Monday, May 4th, 2009
This is my 3rd Golden - Week (W) entry (see also Oyama and Kunimi). And, as with the previous two posts, the name of the game during - Golden - Week is to try and beat the crowds.
So, I thought I would go out to Musashi, a tiny little town out on the Kunisaki Peninsula.
The day before I got a call from a Japanese friend wanting to go with me. "Well, if you want to," I said. "But I'm planning on going out to the middle of nowhere for the whole day."
She was a remarkably good sport about it. "It's no problem. You always sound like you have fun out on your expeditions, so I want to see what it's like."
We met up early in the morning, and drove out to Musashi town together. There was a light rain falling that morning, but according to my new rules we set out anyway to explore Musashi rain or shine.
Musashi was absorbed into Kunisaki city during the town mergers a few years ago, but the old town lay between Kunisaki town to the north and Aki to the South. Oita Airport is located right on the boarder between the two towns, and, although I included the airport in my entry on Aki, it seems to belong to both towns almost equally.
Shortly after crossing into Musashi we saw a sign for Furuichi beach, which we stopped at.
We were extraordinarily lucky with the rain. It stopped raining almost as soon as we entered Musashi, and did not start raining again until we were in the car driving home. But the sun never came really came out. Consequently the whole day had a grey and cloudy feel to it. The wonderful colors that I was so enraptured by on my previous trip to Kunimi never came out in Musashi.
We walked the length of the beach, and went out on one of the piers.
My friend was amazed by the same thing I had noticed the previous day at Kunimi--how clear and beautiful the water was at the Kunisaki Peninsula. "The ocean looks nothing like this in Nakatsu," she commented.
There was a splashing sound, and we saw a fish jump through the air and go back into the water. "Ah, a jumping fish," my friend said excitedly. "Do you have those in America?"
"I don't know actually," I said. "I don't think we have any in Michigan, but maybe by the ocean."
The fish jumped several more times as we walked down the pier. I wonder what makes a fish do that.
I collected stones by the sea and practiced skipping them on the ocean. My friend complimented me on my stone skipping ability. "Where did you learn to skip so well?"
"I don't know. I guess my dad used to show me at lake Michigan when I was a kid. But I was always terrible at it. I'm still terrible at it."
And I am. But, apparently compared to the average Japanese person I've got a bit of an edge. I guess we Michiganders must have a natural stone-skipping advantage when we go abroad.
After walking the length of the beach twice, we decided we had exhausted the area and got back in the car to see what other diversions Musashi had to offer. We got back on the coast road. Almost immediately after leaving Furuichi beach, we saw signs for another beach.
"That's got to be pretty much the same beach we just left," I said. My friend agreed, and we decided there was no need to stop there.
And then almost immediately after that, we crossed the town boarder into Kunisaki.
We were both a little shocked at how small the town was. (Usually the town boarders are designed so that it takes at least a little bit of time to drive from one end of town to the other).
"Well, actually come to think of it, Musashi did look pretty small on the map," I said. "The town only has a small stretch of coastline, but the boarders widen out as you go back into the mountains."
But was there going to be anything to do in the mountains?
"So I guess we have to head back now?" my friend asked.
Yeah, sorry, I explained. That's kind of the system I've got going for this project.
So we turned the car around and drove back into Musashi. And then we went to the second beach after all. It was called Ryujin beach and Uchida campground. (Or was that Uchida beach and Ryujin campground?) It was just slightly down the coast from the previous beach, but we still walked the length of it, and I skipped stones across the ocean again.
There was a small trail which lead through a wooded area filled with pine trees which we walked through just because it was there.
There were also some pavillions, under which 3 motorcyclists were resting. "Konnichiwa (W)" one of them called out to us.
"Konnichiwa" we replied.
"Are you sight seeing?" he asked.
The conversation ended there. I wondered if we should ask them what there was to see in Musashi, but my friend said they didn't seem like locals. "During Golden Week, people often go touring on motorcycles," she explained. "They're probably just passing through the area."
We got back in the car and headed towards the city center.
Musashi had a very small city center: a town hall, a couple supermarkets, a cultural center, and that was about it.
I also saw what looked like a church's steeple with a cross on top of it. "Hey, I wonder if that's a real church or a wedding chapel," I asked.
"We might as well stop and have a look," my friend said. "We've got nothing else to do in this town."
And so we did.
Although I lost my faith a long time ago, I still have a fondness for churches in Japan. Since only 1% of Japan is Christian, I always think it's kind of neat whenever I find a church, especially out in the countryside.
In my circle growing up in Grand Rapids, everyone went to church. So, in my limited experience attending church- in Japan, it was interesting to meet people who went to church inspite of the surrounding culture, and not because of it. (And I've talked to other lapsed American Christians who have had similar experiences of feeling a fresh and new atmosphere at Japanese churches despite their own lost faith).
Japanese churches also remind me of home a little bit, especially since most Japanese rural churches are designed like they're straight out of 1950s America: a white church with a steeple and cross on top.
However just to confuse things there are also a lot of "wedding chapels" in Japan, which are buildings designed to look like churches for the sole sake of holding marriage ceremonies for young Japanese people who want a wedding that resembles what they see in Hollywood movies. Several times I've approached what I thought was a church, only to find out it was a wedding chapel.
This church didn't appear to have a parking lot, so we parked the car by the side of the road and tried to walk up to it. It appeared to be hidden behind a number of other buildings, so we walked around the block while we tried to find an access point.
There were some dandelions by the side of the road, and my friend picked one up and blew the seeds into the air. "I was reading a book recently," she said, "by a Japanese professor who lived in America. And he wrote that, in contrast to Japanese, Americans actually hate dandelions and will try and weed them out from their yards. Can that really be true? In Japan, children love dandelions."
"Well, yes and no," I said. And I tried to describe the complicated relationship we Americans have with dandelions: how children love them, but gardeners hate them. Eventually this turned into a recounting of every memory I ever had concerning dandelions.
My friend listened attentively all the way through it. Maybe she was just being polite. But in Japan, every ordinary American memory is changed into an exotic recollection of a far away land, and in the past I've made big productions out of retelling some of the most ordinary things. (Such as the American ritual of praying before meals, and all the unwritten rules that govern praying etiquette).
While I was telling these fascinating stories, we were still trying to find the church. We went around one way to the right, and then we went around to the left, and we couldn't seem to get past the big building in front of the church, until we realized that big building was part of the church. The traditional chapel and steeple that we were focused on were just the second story of the church.
This meant that, counting both stories, it was one of the biggest churches I had seen in Japan. (Usually they're very tiny). And, here it was, out here in the middle of nowhere.
"You know a lot about Christianity," my friend said. "Without looking at the sign, can you tell me if this is a protestant or a catholic church?"
"No," I answered. "Sorry."
With this little diversion over, we drove on. And followed signs to the Tsubacki Hachiman shrine.
My friend translated the sign for me, telling me that this temple was original built way back in 765 AD. "Of course I don't think that's referring to the actual wooden building," she said. "These old temples are often built and rebuilt several times over. But the actual site dates back to 765."
There was a big tree by the entrance to the temple with an enormous trunk. Someone had tied a wreath of woven straw around it. "This is a Kusonoki," my friend said. "The old Japanese believed that divine spirits lived within the tree, so we put this ceremonial wreath around it. I guess that must seem pretty strange to a Westerner."
"No, actually ancient Greek and German myths were the same," I answered.
At the parking lot for the Tsubaki Hachiman Shrine was a map of Musashi with all the other sites of interest highlighted. We were glad to find this, because it gave us something of a plan for the rest of the day. True, almost everything on the map was just more temples and shrines. But at least we knew what we were doing now.
The first temple on the list was walking distance from where we were at. In fact it was just right behind Tsubakihachiman shrine: Shon Temple. We walked through it briefly.
But I was more interested in the small stream besides Shon Temple than the temple itself, so we walked down this stream for a way.
Following the stream, we came to a a group of rice fields alongside the stream.
Although actually many of them were growing barley instead of rice--something I didn't even notice until my friend pointed it out to me. And then she laughed at me for not even knowing the difference between barley and rice. (It was early spring so instead of being golden brown like in the beer commercials the barley was a series of green stalks, and from a distance looked the same as rice fields).
The hanging wisteria flowers (W), fuji in Japanese, were also visible. We saw a couple different gardens in Musashi, but they were also growing wild in the wooded areas around the rice (um, I mean barley) fields.
We followed the river on the way back, and marveled at the clear water, and could even see lots of fish darting around in its shallow streams.
Then my friend said something which slightly took the romance off this small countryside stream. "This is probably the water where the houses' water drains to. All the soap from the shower and dish-washing liquid goes in here. But the fish still seem to be healthy." Out in the Japanese countryside, without the intricate plumbing system of the big city, most of the water from the sink drains does run directly into the streams outside.
We came back to the car and, after consulting the map, deciding to head out to the viewing area by Ogi Mountain. This was a beautiful mountain view of the city. But instead of hiking our way up here, we could drive the whole thing.
We followed the signs up winding mountain roads for a while until we got to the top, and enjoyed the wide view of all of Musashi city (and much of Aki and Kunisaki) laid out before us.
The sky was still grey and gloomy, and, although it colored everything with a shade of blah, fortunately it did not hamper the view at all.
We stayed up there for a while taking in the view, and trying to capture it through a camera lens (always a futile effort).
The nearby map indicated some hiking trails, so we decided to explore that.
Slightly down the mountain was a parking lot by what was called "Ogikanzen bosatsu".
This was a small temple with a little bit of a loop through the mountain behind it.
As you went through there were a bunch of small Buddhist statues that were numbered in order (I think about 35 maybe) although I thought I caught some gaps in their counting. "Hey, this is 31 already. What happened to numbers 27, 28, 29, and 30?"
My friend, as a dutiful Buddhist, stopped to offer up a small prayer at each one.
It was a pleasant little hike. At one point we thought it had started raining again, but it turned out it was just the wind blowing through the leaves and sending down some of the morning's rainwater. The ground was a bit wet and slippery, and my friend did take a bit of a spill. I was worried that might mean the end of the hiking trip, but she recovered herself quickly, and we continued. (She was only a bit concerned that her new camera had gotten scratched up, but despite the outside being a little less new and shiny it still worked perfectly fine.)
"I've heard a lot of the hiking trails in Japan are old training routes for priests," I said. "With all the Buddhist statues on this trail, do you think this was a training hike?"
"No, it's much too small and easy to be for training," she said. "Something like this is for people who are suffering a misfortune or need a miracle. If they make the loop and say little prayers to each of the statues, then their request will be granted."
At the end of the loop there was another trail branching off to go to the viewing area we had just come from. "We don't need to go there," my friend said. "It just leads to where we've already been, and then we'll have to walk all the way back to the car again."
If I had been by myself, I would have gone just for the hike. But I decided to yield to my friend's logic on this one.
Since we didn't have a portable map with us, we drove back to the Tsubaki Hachiman shrine (it was on our way back down the mountain anyway) and looked at their map to plan our next move. There was something on the map about a green tourist village just down the road, but despite driving back and forth through that area several times, we never found it. We did stop at a small Fuji park to admire the flowers.
We drove up a little down the road to visit Saikoji Temple. As we got out of the car, my friend said, "This is a Zen Buddhist temple. I've never been to a Zen Buddhist temple before. But Zen Buddhism is very popular in America, isn't it?"
"Yes, I've got a few friends who are into it," I answered.
"Well, they'll probably be quite impressed when they hear you've been to an actual Zen temple," she said.
"Um, I guess."
We walked through the temple garden and took a few pictures.
After having walked through the temple garden, I could not tell any difference between a Zen Buddhist temple and any of the other regular Buddhist temples.
My friend opened the temple doors (to her surprise the temple was just left unlocked) but we didn't go inside.
After this, we headed back down to the coast to catch a few more attractions that were listed on the map.
The first stop was Marine Pier. This was close to the airport on Musashi's side, and was mostly just a harbor for fishing ships, with a fancy walk out pier built on it.
The pier itself was quite nice. Or at least at one time when it was brand new it must have been quite nice. The paint was peeling off the railings, and it was a bit rusty. But impressive nonetheless.
The pier was a big sucker, with a nice brick walkway out to a statue of a girl on a dolphin. It made you feel like you were on a fancy beach walkway, like maybe downtown Grand Haven back home.
Only there was absolutely nothing around this pier. I commented that at least an ice cream stand might be nice, and my friend laughed and said no one would set up an ice cream stand out here in the middle of nowhere.
Which begs the question of why this huge pier was set up right in the middle of nowhere.
My friend lowered her voice slightly so that the surrounding fisherman couldn't hear us. "To tell the truth," she said, "I imagine this whole thing was built just because of some back room deal between the government and the concrete companies. That kind of thing happens all the time in Japan."
(This conversation reminded me once again of "Dogs and Demons" by Alexander Kerr (A) in which he tackles the same subject of corruption).
The water closer to the airport was slightly murkier than it had been down the coast. But we could still see plenty of fish swimming around from the pier, including some that were pretty huge.
There were a couple fisherman sitting on the pier. "Having any luck," my friend asked one of them.
In heavily accented dialect, he responded with something like, "Oh, it's still a bit early yet to catch any fish."
"Really, we've been seeing lots of them swimming," my friend said.
"Have you? Well, they haven't been biting."
We walked along the shore where we saw a kind of blowfish washed up by the waves.
In typical Japanese fashion, my friend immediately identified the fish as a kind of sushi delicacy.
We debated whether or not it was still alive. She claimed it was moving. I maintained the fish was only moving because it was being nudged by the waves. She poked it with a stick and claimed its stomach muscles were contracting as a result. I remained skeptical.
We left the marine pier and drove to the Musashi road station (rest area) right next to the airport on the Musashi side.
There was a small shop where fresh vegetables were being sold. My friend was much more interested in this than I was. "Look at these prices," she marveled. "You know, the cheapest prices for fresh vegetables are always at the road side stations. Look at how cheap these tomatoes are! Why you would pay almost 3 times this much in a supermarket."
I was still enough of a lazy bachelor that I never learned to pay attention to vegetable prices.
There was a small cafe as part of the road station, so we went in there. I had a cup of coffee and my friend had soft serve ice cream.
From the road station, it was just a small walk over to the "airport viewing park". I got my picture taken with a gorilla statue (neither of us could figure out why this statue was there) and we saw a couple planes land and take off.
It was about 4:30 now, so we figured we would get something to eat, and then call it a day. (We had deliberately skipped lunch so we could finish off the day by eating in a Musashi resturant). We drove to a place that said "Musashi Ramen" (something we had seen earlier in the day, and which seemed like an appropriate way to end the day.)
Turns out it was closed for the afternoon. A sign said it opened again at 5, but I knew even that wasn't guaranteed. (Many of these small town resturants are permantly closed).
"You know, I saw a place earlier when we were parked by the church," I said. "We can go there."
We drove back there, but when my friend saw the restuarant I was referring to, she said, "Oh, no, this place isn't for casual dining. This looks like a place that specializes in catering special dinners."
As we drove down the road, there was a sushi restaurant, but my friend said it also would most likely be very expensive.
There was another ramen resturant, but when we pulled into the parking lot we found that this was an old restuarant that had been closed down and abandoned.
"Well, we tried," I said. "We gave it our best shot, but we might as well just head out of town and get something to eat on the way back."
So, we left Musashi a little early at 4:45. It was just as well. We both felt like we had thoroughly exhausted the town's possibilities.
If I had been exploring by myself I probably would have done what I always do when visiting a small town with nothing in it: park the car and just walk along the river for a couple hours. But I adjusted my usual habits for my friend, and I was glad to have the company.
It started raining almost as soon as we left Musashi. And by the time we reached Bungo-Takeda (where we ended up eating dinner) it was pouring down. So we were thankful that at least the rain had held off during the day.
...Um, I'm turning up a blank on my searches. If anyone comes across any let me know.
Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky - American (Media) Hypocrisy