Saturday, February 26, 2005


My weekend in painstaking detail

After an impressive stint of 11 days straight I was relieved to have some time off work at long last, and a four-day weekend to boot. Nice! Just in the nick of time too- I was starting to get more agitated in my classes and I suspect that one more day of work would have led to some degree of violence on my part.

In accordance with my pledge to do more exploration of Japan this year, I clambered onto the 7.15 am bus to Okayama yesterday morning; this despite having only gone to bed about three hours previously. Upon arrival in Okayama I deposited my bag and, pausing only to wolf down a breakfast triple cheese burger set, hopped on a train for the scenic town of Fukuyama.

This was where things went a little awry, a secondary consultation of my guidebook (when I was three-quarters of the way to Fukuyama, natch) informed me that it was not a scenic town at all. It was, by all accounts, a bit of a hell hole.

Further examination of my guidebook revealed that my original mistake had been caused by a couple of pages being stuck together and I actually wanted to go to a place called Takahashi, which was in a completely different direction. Damn it!

Unperturbed, I changed trains a few times and- eventually- got to Takahashi.

My reason for visiting this place was the promised lack of tourists and the gruelling hike up to Bitchu Matsuyama Castle (pictured below,) the highest castle in Japan, apparently.

the castle that tourism forgot

"Lack of tourists" was bang on the money: the only other living soul I saw up there was the geezer who sold me my ticket for admission. It was well worth the effort though, for the tranquility of the place if not for the quality of conversation. Absolute silence is not something I experience often in Osaka.

After a speedy descent of the mountain and a train back to Okayama, I was faced with the dilemma of where to spend the night, settling eventually for the Hollywood capsule hotel and sauna, which had the very significant bonus of being a five minute walk from the station, as I was bloody knackered by this time.

This was my first time in a capsule hotel and it was pretty good fun and a good opportunity to brush up on my Japanese conversation skills. I don't mind someone asking me if I have a girlfriend, I don't even particularly mind them leering obscenely as they do so; if it's a wrinkly, naked old man who's blatantly sitting too close to you in the hot tub... well, that's a different matter.

After steaming a kilogram out of myself in a little under half an hour (the only way I can usually shed weight that quickly is through injudicious consumption of fruit) it was dinner time. Another visit to Wendy's and another triple cheese burger set and I decided to stroll around and explore for a bit before bedding down.

Within 50 seconds of leaving Wendy's I was firmly convinced that the station area is not the most reputable bit of Okayama. I was just marvelling at quite how many Yakuza I was seeing when one of them stopped and decided to have a conversation with me. I could tell he was Yakuza because of the missing pinkie finger- dead giveaway, really. Anyway, I kept calm and gave him directions to the station (which was what he wanted, apparently.) He thanked me profusely and insisted on shaking my hand, which was an interesting sensory experience to say the least. Invigorated by this, I instantly bought a few beers from the local convenience store, drained them and headed back to the hotel for more sauna tomfoolery before bed.

My capsule was comfortable enough, but it certainly wasn't designed for a 6'2" gaijin.

On waking this morning, I checked out, stuck my bag in the station, went to Wendy's again, then went in search of Okayama's famous castle and gardens. They were pretty good, but I was pretty tired and it was time to head back to Osaka.

Overall, it was a nice break and I still have another day off tomorrow! There'll be plenty of pics on my photos page when I get my film developed.

For the record, the sense of serenity that I'd developed away from the bustle of Osaka evaporated the moment I got on the subway.

I think you've found your mecca, Bitchu, ya' bitch.
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