As I wrote more I realized that I had way too much to say about even just the trip to Takeda Jō, so I’m going to divide it up in two or three parts. It was just too long for anyone to want to read about the entire trip in one sitting.
While I was in Japan, there was a commercial for Google Mobile that kept playing over and over and over (as they always do…I thought American ads got repetitive, but they’ve got nuttin’ on Japanese TV! (and now it can serve as a preview to part two of my post)). It was about three friends (one of whom is black! Progress!) going out on adventures together, and searching for fun places to explore. In the end, they wind up at Takeda Jō.
This commercial probably provided more tourism to Takeda Jō than any other ad campaign, and it definitely influenced us! We knew that before I went home, we wanted to at least get outside of Hirakata/Osaka for a day (we did go to Kyoto a couple times, but that’s awfully close too, and mostly to areas I had been before). It was definitely worth it, and maybe my favorite day of my whole three months in Japan.
Luckily Yuuki’s old apartment was literally on top of a car rental place, so that’s where we went to get our cute little car for the day. I had never been in a box car like that, and let me tell you, it felt…like a box. But a pretty big box.
The day before we left Yuuki told me he was nervous because he had only driven alone three times before, and never for as long of a trip as we were going on. That made me a little nervous too, but in the end his driving skills were pretty good. He was just a little too fast for me sometimes. I swear, sometimes I would say “be careful, there could be people around that corner!” and he’d speed up…I guess to beat them to the corner?
Other than that though, for having so little experience he did really well driving through huge cities like Osaka and Himeji. He didn’t even freak out when we turned the wrong way onto a one way street. Just sort of sighed and backed up, even though we were being honked at. What a pro.
Anyway, it had been cold in Hirakata-shi, but no snow. Yuuki was so excited when we started seeing the first little trails of it.
Being from Wisconsin, I wasn’t too excited at first. Though it was peppering down on us, it melted right away and the only place you could see it hanging about was on top of the mountains.
By the time we got to that Family Mart and beyond though, it was beginning to stick, and it felt oddly refreshing, as if the world was being cleansed.
We stopped at a McDonald’s in random town, and I steeled myself for stares. People still stared at me in Hirakata, despite the city being well-known for its college for studying foreign languages, with a large population of study abroad students every semester. So naturally I was expecting this town, which couldn’t possibly have all that many foreign visitors, to stare at me like I was in a zoo. However, I was three-fourths relieved, one-fourth disappointed, that that wasn’t the case in the slightest. The people who waited on me didn’t even bat an eye speaking Japanese to me, and turned away and talked to each other as soon as the order was done. No sideways glances or whispers as soon as I looked away. That in itself surprised me how shocking it was. I didn’t realize how was used to people either giggling and staring, ignoring me and directing their questions to Yuuki, or looking very hesitant and apprehensive. If you want to understand what I mean, watch this video.
I’ve ordered takoyaki at a shop before in what Yuuki assured me was perfect Japanese, and the server still, despite Yuuki standing a couple feet behind me and not ordering anything, asked him if I wanted chopsticks.
So I was surprised to find such disinterest and acceptance in a place with such a small population. It went against my expectations and it was a nice change.
Anyway, after eating, we continued on our journey.
As we entered into more rural areas, I began feeling strangely excited. I realized that most of my Japan-life was in cities, while most of my American-life was in the country. It felt strangely familiar, but with rice paddies instead of corn fields. This was a part of Japan I had never seen, nor particularly had the urge to see. Tokyo, Osaka, Kobe, Hiroshima, Kyoto…those had been my destinations of choice. Even when I went to Tottori-ken, and everyone said to me, “why would you go there? There’s nothing,” the truth was that Yonago felt a lot like Hirakata-shi. It was beautiful in its own right, of course, and I’m definitely glad I went to Tottori, but the part that I saw didn’t feel new to me, it felt recycled.
But now that I was here, in places that no one recognized the name of, with mountains and rice and hidden shrines on either side, I felt strangely privileged to view this part of Japan. One thing I still love about Japan is its embrace of trains, and the ability to go almost anywhere without a car. But its not true for everywhere in Japan, so I was glad I got to see this part of Japan via a car that I otherwise, despite my many adventures in Japan, had never glimpsed. I hadn’t even realized I wanted to glimpse it.
Another strange moment came for me when I saw this sign:
This sign is everywhere in Wisconsin, so seeing it for the first time in Japan, and backed by mountains nonetheless, was oddly jarring for me. It was also almost oddly prideful? As if I had a special understanding of what it means. Which is stupid, everyone knows what it means. I didn’t expect such a feeling, but for some reason it was there. Like I had an instant connection with the people living here, and I had roots in this sign. It was strange, and the feeling of familiarity followed with me for a little bit.
We stopped again, because I had a stomachache and I needed batteries for my camera.
They didn’t have any stomach medicine for sale, so I had to make due with citrus soda. I don’t quite understand the Japanese way of thinking when it comes to medicine. Yuuki thinks my quickness to take Rolaids or Aspirin is strange, while I think his refusal to take them and choosing to suffer is silly, and all at the same time mothers seem to take their kids to the doctor at the slightest cough. Yuuki himself says he spent a good deal of his childhood in a hospital.
We pressed on and I tried to will my stomachache away. Unfortunately, we got confused by the GPS, and we missed a turn. Even more unfortunately, missing that turn meant that we would now have to go through two mountains out of our way, because there was no turn off.
And for some reason once we had turned around, the GPS directed us to go through mountainous, solitary roads, instead of the highway we had been on. This is what part of our road looked like on the GPS:
The roads were super narrow, with a lot of sharp, blind turns, and I had to work at not imagining a car coming from the opposite way.
Sometimes the bends made it look like we were going deep into a forest that was going up, up, up…
…and sometimes it looked like we were about to fall off the edge of the earth.
We saw a lot of beautiful nature, though the tension and the stomachache didn’t allow me to enjoy it as much as I would have liked (but hey, that’s what pictures are for, right?).
It didn’t help my nerves any when we saw crazy old ladies walking on the side of the road.
There were also a lot of little shrines off on the side of the road, but I wasn’t able to get a good picture of any. I was more mystified with these little torii that were attached at seemingly random parts of the (rather futile – it didn’t look like it could stop a three-year-old at full sprint, much less a car) gate following the edge of the mountains.
I wasn’t sure if they were there marking the sites of tragic accidents, like we often do in America with flowers and crosses, or if they were there as a ward, trying to prevent future tragedies. If you do know, please tell me, because I’m still intrigued! Yuuki had no idea.
After our long drive, we at last reached the town of Takeda. Thanks to our later-than-planned start and our mountainous detour, it was much later than we had planned.
This is where part I will end, and part II will begin. I hope you enjoyed this cruise through the Japanese countryside!