(Better Know a City)
Like a lot of cities on this project, Hiji is a city I've driven through many, many times, but I never really stopped to explore.
Hiji is along the coast, just north of Beppu city. When I drive into Beppu, I usually take the back roads from Nakatsu, through Usa, and then Ajimu, and up into Yamaga. Somewhere up in the mountains I cross the boarder between Yamaga and Hiji, and then I drive down the mountains of Hiji right to the coast, and follow the road into Beppu. When I was attending Beppu University last spring, I used to make this drive through Hiji everyday.
And it is absolutely beautiful drive. As I drove down the mountain side, I could see the ocean sparkling down below me, and huge cliffs off to my left.
Unfortunately, there's no really place to stop the car and admire the view. You kind of just have to steal glances to the left and try and take it in while driving, which is kind of dangerous considering it's a steep narrow winding mountain road.
For the same reasons, I can't really video tape while driving, so I couldn't capture the feeling of coming down this road.
But, actually when Brett was last up in Japan 6 years ago, he taped a bit of this from the passenger seat. So, if I can once again be excused for mixing in some retrospection footage, here is some archival footage of the drive down the mountain towards the Hiji coast.
This day, however, I decided to stop my car and actually try and explore these mountain cliffs a little further.
The first place I stopped, I found a trail going off in the mountains, and followed it for a while. I wasn't sure where the trail led, and sure enough, after about 10 minutes, it abruptly ended.
I stopped the car again a bit further down the road to try and get a good look at some of the cliffs and the waterfall. Unfortunately, even though this is a beautiful view, it's not very accessible. I found a small shoulder to park my car at again, but then there was absolutely no place to walk on this narrow mountain road. I edged my way down the road with the back of my legs firmly against the guardrail, hoping that the trucks driving past wouldn't hit me.
I did get a good view of the waterfall (something I had before only seen out of the corner of my eye as I drove past), but I can't say I was able to really enjoy the view.
(Also, I'll just say this once, and then try and refrain from repeating myself with every picture but: this area is a lot more beautiful when all the greenery is in season. If I thought I was going to be in Japan forever, and if I had all the time in the world to finish this project, I would only go out in the spring and summer. As it is, these grey winter days are some of the compromises I have to make with life).
After this, I drove down into the main through road (route 10) along the coast.
Unlike a lot of these other countryside towns I visit, Hiji is actually of a decent size, and has several restaurants and coffee houses to choose from.
So, I pulled into a Joyfull.
If I have the option, I always go with the Joyfull. Perhaps it's unadventurous to go to the same restaurant in every town, but if you're not in the mood for fish and Japanese noodles, and you want a Western style breakfast, Joyfull is the only place to go.
I ordered their "morning plate", which consisted of hash browns, a salad, and a roll. The portions were so small that I ordered hamburger steak and eggs as well just to be able to make a meal out of it. And I ordered the drink bar, and got a cup of coffee.
I had a leisurely breakfast while I read my book. And then I even stayed for another cup of coffee to read some more.
Several Japanese friends have told me that everything on the Joyfull menu is just frozen food that they nuke in the microwave. But it sure hit the spot (and the prices are really cheap as well).
...However, I must admit, that the food did not sit with me well the rest of the day. I probably shouldn't have ordered the hamburger steak and eggs, because it felt like a lump in my stomach all afternoon. It didn't slow me down or stop me from hiking, but it wasn't a particularly pleasant feeling either. Lesson learned.
After breakfast, I got back in the car and headed down the road some more.
I saw signs for Itogahama Seashore Park, and followed the signs through a series of narrow side streets until I got to the Park.
The park looked to be a rather large beach and campground area, which was almost completely empty now in the middle of winter. Nonetheless, it was a nice view of the ocean, and I spent close to an hour here walking up and down the sea shore. There was a paved walkway that went along the coast past several palm trees.
There was also a path leading up to a hill, where a small pavilion was set up and you could get a larger view of the whole area.
After I had spent 45 minutes or so at Itogahama beach, I got back in the car and drove around some more. I saw signs for some islands, and tried to follow the road there, but after following the road down to the coast, it simply took me back up again.
I must have missed the islands, but when I saw a factory for Canon Company, and I knew I had crossed the boarder into Kitsuki.
Canon recently made national headlines in Japan for cutting 1100 workers in Oita prefecture. (Article here) It has been seen as a sign of the hard times to come from the world wide economic recession, and pictures of the Oita Canon factory have been in the Japanese media a lot. So, I thought I'd take a picture for the blog while I was there. (It's not often little old Oita Prefecture makes national news. But this plus the teacher's scandal last summer (article here) makes twice in one year).
After that, I got back in my car and headed back towards downtown Hiji. After getting lost a few times, I eventually found the town hall building and decided to see if I could pick up any tourist information there.
The people at Hiji town hall were extremely helpful. I had barely even entered the town hall when someone walked up to me and asked if he could help me. "I'm wondering if you have any sight-seeing brochures for Hiji," I said.
"Ah, you want to go down to the tourist section. I'll take you over there." After he walked me down to the tourist section, the woman over there was also very helpful. She gave me a couple different maps, and a bi-lingual pamphlet explaining Hij's attractions. "Are you an exchange student from Beppu?" she asked. It was a reasonable guess. Beppu has a lot of international students, and shares a boarder with Hiji.
"Ah, then you must be a tourist."
"No," I answered. "I'm an English teacher." This seemed to confuse her, so I added, "It's my day off, and I thought I'd do some sightseeing in Hiji."
"Well, Hiji's a very historical place," she said. "Long ago there was an important castle here, and you can still see the ruins of it. And Saint Francis Xavier (W) came here many years ago."
"Really? Was Hiji where he first landed in Japan?"
"Not the first place, no. He landed in Yamaguchi prefecture first. And then when he was on his way over to Oita city, he stopped in Hiji for a few days. You can still trace the path he walked in Hiji." She showed me on the map, where a dotted line indicated the Saint Xavier path. "Do you like walking?" she asked me.
"Every October, we have a walking festival where people retrace the steps of Saint Xavier. There are several different courses, a 20 kilometer walk, a 10 kilometer walk, and a 5 kilometer walk. You should come."
As you do in these situations, I told her I would do my best to come back for the walking festival in October, even though I had absolutely no intention of it. "Please come, we would love to have you here," she said.
"Now, did William Adams also come to Hiji?" I asked.
"William Adams? Who was that?"
"Miura Anjin," I said, attempting to use his Japanese title. "Didn't he land near Hiji."
"No, I don't think so," she said. "I'm sure I would have heard about it if he did." Then she admitted, "Actually I don't even know who he is. When did he come to Japan?"
I explained briefly who William Adams was. I had thought he landed in Hiji because the book "Learning from Shogun" had given me that impression. If you click on the on-line version, and go to page ix, you can see the map shows William Adam's ship landing at what appears to be Hiji. This is apparently a mistake, however, because, after doing a bit of digging around on the internet, I find that William Adams actually landed in Usuki, Oita Prefecture. I'll have to keep that in mind when I someday work my way down south to Usuki.
One of the maps of Hiji I had gotten was a walking map of the historical downtown center. Being an avid pedestrian, I decided to leave my car parked at the city hall (hopefully they didn't mind) and see how much of Hiji I could see on foot.
I first headed down to the ocean to see the ruins of Yokoku castle.
The original castle is long gone, and all that stands in its place now is the foundation.
Right on top of the foundation someone built an elementary school, so I could hear the sound of children singing. It was a pleasant enough sound, but it seemed strange to build a school right on top of a tourist spot. I tried to stay out of sight, but I felt like I was intruding a bit as I walked around the castle ruins.
Beneath the ruins is a small park called, appropriately enough, Shiroshita park ("Beneath the Castle Park".)
The brochure I had showed a the castle covered with green moss and pink cherry blossoms, but this was obviously a spring time photo. In winter the area looked a lot plainer, but I tried to capture it with photos anyway.
There was a lazy black snake lounging at the bottom of the castle. The 8 year old boy in me wanted to pick it up, but the adult in me was reminded that, unlike my native Michigan, many of the snakes in Kyushu are reported to be poisonous. In my previous encounters with out door snakes in Japan, I've been lucky enough to avoid a deadly poisonous bite, but this time I decided caution was the better part of valor. Instead of picking up the snake, I contented myself with poking it from a distance with my notebook.
I walked along the seaside path for a bit more. According to the map I had, the Saint Xavier walking path started here along the coast before moving up into the mountains.
I was half expecting the Xavier path to be a nice little footpath, but to my disappointment, once I left the walkway along the coast, I found nothing of the sort. The Xavier walking path appeared to be simply a suggested course that went along the normal roads. (There weren't any signs to point out these roads, but I guessed what they were as best I could by following my map.) And the roads didn't have any sidewalks or even much of a shoulder to walk on.
I followed this road a little ways up, but quickly decided that there was nothing special about this road, and I didn't particularly feel like walking 20 kilometers on it.
I returned to downtown Hiji, and followed my walking map over to Shokuji Temple. As soon as I entered the gates, I saw a ticket booth where I had to pay 300 yen for an entrance fee. (Not exorbitant by any means, but pretty sneaky of them to hide the entrance charge inside the temple gates).
The monk inside the ticket booth gave me a couple pamphlets to the temple, and then told me to go to the main building at the end of the garden. I wasn't in any rush so I took a couple pictures and looked at some of the plants, not realizing that the monk was waiting for me.
There was a small museum inside the temple which the monk took me through and explained all the objects to me. I did my best to pretend I was interested and ask lots of questions.
"How old is this dish? Really, that old? Wow! And was this made around here?"
Several of the pieces of pottery, it turned out, where not from Japan but had been made in Korea or China. "We didn't have the ability to make these kinds of multi-colored ceramics in Japan back then," the monk explained to me. But the dishes had been kept at the temple for hundreds of years, and so were part of the temple muesum.
I did my best to follow the monk's explanations, and for the most part my Japanese held out. And when I didn't understand, I tried to act like I understood, and just nodded my head sagely. And then I tried cover by asking a question about the age of the dish or where it came from.
Next the monk opened up the back door, which lead to a second inner garden enclosed by the temple.
I took a picture, and then we just stood around awkwardly for a while and made small talk while he asked me where I was from and how I liked Japan. I wasn't sure if this meant the tour was over or not, but after a while I decided to make a move.
"Is there anything up that hill?" I asked.
Yes, he answered, you can follow the trail up the hill. There are a few old graves and historical markers up there. Go ahead and explore it, he urged me. I thanked him and headed on up the hill.
There were several small clumpings of gravestones here. It was nothing particularly remarkable, although one of the gravestones was marked as Aoyagi Koichi (who apparently was one of the famous artists of Hiji). Also from the top of the hill I did get a nice view of downtown Hiji below me.
The map indicated there were a couple more points of interest close by to the temples, but when wandering around for a while yielded no results, I walked back in towards the coast and took in a few more sights along the main road. I followed signs to places like "Chidokan" (apparently an old clan school from the Edo period) and Tekizanso (an famous cookery) but found them to be rather unimpressive--just old buildings with an historical marker in front of them.
I made my way down to the harbor, where there were lots of small fishing ships docked. As always near these places, the smell of rotting fish was a bit overpowering, but the area had kind of the quaint look of a small town dock with fisherman going about their everyday business.
I went along the coast until I got to another little Shrine on a hill that overlooked the harbor. And then I started walking back towards my car at the city hall parking lot.
Once I got back in my car, I started driving along route 10. Route 10 is one of the major roads that connects northern Oita, and I had driven down it several times before, but not with the eye of a sight-seer. This time I decided to stop at anything that looks interesting.
Along route 10 there is Gajojuji Temple. According to the brochure a temple built in 1311 which is, ironically, right next to a 7-11 Convenience store. I parked my car in the 7-11 parking lot, bought a couple donuts in the store and ate them in my car, and then climbed up the temple steps and took pictures.
Also along route 10 is "Harmony Land" a theme park based off of "Hello Kitty!"(W) and the other Sanrio characters.
I've been told by several Japanese friends that you need not go to this park unless you have a 5 year old daughter to take with you. And so I've never been (although I've seen the giant ferris wheel from the road many times).
I briefly contemplated going now, just so I could get a funny fish-out-of-water type story for this blog about a 30 year old American male wandering around Hello Kitty land. But I decided against it in the end. The rough equivalent of 30 bucks for the admissions fee is a little steep to pay for what would esseintially be a one note joke. So I just took a few pictures of Harmony Land from the road instead.
After this I was somewhat at a loss for what to do. I had not fully explored Hiji's mountains yet, but after walking all afternoon I was in no mood to start a hike.
I drove back into the main town with the intention of getting a cup of coffee and just reading for a while. I drove up and down the road for a while, and not seeing any obvious coffee shops, I stopped at [it embarasses me to admit this] McDonalds.
Well, in Japan at least McDonalds doesn't have quite the negative reputation it has in the US. It's nice, immaculately clean (like most places in Japan), got a quite atmosphere, pretty decent coffee and (most importantly) free refills. So I got a cup of coffee, and spent a pleasant hour or so reading my book.
When I went outside again, the sun had gone down, and I called it a day.
The Hiji Town Hall actually has a very decent English website advertising their town. If you click around on it, there are a lot of photos taken at more scenic times of year than my trip.
Here is some information on the 3st Saint Xaviar Road Walking meet. (I someone suspect this site was written by someone whose native language was not English)
Here is a description of Harmony Land (complete with pictures) to make up for my not going there personally.
And here is the official English site for HarmonyLand
Link of the Day
Report: Almost 4,000 Civilians Killed in Afghanistan Last Year; 680 by US
Also, this video of Chomsky on Lenin, Trotsky, Socialism & the Soviet Union is pretty interesting.