Alone in a big city is a shock to the system after a week in the countryside. People everywhere. Escape to small neighbourhoods, a cat cafe, a takoyaki cafe, a Showa-era pancake diner where cigarette smoke lingers in the air. The sales assistant at Truck exclaims ‘sugoi!” when I tell him I’m travelling alone for six weeks around the country. Starting to get the hang of Japanese and understanding how interactions work. Staying far away from other tourists.
Splurging on the island hotel meant late night walks around the museum and the island. A rare sighting of a tanuki that at first I thought was a strange-looking large cat (two Japanese girls confirmed it was a tanuki). Art in quiet places, slow revelations of light by James Turrell.
I made good time to Kosangi temple and strolled around the grounds, a monument to the creator’s mother. There was a cold, dark cave of buddhas, which was intimidating and frightening, but you exit to the feet of a huge goddess of mercy and feel like you’ve been saved. I bought an island orange and the kind shop owner gave me one extra for free. An elderly, blind dog.
The obaasan and ojiisan who didn’t speak any English. Rain. Alone in the homemade onsen. Obaasan wiped my bike seat dry for me as goodbye. Fog, bike puncture, onwards-facing cyclists bowing hello. The sight of beaches and lush island greenery threw me so much that I missed my turning and ending up cycling all the way into town to return my bike.
I set off early, scared that I wouldn’t make it to my accommodation before nightfall. But I needn’t have worried… even stopping constantly for photos I made good time. The roads were quiet, there were only farmers and once, a police car, where the inhabitants got out and said ‘ohayo’. Occasionally steep (for me) climbs punctuated by vending machine drinks and ice cream breaks. The smells were beautiful, almost tropical.
Cats sleeping on the roads, an old lady sees me taking photos of them and speaks to me in Japanese, places two hard-boiled sweets in my hand, walks away. A couple who run an old building with a beautiful viewpoint of the sea insist on taking photos for me. An old lady selling snacks tells me the colour of my red dress is beautiful in Japanese. A salaryman taking photos of everything walks with me temporarily, I understand barely anything he’s saying but he continues as if I do, asks if I know Ponyo, insists on taking a photo of me with a Ponyo fountain. Everyone so kind.