Takehara, a city of traditional residences

Waking up early I left a little note on the hostel counter thanking the staff for the great stay. It was a pity to be leaving Hiroshima, who knows when I’d ever be back to this lovely city considering the amount of places in Japan I still haven’t seen!
The hostel was busy with people but I was one of the few on the streetcar at 7:30am. I had just under two hours of travel between Hiroshima Station and Takehara before moving on to Fukuyama again after lunch. I had made a mistake when reserving the hostels so I had to back-track later to sleep the night in Onomichi again.
My rainy day in Hiroshima was apparently a one time deal, the sun was out and burning early in the morning and I already finished my first bottled drink before reaching Takehara.

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Takehara is the setting for the anime Tamayura. Cute how they’ve painted the information center to look like a kura storehouse.

On the train I met a couple of Canadian French guys heading to Okunoshima (Rabbit Island), and one of them was very keen on telling me all about the differences between gun laws in the US and Canada and his hunting techniques. Pretty much mortified but unable to tell him I didn’t want to hear about it (he looked so excited…), I nodded along politely for twenty minutes until we stopped at my station and I was saved. A wasp flew into the train half way through the trip and caused a bit of commotion.

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Princess Kaguya born from a bamboo. ‘Take’ from ‘Takehara’ means ‘bamboo’, so that’s probably where the relation to the legend comes from.

It had been a much longer train ride than expected —I should really start checking the duration time on hyperdia— but it was just past 9am so I arrived at a proper time to start the sightseeing.

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Takehara is a city with a preserved historical district, famous for its latticework and residences open to the public. There were also quite a few kura storehouses although not in the best of shape and shops with traditional crafts along the main street. I didn’t really find much information about visiting Takehara online, I planned to just show up, visit a couple of residences and the temple and see what I would find. A short trip report had mentioned Matsusaka Residence so I made my way there as soon as I arrived. From the station to the historical district the path is very well-signed, the manhole covers had arrows with directions pointing the way and I didn’t even have to check my map to make sure.

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Reaching the historical district.

I’m glad I started at Matsusaka Residence because it gave a good first impression. A woman saw me as I entered and ran up to a small table at the edge of a high elevated tatami room, serving as a counter. She showed me a combo ticket that included entrance to three other residences in the city for only 600 yen, so I agreed to that and started off with the first house. I was surprised at the cheap price, especially since all the residences were in good condition and some pretty big.

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Matsusaka Residence entrance.

Matsusaka Residence may have been one of my favourites simply because of the display at the entrance, with a few pieces of pottery on shelves and traditional shoes all in a line. I was surprised to see so many rooms of tatami. Granted, the house wasn’t that big, only three rooms in a row, but I hadn’t been to many similar ones to compare it to. There was an embroidered kimono in a showcase at the far end, many drawers and cupboards with other objects along the way. The woman at the counter probably lived on the upper level of the house and she was working in the garden outside. (There was also a separate little room for the old toilet that had a very scenic view of the garden and Fumeikaku Temple.)

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Continuing my way, the second residence I visited was much more modern (and western). It used to be home to Masataka and Rita, he was born in Takehara and later they founded Nikka Whisky in Hokkaido. The residence, today the Historical Museum, had mostly information and displays related to salt production. All of the signs were in Japanese so I didn’t understand much, but the pictures were enough to get an idea. At the exit a man asked me where I was from, when I said ‘Spain’ he answered with ‘Olympics!’. It seems like that is the most usual response from Japanese people when hearing about Spain.

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There was a filming crew making a tourism video of the town, a couple had to walk down the main street saying their lines and repeat for the next take. The Takehara travel map recommended visiting Shorenji, so I took a turn and visited the two buildings, but there wasn’t much to see. The whole town was a bit empty, actually, but at least that way I had the places all to myself.

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I really liked these curved bamboos over the drain. I don’t really know what they were for — maybe so people don’t accidently fall inside?
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The third residence,

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I love this building!

While the trip from Hiroshima to Takehara was fairly straightforward, the trip from Takehara to Fukuyama was not. There had been landslides not long ago and the tracks were still closed off, so I had to go through a troublesome set of changing transports in order to get to my destination. I hopped back onto a local train of the Kure Line until Tadanoumi Station —lucky I got there when I did just in time to catch the train, or I would’ve had to wait almost two hours for the next one!—. At Tadanoumi the train stopped and, having looked up the conditions that same morning, I knew a bus would take me to Mihara Station. Exiting I asked the stationmaster where this bus would be, and it was fairly easy to find since it was right in front of the only exit and with a driver calling out ‘Mihara!’.

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The road followed the coastline and I was treated to a view of the sea and islands all the way, something I don’t think I would’ve seen from the train. The bus was packed full of people and stopped at all the same stations the train would’ve done, not too long after we were arriving to Mihara. Showing my ticket to Fukuyama at the ticket gate they let me through. Mihara is a small town but has a bit station, another stop along the shinkansen line. I think it’s because Hiroshima Airport is nearby.

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Tanabata decorations on my way to the station.

If I thought that my transfers were over, I was wrong, for the train stopped at one point and everybody stood up and got off, I was left alone with nothing but the voice from the speaker. Everyone had crossed the platform and stepped into another train waiting at the other side, so I followed along in case the speaker had said something about the train ending it’s route here. It was the right decision, the new train continued the same course just a few minutes later and was passing through Onomichi and on the way to Fukuyama.

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That’s as close as I get this time…

I met another foreigner on the train, he had just finished doing the Shimanami Kaido for the third time and was heading to Fukuyama’s shinkansen station for a quick journey back to Kyoto to meet his family.
We said goodbye at the station and I tried to find some lockers to leave my backpack, but there were only two small ones that were already occupied and 700円 for the big ones: too expensive for only a few hours. My backpack was small and not too heavy, so I decided to carry it around with me.

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Hiroshima Prefectural Museum of History entrance.

In one of my itinerary’s first drafts I was planning to spend a day and a half in Fukuyama but gave it up as I inverted my itinerary and started in Osaka instead of Hiroshima Airport (to be fair I did add other stops so I’m not too upset). After my first visit to Fukuyama was canceled a few days before because of time constraints and on the second one everywhere was closed, I had higher hopes for my third visit.

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Luck wasn’t on my side, however, as I reached the castle once again there were rows of people sitting outside the entrance, a big sign saying something I couldn’t read and the gates were closed. I decided to make a visit to the second spot on my list before admitting defeat though, so off to the Hiroshima Prefectural Museum of History I went. The entrance was pretty cheap compared to most museums (270円) and they had small lockers where I could leave my backpack (100円 and they return the coin after use).

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Even though I didn’t end up doing much in Fukuyama, this museum made up for the trip all by itself. Only a few explanations in English but the pottery and old objects displayed didn’t need much of a description. There were models of ships and tiny towns with little figures, transparent blue plastic water with rocks at the bottom of the river and stones on the houses’ roofs to keep them from blowing away in an imaginary wind. When I was a child I watched a movie (short film?), The Tale of Two Bad Mice, where two mice find a dollhouse and procede to tear it apart. I think that awakened my liking for models of towns and houses, and I always picture little people walking around them.
In case that wasn’t enough, the last room had a full scale replica of an old town, a street of houses and shops that I could walk through and inside, see the plastic food and objects from years ago. I’m going to nominate it as one of the best museums in Japan I’ve been to.

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The shortest ferry ride in the world.

I decided to leave my bag in the locker as I tried the castle again. The situation was the same, but after a better look at the sign it seemed like it may have been an anniversary of sorts (50 years since the reconstruction, I think). I decided to walk around the exterior walls instead and found a nice spot in some shade to sit down and eat my late bento lunch. They were doing a concert inside and the music was loud enough to hear from the grounds. After sitting around for a while, I went to pick up my bag and set off back to Onomichi. I’ve fallen in love with the tune that plays at the stations when a train is soon to pass.

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Walking around Onomichi.

At Onomichi I stopped by the Information Centre at the station and asked for a sticker. Apparently there is an effort to promote tourism in Chugoku, so if I asked for a sticker in at least two different Chugoku prefectures I’d get a present. The Hiroshima sticker can only be asked for at Onomichi Station.
Even though I was in Onomichi again, tonight I was staying in a different hostel than last time. I was promised a more traditional room in a place along the shopping street. I shared the house with the family that lived there, but the room I had was indeed very spacious and nice. It was very hot though, so I spent a long time laying down in front of the air con.
I’d worn my sandals during the day because it seemed way too hot to be putting on socks and shoes, by the end of the day I had two red stripes over my feet between the straps of the sandals; I’d been badly sunburned.

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