Goldfish lanterns, soy sauce and a bridge to blossoms

I have a fondness for goldfish and I love lanterns, so how could I resist combining the two? Today we caught the train to Yanai where Kingyo Chouchin, or paper goldfish lanterns, are made.

It was a journey of sniffles as Alex has given us his cold. I hate getting a cold in Japan, a country where blowing your nose is considered rude.

At least it was a sunny day and the mountain valley scenery outside the local railcar to Shin-Yamaguchi was prettier during the day than the previous night’s trip. The connections aren’t great at Shin-Yamaguchi and there was about half an hour’s wait to catch the Kodama Shinkansen to Tokuyama. The Kodama is an all stations train usually run by older versions of the Shinkansen. Not like the modern Type 700 that shot past us on the middle tracks, making a huge noise.

From the port of Tokuyama we changed to another local train for the ride to to Yanai. The train was packed and I had to stand up with Alex on my chest most of the way.

From Yanai station it was about a one kilometre walk to the main sites, a street of whitewashed Edo Period buildings. These sell crafts, crackers and other goods, though most were closed, presumably still on holidays. It was disappointing, especially because we couldn’t find anything to eat for lunch.

Close by was the Sagawa Shoyu-gura (soy sauce factory), a 200 year old enterprise where big round vats of soy are still fermented to make a variety of soy sauces. We bought some soy sauce for eggs and another for cherry blossoms, along with some natto.

Adjacent to the factory was a warehouse converted into a craft gallery. Here visitors can experience making traditional craft items for themselves, such as dyeing and weaving. I elected to make a goldfish lantern. Unfortunately, it isn’t about making the lantern from scratch, tying off the bamboo supports and dyeing the paper red and white. Here the body was already constructed, I just had to paint on the highlights and glue the fins. A child’s activity really, though the painting skills were a bit beyond me (but still better than the young kids across from me!).

Carrying the lantern delicately back with us, we returned to the train station for the next leg of our trip, to Iwakuni. It was a very pretty ride, with tracts along the coastline, islands and ships visible out in the ocean.

Iwakuni’s big sight is the Kintaro bridge, a wooden structure with multiple arches. It’s a fair distance from Iwakuni station, so we caught a bus there (route 21). Many coaches were parked on temporary riverbed parking near the bridge and lanterns were strung up along both river banks in preparation for the blooming of the cherry blossoms.

We crossed the bridge, paying the entry fee and found a festive scene, cherry blossoms and celebratory food. I had mitarishi dango, glutenous rice balls served hot and dipped in sweet soy sauce. Unfortunately, Alex was in a bad mood by this stage and we needed to go back to the hotel.

The bus ride continued on to Shin-Iwakuni, where we caught another Kodama Shinkansen to Shin-Yamaguchi. Another long wait there, and we were distracted by the various local sweets and foods available for purchase at the station. Each area of Japan specialises in certain products, making it fun to explore the shops at each large station.

We were tempted to stop at Yuda Onsen and try out one of the foot baths, but we were carrying too much baggage and a very tired son. As we walked back from Yamaguchi staton to our hotel we searched for food, but about the only open places were a few bars and a posh looking Italian restaurant. This city seems to close at 8pm. All we wanted was some fast food (Japanese style preferably) and we dared not take Alex into a restuarant.

We reached the hotel without success and I had to make a second trip out to a convenience store in search of pot noodles or something else suitable for dinner. I ended up with a hot dog roll containing yakisoba! At least there’s Japanese television to keep us amused, shows like The God of Entertainment and the best show in the world (according to the intro): Honey Coming. And a son who smiles when you take him out of the Baby Bjorn and lay him on his back. What more could you ask for?

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