On November 2, 2001, we met our driver Mohri for the first time after 8 years, at the Osaka Hilton Hotel. Mohri-san had safely navigated us in the fall of 1993 from Tokyo via Atami, Takayama, the Japan Sea coast, Kyoto, Nara and Mt. Koya in an exciting two and a half weeks’ tour with our friends Adi and Susy Schulthess. For us it was a kind of pre-sayonara trip (I retired in August of 1994 after 28 years in Japan)and for them it was having another look at the Japan that they had left in 1970. This time, it was for both couples a nostalgic trip, starting from Osaka via Kobe, Awaji Island to Shikoku, later Chugoku, back to Osaka. Mr. Mohri had just taken delivery of a brand new Toyota Estima van, so we can say that all on this trip were 8 years older except, of course, the van.
The famous Awa Odori in Takamatsu City, Shikoku in August of 2001 …
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In Kobe, we picked up Kyozo Goto who had been for many years my trusted right hand man in charge of everything in the Foodservice Division, last GM for Vending and recently retired from Nestlé due to an unfortunate reorganization (at the time of writing, in April 2002, this reorganization has been fully rolled back).
Then, the 6 of us drove to Akashi from where the longest single span bridge spans the Inland Sea to Awaji, then over the Naruto Bridge to Tokushima City and on to the lush countryside where KG (as he is known locally) grew up. He took us to a place where one could relax, fish, and ski, with a short ski lift now in disrepair. The entire set-up had obviously seen better times, but the food they served for lunch was outstanding and consisted entirely of freshly caught trout: sashimi, sushi, tempura and akadashi, all washed down with lots of ice cold beer.
Goto-san also showed us around his hometown and then, returning to Tokushima on another road, we left him at the bus station for him to take it home. We continued to the guesthouse of Otsuka Pharmaceutical, a large and very important group of companies, still family owned, centred on pharmaceuticals. We had a wonderful time with Ms. Sachiko Okamoto, who looked after us in a friendly and efficient way. The highlight was the visit to Otsuka Museum, which houses most of the worlds most famous pieces of art ever produced, all made on their unique process of ceramic tiles. There is even a replica of the Sistine Chapel in its actual size! It is wonderful to see all those great works of art, masterfully photographed by the world’s top professionals and produced on Otsuka’s technology. All the items are exactly as they were at the time of photography and will not change for 2000 years. Another benefit: where else could you touch a Rembrandt or a Dali painting, and photograph it with flash without permit?
After Tokushima, we started our Shikoku trip in earnest. There are many Japanese who tour this island on a yearly basis, visiting several (or all) of the 88 temples in a pilgrimage that was started hundreds of years ago. The most serious do it on foot, requiring at least 3 months of arduous work, but the majority go on bus tours or do several by taxi when on business in the vicinity. A priest by the name of Kobo Daishi constructed all the temples. Local communities and wealthy merchants have kept most of them in good shape. Some have burnt down over the centuries and been rebuilt, not always in the best of taste. There are inexpensive lodgings and eateries nearby to meet the pilgrims’ needs. There are also fine hotels and spas not too far away from some of the better-known temples, and everywhere you can find any kind of eatery for the more demanding tourist, especially in the various larger communities and cities. With the exception of one place, where the cost of our food and beer was something like $15 for 5, we were more than satisfied. We visited some 40 temples in all during our Shikoku/Chugoku trip.
We drove a southwesterly course towards Cape Muroto with a lunch stop at the castle town of Hiwasa (rebuilt concrete castle) where we found a most charming little restaurant near the beach. We not only ate well and cheaply, we had great fun chatting with two young couples and making lots of jokes and having a good time.
The accommodation in the best hotel at Cape Muroto was abominable and expensive, but the food was plentiful, fresh and delicious. Our room was a 4-tatami room where one could hardly move, a bathroom so small even Uschi had problems taking a shower, but dinner was served in a large banquet room. Had we taken away the leftovers, we would have had lunch the next day, too.
The road both to and from Muroto has breath-taking views of mountains and sea. The same is again true from Kochi, the capital of the province of the same name (formerly called Tosa) all the way to the next Cape, Ashizuri.
In Kochi, the Castle is magnificent, probably the next best to the fabulous Himeji Castle where Nestlé has a factory since 1965. There are many other sights but we found the food offer especially stunning. We stayed at a western style hotel but always went outside for our meals except for the breakfast (Adi also had breakfast Japanese style).
On the outskirts of Kochi is the famous Ryugado Cave, rising steeply inside a mountain with narrow tunnels and low passages and about 500 steps to the exit some 300 metres above the entrance. At one point, your scribe virtually had to crawl a few meters on hands and knees as his bulk would not go through the narrow solid rock walls.
The hotel at Ashizuri had beautifully appointed Japanese rooms yet their food left a bit to be desired. You sometimes just cannot win it all, can you, but the surroundings were imposing. Uschi and I were in another hotel there in 1969 at which time I just gorged myself on sashimi and fresh lobster, all raw, as Uschi left me her portion and ate rice with Fondor and akadashi only. This time, no more spoils for me, as she has learned to like these Japanese delicacies.
Now the road took us up north, via the stunningly natural Tatsukushi Marine Park to Uwajima, in Ehime Prefecture where the long burning charcoal on which we do all our grilling, is still produced widely. The Western style hotel did not provide any meals so we went out and found a place called Kadoya, which means corner shop. The manager that I lured away from a well-known Tokyo confectionery wholesaler to run our Libby business in the eighties is also called Kadoya, and I think his family must be from that vicinity as every second business was so named.
Further north along the seashore got us to the most phenomenal seaside restaurant. Adi had always been on the lookout for such a place and he was the first to spot it. Our driver was asked to stop and we went in. A large place it was, with a huge seawater basin in the middle of it with all kinds and sizes of fish swimming around. We asked for a Suzuki and after an attendant struggled to catch the one we had pointed out, it took but 5 minutes before the fish was put in front of us, still “breathing” yet cut sashimi style so that we could take piece after piece off to eat; there is no tastier or fresher fish available anywhere in the world. Of course, it is not for everybody and our wives had a slice, then had their fish and vegetable tempura.
All along the way, we had been admiring the beautiful coloured – mostly blue and brown -roofs on many regular dwellings and farmhouses, also the various decorations at the end of the roofs called oni gawara, oni means devil and gawara tile. On the road to Matsuyama, we found a factory making such special finial tiles. They had a large selection of various shapes and sizes; the larger were used to decorate temples and shrines. We took some photos.
Matsuyama has a well-preserved Castle with donjon and garden beautifully maintained. They even had hired some locals to dress in a Meiji police uniform and also some young ladies as geishas as well as a Samurai. The view from the castle, reached side by side by a cable car and a chairlift, is superb: the inland sea and the shores of Japan proper can be seen. We also spent time to visit the famous Dogo Onzen (Hot Springs with its many fine Ryokan and Rotemburo (outside baths).
The next day was one we will not so easily forget. On the way from Imabari to Kotohira, as in 1969, we drove down National route 32 to Koboke and Oboke gorges where the fast flowing water is of a deep green colour next to the steep rocky sides with some hardy trees, and a sprinkle of beautifully coloured maples. Three of us went for a boat ride, but as I knew we would have to kneel on thin rice mats for half an hour, something I did not want to suffer again, I stayed behind. Then we drove over a pass into what is known as Shikoku no heso, or the navel of Shikoku. First, we went to see the Kazurabashi, a pedestrian bridge made of vines. It crosses a fast flowing Mountain River, and naturally, it sways, and the bigger the crowd, the more it sways. It has to be constantly checked for weak links, and is entirely rebuilt every 3 years.
As there were so many tourists there that Sunday, they made us return via a wild, narrow and winding mountain road only 3 meters wide; we were lucky there was never an oncoming car, but motor cyclists once overtook us after a lot of horn-honking. They must have had a ball. On another narrow prefectural highway, we followed the Iya River Valley from Nishiiyama to Iyaguchi village driving for 30 kilometres around 700 curves, surrounded by unbelievable explosions of colours from green to yellow, orange, dark red and even purple. These were the maple forests of central Shikoku and they were at their very best. There was one lone restaurant on the way, with a tremendous view of the valley deep down below, and the surrounding mountainsides and peaks, but all parking places had been taken and there was huge congestion due to many people waiting in their cars for a departing vehicle.
We finally had a late lunch at the end of that highway. We had to hurry, especially since we wanted to visit Udatsu, a traditional village that still has the character of a Meiji era settlement. On this trip, we had already visited 2 such villages, but Udatsu was by far the best preserved. In another, Takemura on the southern coast, we had an excellent kawara soba, or noodles served on a roof tile. One can see silkworm cultivation and silk spinning, sake making (lots of good quality water is required), also one of the first small beer breweries is again operative. Many other trades are still seen, such as paper umbrella, wooden clog and straw sandal making, as well as a number of old fashioned fancy cake making and filling assembly lines (In the late eighties, Jacky Donatz was so intrigued that he was thinking of investing in such a contraption to try and adapt it to make his famous and disgustingly tasty raviolis he calls mezze lune).
In accordance with Japanese customs, we arrived late at Kotohira Town. To avoid problems, we had Mohri-san call ahead that we were on the way so all was waiting for us. We were shown to the most luxurious accommodation in a 12 tatami suite and had a Japanese style dinner worthy of a prince. After that fine repast, it took much effort and persuasion for me to convince the head maid to prepare for Uschi and me a Western breakfast of kohi, behkon tamago, olengee juisu, & tosto, meaning coffee, orange juice, bacon and eggs, and toast.
When Uschi & I visited this town in 1969, I walked up the 900 or so steps to the Main Kompira Temple. This time, I only climbed about 150 steps and then chatted with a 90 year old grandmother who, like my own, wanted nothing more than to feed me, in this case, Japanese red bean cakes with hot local ocha (green tea), or a Vanilla float with Coca Cola (the latter was for sale, the former would have been a freebie but I just do not like red beans). So I only had piping hot ocha. I told her so many jokes that in the end she gave me a little trinket as a good luck charm.
After the three stone-step climbers had returned and emptied their respective bladders, it was off to Takamatsu City where we wanted to see the justly celebrated Ritsurin Garden. For us, it was the fourth time and we were again impressed with the beauty and serenity of these man-made masterpieces where everything looks as though nature had done it.
Over the Seto Ohashi, we passed Kurashiki, but our destination was Onomichi City, in Okayama Prefecture, another place of pilgrimage in the olden times. The Ryokan was a splendid assortment of charming but aging houses and cottages and their garden is well laid out, but because the Shipbuilding Industry has been creeping up to it, I think that for years the owners have failed to put any money back into repair and maintenance. The whole affair has a feel of dying. The food was slow to come (too far from the kitchen) but at least it was tasty. Still far too costly for the state everything is in now.
Off to Hiroshima, where we had all been before, so no visit to the Museum depicting the 1945 A-bomb attack. We wanted to see Miyajima, and thanks to my planning, we had the timing just right: we were there exactly at high tide with the torii fully in the water. It was a cold and grey day but it was a good visit nevertheless, with even the momiji looking quite colourful on the pictures.
On the way back to Osaka, we stopped one night in Kurashiki, an old merchant town with many old storehouses still around. It was yet another sunny yet cold day and it was a pleasure strolling around the town and the temples. Unfortunately, the Ryokan there was similar to that in Onomichi: very overrated in accommodation and food.
On the last day, we had a nice drive back to Kobe, went to Rokko-san for a tour and then hit our 1960s hole-in-the wall steak house near Sannomiya Station, the Miyazu, for a real charcoal grilled Kobe steak. The owner and his wife are still there, the beef is as good as ever and the French fries are still prepared in the traditional way Ã la Zanchi, with the salad dressing still based on my 1967 input. Why didn’t I ask for royalties? The toasted garlic French baguette also tasted just the way we had been dreaming of.
We returned the Estima to the Toyota Agency near the Hilton and had a last Japanese dinner with our friends in Japanese style. They left Japan for Switzerland the next day. They had been away a month; the 2 weeks prior to us meeting them they had toured Japan from Tokyo to Kyoto with their 3 grown sons, the eldest of whom was born in Kobe. The other two had never been in Japan before and so had a beautiful first stay with the whole family. We all met together on Oct. 30 at our favourite Kyoto hangout, the Higashiyama Sanso, a great Shabu Shabu place in an elegant, old Japanese house, where in 1968 we bought our first Japanese ship chest. And where in 1970, during Expo 70, my father, Uschi and I had Bündnerfleisch and a bottle of Dézaley in the tea cottage in the middle of the Takeda family 19th century pond.
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