Thursday, October 29, 2009

Takamatsu and Tokushima

The ride from Tokyo to Takamatsu city in Shikoku was 12 hours. Luckily, I slept through most of it. It would have probably been wise to stay up and see the amazing bridges which connect the islands of Honshu and Shikoku but I was too exhausted from my initial introduction of Tokyo.

I was staying in Takamatsu for a few days during which I walked the beautiful Ritsurin Park, took an hour train ride to climb over 700 stairs to see a famous shrine on top of Kompira-San (Mt. Kompira), visited the oldest surviving kabuki theater in Japan, partied and sang karaoke with a bunch of fun JETs and ate a famous Kagawa Udon. (Kagawa is the name of the prefecture where Takamatsu is located and udon is a thick wheat-flour noodle soup.  Supposedly udon originates in Kagawa and its residents alone eat more udon than all the residents of Japan).

Moving sooner than later, I was soon hitching a ride to Tokushima, a city on the eastern cost of Shikoku. A 30 year old “sarariman” and his 24 year old girlfriend pulled over as soon as they saw my sign. They were on their way to Kobe (on Honshu) to a punk rock concert and were happy to give me a ride. Being true to their Japanese nature, they were very kind and thoughtful. Tokushima was only an hour away from Takamatsu and I was at the Takamatsu Station by 11am.

Leaving my bag in the locker I set off to explore the city.

Before coming to Tokushima, I asked a few people what they would recommend to see in the area and heard a very definite, “There is nothing. Don’t go there”. However, my gut feeling was telling to ignore recommendations to avoid the “empty” prefecture and visit it anyway. Soon I knew my instincts were right.

Tokushima is a relatively small city but abundant with smiling residents, laughing kids, beautiful temples, amazing river and mountain views, strange and wondrous architecture, quaint and cozy bakery shops, thrilling overview of the city atop of Mt. Bizan, and so much more. Next to Sapporo and Hakodate, Tokushima is my favorite city so far. I can barely believe that I almost didn’t come here.

In the afternoon, I went to visit a very famous dance performance: Awa Odori. Awa Odori dates back several centuries when common folk used to dance it on the street. The dancers’ moves reflect their feelings about and relationships with the nature and more specifically with sun, flowers and birds. When it gained popularity, it was adopted for stage performances and after World War II, its fame really took off. During the Bon Festival, on August 12-15, over 1.3 million people come to Tokushima (a city of 300,000 residents) to watch and participate in the dance.

The performance, which I went to watch in the Awa Odori Center, also invited people from the audience to participate. Overcoming my shyness I went on stage. Moving hands and feet in unison with dancers’, I couldn’t stop smiling. It was a liberating feeling. Knowing that this dance was meant to learn the wonders of nature, I moved with the beat and inner feelings.

Within several minutes, the host of the performance placed a lai on my neck. Having no idea what that meant, I continued dancing. When the dance was over, the host asked everyone participating in the dance to stay on stage (there were about 20 of us). Turned out, he gave out 3 white lays and 1 red lai. I had the red lai. Thanking heavens for the girl who volunteered to be my translator during performance, I soon found out that I got the 1st place for dancing. (Something tells me I received it not because I was good but because I was the only gaijin in the whole auditorium). The host then proceeded to question me in front of the audience about my travels. It was an embarrassing affair (since I didn’t speak Japanese) but I finally won their hearts over when I finished my tirade with, “Nihon ga daisuki desu”, which means “I love Japan”. They all clapped and even bowed slightly to thank me for such wonderful comment. Yes, every Japanese person takes it personal when one confesses their love for Japan. Japan and Japanese people are one.

I ended the evening having Tokushima Ramen with a Japanese girl I met earlier during the day. And since I wasn’t able to find a couchsurfing host in Tokushima, I spend the night in an internet café.

Now, Japanese internet cafés are a work of art. I got a separate cubicle, equipped with a computer, DVD, table lamp, huge armchair and foot rest. The cafes are dark and quiet. There are a shower and bathrooms on premises. A huge selection of DVDs and manga for every taste. An abundance of coffee and tea. And a 24 hour convenient store on the first floor. Many people find internet cafés as a good source of alternative lodging. It was my first time and I found the experience thrilling. Finally tucking myself in for the night in the huge armchair, I was thinking of how wonderful the world is.


  1. very nice. i'm betting you deserved the lai's for more than just being the only gaikokujin on stage, but because you let your inner emotions dictate the way you moved and everyone probably saw and felt the aura around you. you are a magical person and it shows. you also knew exactly what to say at the end. very, very nice!!

  2. Hi Khaya - I've just caught up with you today and what an amazing journey you've been on. "Nihon ga daisuki desu" too because I have seen more through your eyes then one could ever imagine. Stay well my're in our thoughts always. xo Maryann

  3. Your adventure is indescribable... and yet, you do JUST that each and every time... HOW??? I'm amazed by all of it, the trip, the high-trust towards the Universe, the writing, the images... Gosh, Khaya... Remaining in awe of you.

  4. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!!! Thank you Toby, Maryann, Annette and everyone else. Thank you for reading and encouraging me!