Saturday, August 16, 2008

Shikoku Day 3: Naruto

Day 3: Joe and I woke up early to have breakfast with the hostel managers and several other guests in the common area. It was a hearty breakfast of salad, omelets, toast and miso soup well worth the cost of about 600 yen ($6) a piece.

After that we blew some time skipping rocks on the beach before catching the bus back into Tokushima, where we went to the local international center to recruit an English speaker into finding us somewhere else to stay the next night. We managed to get a room at a local minshuku, lodging run by a private family. It amounted to an old building with several small private tatami bedrooms (meaning you sleep on a futon mat) and a shared bathroom (with Asian squat toilet, of course). Very Japanese. It was a two-minute walk from downtown and only ran us 6,000 yen ($60) for the night, less than we paid at the crappy hostel half an hour away. And with free air conditioning, bonus! We were quite pleased to get that lined up.

After a little exploring and shopping, we took a bus to the city of Naruto. This was yet another hour-long ride — as you've gathered by now, many of the sights in Shikoku are a bit spread out. Naruto is located at the eastern edge of Shikoku. A long suspension bridge connects the city to a nearby peninsula jutting out from Honshu, the main island of Japan. When the tide changes, the sea rushes through the channel with such force that it creates lots of large whirlpools. It's the sort of thing you'd expect to see in a cartoon, not in real life.

We got off the bus in front of a little souvenir shop. Joe went in to ask the shop clerk if she had a map so we could figure out how to walk to the place giving boat tours during the tide change. After a lot of wrangling in Japanese, we thought we understood that the lady was asking us to sit and wait five minutes. She made a phone call and seemed to say that someone would pick us up. So we bought some local caramels and sat on a bench in front of her shop. Showing the characteristic Japanese hospitality that we've come to appreciate, she brought us water and fans to combat the suffocating heat. Quite a while later no one had come by to pick us up, so I started talking to her again, only to figure out she'd actually said 50 minutes, not five. Oops. A little more waiting and finally a van came and picked us up. To our dismay, it shuttled us just a minute away, a distance we very easily could have walked ourselves. Oh well. We've become accustomed to miscommunications such as this by now.

Fifteen or 20 adults and kids trooped onto the boat with us at 2 o'clock and we motored out into the channel, passing a giant old fashioned ship like the kind you'd see in Pirates of the Caribbean or Goonies. Kinda neat.

The sea was quite rough around the bridge. It was as if the water was flowing in two opposing directions at once. The strange thing was looking out and seeing calm waters further away. It was like there was an invisible dividing line where the calm waters dissolved into the violent choppy waters that our boat was now traversing.

The whirlpools just sort of appeared from nowhere and developed into very distinct swirls, dipping down in the middle just like the water draining down your bathtub. It's an uneasy feeling to be riding the boat right next to these things. You feel as though the thing could just suck the boat in, even though you know that's silly. It was a gas. I really enjoyed it.

After motoring around for an hour or so, the boat returned to the dock. We hiked around a bit and admired the views over the sea before catching the bus back to Tokushima.

Then we were off for the second boat ride of the day. You can take free boat rides on a river through the city, so we figured why not. It's free!

On the way to the boats, we waged a narrow escape from King Kong:

I thought of you, Andy.

Though there really wasn't anything extraordinary to see from the river, it was a relaxing boat ride. When we weren't ducking our heads under the very low bridges, that is — yet another dangerous Japanese thing that wouldn't be allowed back in the U.S. I really love the Japanese for not being too uptight.

Our plan for that evening was to go to a short demonstration of the Awa-Odori dance that Tokushima is famous for.  Every year in mid-August, Tokushima hosts the Awa-Odori Folk Dance Festival. Thousands of people visit the city to watch the lively dancing of locals parading through the streets wearing distinctive straw hats and colorful yukata. If we hadn't been required to be in training sessions for work at that time, we might've timed our trip to see the festival, but as it was we were looking forward to seeing the dance demonstration at the Awa-Odori Museum. Unfortunately, it seemed inexplicably closed when we got there.

Disappointed, we figured we'd move on with other plans to ride the rope way that takes people from the museum to the top of the mountain behind the museum. We'd seen several advertisements for the rope way that pictured people gazing out over the sparkling city at night. But when we arrived at the rope way entrance, it too was closed. It wasn't even dark yet. We left pretty disappointed and confused.

It was a nice night, so we walked around town a bit. Drawn to the steady pounding of drums, we found several groups of townspeople practicing the Awa-Odori dance on the streets. So although we didn't get to see the dance with everyone in traditional dress, we did at least get a taste of it.

Eventually we went back to the minshuku for the night. Our misadventures were not done yet.

The old woman running the minshuku greeted us sweetly and laid out our futons for us. Joe was happy to hear that we were allowed to use the washing machine in the shower room. Both of us brought only a backpack with a few days worth of clothes on the trip, figuring we'd do a load of wash along the way.

The only problem was this washing machine was not like any washing machine we'd seen before. It had one compartment for washing and a separate, much smaller compartment apparently for spin drying the clothes.

When I emerged from the shower, Joe was busy pulling wet clothes out of the washer, which was still full of water, and wringing them out and setting them aside. The washer stopped without draining or rinsing the clothes, and he couldn't figure out how to make it proceed. He could've asked for help, except for one problem: he'd accidentally put the clothes he meant to put on after his shower in with the wash. So he had no clothes to wear out of the bathroom, and the towels provided to us were way to small to actually wrap around your body (everything Japanese is smaller). Rather than wait for me to retrieve him a pair of shorts and summon the lady for help, he just started trying to take care of it himself.

After I'd gone back to the room to get him his shorts and we were in the bathroom puzzling over the washer, the sweet old woman came to check on us. Joe stood there awkwardly without a shirt. The lady looked positively befuddled when she saw what was going on. I am sure she must have been thinking these gaijin were complete morons for managing to screw up something as simple as a load of laundry. After failed attempts at trying to communicate in Japanese, she finally told us to leave and said she'd take care of it (that much I understood). I'm pretty sure she was annoyed at having to deal with such nonsense. We both felt pretty bad.

After that I kept returning to the bathroom to check on the laundry. She placed half of it in the dryer once the load was finished and stuffed the other half into a plastic bag. Apparently the dryer wasn't large enough to dry an entire load (or maybe Joe overloaded the washer? Who knows.). That first half took an unusually long time to dry. At some point between my checks, she pulled it out and folded it and put in the second half to dry. It was still tumbling round and round after midnight, so we guiltily went to sleep and retrieved it very early in the morning before she could fold the rest of it.

I meekly presented her with a couple little boxes of Naruto caramels the next morning before we left in an attempt to smooth any ruffled feathers. I think that might have helped, though Joe and I still both felt like a couple of tools.

After breakfast at the Mr. Donut, we headed back to the train station.

From here, I'd originally hoped to move on to a little town called Minami-machi to see Nakabayashi Beach, a beautiful beach where sea turtles come ashore every year in late July and early August to lay their eggs. However, the town was an expensive two-hour train ride away and from what we could gather, there wasn't much else to see besides the beach and a turtle museum. We were told that the turtles only lay their eggs at night, but flashlights are prohibited at the beach, so it's very rare to actually catch a glimpse of the turtles. Knowing this, we decided to skip Minami-machi and just visit the sea turtles in the aquarium at the next destination on our itinerary.

So we boarded the train again and happily bid Tokushima farewell as we looked forward to our next stop: Kochi, home to beautiful beaches along the Pacific coastline.


Anonymous said...

$6 for breakfast? I think you need a new exchange rate calculator. Too bad you aren't running the BOJ...your slippage would have saved me a bundle on FOREX.

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Andy said...

I'm surprised the Japanese weren't more horrified of that King Kong. The last time King Kong came to Japan, he fought Godzilla to a draw. (That would, of course, be the 1963 classic "Godzilla vs. King Kong.")