On the path of a meaningful life

Texts, photographs and videos by Claire B.

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30 November 2015

Minami, facing the sea

On the south coast of Shikoku, the small town of Minami exudes tranquility and a maritime atmosphere.
Minami, Shikoku, Japan © Claire Blumenfeld
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After spending my morning on Wednesday, November 25, settling details in Tokushima, departure in the afternoon for Minami. I take a little regional train of just two cars which fills up a little more at each stop. All the schoolchildren in the area take the same line. After a while I wonder if the limit for the number of passengers allowed on the train has not been reached, but people are still climbing up. They laugh, they talk. Each time one gets on the train, I have the right to a surprised look. At Anan station (a little larger town than the others) the train empties in half. Finally a bit of calm.

It started raining from the start of the train journey. The rain and the night make the landscapes sad. And my morale too. I watch (or rather try to look through the fog) the landscape scrolling, telling me that it is here, I am finally in the countryside, that the villages look very pretty, that the concrete gives way to wooden constructions, that this little trip in a country train is quite rural, my morale is in my socks. I feel alone and I wonder a little what I am doing here.

Minami finally appears and I leave the train in the pouring rain. No information anywhere, no plans. There is an information center, but despite the light inside it is closed. Unlucky me. I have no idea where my hostel is. I decide to go ahead and tell myself that I will ask for help at the first convenience store, but nothing anywhere! I end up running into two people in a kind of workshop to whom I ask in a quavering Japanese if they can help me to locate my hostel. Very friendly, they go out of their way to explain to me how to reach the address. These few gestures of kindness cheer me up and after thanking them warmly, I set off again, exhilarated, in the falling rain. The little that I see of Minami in the light of the street lamps turns out to be very nice. Small fishing village, Minami is located by the sea and is surrounded by small hills. I will go explore that in more detail tomorrow.

The hostel is fairly easy to find. I am greeted with friendliness by an old couple, who was worried a little not to see me arriving. It is a small traditional inn. I must be the only client. The room with tatami mats and sliding doors is very nice. Traditional shared toilets and showers. The gentleman offers to drive me to the local konbini (which is quite far on foot) to buy my evening meal! On the way I see the pagoda of a temple which turns out to be the Yakuô-ji Temple, number 23 of the pilgrimage of the 88 temples of Shikoku. The old man is very smiling and likes to joke, it is a pleasure! Back to the hostel where I dine in my room then first shower in the traditional Japanese common showers. first wash yourself and then bask in a hot bath. But it is freezing cold in the room and the bath water is no longer very hot. I settle for a flash shower. I really hope it will be better tomorrow!

The next day, wake up early to go visit the city. Minami is actually the reunion of two villages: Hiwasa and Yuki. I am in the Hiwasa part. The weather is fine, almost warm. Just the opposite of last night! I discover the village. Traditional houses, small alleys, fishermen’s boats, inlets entering the village, Hiwasa exudes tranquility and a maritime atmosphere. I go to the mini information center to get the city map. Drawn by hand, it is very beautiful and offers a lot of information and anecdotes. I had planned to go around the city in the morning and then go for a ride to Mugi in the afternoon (village located 3-4km further on the coast and home to the Seashell Museum), but it turns out that Hiwasa is full of things to see. So I walk all day in the city and the surroundings. The people all seem very nice, I am entitled to several “Ohayo gozaimasu” (hello for the morning) or “Konnichiwa”.

In the morning, I go see the Yakuô-ji Temple. It dates from 726 and is reputed to be a “yakuyoke no tera”: a visit to the temple helps to ward off bad luck during the years of bad luck (for men: 42 and for women: 33). Located a little high it slightly overlooks the city. Ascent of a hundred steps, passage through several sanctuaries and arrival at the pagoda of the temple. Massive, mainly red in color, the structure is very beautiful. From the temple plaza, Hiwasa can be seen below. The place is quiet, there are not many people yet. On the way down, I come across several people reciting sutra in front of a sanctuary.

I then head for Hiwasa Castle, dating from the end of the 16th century. Located at the top of one of the surrounding hills, the castle overlooks Hiwasa. Passage along the small port and climb on a small road in the forest to reach it. Upstairs there is no one here, it is absolute calm. Until a musical chime goes off and plays loud enough music telling me that it is noon. From the outside the chateau looks like an old one but once inside it is a disappointment: Nothing remains of the old pieces and the interior has been transformed into an observation point. At least the view is very beautiful. I come out of the castle to continue on a small hiking path winding through the forest at the edge of the cliffs. The walk is nice but the weather is overcast. After a good hour of hiking, I stop for lunch. Sandwich, onigiri, cakes filled with chocolate and strawberry. Right in front of me is the sea as far as the eye can see. Two eagles do acrobatics in the air. I go back to where I came from, until I find a shortcut that saves me almost thirty minutes of walking! Passing again at the small port, I see a small eagle posed on a lamppost.

Direction the Caretta Museum, home to an impressive number of Turtles. Hiwasa and its Ohama beach are renowned for being a place for laying eggs. I cross Hiwasa again, wandering through the small alleys. As I look on the map for directions, a gentleman on a bicycle calls out to me asking if he can help me. I answer him that everything is fine, that I am walking in the city. But he hardly speaks English and doesn’t seem to understand my Japanese. There follows a strange dialogue, where he ends up giving me his business card. The gentleman is a voluntary guide to help people discover the city. I try to make him understand that I am not lost, that I am walking around quietly and that I am going to see the Caretta museum but he insists on accompanying me. This irritates me a little, especially since the gentleman smells a little of alcohol. I wonder what I am getting into. On the way to the museum, he shows me various shacks, one of which is very old and has superb colored stained glass windows. The young woman holding the place invites me to go inside. In English, she explains to me that the place is a kind of activity center and that the structure of the house is protected and therefore cannot be destroyed.

We pass by Ohama beach to reach the Caretta museum. I tell myself that the gentleman will leave me at the museum but no. He pays me my ticket and do the visit with me! It is very nice of him, but it makes me a little uncomfortable. Especially since we do not understand each other, the discussion is very limited. The Caretta museum houses different types of turtles from the youngest to the oldest. It is the first time I have seen so many turtles up close. They are very beautiful and the older ones are really impressive. By cons, zero explanations in English, which is a bit of a shame.

After the visit, the gentleman insists on taking me back to the hostel! Nice gentleman but slightly too sticky for my taste. I settle a few details at the hostel, then as the sun shows its rays again I go back again to visit the coast. I go back for a walk on Ohama beach, then I venture to a large rock advancing in the sea about forty minutes on foot. It shelters the small sanctuary Ebisudo Jinja dedicated to the good understanding in the couples as well as an half-submerged cave. The sun is setting, the light is magnificent. The descent to the cave is made using very steep stairs. The place is impressive. The roar of the waves crashing against the rocks a few meters from me gives me chills. I go back to the hostel in the dark night, happy with my busy day. Hiwasa is truly a magnificent place.

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