The Japanese island of Shikoku is well-traveled — but not by tourists. For more than 1200 years, thousands of pilgrims every year have walked the “Henro,” 800 miles to 88 of the island’s temples. Today, about 200,000 pilgrims visit the temples every year, sometimes walking, sometimes in cars or using public transportation. The Henro and many of the 88 temples are believed to have been founded by a monk named Kukai, who is a hero to the people of Shikoku.
I have always wondered why women spend so much time in the stalls of public bathrooms. What are they doing in there that takes so long? I am a woman and I don’t understand it! No wonder we suffer through long lines in public places! But now, Japan has provided an easy explanation for why women spend so much time in bathrooms. Now, even men’s bathrooms can have long lines.
Sometimes, all the travel planning in the world leads to surprises. For example, when I planned our Japan itinerary, I thought Tokushima on the island of Shokoku was going to be a small town and our accommodation there would in a small wooded village. Wrong.
In the late 20th century, a handful of people initiated an effort to revitalize the communities on the islands of Japan’s Seto Inland Sea, whose populations were shrinking as young people left for jobs and cities. The project — to make the islands centers of modern art — took off and paid off. Today, several of the islands have innovative art museums and year-round art installations that annually draw a million tourists. Every three years, a dozen of them host the Setouchi Triennale, a festival exhibiting the work of artists from all over the world. It’s happening now and continues for most of 2019….
We are spending a few days in the industrial city of Kurashiki to enjoy its non-industrial, historic, perfectly preserved village of Bikan. Bikan has been called “the Venice of Japan” (as if Japan needs Italy as a reference!) and “Japan’s most beautiful village.” It was once a merchant’s quarter in the Edo period, generally the 17th century. Its location on the road between western Japan and Tokyo (then called Edo) made it an essential asset in Japan’s national economy — so the Shogun himself managed it.
Onomichi is so much fun. In addition to having its own set of charms, it is a staging point for nearby places with other charms. One of them is the Shimanami Kaido cycling course. Visitors, including serious cyclists, come from all over the world to ride the 50-mile course from Onomichi across six incredible inland islands. Most do it in a day and so did we. Except, er, we did 15 miles on one island. But they were great ones!
If towns were family members, Japan’s Onomichi would probably be your eccentric aunt — the one who has cats, and an antique store that is only open on Thursdays, and sings along with Puccini arias, and drains her small bank balance to host elaborate dinner parties. Continue reading
This week in Japan — a new emperor, a new era, an earthquake, and Golden Week. When I scheduled my visit to Fukuoka, Japan several months ago, I didn’t know it would be at such an auspicious time. Or that I would arrive on the weekend of the city’s Dontaku Festival. It was a great way to start my visit to Japan!