Sunday, September 26, 2010

Shikoku Bus Tour

Hmm... Organized bus tours... I'd say they're really not my cup of I was on a bus with 45 Japanese people taking a four-day, 900-plus-mile (1500km) tour. The tour bus left from Osaka and set out to drive the perimeter of Shikoku island (shown in pink), which is a large island west, southwest of Osaka:

It was interesting to be with the large group for a few days. I managed to get some laughs out of them several times during the trip just by being the goofy foreign guy. Here's the group at one of our first stops. Note the guide/leader with the flag at the front of the line:

Shikoku means "four countries" (they were formerly independent kingdoms but are now prefectures) and is the smallest and least populated of the four main Japanese islands. It's probably best known in Japan for its famous 88-temple pilgrimage, which I'll write about in my next post. As with a lot of the coastline of Japan that I've seen (that isn't port), Shikoku had lots of pretty beaches and great views. The bus stopped at several over the course of the trip. Of all the pictures I took of the beaches, I ended up liking this one of a small island with the Torii gate. Very peaceful and very relaxing.

Towards the end of the first day, we stopped in Aki, which has several famous folks counted among it's current and former residents. This is the house where Yataro Iwasaki grew up. He was the founder of the company that eventually became the Mitsubishi Group.

The morning of day two found us visiting a Ryoma Sakamoto statue in Kochi. Ryoma is a interesting and impressive guy. To a great extent, he was responsible in the mid-1800s for the push to modernize Japan away from its feudal past. Ryoma's also credited with being the mentor of Iwasaki (above) while the two lived in Nagasaki as well as being the first Japanese person (along with his wife) to go on a honeymoon. He's pretty much everywhere in Japan right now (especially in Shikoku, Nagasaki, and Kyoto where he lived for at least a little while) partially due to a current, super-popular TV series. I have a few pictures of me behind various Ryoma cardboard cut outs (the ones where you stick your face through a hole where the character's face should be). In a more respectable way, here I am in front of the statue:

Later, during the second day, we stopped for a boat ride on the Shimanto river, which is the longest river in Shikoku. The river apparently periodically floods so they've built many of the bridges that cross it with no railings to reduce the likelihood that they'll wash away. It was interesting, to say the least, to watch cars drive across them. The boat guide/driver was full of old-guy jokes and the brief ride ended up being fun. Here are some of my bus mates on the boat:

Our next-to-last stop on day two was in Ashizuri, which is famous for another native son. In 1841, a fisherman was shipwrecked near the area and a passing American whaling ship picked him up. The man, who was later known as John Manjiro, became the first Japanese person to visit America. He lived there for about ten years eventually returning during Japan's closed period when doing so resulted in death. Manjiro not only was spared execution on his return but ended up serving as the official translator (as the only Japanese person who also spoke English) when Admiral Perry's black ships forced Japan to open itself up to the world.

We stopped at this underwater viewing spot. You pay about $5 U.S. to enter then walk down about 40 steps to look out at some local fish while the staff feeds them from above. It's not super exciting but it was definitely different. By the way, it's a pretty strange looking thing (the building too):

Day three's stops included one at a mountain-top wind farm that had some nice ocean views. I've been to other wind farms but the sound the blades make as they spin is always surprising.

The afternoon stop was in Uchiko town, which is located towards the western end of Shikoku. It used to be a wealthy town that was famous for wax and paper manufacturing. The main street has been preserved to look as it did during the town's peak about 100 years ago.

I came across this poster for kid's sumo wrestling, which I thought was funny and cute:

Near the old area of Uchiko is this large statue of a sleeping buddha, which, apparently, appears on no tourist information about the town, including the English map that I picked up. The perspective of this photo doesn't really show you how big the statue is. My guess is that his feet alone are about four-feet long. It's pretty big...

Our last day was spent mostly driving across northern Shikoku back to Osaka. The highlight of the day (and one of the highlights of the trip) was a visit to the Konpira shrine. This beautifully located shrine is on a forested hill at the end of the approximately 1,800 steps that it takes to reach. It's quite a hike and I noticed that only the heartiest of the bus group made the trek to the top. Here's the view not too far from the top:

The bus tour ended up being lots of fun even though I really couldn't understand most of what was said by the guide. It was definitely a great chance to spend some time with some locals and see a part of Japan that I probably wouldn't have ever gotten to see otherwise.

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