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. My
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
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
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
The distance to Hagi was just ten miles
and I arrived there by mid-afternoon. Hagi is famous for
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
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. It
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.
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. The
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. This
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