Iwakuni

I’m sitting Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, waiting for our midnight flight to Kuala Lumpur. The Japan leg of this trip has exceeded expectations in so many ways.

We had next to no trouble navigating our way through Japan’s train systems. Google Maps told us which train to get, which platform to be on, and even which car to ride in for the easiest transfers. The bullet train (Shinkansen) was clean, comfortable and quiet.

The area around Kyoto gates us glimpses of old Japan while Tokyo exposed us to new Japan. In Iwakuni, we saw industrial Japan, and on Suo Oshima we saw the aging population and the impact on small farms.

Our friends Eric and Kiyono live on Suo Oshima, near Hiroshima. It’s where Kiyono grew up, and where her parents and grandmother live. They have started an English language school, and mostly teach children. Kiyono works part time for the local government and Eric contributes to the family fortunes by working on an orange orchard with an older farmer.

The orchards tend to be small, and have several varieties of mandarin oranges. The prime varieties that bring the highest prices are generally picked in November. We saw some trees where all the oranges were wrapped, either in paper or foam. This keeps the fruit from the birds, and helps improve their price by making it more attractive. Many orchards have fallen into disrepair. The trees need pruning; the soil needs augmenting.

Suo Oshima has a hospital and many amenities, and has scattered towns. The Centre of the island is still forested, and people tend to live and farm near the coast. Before leaving the island, we stopped at the recreation site near the Yashiro Dam to go down its enormous grass slide. The grass is actually plastic, and is best ridden on plastic sleds. We tried cardboard, and needed to do a lot of work to slide down.

In Suo Oshima, we stayed in a Ryokan, or Japanese style hotel. Our room was pleasant, and roughly the same size as the Western style hotels that we stayed in. We requested Western style twin beds, and were quite comfortable. The real difference was in the bathing facilities. The bath room was easily the same size as the bedroom, had an anteroom for dressing, and a l-a-r-g-e tub. There were three shower stations with stools to make this phase more comfortable. The toilet and hand-washing station was off another part of the room.

Before boarding our flight to Tokyo, we stopped by Iwakuni’s primary tourist attraction— the Kintai Bridge. It has five arches, and sits at the base of the hill with an long-ago noble’s castle. The area has parks, koi and a quiet atmosphere. There were at least five ice cream shops. None was doing much business since is was a cool January day.

Back in Tokyo, we left our luggage in an airport locker and headed into town for some gluten free dinner. Again, google maps smoothed our way. Back at the airport, we managed to spend all but 42 yen on our Transit cards and all but seven yen in cash. I remain impressed.