Tag Archives: kompira-san

On things consuming other things

I swear to god I’m gonna die, for about three seconds, every morning I walk to school.  There is this one dude’s house that I walk by, and he must have some kinda goddamned dog-repelling device or something.  This high-pitched noise just wrecks me whenever I walk by, then when I leave it’s gone.  Maybe it is an American-repellant as well?  It would not surprise me to discover that there is some sort of ¥90,000 device that you can buy that emits unpleasantly high frequencies to prevent animals from hanging around your place, and it would surprise me even less to discover this man has purchased and uses one to protect his lawn (it is the most meticulously groomed I have personally seen in this country, and I catch him sometimes outside bent over primming and trimming his masterwork).  To assume such things is of course to ignore the plain fact that he has erected a fence of brick and steel around the entire perimeter of the plot, with a wrought-iron sliding gate in front.  Maybe the high frequencies are just to discourage little doggy or neko-chan: you hear this shit?  If you can get in, you are not getting out (I am not afraid of eating you as a component of my traditional breakfast).

Last Friday, somewhere around a thousand stairs into the side of Kompira-san, a massive staircase up the side of a mountain, lined with vendors that taper off as they give way to a liberal assortment of shrines and temples–and the nearly-sole attraction of the tiny town of Kotohira (aside from the train stations in and out)–we spot a stone statue of a turtle.  He’s got a few 1-yen coins on him, and I can’t tell if he’d appreciate or deride those who place such worthless trinkets on him.  It is a monetary gift, at least, to the turtle, and who could fault the by-and-by wallet-weary trekkers?  By now, even the most stingy among them has reached in for coinage a dozen times, every shrine inviting currency, to be justly delivered with a hollow wooden-box thud and, if one is hardy, a hand-clap and bow.

She reaches out to him and I wonder if he’ll pop his head out and snap.  I consider what horrible misfortunes might befall me if I were to take one of the useless coins.

The view at the top of the mountain, after another three-hundred some odd steps, is stupid, which I mean in reference to dumbfoundment: no man should be allowed to look upon anything from this high, lest he begin to ponder his tiny existence.  Precisely, I assume that is the allure: check out how worthless you are, now drop that coin, while you’re at it care for a charm of protection only five-hundred yen?

To say it was an experience would be about exactly right–more meaningful having quested there by our own means on foot with thin hollow bamboo walking sticks lent from a feisty elderly woodworker near the bottom of the mountain, where the vendors still number in the high dozens and the prices of cold drinks are expectedly proportional to the altitude.  I was neither dumbstruck nor underwhelmed: so this is what it’s like up here, is it? Now time to get back.

The turtle silently mocks me on my trip down the mountain.  He has the right idea: get up here once, stick around, and enjoy life as people place money on you and fear taking it lest they be cursed.

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Chewy noodles and modern art

I am primarily drunk (and partially sunburned) in a hotel room on Shikoku, an apparently oft-forgotten section of Japan composing its midsection, an island just off the coast of the mainland, accessed by a four-hour trip on “Jumbo Ferry” from Kobe. We caught it at 5:00 on Wednesday, and that’s not P.M., after sprinting across the bridge over the bay from Port Terminal, where we thought the ferry would be docked (but it wasn’t).

In Shikoku specifically, we are in Takamatsu, the main northern port town, and the first step into a region most known for their special food: sanuki udon, a variant on the nigh-ubiquitous wheat noodle, more chewy here and served most often in what registers to this admittedly neophyte pallet as a broth a bit sweet when stacked against other udons. The shit we had the pleasure of chomping on shortly after arrival was something just barely short of what I’d call revelatory, with free tempura clumps topping it elevating it to the level of Emminently Consumable.

This is to say nothing of the not-Japanese foods we’ve eaten while we’ve been here, including (but of course, not limited to,) the greatest Indian meal I personally have ever tasted in my life, a multi-course affair including a well-dressed salad, deep fried curried-potato pockets with chili sauce, a tandoori chicken plate with still sizzlin’ onions, and the pietze de triomphe, dual curries of impossible flavor accompanied by both cheese-stuffed and traditional naan.

But on the topic of food I frequently digress, and it’s not the topic I intended at all–that is to say, we are on vacation for the national holiday called “Silver Week,” and it happens this year (as it does once every six) to comprise a series of national holidays that occur in rapid succession on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, with convenient work-free days also occurring on Saturday and Sunday, and for me anyway, on this following Thursday and Friday (and, by extension, the subsequent Saturday and Sunday), due to prior relief from would-be work commitments, re: compensatory vacation as a result of compulsory attendance at the annual school sports day and a carefully requested day of Friday “nenkyu,” which is the Japanese term for a paid day off (the assistant language teacher of my persuasion receives twenty per year, only a fraction of which might be realistically requested when considering the Japanese workplace and its resistance to one’s shirking one’s duties)!

As a respite from the domicile in Kobe, we have decided to Connect with other sections of Japan, and this trip has been most exciting: by design, in only a mere two days here, we’ve:

Ferried under the longest suspension bridge in the world,
Seen the most famous(?) park in Japan (Ritsuren-koen),
Visited the ruins of a decommissioned castle,
Rented bikes at a hundred yen each and used them to cart all over the city,
Eaten the tastiest udon and curry I’ve personally ever had,
Ferried to Naoshima, a tiny northerly island, and seen art by Monet (and an assortment of icey “Modern Artists”),
Said hello to cats wandering the streets,
Immersed ourselves in peculiar Japanese programming,
and a variety of other things.

Tomorrow morning we leave for Kotohira, a tiny town of no more than a few thousand residents, and most known for its famous Kompira-san, an ancient temple making up part of a complex that is reached after ascending 785 steps (so says this particular guidebook), which can provide an impetus to visit certain attractions on the way, including but not limited to Asahi-no-Yashiro, the sunshine shrine honoring the sun goddess Amaterasu. Tomorrow night we are staying in a ryokan, a traditionally-styled lodging, which contains six rooms, and where we will dine on also-traditional breakfast and dinner.

I’ll put pictures of everything up once we’re back, honest. For now, in front of me on television, people are hawking Wii Fit Plus and Monster Hunter Tri. Also, apparently season three of Heroes is on DVD, and Shiseido shampoo will transform you into an attractive Japanese woman? I am busy with my lemon-flavored alcoholic beverage, purchased for 190 yen from a vending machine right outside my door. Their efforts, sadly, may be a trifle in vein.

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