(Better Know a City)
Monday, June 15, 2009
As I work my way further and further from my home city of Nakatsu, I'm spending more and more time in the car. Despite leaving my house shortly after 7, it was about 11:30 by the time I arrived in Tsukumi. (Had I known what I was doing, I probably could have taken a shorter route. Instead, for lack of any better directions I just followed the coast.)
After driving through Usuki, I went through a long tunnel. When I exited the tunnel, I was in Tsukumi, and the first sight that greated my eyes was a great view of the mountains.
There was what looked like a scenic overview, so I stopped there to take a picture. (After I had already stopped the car, I saw a sign forbidding parking because it was a truck turn around--or something like that. But I was only there for a couple of minutes).
I tried to capture the view on film as much as was possible.
After that, I continued driving into Tsukumi. I followed the signs and stopped at the town hall, where I picked up some maps and pamphlets.
Tsukumi seemed like a really beautiful area, and I was sorry I didn't have more time to spend there.
If you look at Tsukumi on a map, the town boundaries look a bit like an octopus. It's a long thin boarder around the coast with several tentacle like peninsula's that jut out into the water. Not surprisingly, it's famous as a port town.
Southern Oita prefecture is extremely beautiful on the right day. The ocean water looks really clear and beautiful, and the mountains are filled with so much green vegetation it almost has a bit of a tropical look (at least to my mid-Western eye).
Tsukumi has plenty of both ocean and green mountains, so it has no lack of scenic views.
They are, however, in the process of carving up and tearing down several of these mountains to make cement out of them. [Obligatory reference to "Dogs and Demons" (A) here]. The cement industry is the big industry in Tsukumi, and so driving through the town you also see lots of mountains with their faces torn off and also a lot of big factories for processing cement.
What was interesting to me was that the town makes no attempt to try and hide this. Even the town brochures have many pictures of the torn up mountains, and the cement construction cites are on the tourist map. (Admittedly In any wide angle photo of the city, it would be hard to remove the construction completely.)
I left my car parked in the town hall and decided to wander around central Tsukumi a little bit.
Tsukumi wasn't huge, but compared to a lot of the really dinky towns I've been to on this project, I thought it at least had a decent downtown area. There were several shops, restaurants, pachinko parlors (W), et cetera.
From the town hall, I walked on a foot bridge over the train tracks to Tsukumi train station. I went down the stairs on the other side of the station, and saw a picture of Otomo Sorin.
I had no idea who Otomo Sorin was before coming to Tsukumi, and since there was no English information available in the town I only got a vague idea of his significance while I was there. I could tell from all symbolism surrounding his memorials he must have been one of the early Japanese Christians, but that was about it. If you read the wikipedia article, they explain his historical significance there.
I followed the road down to the ocean, where there was a ferry port.
The ferry is for the two islands off the coast of Tsukumi, Hotojima Island and Mukujima Island. (Actually there are more islands in Tsukumi, but I think these are the only two the ferry makes regular trips to).
I'm sure both of these islands are quiet scenic, but I didn't feel like I had time to fit them in. The day was already almost half over, I still had all of mainland Tsukumi to explore. It was a 25 minute trip one way just to get to one island, not counting buying the ticket and waiting around for the next ferry to depart, et cetera.
So, alas, I skipped the islands. My loss I'm sure.
Next to the ferry port was a big park called Tsukumin Park. It had a huge playset for the kids to climb around on. (Actually it was more like several different playsets connected to eachother with a series of ladders and tunnels, but it was still pretty cool). Being a weekday afternoon, however, the only people wandering around the park where old people.
I walked down the road along the ocean for a while, and marveled at how clear and beautiful the water looked, and how beautiful the mountains were.
I saw signs for the grave of Otomo Sorin, 2 kilometers away. Maybe I should have saved time by going back to my car and driving, but after having spent the entire morning behind the wheel I was still feeling like doing some walking. So I walked out there, and enjoyed the charm of the small town streets.
On the way there was a park on a hill (high enough up apparently that there was a sign designating it as one of the tsunami safety points) called "Otomo Park". I walked up there. Not too much to report. There was a miniature wooden ship, and a lookout tower from which I got a good view of the town.
And I continued on towards the grave of Otomo Sorin.
It was a pretty scenic walk, and I got some more pictures along the way.
The grave and surrounding memorial park about Otomo Sorin still didn't tell me much about who he was. But I walked it and took some pictures.
And then I walked back.
At this point I felt like I had explored central Tsukumi, and it was time to get back in the car and go out along the coast.
And so I drove along route 217. After going through a couple tunnels, I took a turnoff for Enoura and Akasaki Penninsula.
Actually it's a little confusing telling which is which. As far as I'm concerned, they're the same peninsula but the part that juts out a little further, Akasaki, gets its own name. So I stopped here for a minute to consult the map, while I simultaneous admired the orange tree orchard carved out on the mountainside. (I had seen a few of these before, but this is the first one I stopped to video tape).
Next I followed a long and windy road out to Akasaki peninsula. It was a short distance from where I was, but everywhere takes a long time to get to in Tsukumi because you always have to go up and down the mountainside. So I drove up the mountain, down the mountain, and got to the edge of Akasaki Peninsula. The map had advertised a small shrine and a scenic view. And there was a small shrine. I'm not sure if the view was all that special.
To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure that the drive out to Akasaki Peninsula was worth it, but that's all part of the fun of exploring. You never know what you're going to find when you head back.
On the drive back, I stopped the car briefly on the side of the road to get a picture of the view from the mountain looking down.
I continued driving on to Enoura Peninsula, and then around to Youra Peninsula.
Again, this might sound like a simple drive along the coast, but it was winding up and down mountains again and it took a consider amount of time to move a small distance on the map.
From one of the mountains on Youra Peninsula there was a scenic viewing area, where you could look out and see the ocean and the mountains.
And I continued driving down the coast. Eventually I went out onto another peninsula. (Or was it the same one. The naming system is a little bit confusing.)
Right out on the very tip of this last peninsula is the Mamoto district. And right off the coast of the Mamoto district is Hotojima Island.
I had already decided that I didn't have time to fool around with the ferry time tables today. But as I drove out towards the edge of the peninsula, Hotojima Island looked so close I thought I'd be able to drive right up to it.
Nope, no luck. The road ended. Still, as I got out of my car and walked on the rocks by the ocean, the island looked so close that I thought I could just use some stepping stones to skip and jump my way over to the island.
And it really was almost that close. If there had been a few more strategically placed rocks, I could probably have hopped, skipped, and jumped my way across.
I thought for a moment there might be a foot bridge across to the island, but then I realized those were just telephone wires.
Actually the island is so close that it beats me why they don't just build a little footbridge connecting it to the mainland. That way people wouldn't have to mess around with the Ferry.
It would be great for tourists like me, but the people who live on the island would be the ones who really benefit. They must get sick of taking that 25 minute ferry all the time when they are (literally) spitting distance from the mainland.
Why in the world don't they build some sort of bridge?
Well, I'm no civic engineer. Maybe there are problems with the ocean current or other complications I don't know about. Maybe the powerful ferry boat lobby is in control of this town.
At any rate, from what I could see it looked like everyone on the island had there own private boat anyway, so they probably weren't too inconvenienced.
There was a clump of houses on the island coast, and in fact the island looked a lot more populated than the Mamoto district peninsula did. Maybe there were cool places to hang out there, I'll never know.
I considered wading across the ocean, but it might be deeper than it looked in the middle. I'd probably have to swim it. Which means I should have to leave my video and camera behind. And my wallet and my car keys. And then I would arrive on the other side soaking wet, covered in sticky salt water, and without any money.
No, it wasn't worth it. Hotojima Island was so close, but for me so far away.
I saw a pillar sticking up on one of the rocks on the coast, and I thought it was some sort of shrine. I started climbing up the rock, although halfway through I noticed that there was no trail of any kind and I probably shouldn't be climbing on it. I half expected the fisherman to start yelling at me (as people often do in Japan when you try and get off the beaten path) but they just ignored me, so I climbed up anyway.
The pillar turned out to be...I don't know actually. Something connected with the phone lines I guess. At any rate from the top of the rock I got a good view of the island, and took some video.
I now decided to turn around and head in the other direction.
I drove back west on the 217 and returned to the center of town. I kept driving along the coast and, before I knew it, the road took me right through a cement factory.
I was still on the main road, but I had the feeling of driving through a private factory and wondered if I was supposed to be there. On both sides of the road there were industrial buildings, factories and smokestacks. And above the road were all sorts of conveyer belts enclosed in tubes connecting the two buildings. I had the feeling of suddenly being in one of those disutopian futuristic movies where the robots have taken over everything. Oh yeah, and it smelled bad too.
After getting through the factory I tried to continue driving up the Northern coast of Tsukumi, but I ran into the usual roadblocks, construction,winding roads and confusing street signs.
I was beginning to lose patience with it all, and I was also feeling tired and hungry. I hadn't had lunch yet, and I had been out in the sun all day. It was now 4 o'clock, so I decided to return to the main part of town.
I ate at my favorite chain restaurant in Japan, Joyfull, and indulged myself at the free coffee bar for a bit whilst I read my book.
Once I felt like I had my energy back, I set out again. It was after 5, but in the summer days the sun stays out a little bit longer.
I walked around the downtown area, and retread a lot of the ground I had gone over that afternoon. I even toyed with taking one of the ferries out, but when I got to the ferry port they were already closed for the day. I went back to the train station, and looked around there some more.
Right off from the train station was a road labelled, "Showa Road" and I decided to follow that and see where it would lead.
As I walked down the street, I saw a sign for an English school.
Even though I've been in Japan for a number of years now, I still kind of feel like I have a special connection whenever I see one of these schools, especially out in the countryside where foreigners are few and far between. "Oh, look, there's an English school. And here I am, a native English speaker. I have a connection here."
There was an older woman sweeping below the sign, and she called out to me to ask me where I was from and what I was doing. "I'm from Nakatsu," I said without thinking (as we long term expats tend to do) and then had to correct myself. "No, sorry, I mean I'm from America. I live in Nakatsu now. I'm just out sight seeing in Tsukumi today."
"Do you have some time? What is your schedule?"
"I don't really have a schedule. Yeah, sure I have some time."
"Will you come inside with me? I'd like to talk with you."
It was a bit odd, but you get this sometimes in Japan. Maybe she just wanted to have a chat with a foreigner. And if this would make her day, I was more than happy to do it. I suspected she probably wanted me to work at her school, which I couldn't easily do from Nakatsu. But I didn't have a good reason not to at least hear her out on the proposal either, so I went inside with her.
Sure enough, after exchanging some pleasantries, she mentioned she had need of a native speaker for a couple hours a week. "But it's probably too long from Nakatsu."
"Yeah," I said. "Sorry. It took me almost 3 hours just to get here today."
Her husband (who had also come into the room)chimed in, "Yes, 3 hours, that would be about right from Nakatsu."
"Oh, that's too bad. I was hoping we'd be able to use you here. Oh well."
But as long as I was sitting in their living room, I figured I might as well ask them a few questions about Tsukumi. And for their part, they seemed more than happy to play the tour guide and tell the foreigner all about their home town, so it worked out well.
"Right," I said, pulling out my maps, "so what's worth seeing in Tsukumi."
"In Tsukumi? There's not much to see in Tsukumi," the woman said. "It's just a coastal town, and the coast is so mountainous that it's difficult to drive around easily. Not many people come here for tourism. The only thing it's really famous for is its mikan (W) orchards."
I pointed on the map to a few of the places I had already been to. "I went up to the tip of this peninsula," I said, "And I tried to go to Hotojima Island. There's no way to get there from the peninsula, is there?"
"No, you have to go back to the center of town and take the ferry port."
"Yeah, that's what I thought. Well, was there anything interesting on that island missed out on?"
She and her husband both thought for a while, and then answered, "No, the island has nothing. It's just a bunch of fishing boats, and houses for the fishermen. Young people don't find it interesting at all."
"And Mukujima Island?"
"No, nothing interesting."
"Alright, now I also passed a big baseball stadium on the road. Does that get a lot of use?" [I didn't stop to take a picture here, but there was a big baseball stadium out on one of the peninsulas close to the town center."
"Oh yeah, they play a lot of games there," the husband answered.
"And I also noticed a lot of cement factories around here. And a lot of the mountains are carved up."
"Yes, that's for the limestone. It's Tsukumi's main industry."
I moved on to more banal questions. "Now this road here is named "Showa Road". Is there any reason for that?"
"Because it was made during the Showa era," the woman answered. "That's the only reason, just a reference to when it was built. Have you ever been out to Showa Town in Bungo Takeda? There they've got a street built to look like the Showa era. When you enter it, it's like going into a time slip. But this street is nothing like that."
(In a previous post on Bungo Takeda, I was somewhat critical of the effectiveness of this "time slip". But we'll let it pass here.)
The woman went on to tell me more about Tsukumi. "Tsukumi is in a bad way," she said. "It has been ever since the economy went sour."
"You mean last September?"
"No, I mean since about 15 or 20 years ago, when the bubble burst in Japan. It's been really tough on Tsukumi. In fact the economic depression has probably hurt Tsukimi worse than any other city in Oita. So many of the shops have had to close around here, there are only a few shops left in the downtown area now. And all the young people had to leave for the big cities to get jobs. Now only the old people are left in Tsukumi. There are almost no children left anymore. He," she indicated her husband, "used to run a music school. Now he's lucky to just teach a few private lessons a week. That's just how it goes here."
I can't count the number of times I've heard this story. Apparently 30 years ago or so all of these country towns in Japan were actually vibrant communities instead of the retirement centers and ghost towns they've turned into today. If I had a time machine, I would love to see what all of these towns looked like back then.
As for the shops, well I don't doubt that Tsukumi was probably better off 20 years ago. But compared to a lot of the other small towns I've visited in Oita, I thought Tsukumi had a decent downtown center.
"But why has Tsukumi been hit harder than all the other towns?" I asked.
"Well, aside from the things I've already mentioned, the main problem in Tsukumi is that there's no real industry. We're just a small fishing town, so when the economy started to go bad, there was nothing to fall back on other than just fishing."
"What about agriculture?" I asked. "I saw a lot of orchids driving around."
"Yes, people are getting quite interested in agriculture," she answered. "Even more so than they used to be. Japan imports most of its food now, but with the world food crisis looming, and with the energy crisis, we're wondering if we're always be able to do that. So many people are returning to farming now, and converting land that used to be used for recreation back into farming."
[I should note I'm not sure about the accuracy of any of this information. I'm just reporting the conversation. Sometimes from my students in Nakatsu I get the opposite picture, of perfectly good rice fields lying fallow because no one can be found who has time to work them.]
After talking a bit more, I mentioned I wanted to see a few more things in Tsukumi before the sun went down. When I entered the house, I had been slightly worried about getting sucked into a long conversation but they were very good about letting me leave. I asked what else I should see in Tsukumi and the woman recommended Akahachiman Shrine to me.
I followed her directions to Akahachiman shrine, and it turned out to be right behind the town hall where I had started the day.
Akahachiman was a standard shrine. Nothing special but I took a picture anyway.
Walking down the block, I can across Ishigane shrine, which had a path leading up the hill behind it.
I decided to climb up this to see where it would lead.
The walk up the side of the hill had a very beautiful view of downtown Tsukumi, and I took a few pictures.
When I got to the top of the hill, however, the view was not so great. It was just a tower with speakers mounted on top of it. I couldn't even get a view of the surrounding town because all the trees were in the way.
"Well, that's a funny path," I thought. "Climb all the way up the hill just to see a speaker tower."
But then I noticed the path went down, and then up again to a second peak. "Ah, no wonder," I thought. "This is the path I'm supposed to follow."
So, I followed the path up to the second peak, which turned out to be just as disappointing. I don't even know what it was. Some sort of...something. A rusty tower with a sort of box on it.
I left the hill a bit confused as to why it had all these hiking trails leading up to it. But at least the view walking up had been nice.
After that I decided to call it a day, and leave Tsukumi.
Road to Encounters: Life on a Rias Coast --Several links from this page to different articles on Tsukumi
Onto the slightly more bizarre: School teacher arrested for peeping up student's skirt in Tsukumi, Oita,
Living by my-monstrous-self a blog about living in Tsukumi,
Tsukumi panorama gomagara-mountain Photo
Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky Interview - VideoConference