Japan by Motorcycle

Day 2

July 30, 1999


Pine Covered Islands

Sendai, Matsushima and Iwate Prefecture

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Sayonara to Dochuan Youth Hostel    Breakfast at the Dochuan Youth Hostel in Sendai was at 7:30.  It was an extra charge but it left me with less to worry about in the morning and it was a good deal at only 600 (about $5).  I forgot what we had.  Typically a Japanese inn offers breakfast  items such as rice, miso soup and cold pieces of fish and, usually (but not always), western foods such as eggs, salad & rolls.  Although I got up relatively early, I didn't get the bike loaded and ready to go until after 10:30.  This being only my second time loading up, I did not yet have a routine.
    I headed back in to Sendai to take a look around during the day which had dawned sunny but was giving way to a typical summer haze.  I found the SS-30, a 30-story building which, according to the guidebook, is the tallest building in the city, and headed up to the View of Sendai View of Sendai observation floor.  The view bore some similarity to that of Tokyo with a crowded metropolis spreading out before the eyes except that, in this case, the metropolis ended within eyesight and sometimes ran into foot hills.   Also in contrast to Tokyo, a white statue of the goddess Kannon stood out against the horizon.  Yes, I was indeed out of Tokyo into the ne'er traveled northern regions of Honshu known as Tohoku.  After the brief stop, I headed out of the city for nearby Matsushima.
    Although the distance was short, traffic was surprisingly slow withBridge in Matsushima many traffic lights and a high density of cars on Route 4, seemingly the only main road available.  In an hour or so I arrived at the coastal spot.  Matsushima is a major tourist destination and is reputed to be one of the three most scenic spots in Japan.  The big draw is a small bay off the Pacific ocean in which is dotted over two hundred tiny, rocky islands.  Most of them are covered with pine trees, hence the name -- Matsu (Pine Tree) + Shima (Islands).Matsushima - I wuz here  Indeed, it was very scenic.  Although I was there during midday -- the least photogenic time -- I could see that it was one of those spots where a photographer would want to come back time and time again to capture its various faces -- sunrise, sunset, blue sky/blue ocean, misty evenings -- from countless angles.  Being stuck there during a hazy midday, I just took an "I was here shot" and a shot of the long pedestrian bridge that leads out to one of the bigger islands and left it at that.
    Equally intriguing as the bay and its islands was the nearby Zuiganji Temple.  The temple itself was fairly typical -- a National Treasure founded in 828 with current buildings dating back to 1605 blah blah blah -- however its grounds sported a line of chambers dug out of the rock face of a small cliff.  Some of them contained statuary.  Statues also sat in small carved areas nearby on one of the small islands, this one being easily reached via a small red bridge.  These features made the temple memorable and unique in my experience.  It was another place where one could spend a good amount of film trying to capture its spirit.

Zuiganji Temple and Environs in Matsushima
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Godaido Hall

Main Hall Railway Memorial

Statue of Buddha

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Stone Chambers

Cave-Dwelling Statues

    I left Matsushima around two in the afternoon and avoided the congested coastal highway by taking Route 346 which led inland towards Iwate Prefecture.  I stopped for a meal of chicken-katsu (breaded and fried chicken) in a small town called Nango.  It was mid-afternoon and I was the only customer.  If the proprietor -- a middle aged lady -- thought it unusual for a foreigner to be stopping in her establishment she didn't let on.  She left me to me own devices while I studied my maps and filled up my belly.  I was hoping to make it to Jodogahama, a notable scenic coastline according to the guide book, but it was looking a bit late for that.  Sunset comes early in Japan even in summer, earlier than I am used to anyway.
    I forged on as dusk approached and ran into a bit of rain around 6:30 or 7PM.  I was able to skirt the light precipitation by heading back towards the coast which was where I wanted to go anyway.  Darkness began to fall and just as I was looking for a construction site or suitable (if not legal) spot to make camp off of Route 397, I saw a sign for a camping area called Taneyama Kogen Camp-jo (Mt. Taneyama Plateau Camp Area).  The turnoff led me on an uphill road over a kilometer long which deposited me, according to a sign, at an altitude of 750 meters.  The camp area had cabins for rental as well as a car camp area -- just a field, really.  The office was manned and I was able to determine that the auto camp area was free.  My luck increased further when I found that their public bath was open and the cost was only 200.
    I picked a spot in the field that looked level and not too close to other campers.  I set up my little bivy tent using my headlamp for illumination and then grabbed my toiletries and headed back for a bath.  Being a hot summer weekend, there were three other car/tent campers (couples or young families), one other biker plus several of the cabins were occupied and people were enjoying themselves in typical Japanese (and American for that matter) fashion by grilling food, eating and drinking.
    I had the bath to myself for a while but was joined a little later by a guy who looked to be in his forties.  We greeted each other but didn't really speak much.  However, in the lobby where there was a rest/waiting area, he bought himself a beer from a vending machine and, against my weak protestations, one for me as well.  I learned that he was a local guy and just lived down the road.  I didn't ask why he didn't just bathe at home; public bathing in Japan is a long-standing tradition so it did not seem particularly unusual.  Even in Tokyo many people still frequent sento (public bath houses).  
    There was a junior high school aged boy with him and, if I understood him correctly, he said that he was his youngest daughter's kid and not his own.  I thought it odd since he looked a bit young to be a granddad but perhaps they start families young there as is common in rural communities the world over.  A girl and her mother came out of the women's bath and joined us.  The girl looked to be about high school age but both adults and both kids lit up cigarettes.  I guess they start everything earlier out there.  Although the dialect in Tohoku is supposed to be so thick that even Tokyo-ites can't understand it, we were able to communicate well enough though it was clearly a different accent even to my non-adept ears.  He must have been taking care to talk "standard Japanese" to me since I did have a more difficult time following conversation just among his family.
    Unlike most Japanese I've met, particularly those who make an effort to communicate with a "foreigner" such as myself, this Tohoku family (I never got their name) were not particularly inquisitive and left it to me to keep the conversational ball rolling by telling them something or asking questions myself.  Usually it's the other way around.  The guy offered to let me camp at his place, perhaps not realizing that the auto camp area is free anyway.  I declined since I had already set up my camp but it was a nice gesture and I truly appreciated the offer.
    After parting ways, I walked the short walk back to my camp site while enjoying the fresh air and beautiful night sky.  After living in Tokyo for so long, it had been a long while since I had seen such a beautiful starry sky.  I pulled out my backpacking stove and boiled some hot water for a meal of instant noodles of some type or other along with the convenience store snacks I had.  I had a couple of flashlights for use when needed including an extremely useful headlamp (don't want to go camping without it).  Even with the altitude, the temperature was still above 21 degrees (70F) and I went to sleep hoping that the temperature wouldn't take a sudden dive on me.

 

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Just The Stats

Day 2

Odometer

Time

Place Weather
Start: 44810 10:45 Sendai (Miyagi Pref.) Mostly Sunny/Hot
Finish: 45040 20:00 Iwate Pref. Campground Light Showers/Clear
 
Totals: 320km 9.5 hrs

Expenses

Gas: 800 Food: 2,300
Highway Fees: Campground: 200
Attractions: 1,100  

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Created: Feb 22, 2001
Last Updated: Apr 10, 2001

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