Kochi

Even before I went travelling, I'd decided that if I ever spend a prolonged amount of time in Japan again, it won't be in Tokyo. 

I don't think Tokyo is a healthy place to live.  Not because of fears over Fukushima or anything like that, but because there is an energy-sucking vibe to the city.  If a zombie could live as a city, it would be Tokyo.  There are so many places and things here I love but so much that annoys the shit out of me too, and most of that is caused by the masses of people who move, half sleep walking through the city.

In normal logics, you would think that the capital city, the big smoke, is were all the hustle and bustle goes on.  In most countries, the city folk move and talk faster and generally seem more on the ball. 

Japan is different though.  Folks in the smaller cities seem to be more alive and going about their business and having fun.  Even in a place like Kochi that is not often a destination for internation tourists, I got less stares and looks than I do in my local nieghbourhood in Tokyo (an area with several gaijin houses).

Anyway, the trip to Kochi started when the train crossed the Seto Inland Sea.  It's hard to descibe what that is like without seeming over the top.  It's one of those amazing things about Japan that you don't really hear about that much.

All the small islands seem to appear and disappear into the haze, like ghost islands.  I wanted to take photos but it's something you can't capture.  You'll just have to go see for yourself.  I'd love to go back some time and go to some of the islands, especially Nao island which is full of art installations.

You know beautiful scenery is all well and good but I realised breakfast had been hours ago and I doubted that they sold bento on the rattly old train going to Kochi.  Then the bento girl appeared! 

 It was one of the best ekiben I've ever tasted.  In fact, it makes me want to catch a train right now so I can have an ekiben.

I've travelled a bit around Japan and I've been to 3 of the 4 main islands now and I think arguably that Shikoku is the most beautiful.  I wanted to nap but had to keep looking out the train window in case I missed something.

Most of the time, especially on the shinkansen, you miss the best of the scenery because you are constantly going through tunnels.  On the train to Kochi, there were few tunnels and the train lines wound around the mountains in a sometimes very scary manner.  


You know you are at Kochi station when you see the giant cut out of Ryoma and Mrs Ryoma.  The map to the side also has little cartoon figures of Ryoma and other Bakumatsu heroes. 

People were handing out brochures for the "Ryoman Holiday" tours as well.  Nice pun.

Ernie from Sesame Street dressed up as Sakamoto Ryoma

When I booked my hotel in Kochi, I just wanted something cheap.  I figure money spend on fancy hotel rooms is a waste, although I can't do dorm rooms at backpackers.  Being able to hear other people sleep kinda freaks me out.

I'd set a budget of 3000 yen a night then found a place for 2500 yen.  Sure it had a shared bathroom but I could live with that.

I did start to worry after I booked it though because I've stayed at places in Japan with shared bathrooms before and shared means mixed gender, which isn't so bad except you have to go through the area with the urinals to get to the toilet cubicles! 

General privacy with men's urinals here is pretty non-existant anyway but seeing a dude peeing isn't nice.  But the place only had 18 rooms and half of them had ensuites so I figured there wouldn't be that many people around.

So anyway, I got to check in and the woman was extremely nice.  She asked if a shared bathroom was ok and explained the bath using system.  I asked if there was a shower and said I probably just shower anyway.

As I walked up the stairs, I realised the place smelt a bit like... well if you've ever visited an elderly relative you'd probably know the smell.  The place seemed less like a busines hotel and more like a flophouse for old dudes, some of whom I think went to school with Sakamoto Ryoma.

My room was pretty cool though.  It was huge and triangle shaped and very clean.  I figure if the room is clean, I can put up with anything else.

Then I went to the bathroom.  OMG!  One thing I'd not thought to ask about.... the toilets.  They were Japanese style squat toilets.

I'm not good with squat toilets.  Pretty much all the muscles in my lower body are as tight as fuck - and two days of walking up and down hills in Nagasaki hadn't helped that.

I thought about cancelling my reservation but my tightness with money overcome my need for a Western toilet.  When I left the hotel, I checked out the park across the road.  That had a handicapped cubicle with a REAL toilet.  I figured that would do for any prolonged toilet going needs!

Pretty much all the furniture and fittings in my room were orignal Showa era!
I left the hotel and wandered around town but forgot to take my camera.  In the centre of town, a French wine and food fair was going on so I had a glass of champagne and relaxed, kind of.  Actually I felt a bit self-conscious being a lone foreign woman amongst all these locals greeting groups of friends, so I just had one then wandered off again.

I checked out the castle, from outside then headed to Hirome Market which is like a big food hall and seems to be THE place to go in town.  Again I felt really self-conscious.  It's probably just me but when I'm on my own, big groups of people out merry-making get a bit intimidating.

Anyway, it was Thursday which is my TV watching night so, being Excitement Girl, I headed back to my hotel to watch telly and do my laundry - all my clothes were sweaty and gross cos it'd been that hot in Nagasaki.  The telly was the only modern thing in my room!

In the one hour break between VS Arashi and Papa Idol (my fave drama at the moment), I headed out to the place next to the hotel that I thought was a ramen shop.  It ended up being an izakaya and the master was a really cool guy.  He gave me some of the house specialty stew to try - some kind of cow stomach stew (he tried to avoid the stomach parts and gave me a nice bit of tofu instead).

I had some yakitoi as well and a plate of tomato slices.  Tomato slices might not sound like much but OMG... I never knew tomato could taste so good.  It was amazing.

I also tried Yuzu Hai (yuzu is a Japanese citrus fruit and "hai" means it's mixed with shochu).  I love tangy drinks and this was just perfect.  Maybe a little too perfect!

The next morning, I managed to use the toilet and bathroom without seeing any other guests.  There was a lock on the shower door but it was a bit dodgy.  Then went looking for coffee - hard to find in Kochi unless you want a 500 yen coffee with Ryoma's face stencilled on top.  Tempting but seriously, that's like almost $8.00 in Aussie money.

I got to the bus stop, it was pouring with rain and already I'd gotten pretty damn under my cute but ineffectual umbrella.  I had the option of either the tourist bus which was cheap but I didn't know where to catch it.  I could have gone back to the tourist centre at the station for info and a ticket but then would have needed to walk almost back to my hotel to get on it.

The other alternative was the local bus.  At the stop, it had a notice in English saying to get to the beach (where the museum is) you catch the *complicated kanji* bus not the *complicated and similar kanji* bus.  The buses only had the kanji on the front and stopped so quickly you barely had time to read it.

Plus it looked like it was about an hour's wait for the next bus.

I caved.  I got a taxi to the museum.  Then freaked about spending so much money.  Then freaked cos the driver had to look at my map to get there.  Surely if you drive a cab in Kochi, you know the way to the Sakamoto Ryoma museum!

Anyhow bus people - what's wrong with numbers?  They are simple and everyone understands them!


Scary life sized Ryoma
 The museum was interesting but still only had replicas of most stuff.  Including a replica of the screen from the room where Ryoma was killed - and arrows pointing to his replica blood.  I think they are keeping the real one under wraps so they can use the DNA from his blood to reanimate him at some point.

I think if you were fluent in Japanese, the museum would be a place you could spend a lot of time because they have a very extensive library but I have no ability to read academic books in Japanese.

A lot of the letters and things had only a simple English explanation too.  I'm pretty sure that they'd have been hard even for Japanese people to read because olden days kanji is much different and hand written kanji is insanely hard to read.

Upstairs, there were lots more dioramas and things like that.  There were also a series of storyboards for kids written in simple Japanese (ie with furigana).  They had all the interesting stuff too - like how Ryoma was a big crybaby when he was a kid and wet the bed.  His big sister had to toughen him up (big sisters are like that).

Crybaby Ryoma

Ryoma and his missus where the first couple n Japan to have a honeymoon.  Luckily they got out of that undersized onsen or Japanese history would have been very different.
The views from the museum would have been amazing on a day with better weather and the top room has huge windows so you can look out over the sea.  You can also go on the roof but it was too wet for that.


A nice man stood in the rain to take this photo of me and Ryoma.
 After the museum, I headed for the statue.  It was pissing down with rain and I thought about sneaking onto one of the tour buses outside instead of walking.  I reckon I could have got away with it!

Steps of death
 It would have been a lovely walk if it wasn't so wet but I thought I'd fall to my death down the slippery steps.
 Ryoma gazed out to sea as he always does.  In the drama, you'd have thought he lived very close to the beach but it's 10 km out of town... or maybe more.  When I got in the cab the sign said 10 km to the museum but then it kept saying that for a fair way out of town.  Also you have to go over some big hills so it would have been quite a walk in the olden pre-car days.

 The beach was gorgeous even in the rain.  Even though it looks tranquil though, there was this bloody aquarium place on the beach with the dolphin show commentary blasting over it's loud speakers the whole time.  Blerk, typical Japan.

I do not approve!
The other thing Katsurahama beach is famous for, other than Sakamoto Ryoma, is dog fighting.  I think that is pretty barbaric and disgusting.

There were a heap of omiyage shops but they looked really dead and didn't have amusing omiyage like the ones in Nagasaki, just like boxes of cookies with a picture of Ryoma slapped on the front.  Oh and samurai sword umbrellas which were really tempting.

 Back in town, I went to the famous bridge.  There is a love story about a monk who fell in love with some chick and got in heaps of trouble and maybe they suicided from this bridge but I don't see how cos the water is like 2cm deep.  There was a picture of them - one of the cutouts you can put your head in and it looked like he was trying to force her to give him head.  Wish I'd taken a photo of it.  No wonder he got in trouble.


In the afternoon, I went to Gokoku shrine.  I'm not big on visiting shrines but really wanted to go there.  I might make a separate post about it some time.
 


I ended up going to an izakaya for the regional specialty food - katsuo.  It is one of the best regional specialty foods I've ever tried.  Amazing.  The izakaya is apparently quite well known because the owner is a local character but he kinda pissed me off cos he was over-playing the local character thing.  Also doing this over-emphasised talking in English thing for the foreigner and really playing it for the crowd.  The food was good though.

In between times, I'd been back to the hotel twice to get changed because I'd gotten so wet - even after buying a less pretty but more practical umbrella.  I had clothes hanging all over my room.

I walked through the city the next day.  It really is beautiful.  The weather had improved a helluva lot too and it was almost too hot.

There is a statue of this chick in the grounds of Kochi castle.  She is famous cos she was frugal and had a secret stash of cash.  When her husband when to war, she used her money to buy him a horse and he won lots of battles.  Then she sent him secret information to change teams so he did and his side won and he got heaps of shit from the Tokugawas (I think that might have actually been Kochi - and he got to be overlord of it).

He's damn lucky Arashi weren't around in those days cos she'd have used all the cash to buy Arashi merchandise and would have been too busy watching dramas to send him secret messages.  Her favourite in Arashi would have been MatsuJun - I can tell that by looking at her.



View out the castle window.  I took about 1000 pics like this but won't post them all.  Then my memory card was full on my camera so I had to delete a heap of pics (mostly because the ones from Aomori the weekend before hadn't been deleted).


I guess it bets having vending machines in the castle grounds.



not so oishii
Kochi castle is pretty much like every other castle in Japan except it's pretty much intact, not a reproduction like most of them.  There were lots of models of life in olden days Kochi and the people were bigger than the houses!  Is that based on historical fact?  Or was the model maker just slack about scale?

The most interesting thing about the castle is that the last daimyo - Yodo Yamauchi - was a complete drunk and used to swan around the castle organising stag beetle fights and other shit.  the stuff at the castle seemed to skim over that though.

I also went to the Yamauchi museum and was hoping they'd sell Yoko sake jugs but they don't seem to have much of sense of humour about it.  Which is strange really cos the Yamauchi family "thing" seemed to be wearing rabbit hats.  Obvs they had drinking problems for generations.


This is where Sakamoto Ryoma was born.  I'm not sure if they mean on the street itself or in the insurance building opposite.

Normally I don't like taking pics of other people's kids unless they are cute and I ask permission first but this kid sat there making "cute" poses for ages and wouldn't leave and I dont' have all day to stand around in the hot sun waiting to take a picture.  So screw you, I took the pic and posted it on the internets, you photo spot hogs.




To be honest, the Sakamoto Ryoma home town museum didn't have much to add to the Ryoma story that I hadn't already seen but it had cute little Ryoma cartoons and a freaky diorama.  I think you could go sit with Ryoma and Mrs Ryoma and have your photo taken but, to be honest, they looked liek they might come to life and gut me like a fish, so I kept my distance.


Ryoman Holiday!  I was going to photoshop me into this picture but am too lazy.

There seems to be a big thing about Ryoma on motorbikes.  Since he seemed to get around Japan pretty quickly in the days before the Shinkansen, maybe he got one from the future.



After some karaoke to get out of the hot sun and some drinks, I headed for the Hirome market to get more katsuo and decided to get over my self consciousness. 

The katsuo is even better here cos you can watch them cook it traditional style over a straw fire.  It was super good.

Anyway, I had my tray of food and wandered around looking for somewhere to sit.  It's like food court style seating and, being a Saturday night, was packed.  I thought there were heaps of seats but people had left bags and hats and things to mark their spots.

I felt very forlorn doing circuits with my tray of food and nowhere to sit when a girl come over and asked if I was alone and told me to sit with them.  Her and her friend were heaps of fun and another woman came to claim her spot at the table who was obsessed with Sakamoto Ryoma.  I showed her all my pics and the group of us ended up drinking together.  Lots of local sake and some more of the yuzu hai (this is where it started getting dangerous!~).

After they left, I wandered around talking AT random people in bad Japanese and ended up sitting with a bunch of Japanese guys.  They kept buying me food (like takoyaki... WTF?) and more sake.

The barmaid kept coming around fondling my boobs.  Why do Japanese people, especially women think it's okay to touch your boobs?  It's really not.

The next morning I had a killer hangover and felt like shit.  I was going to stay the night in Osaka but decided to come straight home.  I really wasn't coping with life let alone dragging my shit around Osaka looking for a room.  And, to be honest, I was a bit sick of touristing.


Before I left though, I did go to the Ryomaden "experience" near the station.  It was a total gyp mainly because these old people were tour guiding and kept bossing me around and telling me what to look at and what to take photos of.  They were annoying.  Then I wanted to do the Ryoma dress up/cosplay thing but an old lady told me to leave.  I was too hungover to argue with her but fuming inside.



One last Ryoma statue.  With his mates who I think are Takechi and Shintaro. Takechi was the one who was really into expelling foreigners.  Sucked in Takechi, you didn't. 

So that was my trip to Kochi.  A very long post but I wanted to get it all done so I can post my Korea shit next week :)

Also coming soon, my trip to Cat Town.