Tsuwano go there

It is such a struggle getting out of the hotels on time. We had to race down the main strip of Yamaguchi in the rain rolling our bags noisily behind us in order to reach the station in time for our train to Tsuwano.

It’s the first day of wet weather on this trip, which messed up the photos of this beautiful route up through the mountain valleys of bamboo and pine forests. Little towns dotted the landscape with the cherry trees just beginning to blossom. Now and then a puff of pink was visible high in the mountains where the odd cherry tree had sprouted amongst the pines.

The distance between Yamaguchi and Tsuwano is less than an hour on the fast diesel express train. There were advertisements and souveniers everywhere for the Steam Locomotive that plies the route during the warmer months, but unfortunately it will start next weekend.

It was good to note that the Super Oki Express may be small, but it does have decent change table facilities onboard, unlike some of its more prestigious cousins.

Lugging our roller bags up the stairs of Tsuwano station was a bit of an ordeal, but thankfully they had a couple of large coin lockers. The station Kiosk shop gives change as the lockers only take multiples of 100 Yen.

After collecting a map from the friendly tourist information office adjacent to the station (look out for the informative wall map drawn by local school students) we set out to explore the town that dubs itself the Little Kyoto of San-in.

The town itself seemed dead, at least around the train station. I love such places, though the near solitude only lasted until we approached the Tonomachi, the historic main street. There were crowds, there was cheering. It was the finish line for a marathon through the mountains.

Behind the crowds, situated at the entrance to the Tonomachi, was a small Catholic church surrounded by pretty pink cherry blossoms. The street itself was lined with canals of running water. On one side of the street the canal contains the largest carp that you will ever see. Some black, some gold, orange, white, speckled. One in particular had a very amusing habit of surfacing, taking in air, then leisurely blowing bubbles on the way back down.

We walked to the end of the Tonomachi, to the edge of the Tsuwano river where statues of two dancers in crane costumes stood against the backdrop of the cherry blossom lined waters. Across the road was a concrete torii under which the marathon participants were running, and a small park containing stone lanterns and more cherry blossoms.

We walked under the torii and past a Shinto shrine with a beautiful garden in front, a tanuki (Japanese racoon dog) statue peering cheekily out from the waters.

Beyond the Yasaka shrine is the entrance to the Taikodani Inari Jinja temple. The corridors of red and black torii are the well known signature of Inari shrines. Here, the torii wound themselves up the hill and through the forest. We’d made it this far and we had plenty of time, so we decided to climb the steps up.

Though it was not close to the grandeur of Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Shrine, it was nevertheless a nice, though tiring, walk in the mists of this grey and wet day. We made it to the bright red and white temple at the top, to be greeted with the loud sound of drums from inside the main temple building. We noted that most visitors seemed to have driven directly to the car park at the top rather than exert themselves as we had.

After admiring the scenery of the valley below, and another large red torii on an opposite hill, we began a careful walk back down. We ate a lunch of soba at a restaurant shortly after the base of the Shrine, from a low table and sitting on straw tatami mats. Much nicer than your average dining table.

We could hear a lot of noise coming from along the Tonomachi. When we arrived brightly costumed performers were waving large flags around to music, presumably in celebration of the running.

Before returning to the station we had a couple of missions. The most urgent was to find some tissues the blow our snotty noses into. Then to get some cold medications. On the way we picked up some paper dolls as souveniers.

Despite wandering around the shops and even into a supermarket it seemed like we had failed at our missions, until we tried the last shop opposite the train station. They had tissues! No cold medications though.

At the station there was a moment of panic when it seemed our train was cancelled. The station master was busy sending other people on their way in taxis! It turned out that the train to Yamaguchi was running 20 minutes late. Ours was bang on time (as is normal here).

The Super Oki train from Tsuwano to Matsue took a tad under 3 hours, but what a magnificent journey it was. We started through the misty forested mountains, a fantasy land of pines. At Masuda we hit the coast of the Sea of Japan (or substitute another name if you are Chinese). Dark waves pounded the coast under grey skies, the coastline a series of pale sandy beaches littered with the detritus of fishing nets and buoys, and dramatic rock outcrops. Old fishing boats sat berthed in harbours small and large, some just areas protected by jumbled concrete barriers. Brave, or crazy, rock fisherman stood with their lines out into the sea.

From the shape of the coastal trees it was obvious that the region sees a lot of wind, which would explain why giant wind turbines were located at points along the coast. Elsewhere, large factories indicated a less environmentally friendly impact on the landscape.

After the rural and coastal landscape and so many tiny hamlets it was a little bit of a shock to be greeted by Matsue’s large and modern station with accompanying shiny department stores. In a way it’s good, just for the convenience of being able to obtain necessities, like medication from a pharmacist or even a 24-hour convenience store.

Alex was totally over travel by this time, but B wanted to go out to eat. We found a bar/seafood restuarant, that served up small dishes. We ate miso soup with small clams (or rather B did), half a very full flavoured crab and nabe hot pot. Alex spent the whole time on my lap and the only way to stop him crying was to use my finger as a dummy substitute. It can be difficult dining out with an infant and I suspect that we might need some Japanese equivalent of fast (or fastish) food some nights.

I doubt if one day in Matsue will be enough as this city appears to have a lot to see. Can’t wait to explore tomorrow!

P.S. The Toyoko Inn at Matsue has Grapefruit Gokuri in its vending machines.

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