Sunday, April 11, 2010

April 8-9: Miyajima and Kurashiki and Naoshima

April 8-9: Miyajima and Kurashiki and Naoshima

Exit music
Sound of silence
Pieces of the truth

(Script on front of a teenager’s sweatshirt, seen during a local train ride)

Night; and once again,
the while I wait for you, cold wind
turns into rain.

(Bonus haiku for Turrell installation, and it did rain slightly and plenty cold)

Kyoo no tenki wa doo desu ka?

What’s the weather today?

List of pictures:
- Pagoda on Miyajima
- Mugwort rice cakes on a stick
- Shrine torii (gate) in the water on Miyajima
- Ryokan bathing rules
- Bullet train locomotive
- Kiroshiki #1
- Kiroshiki #2
- Ryokan beds made up (note hole on comforter cover sheet)
- Dogs of Kiroshiki (or where RCA dogs go to heaven)
- Dining en suite (what happened to THB's legs?)
- Udon noodle maker in window of restaurant
- Welcome to Nsaoshima

Still cold to cool.

Today we are making a bit of loop: we leave Fukuoka via taxi and bullet train to Hiroshima, and then backtrack via local train and ferry to the island of Miyajima. In the Fukuoka train station, commuters are arriving. Almost all the men are wearing dark suits and white shirts and modest ties. Ratio of men to women is probably 7:3.
First, we have to find the right train. Four stops to ask for directions, and we’re finally (we hope) on the right platform. The train arrives, we get on and just to make sure I ask a sharply dressed man if we’re on the right one. He says, in perfect English, “let me get my glasses out to look at your ticket” and confirms we’re on the right train and the right car. The bullet train is fast, so fast that it bothers me to look out! They have neat hooks for bags and coats, and plugs for you to plug into without sapping your computer’s battery. A “tea girl” comes around with a snack cart. We’re definitely in first class!

The trip takes a few hours, and by 10:30 we are a world heritage site. The shrine’s tori (gate) sits in the water, and at high tide the temple floats on the water. We can’t time it that well, we arrive at low tide so the temple floats on fishy smelling beach mud.

That’s the low point (pun!) and from that point on we have hit the traveler’s sweet spot: the weather is ideal, right around 60 with a moderate breeze and clear skies (though during the trip to the island, it appeared to be hazy out). The cherry blossoms are at their peak, many tourists are snapping away at the more picturesque trees. And, the island has one oddity: tame deer roam the streets, shades of India and the cows and goats. Not aggressive deer, just plenty of them strolling the town. Later we decide they only bother those eating french fries.

Because we have not made time for the fitness center at the Grand Hyatt (thankfully it was not open before 6:30am, or I would have been there) we decide to hike to the top of the island, Mt Misen. Off we set, pretty much straight up, for over an hour. We are not wearing hiking clothes. Then we start to meet those with more modest goals: they have taken the gondola to near the top of the Mt and are hiking down. We have another 45 minutes to an hour to hit the top, and we decide to just hike up for another 15 minutes or so, soak in the great views, and head back downhill. We meet a man who is pruning the shrubs on the side of the wide path with small shears (he’s well over a half mile from the start of the hike), carry a large backpack on his back. Volunteer? Hard to tell…

For lunch we decide to graze: beef yakitori and rice cakes with mugwort (true! See picture); excellent local grilled oysters; green tea softie (true!), Total: $20.

After visiting the local folklore museum (Japanese eyes worse than English speakers, the font for kangi is twice the size of English), and looking in the tourist shops, back to the ferry, on the local train, then back to Hiroshima on the bullet train. Another local train back towards Hiroshima (bullet speed makes it more efficient to go further and come back a bit on a local).

Now we’re in the historical old part of the Kirashiki (pronounced Kir-rosh-key), spending the night at a ryokan. First up: of course switching shoes twice before entering our room, which is actually two large rooms covered in tatami mats (so you can’t walk on them in shoes OR slippers, just bare feet or socks). Then we get undressed and put on yukata’s (thin bathrobes) and head for a soak. Oops, first we switch slippers, there are different slippers for the bathroom than elsewhere. For bath: you get in tub (already full of hot water), and when warm you get out and wash yourself while sitting on a very small low stool, rinse off, then climb back into the tub. Back in yukata, switch slippers, back to room, put on socks (supplied by ryokan), then have dinner in room.

Each course is brought in by one of the staff: while holding tray, bend down, take off slippers, stand up, approach low table (another one where I don’t work so well, at least here I can stretch out and put legs straight out underneath), bow down on floor/heels, serve next course while clearing previous, reverse procedures to leave room, always facing guests.

Many, many fish courses. Most not all that good (best: sashimi of yellowtail, red snapper and “flat fish”). After dinner, table moved and double futons set up with comforter cover on top. We get a good night’s sleep, though no hot water in the morning.

In our yukatas, we head off to breakfast in the ryokan dining room. Another traditional Japanese breakfast, this time we get to cook our own fish over a small grill (sterno, not charcoal), soft boiled egg floating in a sweet soup, pickled veggies, etc. Woman sitting next to us (not in kukata) is from London and for her second day here has opted for western-style breakfast. Not a bad idea…

Spend most of the day sightseeing in old town, sure wish we could buy a museum pass, every place we visit has an entry fee and it adds up fast! For lunch, we eat at a place where there is a guy making noodles in the window. Tempura udon for DB, tempura and plain noodles in hot clear broth that you transfer to another hot broth flavored with ginger, onions, etc., for me; both excellent, total $20. So far, we’re finding the less elaborate the meal, the better.

Mid-afternoon a private car (i.e., pre-paid taxi) picks us up at ryokan and we take one ugly one hour ride to the ferry terminal. Then board the ferry for Naoshima Island, 20 minute ride through a series of what look like uninhabited or industrial islands, mostly bare near the tide line with periodic small beaches. Another bonus: in this part of Japan some small tree/shrub (lilac?) is in glorious purple bloom, spread continually throughout the scrub and forest; very impressive. And, since cherry blossoms are still in bloom, when two are close together very spectacular.

Arrive on Naoshima and get picked up on the hotel shuttle. We are headed to a group of hotels spread on the far side of the island, about 20 minutes from a designer ferry terminal. The hotel, Benesse Art Site, we’re in is actually a museum designed by Tadao Ando, who also did a very contemporary museum in St. Louis.

We have shipped bags ahead from Fukuoka, traveling light during our day to Miyajima and Kirashiki. For about $25, our two large bags are sent ahead. After seeing what it took for us to get here, we’re not sure our bags figured it out. However, this is Japan, land of efficiency, and our bags are awaiting us in our room. We think this works so well we’re considering doing the same thing on our day moving to Kyoto where we stop in Osaka to spend time with a jewelry artist.

Before we have a chance to explore our hotel and see the museum or appreciate our room (nice layout with great view over the water and a balcony), we are off to see a James Turrell light exhibition in a neighboring museum (also Ando designed). Short shuttle ride up the hill and 25 of us (about half non-Japanese) are taken on a 10 minute walk up to another building, then through long concrete corridors (apparently an Ando trademark) and into a room about 30x30 with concrete bench all around and about 15 feet up transitioning to a ecru colored subtly lit wall and ceiling. The ceiling has a square cut out of about 12x12. The piece is you stare at the square cut-out and watch the sky. There is one in Golden Gate park (DeYoung) and one in Seattle (U Dub) and more spread around that we haven’t been to. Mesmerizing! 45 minutes, and the last 10 or so they play with the subtle lights so at times the open cut-out disappears. Highly recommended, worth a significant detour (and that before we have two more days of art chasing).

Back to hotel for a dinner that in overview sounds just like the dud at the ryokan. Fortunately for us, this chef knows how to let the fish taste like what it should and cook it without overcooking it. DB tries a couple of wines, not too successful. I have draft Asahi, a very safe and good choice. Dinner is prepaid yet shows up on the bill (similar confusion at check-in, so we aren’t too surprised). Total $200.

After dinner, we do a bit of touring of the art, not enough to see much, enough to know this is a pretty good collection. In our room are two prints. They turn out not to be prints, they are Imi Knoebel originals, from his (Imi = man?) geometric color series. We saw a huge retrospective of his in Berlin last summer, I hated it. Here, in our hotel room, two look pretty good!

Dinner menu {“typos” left in}
Hors d’oeuvres: scallops and scallions with mustard and vinegard misl, preserve internal organs of bonito in salt, halfbeak with steamed rice, herring rolled kelp, broad bean, red honnnyaku, omelet, Chinese yam, rocal fish Mamakari
Soup: Fish paste soup of clam and mugwort, radish, carrot, bamboo shoot and bud
Sashimi: Flatfish and Spanish mackerel {served as two separate course}
Steamed dish: Deep fried bamboo shoot paste bun and wakame seaweed
Grilled dish: Grilled Spanish mackerel
Simmered dish: Simmered black rockfish {sea bream substituted for rockfish}
Rice with edible wild plants or rice with pea
Fruirt: Strawberry and banana with powdered green tea cream
And, two types of tea served near the end

1 comment:

  1. were the tourists other japanese or puros gringos?