Boat ride down Kurashiki’s canal

Since there were no curtains in my room I woke up together with the sun and decided to walk around before I had to leave.
There isn’t anything worth of sightseeing in the small town I stayed the night, but there is a shrine (Omiya Jinja) nearby, so I went to check it out and, funny thing, I found an old kura storehouse just like the ones I’d be seeing the in a few hours in Kurashiki, only much smaller. Having the place to myself, I wasn’t embarrassed to stop and stare at it closely, so I was able to have a good look at the architecture.

Back at my hostel, I don’t know how I managed to fall asleep again after packing my bag and having a shower, but when I woke up it was already half past eight so I quickly got up and hurried to the station, leaving a note behind saying I had enjoyed my stay very much. I like to be at the different sites at opening time to make the most of the day, but I arrived a little late to Kurashiki.

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For those of you wondering what there is to do in Kurashiki, the city has a neighbourhood by the name of Bikan preserved as it was in the Edo Period. The buildings in Kurashiki are traditional Japanese storehouses known as ‘kura’, hence the name of the city. Kura were used to store only precious items, like rice or sutras later on, and started appearing as early as the Yayoi Period. There are many types of kura storehouses such as ‘azekura’ (log cabin), board-wall kura (you can see some at Shirakawa-go), ‘ishigura’ made out of stone… but the ones we find in Kurashiki are known as ‘earthen kura’. These types of constructions usually have a wooden structural frame with the walls being covered in clay and coated with plaster in order to make them fireproof. In Kurashiki we can see two different styles of tiling: laid diagonally and fixed with white plaster to keep them in place — this style of tiling is called ‘namako’ (literally ‘sea cucumber’ because of the rounded plaster) — and horizontal tiles. I think the tiling is to protect the walls from damage since the clay isn’t too strong.

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Typical kura storehouse

Today, many of these old storehouses have been turned into museums and shops. In all honesty I wasn’t sure if I’d like Kurashiki too much since it seemed to be a more touristy area but, although it was touristy, many of the people there preferred to do some shopping while I was completely alone in the museums I went to. I enjoyed Kurashiki very much.

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Reaching the Bikan area I first stopped at the information centre to buy a ticket for a boat ride (500yen) down the canal passing through the middle of town. I had arranged the dates so that I would be in Kurashiki on a weekend since they only offer boat tours on Saturdays and Sundays, and I had my fingers crossed it wouldn’t rain today.

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They gave me hour for 10:30 and since it was just past 9am, I had time to visit one museum first. The Toy Museum was my favourite, with displays of toys from all over Japan ranging from figures portraying legendary characters such as Kintaro, Momotaro, and the one and only Urashima Tarou (to state the most popular), but also full tables of kokeshis, darumas, kites and —I had to look up this word on translator, so I’m not sure if it is correct— spinning tops. The owner of the place has the world record for spinning a spinning top for the longest time, and he had his certificate displayed for all to see.

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I left the museum running once I saw what time it was, and the boatman was delighted to see a foreigner in Kurashiki. I think the boat was what made my day, nobody there spoke English and the twenty minute tour down the canal was entirely in Japanese but the guide was very expressive and very interested in what he was saying: his excitement showed and made me excited too, even though I didn’t understand much.
We crossed another boat with a couple getting married, we had to duck underneath trees at some points and we were able to see the beautiful houses from the water, as well as some old writings under the bridges.DSCN9148
After the tour, Momotaro Museum was next up. I found this place a bit disappointing. Although I’m an immature twenty year old who loves legends and ‘children things’, this place was a bit too childish even for myself. That being said, I’m sure it would be fun for kids — there were many optical illusions that were amusing, and most of the books, posters and figurines were child-oriented. A man who worked at the museum showed me around, and there was also a small horror house in a corner of the museum which, I must admit, was pretty scary because I couldn’t see where I was walking.

After making a quick stop at Ivy Square (I don’t really know what there was to see there other than, well, ivy) I walked around a few shops. The things I bought in Kurashiki were a tenugui towel since I hadn’t brought any towel from home for after my showers, and two tatami heri (borders) with beautiful patterns —one black with golden flying cranes and the other blue with different fish pictured—, both from the Toy Museum’s gift shop. I also met a big statue of Kitaro from ‘Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro’, so of course I asked someone to take a photo of me with him.

Achi Shrine is also easy to find, though nothing other worldly. I sat down on some steps at the back of the shrine to eat a few snacks I had, but was interrupted by a giant wasp buzzing around me. I got out of there before it decided to come any closer and decided to go for lunch since it was already pretty late (in Spain we eat at 2pm).

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Also did a visit to Ohashi House, the sound of a furin outside ringing through the whole house.

I tried Kurashiki’s food speciality before leaving, Bukkake Udon, at a place near the station, but let’s just say I was glad when it was over.

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Tonight I’d be sleeping in Onomichi, so I thought I could make a stop at Fukuyama Castle on my way there. It does seem like I’m changing hostels every night and doing lots of ups and downs, but it turned out cheaper for me to move around as I saw the sights rather than base myself in one place and have to return there after every day. I was excited to go to Hiroshima so it was nice being on a train going in that direction knowing that I’d be there the next day.
Sitting on the Sanyo Line yellow train everyone seemed to be taking photos of, I started cleaning up my day pack a little and found a key in one of the small pockets. I had forgotten my backpack in the Kurashiki Station locker!
Quickly getting off at the next station, I hopped onto the next train going the other way and backtracked to Kurashiki. I had to explain the situation to the station master since I couldn’t get out with the train ticket I had (the machine wouldn’t have accepted it), and after he laughed at me I was reunited with my bag once again. Of course, by this time I wouldn’t have made it to Fukuyama Castle with enough time to look at it properly before its closing time, so I went straight to Onomichi without my little stop along the way.
Fukuyama Castle is right next to the station though, and is easily seen from the train itself. I had never seen a (Japanese) castle from so close! I couldn’t wait to go there some other day during my trip and visit the inside.

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Onomichi Castle

Soon after exiting Onomichi Station I was met by a different castle, Onomichi-jo. Onomichi Castle was built in the late 1900s as a tourist attraction, it has no historical relevance whatsoever, but it still looked pretty perched at the top of the hill. Now, however, it is abandoned and entrance is not permitted. I was looking for the statue of Fumiko Hayashi, a writer, and she happened to be covered in pink and blue hydrangeas. The shopping street was covered with Tanabata decorations hanging from the ceiling all the way from start to end, and as I had never seen any before I was very excited to look at the children’s drawings and the wishes hanging from the bamboo trees.

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Onomichi is a small city next to the Seto Inland Sea. A chain of islands connects Onomichi to Imabari City on Shikoku Island, the smallest of the four main islands of Japan, and the cycling path passing over these islands along with the bridges connecting them is Onomichi’s most popular feature (it is called the Shimanami Kaido). Unfortunately I had to take out this activity from my plan since I do not have the physical strength required to do it all in one day and preferred to spend my time elsewhere this time around, but it is definitely something I would like to do at some point. Instead, I would be doing the Onomichi Temple Walk the next day, which also promised to be very nice.

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During the rest of the day I decided to take it easy and went out for a walk along the road next to the sea. I tasted Onomichi ramen, Onomichi’s speciality, at a cute family restaurant near my hostel; unfortunately it was similar to my experience with Kurashiki’s bukkake udon.

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