Trip to Shoda-shima...

Trip Start Feb 26, 2007
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Trip End Jun 16, 2007


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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Should I stay or should I go? That`s the debate that`s been occupying my mind for the past couple of weeks. I would categorically decide to go home as planned, only for a girl to walk past in a delightfully short miniskirt, as if tempting me to stay. Conversely, I would decide to stay and look for a job, only for a cyclist to nearly clatter into the side of me whilst I was legitimately walking on the pavement. Yet sometimes the cyclist in question would be wearing a delightfully short miniskirt, adding to the confusion...

It was a comical incident on Sunday morning that finally made me think "F**k this, I`m going home!" I was due to be heading north to Takamatsu on the train, and I had my timetable printed out as usual, with the first train leaving at 10.39am. No problem then, I just strolled through the ticket gate and had a look at the board to see which one was leaving at that exact time, and made my way to the appropriate platform. Everything was written in kanji, but I couldn`t go wrong because in a smallish station, it was unlikely that more than one train would be leaving at 10.39am. How wrong can one person be...

An hour later and everybody got up and departed the train, which I found odd as my first change wasn`t due for at least another hour. When I saw the driver approaching, I knew exactly what had happened, and the flabbergasted look on his face when I said "Takamatsu" confirmed it...I`d got on the wrong train! He showed me a map and I was now in the south-west of Shikoku, when I actually wanted to be in the north-east! I found the whole thing hilarious, which surprised me as it`s the kind of thing that would usually annoy me, but I think in this instance I ruefully looked upon it as being the final straw - it`s time to go home and see the family, speak a bit of English, and most importantly...eat some beans on toast!

I ended up getting the coach to Takamatsu after all that, but I felt a lot more at ease when I arrived there knowing that I`d reached a final decision. It was also nice to get off the coach and immediately see my accommodation for the next two nights, meaning that I didn`t have to carry my backpack very far. The Takamatsu Station Hotel turned out to be spot on, and I was looking forward to sleeping in a proper bed after six nights in Japanese-style accommodation...

I woke up early on Monday morning as I had a busy day ahead, beginning with a thirty minute boat journey across to Shoda-shima. I was really excited about this because the scenery was supposed to be stunning, and as there literally wasn`t a cloud in the sky, it was all set to be a great day...

It took a bit of organising when I actually got to the island because again, nothing at all was in English. I had an hour before the next bus was due though which enabled me to get a route together, with the help of the guy at the information desk who wrote down place names for me in kanji - there was no way that I was going to get complacent twice in as many days!

The bus slowly wound its way up into the central mountains, and the views were magnificent...this is when I`m at my happiest, surrounded by grand scenery and lovely peace and quiet...it simply cannot be beaten.

I really wanted to visit the monkey park en route to Kanka-kei, and by chance the bus actually had a scheduled 45 minute stop there, allowing me to go and have a wander. The monkeys were so accustomed to people that they barely batted an eyelid as I walked past, with a mother not in any way threatened by my presence despite feeding her adorable baby. It was great to see the monkeys just running around everywhere, completely free, and I got harrassed by one of them up near a small temple. He came and sat right next to me and gave me a few quizzical looks, but didn`t seem to appreciate having his photograph taken, and I decided to leave him to it when he started showing his teeth at me...

We had a brief stop at a stunning lookout next, where the driver insisted on talking to me in Japanese despite it being blatantly obvious that I didn`t understand. We were the only two people there though, and to be fair he did take a couple of good photographs of me, and he also pointed out and named all the mountains in the distance. I would be visiting the uniquely-shaped Yashima later in the day...

I got off the bus when it reached the 612-metre high point of Kanka-kei, and went for a stroll around the park which was home to some incredible lookouts. My makeshift memory card only holds about fifty photographs and I was in danger of filling it up less than halfway through the trip, especially when I boarded a cable car that descended through a spectacular valley down to Kountei - it was already turning out to be a special day.

I`d bought a one-day bus pass on arrival in Shoda-shima, so I was able to travel around the island without worrying about the cost, and did so until I arrived back at the ferry terminal mid-afternoon. With the weather as clear as it was, it had been a perfect few hours, and the next few weren`t too shabby either...

After arriving back at the ferry terminal, I boarded a couple of trains that soon brought me to the base of Yashima, a 293 metre high plateau formed from volcanic lava. I`d planned on taking the funicular railway to the top but I found the station to be completely deserted, with no sign of life whatsoever. I couldn`t even find anyone in the street to ask what was happening, such was the town`s tranquility...

I`d read about Shikoku-mura, a village museum with traditional buildings brought from all over Shikoku and neighboring islands, and decided to pay it a visit since it was only a five minute walk from the apparently defunct funicular railway. The woman at the ticket office confirmed as much, but did provide me with a map showing a walking route to the top of Yashima, so I decided that I`d tackle the hike after browsing around the openair museum...

I`m not normally a museum fan, but this one was really interesting since it was outdoors for a start, and had original buildings as opposed to replicas. The fact that there were no schoolchildren there (or indeed, anyone else at all) was the icing on the cake! There was an old bridge made of vines and bamboo that crossed a pond to a traditional Kabuki theatre, and it was fun (although a little nerve-wracking) edging slowly over it. The Sato Shime Goya, with its conical thatched roof, was also interesting to see, and overall I was glad to have visited, even if it was by default.

It was gone 5pm at this point, and I`d been advised that it would take about an hour to hike up to the plateau, so I needed to get a move on. It was hard work to be totally honest, probably because I`d not had time to eat much on what had been a busy day, but the energy drinks from the abundant vending machines were keeping me going. The weather was also still on my side, which always motivates me as I anticipate what the view from the summit will be like...

Once again, I wasn`t disappointed as the views across Takamatsu and out to the Inland Sea were superb. I couldn`t believe that I`d seen so much amazing scenery on a single day, and all that I needed now was a glorious sunset to top it all off, but I couldn`t be that lucky, could I? Well the answer is yes, because I eventually reached a lookout which was perfectly positioned to see the sun setting over the islands in the ocean, making the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, and confirming that it had been one of my best days in Japan so far.

The next morning, after storing my backpacks in a locker at the station, I had a walk to Ritsurin-koen, the largest garden in Japan at 750,000 square metres. Again it was a scorcher of a day, and as I was in no rush to leave Takamatsu, I enjoyed a leisurely stroll around the vast grounds, observing the many ponds, bridges and waterfalls along the way.

Should I return to Japan for an extended spell, then Takamatsu is very high up on the list of places where I`d like to live...
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