many of Japan’s cultural heritage sites during the war has lasting effects on regional identity. Okayama needs their castle to still be their castle and not a replicate of it, so I’m willing to just say that it is. Most of the ancient temples in Japan have gone under renovation after renovation anyway. It becomes the philosophical question of
White Day Dinner
Day where guys give presents to girls.
the “Ship of Theses.” After many repairs, after each plank of the original ship has been replaced, is it still the same ship? And if not, when does it cease becoming the same ship? In Japan, it’s the same ship.
From the top of the castle, I spotted a pagoda rising through the wood off a not-too-distant hillside. I decided that would be my next stop. I walked for some time out until I think I left Okayama city and eventually came to the base of the hill. I found a steep path leading up through an old cemetery and to the woods and took it.
On the way up, came across an abandoned temple. There were no signs, no attempts of explanation. It was just this blocky cement bunker of a building with domes and spires and rusty metal doors left open. Inside was a damp and utterly-destroyed obutsudo and rows of torn apart wooden lockers. It was pretty eerie. Based on the architecture and the decay of the wood and cloth, I would assume they were fairly modern ruins. It seemed to be post-war at least. Stalactites were starting to form from the roof as water
eroded the paint and dripped down the dome. I found a couple interesting fungi and bug casings as the forest started to reclaim the area. I eventually left to continue hiking still unsure of the mysterious abandonment.
Not too far further up the hill, I made it to the pagoda, a two-storied building on the protruding part of a ridge on the hillside. It was gated off and there were some signs, but I could not read them. A number of stone Jizo stood around, too, and based on their bibs, it was a site somewhat recently visited. While I was there, it started to rain lightly and cinematically, as the sky swirled in hues of grey. I saw a temple complex nestled into the valley on the other side of the ridge, which I decided I visit after hiking the mountain. After I left to continue up the mountain, however, the rain stopped.
I continued up the trail and soon found that it went up the mountain. There were a few signs warning travelers to prevent forest fires. I did not run into anyone while up on the mountain, though, probably the result of it being a
rainy weekday in winter. It was a peaceful hike through the mountains and a surprising retreat from the hustle of the city I was in not hours before. Higher up the mountain, I realized from the small road signs that different descents would take me to different towns. I luckily chose one that took my right to the temple complex I had intended to go to from the opposite ridge.
I came down a path in the mountains that ended up at a small shrine right in front of the entrance to the forest. Two stone dogs stood either side the entrance. The temple complex was pretty much deserted except for a few people going about their business. It seemed like there were temples and residential houses right up against each other. I looked around at what was open and then took the road back into town.
On the way, the neighborhoods that I walked through showed an interesting blending of the urban-rural interface, with large gardens plots running right up next to the street and houses. Overall my experience in Western Japan has exposed me to a lot of urban-rural interface that I haven’t seen elsewhere. It
seems like air and water pollution could cause some problems in agriculture at the urban-rural interface, but there seems to be many benefits from home agriculture as well. I noticed that there were many signs in Okayama promoting sustainable living, and that they had bikes that could be rented and dropped off at another bike terminal. Without any real data, I have the impression that Okayama might be a good case study area for research in urban planning.
After that, I made my way back to the train station, which was a number of kilometers back. I passed by a garden that was closing so I couldn’t go in, but I observed ume in full bloom.
On the way back, I picked up some gifts for Ellen, as it’s White Day in Japan. In Japan, Valentines Day is a day where girls give gifts to boys and White Day is when boys five gifts to girls. I got fresh oranges, chocolate mochi, and sakura sake. (Sakura is a popular flavor here and Ellen likes it.) When I got home, Ellen had prepared Chinese-style dinner with four courses and had flowers and wine on the table. So she really
did a better job with the White Day festivities than I did.
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