Shikoku was full of surprises! Especially since it feels like no one really knows anything about Shikoku. Honshu is the main island of Japan, everyone knows Hokkaido, and Kyushu, but that fourth island that is Shikoku seems to be less familiar to people. I went to Shikoku for Golden Week (May 1-6) with my friend Jacky, another ALT from Iwakuni, and I’d like to share with you the things that stuck out to me. This post will contain a short list of some things that were new to me in Shikoku, or things I really liked that I don’t normally see.
1) Fewer foreigners. The first and most obvious thing is that there were so many fewer foreigners in Shikoku. This was kind of fun as a Japanese speaker, actually, because I could translate the things people said about us for my friend. At one garden we visited in Takamatsu, we sat down so I could eat my sakura mochi, and the couple next to us started talking about their Eiken (English test) scores, haha, and about how hard American accents are or something. Another time, we were walking along and this little girl looked up and was like, “Ah, gaikokujin da!” (“It’s a foreigner!”) which was pretty hilarious. Two blondes walking side-by-side was probably pretty shocking, too…
2) Squid Ink-flavored food. At first I was thinking, “Ugh, it’s a shame to eat in an expensive museum cafe,” when my eyes fell upon this beauty. Black curry, with squid slices! It was a little tangy–I guess that was the ink.
I thought that was a one-time thing–until we visited an Italian restaurant back in Okayama with this in the display window.
Squid ink spaghetti! It’s too bad it was on the same day, or I probably would’ve ordered it. I guess it’s popular in this area? (Okayama=”Almost Shikoku” haha.)
3) Cute chair lift. One thing I don’t think I’ve ever seen before was the chair lift up to Matsuyama Castle (Ehime-ken). It wasn’t a “ride,” it was just a method of getting to the top, like a ski lift, but with only chairs. It was right next to the cable car, which we took up. It would have been scary with no seat belts, but it was so close to the ground that both me and my friend thought we could ride it and still enjoy it. It was funny to watch, because even though you’re not allowed to swing in your seat, people would move their feet a little back and forth in the air, including grown men. It was cute^^
Even though it was close to the ground, or the net, I still wouldn’t want to fall off the chair. That “net” below us looks soft in the picture, but it’s really made out of metal, like the kind you use for fences. I really wouldn’t want to fall on top of that, even if for only a few feet. But it was enough to trick our senses into feeling secure (haha).
3) Nature. Another thing that was astonishing to me was the “bigness” of nature in Shikoku, specifically in the Iya Valley (Tokushima-ken).
Nature was really BIG here in Iya Valley O_O What I mean by that is, Japan is an island and has less space, and for someone from California with its long coasts (sometimes, with no people in sight), or Yosemite or Tahoe, certain parts of Japan can sometimes feel crowded, houses close together, and that sort of thing. In the US, we just have a different concept of space, because it’s such a big country. (I always took it for granted, but do you realize how crazy it is to have different time zones in your own country?? Not just one time zone difference, but 4 on the mainland, and 6 when you count Hawaii and Alaska. Just crazy. Japan is smaller in land area than the state of California, but has more people. That should give you an idea.) A lot of parks advertise themselves with phrases like “displaying a [fascinating] blend of the traditional and modern,” because you can see the skyscrapers rising above the trees in the parks. I don’t know if that’s really what I go for, though. I find it a lot cooler and more relaxing to feel like I’m somewhere isolated.
There were long stretches of mountains with hardly any houses, and waterfalls, and rivers with big rocks you could climb on (^_^). Even for Golden Week, when everyone travels, it wasn’t that crowded (probably because, if you don’t drive, only four buses come and go a day). I loved it, which made all the pictures of me turn out happy and sparkly (hahaha). That’s why it’s important to travel sometimes, too. You think you “know” Japan because you live there, but places like this were waiting nearby and I never would have even seen this part of Japan and just assumed that everywhere was like the places I’d seen before. When we got here we were just speechless.
4) World of tall things. This goes along with Iya Valley, but on our way there, we noticed that some of the bridges were really high. It’s hard to tell from the picture, but that bridge goes waaay above the ground, to the point where I was wondering why it was necessary to have it way up there.
…and all the houses and buildings seemed to be built on stilts into the sides of the mountains.
I liked it, though, because all the bridges and buildings being high up reminded me of a video game (Final Fantasy specifically).
There were five things that were new to me in Shikoku. It’s definitely worth going, although I think it’s probably easier to get around in a car (we took ferries, trains, buses, and taxis.)