Friday, 4 January 2019

My Shimanami Kaido Adventure in October 2018

Today I received some photos from my Imabari Airbnb hosts, Tsuneto and Akiko, which evoked such happy memories when I saw their smiling faces once again. This was just the motivation I needed to inspire me to write of my 2 day cycle adventure on the Shimanami Kaido from Imabari, Shikoku to Onomichi, Honshu in mid-October last year.

Picture with hosts Tsuneto and Akiko

This came towards the end of a 3 week trip to Japan with the Frankston sister city delegation to Susono, Shizuoka to participate in their Australian Fair and a range of other activities and functions organised for our 4 night visit. I then traveled to Tokyo and then Kyoto with friends Peter, Margaret, Warwick and Jenny where we enjoyed the amazing sights, sounds, smells and tastes of what is the unique country of Japan! Tokyo, Kanazawa, Kyoto, Nara, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Hiroshima, Miyajima ...

Aboard the Toden Arakawa Streetcar in Tokyo

Kyoto dinner friends!

After our farewells the previous night, I was awake early and very much looking forward to this part of my Japan holiday; let's call it nervous anticipation! This was my 5th trip to Japan - mostly with delegation groups, school groups or family, but I have ventured off on my own a couple of times and there has always been a sense of "can I do this on my own?". After a short walk to Kyoto Station I was aboard the Hikari Shinkansen heading to Okayama, which takes just over an hour, and then changing to a limited express train for the journey to Imabari which took a little over 2 hours. Crossing the amazing Seto-Ohashi Bridge (Great Seto Bridge) at just over 13 kilometers long and crosses a series of 5 small islands in the Seto Inland Sea, connecting the main island of Honshu to Shikoku. The bridge is considered one of Japan's most spectacular and important bridges and was opened in 1988 after 10 years construction.

The Seto-Ohashi Bridge stretches back for many kilometers!

I arrived at Imabari Station mid-morning where my host Tsuneto was waiting to collect me. We had messaged each other regarding my arrival time but I had expected to make my own way to their home with Google maps guiding me and photos of the route saved on my phone. This was to be the first of many kind acts extended to me during my very brief stay in Imabari.

On previous trips I have experienced home stays, hotels, ryokans, minshuku and even a capsule hotel in Kanda but this was my first Airbnb in a private home - we had a 3 storey apartment in Shin-Okubo during our week in Tokyo. I had searched Airbnb in Imabari and found these SUPER HOSTS for an unbelievable price (more of that later!) but wondered "what's the catch?" Could this be too good to be true? - but all the reviews were glowing so I went ahead and booked it!

Tsuneto took me to the GIANT bike shop where I would collect my rental bike the following morning and I dropped off my pedals to be fitted to the rental. We then drove to their home and I met Tsuneto's lovely wife Akiko. My bedroom had tatami mats with the futon already prepared and an adjoining private lounge room with a huge TV. Tea and cake was provided as we chatted and relaxed in their wonderful home. I soon learnt that Tsuneto was a retired cardiologist and his hobby was Airbnb! I also discovered that I was their 900th visitor since starting in 2014, with guests from 60 countries.

Lounge room looking into tatami bedroom

I was keen to see a little of Imabari and get my bearings for tomorrow's ride so I set out on a walk and discovery tour. I headed back to the station and bike shop area and then followed the Shimanami Kaido cycling route out of town, which is marked by a thick blue line on the left side of the road. I found a supermarket and bought some lunch before continuing on and finding some men harvesting rice. Before long, one of the men went to his truck and came over with a can of coffee and a cake - insisting that I take them. I spent around an hour watching the harvesting and talking when they weren't busy - he was 60 and his 80 year old father was driving the harvester! The other fella was the land owner. My generous new friend had 3 grandchildren so I was able to present him with some small toy kangaroos I had taken with me for just such an occasion.

Loading the harvested rice

Rice owner (centre) and my generous new friend

After most of the crop was harvested I bid farewell and headed back towards the station, Tsuneto's home and then kept walking - Google maps was telling me there was a Starbucks some distance away in a large shopping centre! After many hours walking, and enjoying my large cappuccino, I arrived back at my home for the evening. Akiko's food was amazing - sushi, tempura, sashimi, chawanmushi, rice, miso soup, green tea, beer and the premium sake PM Abe served Barack Obama - WOW!!

And breakfast was just as delicious ...

After breakfast it was time to say farewell and head for the bike shop, but not before we exchanged gifts and I was presented with a certificate as their 900th guest. We then drove to the luggage transport depot to deposit my suitcase for delivery to Onomichi. Oh ... did I mention that my superior accommodation, transportation, 2 superb meals with drinks, certificate, gifts, etc. cost the princely sum of 1,200 yen (that's $17.13!!) and they donate the money to Doctors Without Borders! Can you believe that? Airbnb SUPER HOSTS.

My cycling journey began at the GIANT store in Imabari, through the carpark and turn left onto the main road heading towards the Kurushima-Kaikyō Bridge which takes you onto Oshima Island.  Tsuneto and Akiko had asked whether I was planning to ride up Mount Kiro as the view was worth a look. Well it was tough going but the view of the bridge and surrounding islands was spectacular!

Panorama from Mount Kiro on Oshima Island with Kurushima-Kaikyō Bridge on the right side

Kurushima-Kaikyō Bridge

My original plan for the usual 76 km journey was to take the longer route on each of the islands and ride around 90 and 80 kilometers over the 2 days - with an overnight stay at the Setoda Tarumi Onsen on Ikuchijima. The riding, the views, the islands, the bridges - each a different design, and especially the weather were all memorable and made for an amazing 2 day journey.

Day 1 lunch at Bubuka on Omishima Island

The highlights included: Kurushima-Kaikyō Bridge viewed from Mount Kiro, lunch at Bubuka on Omishima Island - duck, wild mushrooms and melted cheese on bread with an iced coffee, the relaxing and soothing onsen overlooking the beach at Setoda, Shiratakiyama Gohyaku Rakan (500+ statues of Buddha's disciples) with stunning 360 degree views, visiting the Shinto Shrine on Iwashi Island, and the swim under Innoshima Bridge near the end of Day 2.

My room at the Setoda Tarumi Onsen

Ikuchi Bridge linking Ikuchi and Innoshima Islands

Shiratakiyama Gohyaku Rakan (500+ statues of Buddha's disciples)

Spectacular view of Innoshima Bridge from Shiratakiyama

A refreshing dip under Innoshima Bridge on Mukoujima

My 181 (99 + 82) kilometre adventure was everything I had hoped for and more. Even the ferry ride into Onomichi at the very end of my ride was a memorable one. I also rode down to the Onomichi and Shin-Onomichi Bridges which are a no-go for bicycles - hence the ferry ride.

The ferry ride across to Onomichi

Finding my Airbnb accommodation in the Sangenyacho neighborhood proved far too difficult so I had to ring Yoko who came to the station to collect me. We walked the narrow streets and stairways to her home - I had got within 30 or so metres! I was also somewhat surprised that my suitcase was waiting in the entrance as all the "streets" were so narrow - perhaps they managed to strap it to a motorcycle?

View of Sangenyacho neighbourhood

My upstairs room was very comfortable with tatami matting, futon bedding and view of the Sangenyacho neighborhood. No meals were provided so I found a restaurant in the town and enjoyed a delicious bowl of ramen, with karaage and washed down with a refreshing ale! Back at Yoko's house we enjoyed conversation with the other guests and permanent residents, a few more drinks and showing them the Virtual Reality goggles we had used at the Australian Fair in Susono.

Shimanami Kaido route map - the yellow shows the 76 km cycle route with Imabari to the left and Onomichi to the right

After a restful night's sleep (it's amazing how well you sleep after riding over 180 kms!) and it was up early, finish packing and off to the station for the trip back to Tokyo and the final days of my exciting Japan holiday. Hopefully, I will return to Japan within a few years and I would like to take my regular cycling group back to ride the Shimanami Kaido over 3 or 4 days.

Monday, 10 December 2018

Derinya Primary School's Team Japan 2018

In early October 2018 Derinya Primary School's "Team Japan", led by Assistant Principal Stuart Charles, travelled to Japan with 16 students and 4 staff members.

With Stuart's kind permission, the link to their tour video appears below:

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Derinya Goes To Japan 2018!

Article submitted by Therese Sakamoto - FSFA Executive Committee Member & Derinya Primary School Japanese Language Teacher

Last month I had the delight of escorting our Derinya Primary School delegation to Susono and Tokyo. Sixteen lucky students from Years 5 and 6 were selected to participate in an action-packed trip of a lifetime! Our Assistant Principal, PE teacher and Prep teacher completed the group of 20 and we were incredibly proud of our students’ efforts and enthusiasm in embracing all opportunities. They represented our school, city and country with pride and succeeded in deepening the ties of friendship with our dear friends in Susono.

Susono Mayor Takamura, Board of Education Director Mr. Kazama, members of SOFA (Susono Overseas Friendship Association) and host families from local schools warmly welcomed us into the Susono community for a 4-night homestay, school visits (to Susono East and Susono West Primary Schools), Mt. Fuji excursion and free day with our host families. SOFA executive committee member, Mrs. Aiko Nakayama did a marvelous job in organising our Susono schedule, especially our homestays and school visits. She even prepared a bag of ‘onigiri’ rice balls for our hungry group to refuel as we raced from Mishima Station to Susono for our first school visit!

The homestay experience is always voted as the trip highlight, with students forging wonderful bonds of friendship with their host brothers and sisters. As reciprocal hosting is encouraged, our group was able to be hosted by Susono students who came to Frankston in recent Susono Student Delegations. Watching our students reunite with hugs and laughter and introduce themselves to their Susono host families is always a special moment for me as their Japanese teacher.

Derinya students participating in classroom activities in Susono

During the school visits we participated in language and cultural exchange lessons with classes of each year level. We arrived ready to go with our ‘uwabaki’ indoor shoes, ‘haburashi’ toothbrush, ‘meishi’ business cards and wore our Derinya uniform to show the classes. Everyone enjoyed Japanese calligraphy, traditional games, club activities and even personal interviews about Australia. Derinya students were very surprised that there was no snack break and couldn’t wait for their school lunch which was prepared in the school kitchen and served by the students. The Susono students squealed with delight as they received ‘meishi’ cards, watched our dance performances and kicked the Aussie footies around in the playground. It was not surprising that our students felt like celebrities for the day! Students from both cities were wonderful ambassadors as they took turns patiently demonstrating and supporting each other in these cultural experiences.

Catching a glimpse of the elusive Mt. Fuji proved tricky as it was only visible for a short time on one of our Susono days! Nevertheless, we had a fun excursion up to the fifth station of Japan’s highest mountain, zigzagging our way to the 2,400 meter mark in the coach. From there, we walked along the hiking trail of volcanic rock for an additional 200 meters and experienced the oxygen level drop and the eeriness of trekking through the clouds.

Above the 5th station on Mount Fuji at 2,600 meters

Our kind host families treated us like family members, as requested, but also spoilt the children rotten! As well as being loaded with lollies (yes, no doubt another cultural experience is to sample Japanese sweets!), they had a very happy time on their free day with host families visiting all the kid-friendly places imaginable including theme parks, sports events, aquariums, craft-making, karaoke rooms, ‘puri kura’ sticker photo booths and of course, shops!

Farewelling our Susono friends is never easy and we took many photos and exchanged as many hugs and kind words as time permitted before boarding our Shinkansen for the next stop on our adventure, a Sumo Tournament! The sweet smells of Sumo wrestlers’ hair product and the sound of the Taiko drums beating to announce the day’s bouts guided us to a small-town gymnasium on the way back to Tokyo. Without the pressures of a grand tournament, ‘Sekitori’ (wrestlers in the top 2 ranked divisions) were relaxed, joking around with our Aussie entourage and happily posing for photos – one sekitori even sat a few students on his knee like Santa!

Sakamoto sensei with sumo rikishi in Kanagawa

The inclusion of a day trip to Nikko (snuggled into the mountains, 2 hours by train NE of Tokyo) was definitely a good choice. Unexpectedly bumping into the popular Japanese boyband ‘Generation’ (with comparable fame to One Direction!) whilst seeing the three wise monkeys (Hear no evil, See no evil, Speak no evil) at Toshugu Shrine created bonus excitement for the group with our towering PE teacher catching their attention and securing us a gig on national TV! But our favourite part of Nikko was Edo Wonderland (also called Nikko Edomura and similar to Sovereign Hill) where we dressed in olden day costumes of our choice (Ninja, Samurai and kimono-clad townsfolk), participated in challenges and enjoyed a parade and show.

Ninja dress ups at Edo Wonderland

And the girls dressed in kimonos

Weaving our way through the streets of Tokyo with suitcases in tow became a skill that we mastered well. Our bright yellow caps, cases with 4 moving wheels with a maximum weight of 12 kg and comfortable shoes ensured that our human ‘snake’ moved at a good speed and was visible at all times. Suica cards (similar to Myki but much more useful!) allowed for smooth entry and exits at train stations for our group to explore as much of this amazing city as possible. In a nutshell, within our 3-night stay in Tokyo, we covered a variety of ‘old’ and ‘new’ regions and sights, including Asakusa, Shibuya, Harajuku, Oshiage (Tokyo Skytree area), Tokyo Dome City and Mitaka in the far western pocket of Tokyo to the must-see Studio Ghibli (better known as the home of Totoro).

Students at the Karinarimon ("Thunder Gate") outside Sensō-ji - Tokyo's oldest (Buddhist) Temple in Asakusa

Narita street shopping

We had a wonderful evening at Torinji Temple in Asakusa where we experienced Zazen (Zen meditation), shared a delicious obento dinner and danced with our friends from Shukutoku Elementary School. It was very special to catch up after hosting their student and staff delegations for many years at Derinya.

Zazen at Torinji Temple in Asakusa

For the first time, we incorporated a Student Day into our itinerary which gave our students the opportunity to research, plan and lead one of the days in Tokyo. This was to promote our school plan for increased student voice and agency. Our students thrived in this role and took full responsibility for organising an action-packed day and evening for our team. Visiting the Ikebukuro Fire Station to learn about natural disaster preparation and experience an earthquake simulator, seeing the statue of the famous and loyal dog Hachiko who waited for his master for almost 10 years at Shibuya Station, and exploring the home of Totoro at Studio Ghibli were meaningful experiences for our students who had learnt about these topics at school. And our day was topped off with an absolutely crazy evening of fun, music, dance and weird food at Kawaii Monster Café (affectionately dubbed KMC) where all the students danced atop the merry-go-round cake! It was the perfect way to spend our final night in Japan.

Toshugu Shrine

Since our return to Australia in mid-October, our team continues to gather and reminisce fondly about our time in Japan. Through speaking at school assemblies, writing articles and sharing photos, we hope to spread our experiences and to inspire as many people as possible to get involved in learning about and visiting Japan.

Hachiko statue at Shibuya Station

I am so fortunate to be able to promote Australia-Japan relations through my two passions of teaching and student trips to our sister city. It is wonderful to have close ties of friendship between the citizens of Frankston and Susono. My students already regard their Susono host families as their second families and are maintaining contact through social media. My hope is for these students and their families to continue communication and to experience the joys of these friendships for many years to come.