Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Japan 2013: The Shinanami Kaido

Today we had a special breakfast of the local delicacy, taruto. Taruto is a roll cake with citrusy red bean paste in the middle. It's a very light flavour & quite nice for breakfast :) We washed it down with Pom juice made from local mikan oranges- very refreshing.

This was probably the most spectacular day of our whole trip to Japan, in terms of scenery at the very least. Tomoko & Nobuko-san met us at our hotel, where Tomoko's friend Yuka-san was meeting us with a rented mini-van to take us sightseeing for the day. Yuka-san & her husband did medical fellowships at the U of R when Tomoko was there working on her Masters', so she speaks English, & as I mentioned yesterday, Tomoko put us in touch with her when we decided to visit Matsuyama. Yuka-san is from here & obviously really loves her home & the Island of Shikoku. She is a researcher, looking into treatments for epilepsy, & took a day off (& rented a van!) to take the 5 of us to some of her favourite places here.

Somehow I ended-up in the front seat, so I got a chance to chat with Yuka-san quite a bit on the trip. Charlie was right behind us, so he could chime in too. Not far into the ride we discovered that we are both knitters! She got into knitting quite a bit while she lived in Rochester & has continued since returning to Matsuyama. We had so much fun talking crafting along the way! Yuka-san also explained that today's trip would take us along the Shinanami Kaido (Shinanami Oceanside Road) which is only reachable by car or bus. We would head north, to the series of little islands that connect Shikoku to the mainland of Japan.

First stop was the Ishitegawa Dam, a very picturesque place indeed:

While there we saw a couple of funny signs:

The fist tells you to beware of snakes & honeybees along the hiking trail, & the second is a "no littering!" sign.

Next, we took a short hop to a veggie stand and small shop. Our trusty mini van is parked outside:
We were near Imabari, a town known for it's towel manufacturing. There are "ImabariSM" (in Japanese, it's actually "Imabari-ism") stores all over Matsuyama,, selling upscale towels & other woven articles. The little veggie stand shop had a nice selection of inexpensive cotton "mufflers" (what we call scarves) & I picked one up because it looked like a hot day & I'd left my scarf at the hotel. In Japan it's popular to wear a light cotton muffler on a hot day, to protect your neck from the sun (the Imabari ones are SPF-rated), plus you can use them to wipe off the sweat or wet them to keep you cool.

We hopped back in the van & got on a toll highway, like the NYS Thruway, which led across a series of bridges & through tunnels- destination: Ikuchijima Island.
On Ikuchjima Island we headed for the Kousanji Buddhist temple. The Kousanji  is odd in that, although it looks quite old, it was built in the 20th century by a businessman who was moved to become a Buddhist priest after his mother died. He built the temple & dedicated it to her. It's not a functioning temple, having no resident priests. It looks old mainly because they  based the temple's buildings on famous temples from around Japan.
This pagoda, with Yuka-san on the steps, looks a lot like the Kiyomizudera in Kyoto.

It also has scads of water lilies in pots like the Mimurotoji in Uji:
Behind the temple & up the hill is another amazing place: The Heights of Eternal Hope for the Future Hill (known in Japanese as the Miraishin Oka :). This place kind of has to be seen to be believed:

The mountains here, being volcanic, are so different from our NYS glacier ones.
A hillside's worth of Italian marble was brought in by carrier ship to make this monument to the future. It was completed in 2000 & has stairs as well as ramps (& 1 elevator) that take you, sculpture by sculpture, right to the top of a mountain. And at the top- an Italian restaurant, of course:
We had a snack there, then visited the gift shop, where they had water lily seeds for sale! The proprietor explained how to get them started (you have to cut off part of the shell so the seed can sprout) & Nobuko-san & I bought some. She said we should have a contest next year, to see whose grow the fastest :) I'm voting on her, since she lives in the Florida part of Japan & can get a good head start weather-wise.

After this we decided to get serious about lunch. Yuka-san drove back toward Imabari to find a good restaurant. We decided to stop at the Gusto Skylark family Restaurant (Charlie had been wanting to eat in a family restaurant here, so he got his chance!). Family restaurants serve mostly western-style food, but with a Japanese spin. Hamburgers come with a topping of grated daikon radish, not a bun, as Charlie found out. Brendan found a yummy pizza:
And I had a rice-based casserole with veggies & an egg on top:
Yum! While there, we gave Yuka-san some prezzies from the States, including some herb tea:

Our next stop was quite close to home, the Ishiteji (stone-hand-temple) in Matsuyama, not far from the Dogo Onsen. This is not only a working Buddhist Temple, but a major stop on the 88 temples pilgrimage route that Shikoku is famous for. The temple was founded in the 8th century, but some of the buildings had to be rebuilt in the 16th after an earthquake.

There were senbazuru (1000 cranes) everywhere:
 Charlie paid 100 yen (~$1) to ring this 12th century bell dedicated to Kanon (Kwan Yin):
And some of the statues had little crocheted hats!
Plus we saw a group of 88 temple pilgrims chanting:
And, of course, I bought omamori:
After this visit, it was nearly 5:00 pm, so we made a quick stop at a sweets shop & then went back to the hotels to rest while Yuka-san returned the rental van. We then took the trolley to meet her for dinner at her favorite Izakaya restaurant in Matsuyama.

At an izakaya they bring drinks first, then course after course of food.It was lovely!
Beer served in stoneware cups & sake:
Here we are with the master- owner of the restaurant:
And to top off a lovely day, Yuka-san & I did some crafting together:
As we had chatted on the drive, we discovered that we are both on Ravelry! She's participating in the Tour de fleece spinning group right now (I did it last year, but thought it would be too much to do while in Japan), so we spun some, too. And, of course, we exchanged rav names :) Brendan also brought out Beanie & showed everyone the sleeping bag & cape that he wove for Beanie on the weavette, & shared rav names with Yuka-san, too :)

Amazing, amazing day!!!

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