Wednesday 18 January 2023
We start the morning with a walk to the park. It’s quite a long walk and there’s a tram which follows the same route but the old man is determined to walk (the tram costs 64 pence). It’s another walk along a statue lined boulevard. This time no cabbages, just dozens of kamikaze cyclists.
Every city seems to have a theme. Okayama’s is Peach Boy. According to the story, a childless couple found a baby in a peach. When he was older, the boy went off to fight ogres, befriending a talking dog and a monkey along the way. Hence, in Okayama even the drain covers have a boy, a dog and a monkey on them. There are also plenty of ogres. Ogres tend to be ginger.
We stop on the way at a convenience store to buy some breakfast and have a picnic on a bench overlooking the Asahi River and Okayama Castle. Breakfast today consists of the thing on the shelf above the shelf we pointed at in the shop.
After breakfast, we continue to Okayama Castle. It is nicknamed Crow Castle because it’s black and the Japanese have a thing about naming castles after birds. Although there was a castle here in the 16th century, this particular building dates from 1966. As this makes it the same age as me, the old man declares it ancient.
It may not be historic, however from the outside the striking black building decorated with golden fish is pretty impressive.
Entry costs Y400. The old man went in yesterday and wasn’t impressed by the interior which was rather modern, although there was a collection of samurai weapons and armour.
We cross a footbridge over the Asahi River which brings us the the garden of Korakuen.
Korakuen is one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan. This is partly due to its proliferation of cherry and maple trees which look spectacular in spring/autumn. However, so much of the focus in this garden is on the rocks, water features, bridges, tea houses and other buildings that it’s picturesque even in January.
In fact, the Japanese winter has been so mild that there are actually some cherry trees starting to blossom in mid January.
Entry to the garden costs Y410.
Garden toilet report; squat – with instructions not to sit down!
We walk back to the hotel, while I count the number of trams that pass by, full of people with non-achy feet. Then it’s time to check out, return to the station and catch the train to Takamatsu.
This involves a 53 minute trip on a train which changes name part way along the route. So, we start on the Seto-Ohashi Line and complete our journey on the Yosan Line Rapid Mariner, all on the same train. The old man is most perturbed by such chicanery and is primed to leap out of the evil, name-shifting train at any moment. We reach our destination despite the cunning train’s attempt to trick us.
Japan consists of four main islands plus over 6000 smaller islands. Thus far, we have spent all our time on the main island, Honshu. Today, we are travelling to the fourth largest island, Shikoku.
Shikoku is separated from Honshu by the Seto Inland Sea. It is famous for its 88 sacred temples which form a popular pilgrimage. According to my guide book it is “synonymous with natural beauty and the pursuit of spiritual perfection”. We’re going to do a parkrun.
There are three routes to Shikoku (more of that later). By train, you cross via an 8 mile long double decker series of bridges.
Seto Ohashi Bridge
The Seto Ohashi Bridge is actually a set of 11 bridges connecting Honshu and Shikoku via a series of islands.
Although it sounds exciting crossing one of the biggest bridge complexes in the world, we’re actually on the lower deck with the road bridge above us so there’s not such a great view. In addition, there’s a lot of girders. Much as I lament a good photo op, if I’m on a train on a bridge over the sea, the more girders the better!
We are spending a night in the port city of Takamatsu. To be honest, we’re only staying here because we planned to go to the art island of Naoshimi, but it is closed this week for maintenance.
Comfort Hotel Takamatsu
Tonight’s accommodation is the Comfort Hotel. The old man claimed he only booked hotels close to the station, but this one is a mile away. So we take a taxi. It’s a budget hotel but still very clean and comfortable with all the gadgets. And does a complimentary breakfast (which is, I suspect, why the old man picked it).
Hotel toilet report: premature – keeps flushing before you’ve finished your business (no photo!)
We walk from our hotel to Ritsurin Garden, which claims to be is one of the most beautiful gardens in the country. The garden dates from the 17th Century and took more than a 100 years to complete.
It was designed as strolling garden for the enjoyment of the regional lord. The park winds around a series of ponds, tearooms, bridges and islands all with a mountain backdrop. The theory is that the scenery changes with every step. As I walk along, I wonder which 10 shots of this visual feast the garden’s designer would have picked to post to Instagram?
Entry to the garden costs Y410.
Again, we are in luck with blossom spotting, as some of the trees in the Apricot Orchard are coming into bloom.
Lunch at Tamachi Shopping Arcade
We walk back towards town via Tamachi Shopping Arcade. This covered shopping area is one of 8 converging arcades, which forms of the longest arcade in Japan totalling almost two miles in length.
We pick a noodle bar at random and the old man orders the hot pot, which really is a hot pot as it comes with its own little burner. I go for the Cheese Curry; an interesting choice. Not something I’d pick again.
Takamatsu Castle is a (restored) 16th Century Castle in a park with a sea water moat. As we have already walked 11 miles today and it’s a further mile to the castle, I decide to chill at the hotel, but the old man is determined to plough on.
He returns somewhat underwhelmed by the experience. There’s not much of the castle or its infrastructure left. Entry to the castle remains costs Y200.
We round the evening off with a snack in our hotel room. Today’s crisp choice; grilled plum. To be honest, I thought the photo on the packet was peppercorns, so the sweetness was a bit of a shock. On the culinary front it’s not been the most successful day.