Japan Finale

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On our last day as we sat around our dinner in Onomichi, Paula asked what we were most impressed by on our tour.   For me, and for several of the others, it was the gardens, both the Ritsurin Gardens and the many other smaller gardens we encountered along our way.  In the U.S., and in many other countries, a love of nature and the outdoors is an important part of our lives.  It is the wild untamed forest, or towering trees, or great rock formations which stir something primal in our beings.  But in Japanese traditional culture it is the refinement of the natural world which seems of highest order, the well-pruned pine tree, careful placement of rocks and moss, a water feature hidden within to look like like it has sprung naturally out of the soil, vistas designed with perspective in mind to resemble in miniature other places, flowers planted to bloom in various seasons to complement the surrounding landscape.  We know of this craft at home only in terms of small bonsai tree arrangements but here in Japan it is so much more.  As we passed wooden gates of private small houses in various towns and were able to look inside, we would catch a glimpse of a carefully tended tree formation within a small garden or a globe of flowering plants.  

A venerated ancient tree said to be 2000 years old!

Maybe this comes from a large population on the small group of islands which make up Japan so it is necessary to reduce the outside world to a form which fits within confined personal space.   And even though Shikoku is still heavily forested, with many gorges and rivers that civilization is attempting to control, it is the love of the well-planned garden that I will remember from here.

From Mt. Kiro Observation Platform

Our last night in Shikoku area was spent at the most beautiful of our overnight stays — the Sonnenmatsu Hotel on Oshima Island, with the best food and service. A family runs this boutique stay and we met the mother, who is the cook, and her 2 daughters who are gracious and warm. I was in a large Japanese-style room, with tatami floors, shoji screens, an indoor porch overlooking the water, and a comfortable futon. The others were in artfully decorated western style rooms with outdoor balconies although it was too cold to enjoy them. The bath was outside in a separate building which required changing to a large number of special slippers – one pair for inside the hotel (green), a different pair for stepping into one’s bathroom room (brown), one pair for the floor and grounds around the hotel which included walking the space from the hotel to the onsen (gray) – and different slippers for the beach area (light blue), The onsen was worth it – hot and relaxing: Geri and I went every evening and thoroughly enjoyed all of them on this trip.

Pubic Womens Rest Room at Sonnenmatsu

The dinners in Shikoku were all incredibly beautiful many-course presentations but Sonnenmatsu outdid them all. All the hotels were told that for dinner there would be 4 “vegans” and 2 “normal” meals to be served. It turns out that “vegan” has a very different meaning for different people. One place gave us chicken, one place gave us pork and roast beef (which we were able to change to tofu) and all places gave us fish — except for the Sonnenmatsu whose cook, we later learned, undertook to understand what vegan really meant and found recipes and cooked new dishes for the first time — an actual fully vegan meal. And it was wonderful! In addition to ample vegetables (finally), hummus and falafels, we had lentil soup, a hot pot with tofu and vegetables, home made soft tofu, lemon soba noodles and a rice triangle, and as the coup de grace an amazing stuffed cabbage dish in tomato sauce! I am already trying to figure out how I can bring my family back there to stay for a week!

Daughter Sakura at the Sonnenmatsu with fish presentation for Rich and Geri
in our private dining room overlooking the water.
Our menu with photos of some of the courses below

Our time spent on our last day driving from Oshima Island included an immersion in both sea and land, temples scapes and great vistas of the Inland Sea.  In the morning we went on a cruise around and under the great bridges, one with six suspension towers that spams several small islands from Shikoku over to the mainland.  We go up to the Mt. Kiro overlook and enjoy the view as the cloud cover begins to lift.

View from boat trip. Photo by Rich

At an important shrine, the Oyamazumi, we walk up to an incredible tree in the center which Is said to be 2000 years old.  And finally we drive over another spectacular bridge to the town of Onomichi on the mainland coast where we say goodby to Fuji-San and our van and check into our last hotel.   On our own once again, we walk to the beginning of a cable car “ropeway” which takes us to the Senkoji Temple and Park on which has been built a high observation deck overlooking the entire coastal area.  It is clear enough for us to see both a major city and the very small fishing inlets along the Shikoku coast as well as the bridges which now act as the lifeblood flowing into the island. 

View from Mt. Senkoji Observation Platform

We walk part of the famous Temple Walk in Onomichi which connects 26 temples, of various sizes, including one with a description which says it was built around 900. Most have been burned down over time and rebuilt by the members of the various Buddhist sects and most have attached graveyards with many closely packed ancient burial monuments, Scattered among the temple sites are many small houses. There is no roadway to get to them and I imagine what it would be like to trek with groceries in cold wet weather up and down the many steps.

Kokubunji Temple

We all get ready to go our separate ways. It has been a good cohesive group, all of us with some age-related ailment or another, supporting each other along the way, and enjoying the company. It has been a little stressful for me (especially the complicated arrangements to get us from Kyoto to Naoshima and then from Onomichi to the Kansai Airport where I am now) but worth the effort to enjoy Japan together. Sayonara Japan — until we meet again.