July 8 – Setoda, Onomichi, Kurashiki

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Treated to another Japanese breakfast at Tsuitsui Ryokan, Setoda – after a wakeful night of thunder clapping and lightning sheeting – that was supposed to come after our first day cycling the Shinimano Kaido bridges to Shikoku – rained off, and now about to be super-typhooned, we’d determined, between claps and sheets, to leave rather for Honshu than head on to Shikoku, considering the path of Neoguri (raccoon in Korean), and from Onimichi take the local to Kurashiki, to stay there rather one than the planned two nights and return with due expedition to Tokyo, where if anything really hit the fan of Neoguri we’d sooner be than lost in provincial transit. These things we have by now partly completed. I am sitting in the Court Hotel, Kurashiki, an excellent room for the price, without having been penalised for reducing our stay by a night, drinking salty lemon and vodka – don’t let them tell you Japan is expensive to drink around, although tonic is rare and seldom chilled.

Before we left Setoda city, rundown seaside town – a treatise might be written about the attitude to decay and the forces of decay, or straight-forward falldown dilapidation or desuetude, and Setoda is a study in these with some new variations on making do when your house is falling down around you, or wabi-sabi – we went and saw Kosanji, the Choseizan Kosanji Temple, a vast roccoco kitsch Buddhist folly, again with a genesis in filial piety, …. glancing at the brochure, I note: “The priest used to be a very successful business manager of a manufacturing company, which made special large diameter steel pipes in Osaka. Then, one day, his mother, who had lovingly taken care of him throughout all the hardships of his life, died. From her death onwards, his gratitude to his mother and Buddha grew ever stronger, until he decided to become a Buddhist priest. Later he decided to build a temple, which took more than three decades to complete, and included the years of the Second World War.”

Down we went, where at least it was cool, into the grottoes of many hundreds of Buddhas and saints and so on. Then up we rose into Miraishin no Oka – Heights of Eternal Hope for the Future, which the brochure tells is part of the Kosanji Temple Museum’s art activities: “It is a large garden of white marble covering an area of 5000m², designed and produced by Kazuto Kuetanai”. The whole remarkable extent of this hardly funereal almost blinding in the sunlight garden is of Carrara marble, from Italy, where the sculptor has his workship, “and carried to this garden on container ships”. “Miraishin no Oka is a space inviting all the living creatures into unity.”

We then ran back to Tsuitsui and to the bus-stop in time for the 11:25am to Onimichi. Two hours later and we are in Kurashiki, further, but not far enough, out of Neoguri’s raccoon and rapine path, or “raking” as Business Insider puts it.

We’ve now walked the bikan area. It is more than we expected from here – we were to be here for the journey to Naoshima art island. Now, no. It was an old commercial district. It’s become a strange mixture of Victorian, Colonial and Edo and Meiji architectures. In other words, thoroughly Japanese: mismatchedness at its best.

Out again in the 30 degree plus heat, although cooling into the evening, and back to bikan where we’d seen many promising dining prospects, which, as seems to happen, were now all shut. We executed a large loop and were giving up when on the edge of the old quarter we approached a ramen bar. Open. A man was leaving. Good? If you like ramen, he said.

I had the Kurashiki Niboshi Ramen, sardines being the local thing, a local thing, where every locality has one, and a sweetie too. We’ve been carrying local sweeties from Kanazawa – every time we approach a store, of which there are always several in the railway stations, boosting the local product, we ask ourselves whether we’d be allowed to bring them back in. To NZ, that is. … Kurashiki Niboshi Ramen has not had a pleasing after-effect, although it was very good in the eating of.