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Published: August 27th 2010
On May 24th ~ Naomi agreed to spend the day with me and help me get to Bitchu-Matsuyama-jo (castle) in Okayama prefecture. It is pretty far into the countryside and up a mountain, making it a bit of a pain to get to without a car. So Naomi offered to drive me. ^_^ Bitchu-Matsuyama was built in the 1600s and is one of the 12 original castles, which makes 8 for me! It is also one of the few mountain top castles to have a tenshu, or main keep built and the only original one still around. The castle is also special because it has two floors. Having an even number of floors was considered bad luck, so most castles have had an odd number of floors. Apparently the builders decided to consider the balcony area as a third floor and it sort of appears that way from the outside. I’m not sure if that really counts, but I guess it must have worked somehow because the castle still stands, which is good luck if you ask me. I met Naomi by train in Kojima and then we drove all the way to Takahashi which was a beautiful drive through the
countryside along a river and through some mountains. Traveling by car is a novelty to me now and I love how fast and easy it is. After we drove halfway up the mountain to a car park we still had to take a bus further up and then hike through the woods awhile before arriving at the castle grounds. Why they built a castle so far up a mountain I do not know. It must have been hard dragging supplies uphill to supply the fortress. However, the scenery and view may have been their motivation for choosing that building site. It’s beautifully situated. I could see the benefits of living in a quiet wooded mountain overlooking the land. Naomi and I had lots of fun on our hike and after we made it back to the car we went in search of soba. In Japan mountains and soba kind of go together. ^_^ It was so nice to spend some extra time with Naomi since I’m leaving soon and won’t see her every week at work anymore. Maybe I can convince her to move with me…. =D
May 31st ~ I got up very, very early this morning
to take the three hour train clear across to the far side of Honshu to get to Matsue for a day trip. I watched the sunrise today and enjoyed the gorgeous train ride through the mountains. Japan has an abundance of natural beauty. Unfortunately I got to thoroughly inspect one particular piece of mountain side while the train stopped on the tracks in one spot for over an hour due to a landslide up ahead on the line. That got me into Matsue a little later then I had planned. Fortunately when I arrived I was able to get a bento box (lunch box) and get the bus to Matsue Castle right away. Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to eat my crab rice lunch on the bus, so I had to wait until I go to the castle. When I did arrive I ate my lunch and made several feline friends who ended up sharing my food with me. (I must look like a sucker.) Matsue castle is one of my favorite castles that I have seen, majestic, tall, with black walls and well kept surroundings. Again the castle is a bit tricky about floor numbers. On the outside you can
see 5 stories, but there are actually 6. Again appearances make all the difference to the builders/owners. I’m beginning to think though that even maybe lucky, I mean this castle has survived 100s of years too. Matsue-jo also makes 9 out of 12 original castles for me!
Matsue, besides the castle, has several other interesting sights that I got to enjoy. There was an old street, well preserved and famous for housing, at one point, Lafcadio Hearn, an Irish writer. While he was in Matsue he married a Japanese woman, became a citizen and started writing about Japan. The street is now mainly museums and was a nice, short, walk. After that I headed down the canal to catch a boat around Matsue Castle’s moats. That’s another thing about Matsue-jo, the moats system is huge, still intact and it’s own separate tourist sight. I got into a boat with two Japanese women and our driver/tour guide. No one spoke any English, but I still got the just of it and it was fun to see the sights that way. Plus at one point the boat driver even regaled us with an old song about Matsue. He was a really good
singer actually, I almost asked for an encore. After the boat ride I picked up some of Matsue’s locally brewed beer and made a beeline to the train station to catch a train back to Marugame since I had work to look forward to the next day. Luckily I got the train on time, just barely. (By the way, Matsue beer is delicious, especially the white brew. ^_^)
June 1st ~ Today Katie and I made it to the ferry port in Takamatsu and ended up going to Megijima which is often called Onigashima (Demon Island). Apparently this is the island, in the popular legend Momotaro, that Momotaro goes to and defeats the oni (demons) that had been harassing people and saves the day. When we arrived there we got a free ride in a truck from a kind man up the mountain to the “Oni Caves”, which were really kitsch, yet entertaining. Then we walked down and checked out the fake Moai (Easter Island statues) and the beach. The reason why the statues were there is really cool actually. A company in Kagawa designed the cranes used to rebuild the Moai on the island and to practice/test
the cranes they created fake Moai and practiced putting them back together. Pretty cool huh.
June 14th - My last weekend in Kagawa Prefecture and today I have two goodbye parties; one around noon at Ikaku (This place serves the best Chicken in the world) with some of my students and another one in the evening at Grasshoppers with my girl friends. The official school lunch was nice, if not slightly awkward. Never really liked formal goodbye functions like this, people can’t really relax. Which is why I choose Ikaku: it’s informal, the food is delicious/messy and it’s always busy, which means other noise. I’m really am going to miss my students…I’ve been their teacher for over a year.
Before the next party I had a little bit of time to relax and digest the large amount of chicken and rice I had consumed. I hung out chatting to Naomi in my apartment preparing for company. I was having multiple people crash at mine that night; my shoebox apartment was going to be stuffed. When everyone got to Marugame we all headed out to Grasshoppers where Fiona and Kazuyo had even made a special theme for me, Margaritas
(based on my love for tequila). After some fun there we headed out to grab some food before heading into Fuse for karaoke where we actually stayed until the sun came up. Not the first time I’ve done that at Fuse, but it was the last. I’m truly going to miss Marugame and all the wonderful people I’ve met here.
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