Non-Fiction

My Trip to Japan | Day 3, Tokushima, Tokushima

Previously: We explored a Japan mall and grocery store

November 4

Once again, I woke up early due to the jetlag.

While Jessica slept, I did my usual ablutions. Since I didn’t want to wake her up, I just bummed around on my tablet.

That morning, a strange siren went off. IIRC, I was fully changed but Jessica was still in bed.

If you know anything about Japan, you know that it’s an island nation with a lot of earthquakes and tsunamis. Being Westerners who rarely experience such natural disasters, its easy to think of them as rare occurrences. Not so in Japan, they take that shit super seriously. And rightly so! Jessica’s town is very close to the ocean and (IIRC) have a short timeframe of 15 minutes to reach highland before a tsunami hits.

So when the siren went off, Jessica jumped out of bed. It sounded like the staircase music from Super Mario 64 and, with no context, it was pretty spooky.

We throw some shoes on and rush out of the apartment, but pause in the parking lot.

Jessica had an app that notifies her of earthquakes and tsunamis in the area. So while the siren is very compelling to get up and get going, it’s not the usual ‘tsunami warning’ siren.

Long story short, there was a drill going on at the nearby school – not two blocks away. Jessica had taken the day off, so she was unaware such drill would take place. Her ESL friends filled her in.

We took a collective sigh of relief and headed back into the apartment for breakfast. It was an opportune time for Jessica to suggest we go on a little walk through the neighbourhood and visit the designated evacuation zone. I agreed wholeheartedly.

I hadn’t sprinted since high-school, but I’d run my ass off to that high ground if I heard the real siren.

So, we had a leisurely breakfast and went out once again.

It was a nice walk in cool weather but warm sun. I’d say it was about 45 minutes to about an hour. We visited the local private temple and kept wondering if we were allowed to walk around like we did. We dropped by some vending machines and grabbed two drinks. We walked by some statues that had a few offerings. We went to the local half-abandoned shrine.

Not to be rude, but very similar to churches in Europe, when you visit a shrine in Japan, you kind of visit them all. Yes there are exceptions, just as there are exceptions in Europe, but it’s easy to lose the sense of wonderment when you visit them repeatedly.

Anyway, the local half-abandoned shrine had a lot of spider webs, but it was maintained. It even had fortunes you could buy via the honour system for 100yen. There was a huge bunch of origami birds hanging from it. Not to be cliché, but it was kinda Ghibli, yknow? It had that sense of calm yet coupled with mystery.

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A huge bunch of origami birds hanging from the shrine ceiling.

We offered some money, bought fortunes, and even said hello to the shrine keeper (presumably). We continued on a walking path behind homes and circle around a tall hill – the evacuation point. Naruto is near the water, so there are a lot of small streams and rivers. It made for lovely scenery.

We walked around to the back side of the hill and climb up a long set of stairs. At the top was overgrown grass, but a good-looking gazebo. It was the kind of place that’d make for a good picnic – when the bugs aren’t around.

We had a quick break and drank our drinks from the vending machine. We took in the view, shot the shit, etc. We also discussed our plans for the rest of the day.

Our intentions were to visit the nearby city Tokushima, visit another shrine, sight-see at the top of a mountain, and grab some dinner. We would also visit a JR office so I could redeem my JR rail pass.

We walked back to Jessica’s apartment to continue the second half of our day. I grabbed all the proper papers and my passport and we drove off.

I’ve already talked at length about Japanese roads, but I’ll mention one more thing about driving. The highways have surprisingly low speed limits. IIRC, the highway that leads to Tokushima is only 80kph. It’s crazy to me considering that’s the same as the road just outside my university apartment.

Anyway, we drove to the city, passing by buildings that Jessica pointed out. I remember we went by an IKEA-like place where she bought her kotatsu.

It was a city like any other Japanese city; tight buildings, small streets, crowded sidewalks. We parked at a hotel combined with a small mall and train station. It was a tiny parking lot – one floor couldn’t have housed more than 20 cars – but it went up like 9 floors. Tight corners too.

In the mall/station, we walked around for a few minutes trying to find the JR office, only to realize it was right next to us. As you can imagine, it’s easy to get lost in the simplest places when you don’t speak the language.

The JR office was akin to a travel agency. The women working were dressed very nicely, but didn’t speak any English (as we’ve discussed, this is knee-deep NO ENGLISH Japan). Thankfully, when I presented my papers, they understood why I was there. I handed over my passport and the process began.

What I really like about Japan is the local tourism. I can’t do it justice here, but essentially there’s a lot of in-country travel. So local attractions, like a bridge, shrine, or castle, will have their own travel brochures. It’s cute!

We were lucky; the mall/station was just down the street from the shrine we were going to visit. So after all my business is taken care of, we explored the local area.

First up was Tokushima’s humble Animate. Animate is the quintessential anime-hobby store. You can buy manga, magazines, DVDs, CDs, merch, pillows, the list goes on. Some stores are bigger than others, thus some will have better purchasing options than others. Because this particular store was the size of…let’s say a standalone EB Games, it had general items. Unfortunate because, at the time, Jessica and I were fully invested in Yuri on Ice!!

After that we headed to Ten Shrine (name according to Google). It was a nice, relaxing place that I think specialized in couples/romance, based on the amount of hearts on display. We bought another set of fortunes – they’re hard to resist, honestly – and payed our respects.

We then headed inside the next-door building, a museum about Tokushima. It had enclosed chairlifts that brought you to the top of the nearby mountain. A five-ish minute ride with catchy music and an info-speech (but totally in Japanese and therefore lost on me).

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Tokushima city from the top of a mountain

The top of the mountain was pretty dead. It wasn’t exactly peak season. We walked around a bit, but it was a quick turnaround. We looked out onto the city and it really is beautiful. There was a Hindu(?) temple(?) looking building at the top, that didn’t look remotely Japanese. I think Jessica explained it’s history to me, but it’s been so long I can’t remember.

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The strange temple(?)

We headed back down via the chairlifts. Our tickets were for a round-trip. If you wanted, you could’ve walked up or down, but we weren’t up for the challenge.

Walking back to the car, we passed through a local fair. Mostly local businesses with tents, some contests, and lots of food to buy. There was a Detective Conan mascot that I avoided like the plague.

I’ll mention this briefly, but we also saw a kindly lady who was bent nearly 90 degrees. Jessica then explained to me that it’s mostly grandmas bent like this and not grandpas because it’s the women who work in the rice fields. When you’re harvesting crops for your entire life, you’ll end up super hunched over. Poor granny, I hope she’s not in pain.

By then, it was getting dark. We hadn’t had lunch, just a few snacks. We didn’t want to eat too much because we would be having conveyer belt sushi for dinner! I think I was excited, but because of the jetlag I was getting tired.

“Sushio Tokushima Dekishima” is the type of place every foreigner should visit because of the novelty. If you’re unfamiliar, conveyer belt sushi is where plates of sushi travel around the restaurant – on a conveyer belt! – and you take what you want. You can also order things specifically that will come down the line and when it reaches your table, you’ll be notified that the plates are, indeed, yours. The only time you’ll interact with staff is when they seat you, when they deliver drinks, and when you’re ready to pay.

I’m not a big sushi fan because I’m not a big fish fan, but I had promised myself I’d try new things on the trip. Foolishly (probably because I was so tired) I didn’t take any pictures of what I got. I know I got squid which I couldn’t finish (hard to chew) and vegetable tempura. I think I got about six or seven plates in total and no desert. By the time we left, I was stuffed.

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A rather unflattering photo of  me. Trust that I looked dead tired.

The rest of the night, like November 3, was uneventful. We drove home in ridiculous traffic, following equally ridiculous Google Maps directions. When we got back to the apartment we relaxed and watched more Netflix.

This may or may not have been the night we watched The Bee Movie and had a good laugh.

Next time: A trip to the Onaruto bridge and eggs from a vending machine!

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