Matsuyama and Gogoshima… Starting out in the Shikoku region

This summer I saw stunning sunsets and wonderful landscapes in Japan, and most were in Shikoku and its little islands. I was alone, and I often spent my time sitting down on a rock or on a beach or simply on a bench, just enjoying the view and thinking about my life.

I took a direct train from Okayama city, which has a long bridge that connects the mainland with Shikoku island. The journey took about two hours by bullet train, and I arrived in Matsuyama in the early afternoon. I walked for twenty minutes to reach the Apa hotel, and I was extremely tired because of the weight of my backpack. I really don’t know why it always grows heavier as I move about. Anyway, the hotel was very convenient and in a wonderful location. It was in front of a green park and the paths to the castle. The Apa is a famous Japanese chain of cheap hotels, and all the rooms are fully equipped with many amenities. In the common areas there are some vending machines, a Laundromat and a microwave. It has also a dedicated manga, in which the characters of the story stay at the Apa hotel. My room was on the seventh floor, so I had a wonderful river view, and I could see also the castle.

At five in the afternoon I left the hotel, and went walking through the park. When I saw one of the paths to the castle, I tried to follow it. The slope was a bit steep, but the weather wasn’t hot, and there was a pleasant breeze. I’d stopped in front of a historical building, which was the gardens of the castle, but it was closed because of the late time. I could hear classical music coming from inside, and, considering that there wasn’t anybody around, I started to dance in front of the big wooden doorway. I felt like a princess, dancing for my king… but there wasn’t any king. Then a boy ran through the path, and broke the magical atmosphere! Then another person arrived, and I realized that I wasn’t alone any more. I started to walk again, certain to reach the top of the castle. On the street I met a very strange Japanese man, who was talking with some Smurfs – some plastic miniatures representing the blue creatures from a famous cartoon – which he put on a big felled tree trunk. He really scared me, because he had been having a serious conversation with them, and I found it a very strange behaviour. I started to walk faster and pass behind him, scared he could follow me with his Smurfs. I think that it’s very funny now, I’m laughing while writing it, but in that moment it was very frightening. Anyway, I left him behind, and finally I reached the top of the hill and what I saw was amazing. The view up there was stunning, and I could see through the city till the coast. The sky turned orange and then red… It was the sundown time, a marvellous sunset. The atmosphere turned weird, and a lot of black birds were flying all around and broke into the red sky. Suddenly, everything changed and I found myself moving into a fairytale. The lovely cold wind raised my hair, and I stood on the top of the castle looking down to the sea, where it met with the sky and both turned into one. I had a lump in my throat because I was surrounded by the beauty of nature, and I was completely pervaded by emotions. Even though there were few people up there, I felt thoroughly alone, just me and myself, fighting against my demons and trying to find the answers to my life. With a dark sky I went back through the path, so I was in the wood, and I heard the real sounds of nature, as a beautiful soundtrack for my return downhill. When I entered in my room, I was quite shocked from the sensations I felt, but also reassured.

The morning after I walked through the city for a while, then in the afternoon, I decided to go to the coast and see the sea. I took a train to Takahamako port. The journey was about 40 minutes, but while the train was running it started to rain. I was a bit worried because I wanted to sit down on the beach and breathe the sea breeze. When the train stopped, I was so happy because the rain also stopped. While I was walking through the pier, the sun started to shine and I could feel the warmth of the sun’s rays all over my skin, a pleasant sensation. I climbed over a little wall on the sidewalk, and I fell from a ladder into a white and deserted beach. I went up the rocks, which formed a sort of bridge over the sea. I sat down there – me, the sun, and the wind. I live in a city, so for me it’s very strange to find deserted places where I can sit down and think. I spent about one hour there, dancing and singing, then I went back to the pier and took a little boat, and I reached one of the islands in the Seto Sea. It was the nearest one because it was already 4 p.m. I arrived at Gogoshima island after 15 minutes. It is very little, but extremely beautiful. I walked the road over the sea, searching for an isolated place to sit down. I saw a little, lonely beach under the road, but I should have come down from the top of the street. I held a rope, secured firmly to the railing, and falling down to the beach. I gripped the rope and I dropped from the rocks, even though I had some problems reaching the ground, and I scratched myself on the rocks. I did it and I felt so lucky because nobody could have known where I was, and it seemed I was abandoned on a desert island. I sat on the sand for a while, before trying to reach the top, climbing the rocks with the rope. The wall was very steep, and I found it harder than coming down. Anyway, I loved the adventure and I felt alive when I did something that few people could have done. Sometimes my friends think I’m mad, but I love the way I live, even though it’s a bit unconventional. I went back to the little port and I waited for the boat to the mainland. Another day had passed by, but it was another amazing day!

In my room I planned the boat trip for the day after. I wanted to go to Nakajima island and visited the other islands nearby.

From Thailand to Japan… the beginning of my travel all alone

I left Thailand after spending six days in Prachuap Kiri Khan, which is a quiet city on the coast – about 400 km from Bangkok – and three in Bangkok. I felt the difference from Chiang Mai, but I enjoyed the peaceful life by the sea and I could appreciate the busy life in Bangkok.

I went to Japan in the last week of August, and started my real travel all alone. I reached Kyoto directly from Narita airport, after a six hour flight from Bangkok. I was so excited to start my new adventures, even though I was quite scared too. I’ve always known that taking trains is hard, especially in the big train stations like Tokyo or Kyoto, but I did it.

I was in Kyoto for three wonderful days. I know that it’s a short time, but I’d already been there twice, so I’d almost seen everything all you need to see. Last time I was been there, I wore like a Maiko and I enjoyed becoming another creature just for one day. I didn’t feel myself when they started to whiten my face and made me up. I chose a Kimono and an Obi belt, and then did a photo shoot in the garden. It was an amazing experience and stunning sensation.

Anyway, I found a city that I’d never been to, called Arashiyama. The city is famous for its bamboo forest, and I really wanted to see it, because I could imagine the amazing atmosphere I could feel there. I went to Arashiyama by taking a Keifuku local train from Omiya station, which cost only 210 yen (about 1,80 €). I started to walk around the little city and in the park, finding the famous bamboo path. It was extremely hot and I needed to sit down often, just drinking and taking a breath. When I reached the path I felt as though I’d turned up in an ancient and imaginary world, where everything was colored by the intensive green of the bamboo, and the sun on the top shyly sinking. The atmosphere was unreal, even though there were a lot of people walking through. I closed my eyes and imagined being the hero of the “House of flying daggers”, beautiful and brave. When I stopped my imagination, I followed the path. At the end I visited the Tenryuji temple with its beautiful garden, where I walked around the trees and the little river, and everything was perfect. I reached the station, because I wanted to go back to Kyoto, and I was very tired and overheated. I’d eaten a green tea ice-cream and I’d regenerated myself, so I decided to go to the monkey park. I wanted to see the macaques in their natural habitat, even though I knew it would be hard to walk into the mountain in 40° heat. I started my climb with a fan, which was given with the ticket, and a bottle of water. At the beginning I thought I couldn’t do it, but then the desire to be in contact with the amazing animals gave me the strength to go on. When I reached the top of the hill, I started to see a lot of big macaques, who ran around me. It was so fun, even though it was a bit dangerous, because the monkeys were extremely spiteful and you had to pay attention to all your stuff. There were a lot of guardians to protect people, but the animals were free to move where they wanted. I saw a big macaque diving into the water, a lot of baby monkeys suckled by their moms and most of them groomed each others. I stood in front of all of them and I was completely fascinated by nature. The view up there was amazing – you could see all the city of Arashiyama till Kyoto. I took a lot of pictures, before going back to the station. The descent was easier, also because I was so satisfied and happy with what I’d just seen.

The last day in Kyoto I spent time in a cat cafe and in an owl cafe. I love being together with animals. Of course, the owl cafe isn’t the best place where you can see the birds, because owls are night animals and they have to live in the forest, free to fly and hunt. I know that, but I really like owls and I really wanted to see them, even though I don’t agree with these cafes. I visited one regular cat cafe and one Bengal cat cafe, in which there were only Bengal cats. These are an amazing breed of cats. Their fur is just like a leopard’s and they are beautiful. I cuddled one for half an hour… I love cats and I would like to have remained there longer.

I’d walked though Nishiki Market, which is a street full of delicious food shops, and Teramachi street. I saw some real Geishas walking on the Gion area and I spent time on the river to see the fabulous sunset. Kyoto is an amazing city – so traditional, but also so modern. Spending time there, even though only for few days, is regenerative, because you are in a city, but you are surrounded by nature and historical places.

I left Kyoto to reach Okayama, before going to the island of Shikoku. I’d arrived in the afternoon and I’d immediately gone to see the caste. It is small, but the architecture is stunning, and it has some parts of the roof in gold, but with a totally black exterior, earning it the nickname of Crow Castle. I then visited the Korakuen gardens, thinking to see the same boring gardens… Unexpectedly, when I entered from the main entrance I stood in another world, in the wonderland world. I felt exactly like Alice when she fell in the hole, following the white rabbit, and she went out in another reality. The view in front of me was breath-taking, a huge green meadow with many rounded white lights all over, a lot of streams and beautiful trees. I dreamed of following my personal white rabbit, talking with the Cheshire Cat, drinking tea with the Mad Hatter and running away from the Queen of Hearts… And yes,I lost my mind for few minutes. I went back to the hotel, where I found myself again. The hotel Maira is a very nice and cheap one, and they offer some sweet bread every morning till 9.00 a.m., all day free hot and cold drinks and a free massage chair in the hall. The room is basic, but clean and bright.

The day after I’d been to Kurashiki city, which was recommended by my Japanese friend. I spent twenty minutes by train from Okayama station to reach the city, and the most interesting place to visit is the Bikan historical area, which is the old merchant quarter. It contains many fine examples of 17th century wooden warehouses painted white with traditional black tiles, along a canal framed with weeping willows and filled with koi. The area has no electric poles in order to make it more closely resemble the look of the Meiji period. It seems to live in another century, and there’s a magical atmosphere all around. I walked through the shopping street, where I saw some interesting dress shops and a cos player’s photo shooting. I went back to the hotel, spending my last night in Okayama.

Okayama was my last city on the mainland. After that, I took a direct train to Matsuyama, where my travel around the island of Shikoku started.

Matsuyama… Il mio inizio nello Shikoku

Il mio viaggio è proseguito verso Matsuyama, finalmente sono arrivata nello Shikoku. Matsuyama è la più grande città della prefettura di Heime ed è semplice raggiungerla con un treno diretto da Okayama o prendendo un traghetto da Osaka o da Kure (ma il viaggio è molto più lungo). Io me la sono cavata con due ore di treno ed è andata bene, anche se c’è sempre poco spazio per i bagagli e lo zaino, se posto nelle cappelliere è un’impresa poi tirarlo giù, ma facciamo anche questo ho i  muscoli apposta!

I venti minuti a piedi dalla stazione sono stati alquanto pesanti e ovviamente quando sono arrivata in hotel ho fatto riposare le mie povere spalle per un’oretta. L’hotel è della catena APA molto confortevole e anche molto bello, ha persino un manga dedicato. La stanza è molto pulita e non è poi così piccola. C’è un piano dedicato ai distributori automatici di bevande, un forno a micro onde e lavatrici a gettoni. Insomma tutto quello di cui si può aver bisogno durante un viaggio, breve o lungo che sia. A Matsuyama l’hotel è in una posizione davvero bella e dal mio settimo piano ho avuto la vista del canale e del castello.

Verso le cinque mi sono incamminata per fare un giro nel parco di fronte all’albergo e ho intrapreso la salita per il castello a 132 metri. So che avrebbe chiuso alle cinque, ma ho voluto vedere l’esterno, non pensando di fare fatica per arrivarci dopo una giornata già abbastanza stancante. Dopo qualche metro in salita, mi sono fermata davanti alla prima costruzione, ovvero i giardini del castello. Anche se chiusi, dall’interno ho sentito  una bellissima musica e così ho iniziato a danzare da sola davanti all’antico e suggestivo portone a piedi nudi. Ho provato una sensazione meravigliosa e l’atmosfera attorno è stata impagabile. Finito la mia pazzia, ho proseguito a camminare nel bosco che si faceva sempre più fitto e la salita sempre più ripida e soprattutto non c’era l’ombra di nessuno. Solitamente una ragazza da sola in un bosco non è così rassicurante, ma no so perché mi sono sentita in sicurezza e ho continuato. Il suono della natura si è fatto sempre più intenso ed io mi sono sentita da sola a contatto con la natura… un altro modo per sfuggire dalla realtà. Ero esausta e ancora non avevo raggiunto la cima, ma ormai non mi ferma più nessuno e quando sento di non farcela penso sempre che dopo la fatica si viene sempre ricompensati. E così è stato, quando sono arrivata in cima i miei occhi hanno visto uno spettacolo della natura che neanche le foto possono spiegarlo. Ho provato una sensazione di libertà e onnipotenza nel guardare il panorama mozzafiato che mi si apriva davanti. Ho potuto vedere il mare, gli uccelli e piano piano il sole che ha colorato prima di rosa poi di rosso il cielo e il mare. Il vento che mi soffiava tra i capelli e l’aria pulita che potevo respirare mi hanno quasi purificata da tutti i miei pensieri. In quel momento ero come in una bolla di sapone e nessuno avrebbe potuto farla scoppiare.

Ho scattato parecchie foto e ho cercato di catturare quella magia che avevo davanti. Dopo un’ora e mezza sono scesa, ormai stava facendo buio e il bosco è diventato ancora più misterioso, ma alla fine dopo quello che avevo appena visto non mi importava molto. Ho comprato da mangiare e sono tornata in stanza a preparare un itinerario per il giorno dopo. Avrei voluto andare a vedere le isole, ma le previsioni davano brutto tempo per l’indomani, così ho deciso di andare a fare un giro per la via dello shopping e arrivare alla stazione centrale di Matsuyama City. La mattina è stata abbastanza nuvolosa, ma poi il sole ha deciso di venire allo scoperto e così ho deciso di provare ad andare verso il porto, anche solo per vedere il mare. Durante il tragitto ha piovuto forte e mi è venuto il dubbio che forse non è stata una buona idea, ma poi sempre il mio motto… Proviamoci e verremo ricompensati. Anche questa volta ho avuto ragione, arrivata al porto aveva smesso di piovere e ho potuto camminare un po’ fino a raggiungere un molo deserto e come per magia il sole ha deciso di ritornare, scaldandomi e facendomi sognare un’altra volta. Ho iniziato a danzare sulle rocce con la  musica nelle orecchie, immaginando di essere lontata dalla realtà che conosco in un mondo incantato. Visto che erano solo le tre del pomeriggio ho pensato di andare sulla più vicina isola di Gogoshima, a soli dieci minuti di traghetto . Dopo un viaggio breve ma molto agitato, sono sbarcata su questa piccola e verdissima isola. Ho iniziato a camminare cercando un posto dove potermi sedere e rilassarmi sul mare. Ho camminato per circa trenta minuti sul ciglio di una strada non troppo trafficata, quando guardando al di sotto di una scogliera ho visto una spiaggia deserta. Ho voluto provare a scendere ma era molto ripido, infatti c’era una corda alla quale attaccarsi. Visto che io amo il pericolo mi sono subito messa all’opera e, dopo qualche difficoltà tecnica, sono riuscita a scendere. Anche questa volta la fatica è stata ripagata! Sono stata un’ora seduta su una roccia proprio sul mare, a respirare aria pulita e a farmi cullare dal vento. Visto l’orario dovevo tornare in tempo per non perdere il traghetto, così ho provato a risalire e devo dire che non è stato per niente facile… appesa ad una corda a penzoloni tra le rocce. A riguardare ora la foto mi viene in mente che se fosse successo qualcosa nessuno se ne sarebbe accorto e chissà per quanto tempo sarei potuta rimanere lì, ma non è successo quindi mi ritengo fortunata.

Ho preso in tempo la barca verso Matsuyama e sono tornata in albergo felice e soddisfatta per la bellissima giornata. Alla fine anche il sole mi ha premiata e non ho potuto chiedere di più. Una giornata iniziata non proprio per il verso giusto, ma che poi si è rivelata fantastica… Sono queste le cose per cui essere felici e da cui assaporare ogni piccolo dettaglio. Si viene sempre premiati prima o poi, basta avere pazienza e pensare sempre positivo!