Japan by Motorcycle

Day 19

August 16, 1999

Limestone, Pottery and Small-Town Fireworks

Hiroshima and Yamaguchi Prefectures

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    I awoke to the rustling of my neighbors.  I was in a crypt -- er, capsule hotel -- in Hiroshima where each person is allotted a box just big enough to sleep in.  They were stacked two-high in a hushed, carpeted corridor.  This place has a different feeling to it, probably because the only frame of reference I have for a scene like this is a morgue.  But once I was ensconced in my little cubby hole I did not feel uncomfortable, not even claustrophobic.  There was no door, just a curtain, but the noises of my neighbors -- a TV there, snoring there -- were muted enough to not bother me.
    I left the capsule hotel at 8:00 and made it to the place where I was meeting my friend, Sachiko.  Sachiko is a lovely girl whom I had met a couple years before on another trip to Hiroshima.  She had been outside the Peace Museum on a bench reading and I was there escorting two visitors from the U.S.  Sachiko and MyselfMy friend Chris was like a kid in a candy store on that trip as he realized how receptive young Japanese women are to overtures by Americans like himself.  So Chris initiated a conversation with her, we all had lunch together and I've kept in touch ever since.  At the time Sachiko was a university student and was happy to find somebody to practice English with.
    During our too short time together at breakfast we caught up as best we could.  Sachiko is in the work force now working for a sake brewery and seemed to be happy.  Ah, to be in my early twenties again...
    We parted company before 10:00 and I headed out of the city.  I took the expressway for a quick 50km boost before getting back on the secondary roads.  I followed Route 376 to Yamaguchi and then headed north towards Akiyoshi-dai.  The area had very light traffic and generally spacious roads.  At one point I was going around 90km/hr and had been increasing my speed because a car was tailing me pretty close.  Then, the next time I looked, the car had fallen back quite a bit.  Before I had any time to contemplate what that might mean, a motorcycle cop with his lights on had pulled up behind, then beside me.  I slowed down and put my blinker on, sure that I had been nailed.  Without stopping, he told me to slow down via his loudspeaker and then took off ahead of me.  Whew.  Close call!  I had never received a traffic violation in Japan and I preferred that it stayed that way.
    Akiyoshi-dai is a large tableland area of rolling hills spotted by limestone outcroppings.  From a distance it looks like there are sheep grazing but it's really just many small boulders and stones.  Probably in Ireland or Scotland this area wouldn't warrant a second glance but in Japan the area is unique and unusually broad and spacious.  In addition, there are many caves throughout, including Akiyoshi-dou, famous for its size of over 10km.  A portion of it is open to visitors but I skipped the tour.  The guidebook didn't make it sound like it was worth the time or $10 entrance fee and I had already toured a cave on this trip in Tohoku on Day 3.
    I had curry rice for lunch in the souvenir/observation building.  The shop here had many limestone figurines for sale.  I bought a little marble daruma (limbless Buddhist priest doll) because he was unique and I hadn't seen anything like him elsewhere in Japan.  Lunch was followed by a natsu-mikan (summer tangerine) flavored soft ice cream, a flavor I hadn't seen elsewhere in Japan.

Akiyoshi-dai Plateau


Akiyoshi-day and Tangerine Ice Cream


    The distance to Hagi was just ten miles and I arrived there by mid-afternoon.  Hagi is famous for its Hagi Wallpottery style known as hagi-yaki and for many historical sites from its feudal past.  It contains the ruins of Hagi Castle, old samurai quarters, other old merchant houses, and several notable shrines and temples.  Sad to say, I had had enough of "historical sites" for the time being.Hagi Castle Moat  Besides taking a picture of my motorcycle next to an old "samurai" wall and of the old castle moat, I skipped the historical sites entirely.
    I found the Hagi style of pottery to be very beautiful.  According to Lonely Planet, it is considered to be second only to Kyoto's style.  Hagi Pottery ShopIt is a style originating in Korea that is distinctive for its fine glazes.  Many pieces looked like they had a delicate covering of marshmallow creme.  Even without food on them, one gets an urge to lick the plate!  The prices varied widely.  One lady proprietor gave me a short education in hagi-yaki and showed me the difference between pieces produced by gas furnace firing and those produced by firing for three days in a wood-burning kiln.  I bought a few pieces and had them shipped back to Tokyo.  Don't ask me why, but Hagi pottery can also seemingly be used to make a comfortable bed for cats (see photo).
    By the time I left Hagi it was 5:00PM.  It looked like good weather would continue so I decided to go as far as I could before finding a place to camp.Sea of Japan Camp  Sea of Japan CampI made it 40 or 50 kilometers from Hagi before stopping at a campground located off Route 191.  The sunset wasn't spectacular but I was afforded a pretty picture of pastel colors that only nature can provide.  This was accompanied by the calm, lapping sound of the Sea of Japan only a few short meters away.  Wonderful.
    I asked the proprietor of the campground about the whereabouts of an onsen in which I could wash up and soak my weary body.  He gave me directions into nearby Hohoku-machi.  He also informed me that there would be fireworks in town later that evening for the bon holiday.  The onsen he directed me to was mediocre and a on the expensive side at 800 ($7) but it sure felt good.  There was a good size supermarket nearby and I picked up some vittles to take back with me.
    On the way back I stopped at the little harbor where the bon festival was in full swing.  The festival was so small that there weren't any food or game stalls like I've seen at virtually every other Japanese festival that I've been to.  Small Town FireworksThe towns people were doing bon-odori, a slow, kind of ritualistic circle dance.  In the dark, it looked almost tribal.  If I ignored the electric lighting and other trappings of modern civilization, I could almost imagine I was seeing something that no other white person had seen before.  Small Town FireworksThis thought was completely erased, however, when I saw a white girl dancing in the crowd along with the others.  Before I could contemplate her presence -- English teacher?  home stay? -- the dancing was over and it was time for the fireworks.
    The crowd numbered probably no more than a hundred people, less than you'd find in front of Shibuya station on any given weekend.  The fireworks were, of course, not as spectacular as the bigger displays but were certainly a pleasure to watch.  Particularly since I was easily able to get a front, waterfront seat.  I had my tripod and cable release all ready to try to capture the experience.
    When the crowd broke up, I ran into the white girl and found that she was, indeed, the local JET.  She was there to teach English at the local schools for one or two years via a government exchange program.  I believe she was from the Midwest.  Perhaps Ohio, I don't remember now.
    Back at camp, I settled down for the night.  I don't remember when or what I ate or even whether or not I pulled out my camp stove.  I wrote in my diary for a little bit but stopped so that I could soak in the night sky and sounds of the ocean before I drifted off to sleep.


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Just The Stats

Day 19



Place Weather
Start: 49630 8:00 Hiroshima, Hiroshima Pref. Sunny/Hot
Finish: 49950 18:00 Hohoku-machi, Yamaguchi Pref. Clear/Warm
Totals: 320km 10 hrs


Gas: 850 Food: 2,800
Highway Fees: Campground: 500

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Created: Feb 22, 2001
Last Updated: Dec 4, 2002

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