Japan 2010–Day 14


I woke up in time to watch sunrise paint the distant mainland pastel pink and the beach just below fluorescent orange.



While meditating, I felt a serenity that recalled moments by the stove in the morning before our young children started stirring for the day. When I opened my eyes, I noticed that the wind had come up and a small boat was coming ashore.


Four men walked down a little gangplank, two dressed in the white flowing robes and black headdresses of Shinto priests.  They stuck  cut saplings into the sand, but only through the telescopic viewfinder on my little camera could I see what else they were up to: making an offering of small dishes, bowing and praying.


Then, leaving one man behind at the boat, the others walked off down the beach and disappeared behind a row of trees.


I felt as if the ritual had been carried out just for my benefit, an invitation to the great Itsukushima shrine we were about to visit.  After fifteen minutes back they marched, climbed into the boat and headed out into the waves.


The ryokan hotel ushered the six of us out punctually at 10:00 A.M.  We checked bags at the ferry terminal and mingled with the crowds browsing the dense cluster of shops and restaurants that by now was an expected adjunct of every large temple.


We made no effort to resist taking portraits framed by familiar features of the floating shrine.




Promenading along its winding wooden arcades suspended above the high tide reminded me of the dreamlike sensation of wandering in Venice.  Here too there were arched bridges, tree-lined canals, and plazas that opened on an unending succession of towers and altars.




The shrine’s identifying artifact was a rice paddle, supposedly invented here.  As I took a photo of Jan buying several of these wooden gifts packed in beautiful boxes for only two dollars each from a pretty young monk, one of her colleagues exclaimed “no pictures please,” and  I felt ashamed but triumphant.


The three couples went separate ways and kept reassembling with wondrous exclamations: Look at that¦and that¦and that¦




However we had a schedule to follow.  We stopped for a lunch of the local specialty”a kind of cabbage omelet.


Marie gave Jan a lesson in reading kanji instead of paying attention to the hour, so  back in Hiroshima we missed the Shinkasen that would take the two of us to Fukuyama in time to catch the hotel shuttle heading for our anniversary hideaway in Tomonoura. Emma phoned and told them we’d catch the next train forty minutes later, they said OK, but when Jan and I got there, no shuttle was to be found. Instead, Stephen’s friend Kayoko, who’d made the reservation, phoned us extremely upset to say the hotel phoned her to say they wouldnt wait. We assured her we could find the way ourselves.  This was the only time during the trip we’d been left to our own devices, and I enjoyed trying with sign language to get five people on the bus to interpret between us and the driver, who couldn’t understand that we simply wanted to get off at the last stop.

Our destination, which we’d selected from the guidebook a couple of months earlier, was Tomo no ura, a small village on the coast. We learned from an internet site that this last well-preserved ancient port had  been slated for large-scale demolition by a government plan to run a highway and bridge project through its center and was recently rescued by efforts of local activists.

Fish fresh from the incoming boats were displayed on the sidewalks skewered through the eyes, eagles fluttered  above the docks, small wooded islands just offshore paraded in front of one another as we walked along the embankment, and little temples and gardens perched on rock outcrops thrusting above the street.




The hotel, along with several others built in the 1960’s, was out of scale, and its jagged rectangular profile disrupted the rest of the village’s waterfront views, but our room’s was unimpeded.  Dinner was specialties of the region”at least eight varieties of fish: raw, smoked, dried, barbequed, spiced, pickled and sweetened.  We found the rubbery-slimey texture of baby squid beyond our tolerance, but we ate everything else including julienned and sauteed jellyfish, which tasted a bit like grilled onions. Bathing in the hotspring tubs on the top floor deck brought our festive day to luxurious conclusion.



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