Monday, July 15, 2013

Japan 2013: From Uji to Matsuyama

Today we said goodbye to Uji & to Momo, Hiroshi, & Aoi-chan. We had breakfast together in the big tatami room first, though. Aoi-chan was not the first one to awaken in her room this morning, which was quite rare. Momo said they had to wake her up to get to breakfast on time. She was definitely less genki (energetic) than usual.
But she got livelier as breakfast progressed, & once again, we all took turns walking with her while everyone else ate :)
On the way back to our rooms she became quite herself again.
She wanted to explore, but it was time to pack! It was rainy when we got up, but luckily the weather cleared before we had to got out with all our things.

While packing, I looked more closely at the hot water pot in our room & discovered a funny bit of Japanglish:
I don't know why it's called herb cacao...

But there was no time to ponder because we had to get our huge luggage to the main lobby to board the mini-van for the station. A couple last looks at the beautiful Hanayshiki Ukifune-en:

Then it was off to Uji Station to catch a (hopefully) express train to Kyoto.
And then we got to the shinkansen waiting room at Kyoto Station & said goodbye to Momo, Hiroshi, & Aoi-chan:
Thank goodness we'll be seeing them next Sunday in Tokyo! How will we get by without our Aoi-chan fix?

Next Brendan & I surfed the ekiben kiosks for lunch, plus a couple more presents for folks back home. And then it was time to go up to the shinkensan tracks to wait for the train. The rain had cooled things down a bit, although it was pretty humid outside on the platform.
Shinkansen pulling into the station
We have the boarding & wrestling luggage thing down, & our seats were right at the back (by the luggage space) so we got settled quickly. The train trip to Matsuyama, on the island of Shikoku (off the eastern coast of Japan) requires a train change in Okayama, to a smaller express train. The first leg of the trip lasted about an hour.
Charlie & Brendan played cards while I read the weekly Jump comic:
I managed to snag one with the very last chapter of one of my favourite untranslated manga, Sket Dance.

The weather became gradually rainier as we traveled south.

When we changed trains it was full-blown pouring with thunder & lightning. We found our connecting platform pretty quickly (which is good, since we only had 10 minutes to haul everything there) but the train platforms aren't fully covered, so the rain was blowing & pouring everywhere. Some of the train doors had water bucketing over them from the platform roof! Our car did not, thank goodness, but it was tricky to get the luggage on board without getting too wet. The floors inside the doors were flooding & people were madly mopping them. Then, when we got inside the express train, we discovered that the space for luggage wasn't quite as spacious as on the shinkansen... it took a lot of wrestling to get them out of the corridor- thank-you Charlie!!

The express train seemed to have some trouble at first with the wet tracks. There was a lot of noise & shifting of gears (& lightning & thunder out the windows). But eventually we got going- whew!
Okayama station from inside the express train
The trip from Okayama to Matsuyama took a little over 3 hours. The scenery changed to become even more mountainous, especially after we crossed the long railroad bridge to Shikoku.
This photo is from the bridge, & you can see the ocean & some islands, but what's really striking is that the grey clouds are so low & distinct.

We saw all sorts of trains as we traveled:

JR train

very oddly decorated train
an old steam engine
I was struck by how much of the landscape is under cultivation. Not just rice fields everywhere, but all sorts of gardens, allotments, fields of veggies. The only places where the forest takes over is the sides of mountains.

As we got closer to Matsuyama the rain gradually cleared. And it was sunny (& hot again :) when we got off the train.
There is a lovely stand of matsu (pine trees) outside Matsuyama Station. Matsu means "pine tree" so Matsuyama means "pine tree mountain". The city is built around a mountain with Matsuyama Castle at the top.

You may be wondering why we're in Matsuyama. Well, we had wanted to visit a part of Japan we'd never been to before, plus we wanted to stay as clear as possible of the more crowded summer holiday spots (like Karuizawa, in the "Japanese Alps"). The Island of Shikoku is considered very much "inaka" or "in the country" so we thought it would fit the bill. Matsuyama not only has the castle, but we are staying right across the street from a very old & famous onset (hot springs resort) called Dogo Onsen. The Dogo was the inspiration for the bath house in the Miyazaki movie "Spirited Away", which is one of our favourites, so it was kind of a magnet to the place as well. There's also a village museum that we plan to visit as well, with very old homes preserved to show how people lived back then.

And, as it happens, not only will we be able to meet-up some friends here in Matsuyama, but we'll meet some new friends :) Our first Japanese teacher, Tomoko (who has been working on her PhD in Minnesota for the past 6 years), is back visiting her family, who lives just south of here on the Island of Kyushu. As it turns out, Tomoko's father was from Matsuyama & she has relatives here. So she & her mother, Nobuko-san, whom we've stayed with before on trips to Japan, are on their way to Matsuyama by ferry to spend a few days with us & to visit family :) Tomoko also put us in contact with a lovely woman that she met while she was in Rochester. Yuka-san & her husband both did medical studies at the University of Rochester & now live in Matsuyama. Yuka-san, who is a pediatric neurologist, speaks English & very kindly offered to spend a day with us this week showing us around. I think we'll have a lively time in the place we've never been to before!

From Matsuyama Station we took a 15-minute taxi ride to the Hotel Patio Dogo, which is, as promised, right across the street from the Dogo Onsen. It's amazing what a different feel Matsuyama already has, from the other parts of Japan we've visited. The Dogo is awesome:

Why umbrellas on a sunny day? They're higasa- sun umbrellas- & no adult Japanese woman is caught in the sun without one :)

After checking-in to our teensy room (photos to follow :) we went out looking for some dinner. There's an arcade of shops & restaurants where we went looking:
But, with all the travel & change, we ended up eating Italian instead :) Yum pizza!!

On the way home we hit the combini for breakfast food, & then went back to the hotel.

Tomorrow- meeting friends in Matsuyama!

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