A temple, a castle, the seaside and a garden

“I don’t want the Japanese set. You can have it. You can order a western set for me.”

Yes, okay, I wanted the Japanese set anyway.

That was breakfast, but we’re all sharing the Japanese set today.

The Temple – Eiheiji

I had thought of hiring a car to get around, but there is a lack of availability and then I’d have to deal with navigation and parking. So we go to the tourist information centre and get bus timetables. My plan is doable via public transport.

First is what feels to be a tour bus, but isn’t, to Eiheiji, the well known temple complex in the hills. It’s a very pretty ride out through the countryside of yesterday, then up into the mountains.

The Eiheiji temple complex is ve beautiful. With both Alex and I forgetting to wear long pants and with no immediate desire to study Buddhism, we don’t actually enter the temple buildings and undergo the compulsory instruction. Instead we wander the outer grounds. Bright green moss carpets the ground, while tall trees shade it. A stream flows through the valley and small shrines abound.

We ring the bell, listen to the reverberations fade away to nothing. B. Is afraid of the cemetery at the end of the path, but I like the peace there. Only the wind, the running water of the stream and the waterfalls and the quiet laughter of a small group of Japanese visitors can be heard.

But it is time to return to catch the next bus.

Maruokajo – Castle

A minibus drives us back down the valley the way we came, before turning off into the flats of the rice paddies and villages. It is rare for us to go by road like this in Japan and I love seeing the local life up close. In these tiny nowhere places I like to imagine being stuck and trying to find something to do. And I see tiny things, a small park, a little cafe, a view, that is somehow more special by their size.

Our destination, Maruoka Castle, is a case in point. Rising incongruously up from the flat townscape, a small hill topped by an equally miniature castle surrounded by trees.

The bus drops us off at the base. There is a restaurant and omiyage store and a little stand selling ice creams. We buy a sakura flavoured soft serve ice cream, then ascend to the top of the hill.

Maruokan castle is one of the twelve originals across Japan. They include the massive Himeji, but also some tiny castles like Hikone-jo and Maruoka-jo, with its.three story main keep.

What Maruoka-jo lacks in size, it makes up for in steepness. The stones steps leading up to the entrance are steep enough, but then the two sets of interior stairs are are at an even higher angle, equipped with knotted ropes to help.

The wooden interior lacks much in the way of signage, but the views of the surrounding town and plains is enough. We watch a Shinkansen racing across the new tracks, the same ones we will use tomorrow.

A strong warm breeze whips the air and shakes the cherry trees outside, blowing the last of the petals away. It would have been wonderful to view the blossoms a week ago.

Tojimbo – Seafood

We return to the base and catch the next bus to Awara Onsen’s fancy new Shinkansen station. There is a restaurant and souvenir store inside, a good option for lunch of we weren’t saving ourselves. Upstairs is a children’s play area and interactive display of local information, all in Japanese.

The next bus driver is garrulous and cheerful. We head out through the countryside, before finally meeting the beautiful coast. Now a car would have been good, allowing us to stop where we liked.

The Tojimbo cliffs are very much a typical Japanese tourist experience. There is a big, scruffy concrete tower overlooking the area and seafood restaurants and omiyage shops line the main street.

It’s beyond lunch time and the big breakfast has well and truly worn off. Both Alex and B are obsessed with seafood. We order a bowl of local sashimi, grilled Fukui crab and grilled squid, along with bowls of miso and crab soup.

Aside from the crab meat (two small crabs, shared) and rice, there’s not much I eat. Good for the diet. The others are utterly stuffed afterwards.

The ice cream lady attempts to convince us to buy their number one hit squid ink flavoured ice cream, but we’ve fallen for that before and get a melon one.

The hexagonal pillars of dark grey andesite stank out from the eroded sedimentary coastline. A sightseeing boat disgorges.passenger, docked in a narrow crevice of a bay. The sea shimmers silver grey in the hazy afternoon sun.

An abandoned restaurant sits above another coastal crevice, showing signs of a landslide below.

It would be lovely to explore this coast at leisure, and to head back to Oshima, an island connected by a long red wooden bridge. But it’s late and most of the shops are closing as we walk back to the bus stop.

Yoyokan – Gardens

We get off the bus at Mikuniminato Station, the terminus of the Echizen Railway’s line of the same name. It’s a gorgeous station, old, wooden, with flowers and a cherry tree.

As.we ride back to Fukui we pass through mirror like rice paddies, stopping at towns to pick up school students returning home.

At our arrival in Fukui we have completed both lines of this railway.

There is one more stop in my Fukui bucket list. From the station, we walk past the remains of Fukui castle. The inner most and rock walls remain, but they are topped with an modern buildings, where the ruler is the city government.

Hidden away, further along, are the Yoyokan gardens and villa. There are several paths, but one leads around the large central pond, over stone bridges and by monuments and a lovely little wooden tea house by the water. As in a proper Japanese garden, much of the beauty comes from little vignettes and different perspectives of the scene.

The best of these views is from inside the villa itself. With shoes off we sit on the tatami, the screens open to allow the evening breeze to pass through the interior. It would be easy to fall asleep here.

Fukui – Trams

A bonus activity, just for me. While B and Alex take dinner at Saizeriya, I catch the tram from from Fukui Station to Tawaramachi. For no good reason, other than being a Melbourne boy. I enjoy the ride along the dark city streets, flecks of rain of the windows distorting the lights and signs.

We passed through Tawaramachi Station on the Echizen Railway earlier in the evening and there doesn’t seem to be much there, so I catch the tram back again with a bunch of school kids. One day I’d like to go all the way down to Takefu.

There is lightning flashing in the distance. The Seibu department store’s goes dark, just as we turn the corner. The shops close early here.

I have my own dinner of local pork and salad, much better than chain food and no more expensive.

Manten Hotel – Bath

The only appropriate way to end a Japanese day is to soak in a hot bath. I choose not to have a free bowl of ramen afterwards, instead doing a wash in the coin laundry. It is an inauspicious way to end a Japanese set.

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