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Bus Trip to Shikoku, Day Two: Stepping Back in Time in Tokushima

12 August 2017

After an early Japanese buffet breakfast (think rice, miso soup, and fish, among other things), it was back on the bus for a full day of sightseeing in Tokushima, one of the four prefectures on Shikoku island.

Our first stop was seeing the vine bridges in Iya Valley, over the stunning Iya river. These bridges are famous in the area, but remote and take a while to get to. The journey there was long and twisting, but we passed beautiful stretches of forest, idyllic hidden villages, and various groups of other holiday-makers setting out for kayaking trips on the river.

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Kayakers on the Iya River. Shot on iphone.

There are a few different vine bridges in this valley, but their origins are mysterious. What we do know is that to create the bridges, wisteria vines are grown so that they can span the width of the gorge and be woven into bridges with wooden planking. It’s speculated that the bridges originally date to the 1100s, and are currently maintained by local artisans. Some of them (including the one we crossed) are reinforced by wire and side rails, but that doesn’t make them any less thrilling to cross! The wooden planking is set 7 inches apart, so you can clearly see the river rushing four and a half stories below you. I thought it was pretty neat, but this tourist attraction is definitely not for those with a fear of heights.

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The vine bridge. Shot on iphone.

Our lunch that day was at a famous hotel near the river, and was a simple forest feast with various mushroom salads, grilled and fried root vegetables, and hearty soba noodles. The most delicious culinary surprise was shioyaki, a famous local delicacy. Shioyaki is a small fish that has been threaded on a skewer to look like it is swimming. It is then salted and grilled over charcoal. Squirt a bit of lemon on that bad boy and eat it off the stick like Golem in Lord of the Rings. Eating a whole fish feels a bit odd, and the bones are pretty crunchy, but it was pretty delicious!

 

After more time on the bus, in the afternoon we stopped in Mima for a stroll on Udatsu street, a historic street lined with Edo and Showa era buildings, some dating from the 1700s. It’s a quaint street that truly feels like stepping back in time, with some grand old houses and old-timey shops. I loved photographing the various vintage touches on these shop facades, like old postboxes and signs. It’s a pretty small street, so my friends and I also wandered off the main path to an idyllic stream and fantasized about which of the lofty old houses we would like to live in.

That evening we arrived in Tokushima for another dance festival, Awa Odori, the largest dance festival in Japan. Unlike the festival in Kochi, we had official seats in bleachers lining the street. You could tell this was a really big deal: everywhere we looked there were dance teams gathering, eating snacks and practicing steps, fanning themselves in the sweltering August heat to keep their makeup from running. We hastily bought some festival food and beer and found our seats.

The dancing at Awa Odori was a little different than what we had seen the previous night in Kochi. The Kochi festival felt more like a party, with more freedom given to the dance teams with regards to music and dance steps. In contrast, Awa Odori felt more official and organized, more like a parade, and surprisingly all of the teams did more or less the same steps to the same music. It is thought that this particular dance stems from a famous drunken party held in 1586 at the opening of Tokushima castle, and we know that by the 17th century the 3-day festival had been established. Nowadays, it’s quite a spectacle, attracting well over a million tourists each year with countless dance teams representing everything from theater groups to hospitals to cosmetic companies. It was fascinating to watch, but I admit I enjoyed the raucous atmosphere in Kochi more.

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A great example of some amazing hats and costumes at Awa Odori. Shot on iphone.

That night, we checked into another standard no-frills Japanese business hotel, and my coworkers and I went to a local izakaya together. Izakayas are traditional Japanese pubs, usually serving a wide menu of skewered meats, fried chicken, sashimi, and veggie sides like edamame and pickled cucumbers with a good selection of alcohol. The best izakayas are no-frills establishments that are open late with friendly servers and chatty locals. I love izakayas. They are simple, everyone can get what they want, and they are a great glimpse into Japanese culture.

It had been a truly remarkable day in Tokushima. While I’m not usually a tour bus person, and Japanese tour buses do come with their own unique set of annoyances (like the hostess who rambles on the microphone forever), I admit it was a great way to see many of the various delights that Tokushima had to offer. We had one day left, and thankfully there was still more magic to come.

Happy Travels,

Mo

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*The photos in this post, as in all my posts lately, are a mix of film and iphone photography. Click on the the thumbnails for more information and to see the photos enlarged.

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Winter Update

A bit has happened since I last posted. Life happens.

Almost immediately after I hit publish, I traveled in Thailand for 10 days. This was my second Asian country that I’ve visited after Japan- and I couldn’t imagine a starker contrast. Although closer geographically to Japan, the feeling I had in Thailand was much closer to how I felt while living in Turkey. That trip left quite the impression on me for many reasons, and I still can’t believe I haven’t found the time/energy/drive to write about it, but expect much on that to come!

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The Imperial Palace in Bangkok, Thailand.

While I was preparing for my trip to Thailand, I was also busy sprucing up my resume and applying to a ton of jobs in Tokyo. My current contract in Kanazawa will be up next month, and I felt that after a year in a small, slow, quaint place there would be no better contrast than to spend my second year in the biggest, fastest, most exciting city in the country. I had forgotten, though, just how much time and effort goes into applying for jobs, and by the time I boarded the plane for Bangkok I needed a vacation from my job-hunt.

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After Jobapplicationpalooza, I really needed this tropical beverage in paradise!

After weeks of effort, I ended up interviewing with only one school, a small, international kindergarten that seemed like a great fit. Less than a week after returning from Thailand, I took the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Tokyo for the weekend to do a demo lesson and observe classes at the school. It was a great weekend. I was reunited with my friends at Hostel Bedgasm, and had a grand city day, where I went shopping along Kappabashi “Kitchen Street”, drank coffee and read my book in an old-fashioned cafe filled with old men smoking and reading the paper, and took in an art exhibit at the Museum of Western Art in Ueno Park. Many times that day it occurred to me that this would be my life. That image was so glamourous, so enticing.

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Plastic fruit on Kappabashi Kitchen Street.
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Old man cafe in Tokyo.
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Interior at the Western Art Museum.

The interview went well. I liked the atmosphere and location of the school, and the students and other teachers were all nice. My demo lesson wasn’t the best, but I felt it had some strong points, and the principal and I had a great rapport and shared a lot of similar views on teaching, so I figured I was a strong contender. He told me they were still assessing their needs and had other candidates they were considering, and I would receive an answer in a few weeks.

Those weeks were agony. I wandered around in an agitated, distracted haze. I felt like my life was on hold. I couldn’t focus enough to write; I merely killed time. For three weeks! Then finally, I received an answer: my application had been rejected. Apparently they wanted someone with “more teaching ability”, whatever the fuck that means. Unfortunately for me, this was the only job I’d made it to interviews with, although I’d applied for 8. I’d thought that with my two years experience and valid work visa, I’d be a great candidate, but in Tokyo, the competition really is fierce!

Luckily, remaining longer at my job in Kanazawa is still an option, and a good one. I may still move to Tokyo, but with competition like that I’m not sure how hard I really want to try. As glamourous as living in Tokyo would have been, it would have been damn expensive and I would have had to start over. I really do like my life in Kanazawa, with my job and my apartment and my circle of friends and my schedule that gives me plenty of time for writing and drawing and walks along the river. If I stay I can actually save money, enough to do a bigger trip in Southeast Asia next year.

I don’t know about you, but for me changing plans and owning up to it, without feeling the need to justify my decision, has always been difficult, so this latest change of deciding to stay in Kanazawa when I’d had my heart set on Tokyo has been a good lesson for me. In fact, I hated changing my mind so much, that I even avoided committing to things, or telling people my future plans, or even making plans to begin with, which has a lot to do with my current lack of future life goals. I can talk about this subject a lot, and maybe I’ll save it for another post. I felt as though changing plans was a sign of failure, but hey, it’s my life. I can change my mind if I want to. And I still might do it again, who knows.

As good as I feel about deciding to stay, I still don’t like to be rejected, and I was definitely bummed when I got the news. Lucky for me, I had a big distraction: the Kanazawa Snowpocalypse. Now, Kanazawa is a city that is known for having snowy winters, but because of global warming, there has gradually been less over the years, and recently the snow that does fall has been more wet and slushy and melted away fairly quickly. Except for last week, when we experienced the biggest snowfall in 50 years. Overnight, my entire world changed, and was blanketed in white. My regular walk to work became a trudge on uneven, slippery ground, surrounded by strange, hilly lunar landscapes and rotund Dr. Seuss trees. My colleagues and I are pretty close to begin with, but nothing bonds a group of employees quite like days of shoveling the school parking lot together! At home, I was so tired and lazy from shoveling that I cooked easy meals like pasta and soup and watched a lot of Netflix (if you need recommendations, I can probably help you with that!)

There are still piles of snow by the side of the road, and some sidewalks are a bit treacherous, but the streets are clear and the temperatures are above freezing. Yesterday, while driving home in the late afternoon, it occurred to me that it was still daylight. It’s still winter, but somewhere ahead lies a glimmer of spring.

Kanazawa sure is lovely in the spring.

Happy Travels,

Mo

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