It was my birthday when I would arrive in the city of Kanonji. Kanonji is the kind of city the Japanese would call inaka; or a hick-town (with all of the negative connotation intact). To arrive in Kanonji (written “Kan-On-Ji” in Japanese, or è¦³éŸ³å¯º if your browser can show the shift-JIS encoding scheme), I took the Hikari (Lightning) Shinkansen from Himeji to Okayama, and then the Shiokaze (Sea Breeze) number 11 from Okayama to Shikoku Island.
A sign outside Himeji Station. It indicates the distance by Bullet Train to major destinatiosn, such as Okayama (20 minutes), Shin Osaka (29 minutes), Nagoya (1 hour 23 minutes), and Tokyo (3 hours and 2 minutes)
The train tracks. At times, some trains would just blow through the station on their way to the destination. In this picture, you can see a series 400 train is pulling into the station.
The pass to Kanonji indicating the date and time I was to leave, and the seat which was reserved for me
The actual train trip takes you on a bridge between the Japanese mainland to Shikoku Island, and is extremely beautiful. Sadly, none of my pictures survived the trip, mainly because I hadn’t wound my film properly – the dangers of using a manual camera, I suppose.
Arriving in Kanonji, my first objective was to find my hotel room; the Kanonji Grand Hotel (I have a link to their website below). Anyone attempting to retrace me journey should be warned that no one in Shikoku speaks English, even in the hotel! This caused untold grief to my mother, who told me all the girl would say is “Hai Hai”. However, my brother who tried to call me did say the people were helpful in trying to get a hold of me (I was out of the room and wasn’t able to call him myself unfortunately; my telephone card didn’t work for Pakistan. I later found out that it was because of fraudulant activities by people from “the Subcontinent” that led to the phone company banning international phone calls from phone booths to India, Pakistan, Iran and a few other countries). This linguistic divide keeps most foreigners out of this country but it drew me like a moth to a flame.
Kanonji is mainly a farming village
In my first day, I did what I did in Tokyo; just go out and walk wherever my feet would take me. It is an experience which I have never had in my life; being so close to the mountains, surrounded by greenery, and so far from civilization. As you walk, you see signs of small town life all around. The small town old man hawking Taiyaki made by the “King of Bean Jam”, the little mall, the flower shop, the school from where kids were streaming out (on their bicycles) as I walked by. I think some of them were a bit weirded out by the strange smirk on my face as I walked by. It was just so reminiscent of the “small town innocence” I read about. That, and the leaving of a beer can as an offering to a departed soul.
When I showed this picture to my teacher, she said it was probably because the guy in question had a great love of beer. Who am I to argue with that?
Kanonji is named after the Buddhist goddess of mercy, Kwannon. There is a set of 72 temples that religious Buddhists in Japan follow on foot, retracing the steps of a priest in the last year of his life. Several of them are in Kanonji. Being a Muslim, I have conflicting feelings about visiting people’s places of worship. On one hand, I can respect the artistry that people put into their reverence of God. On the other hand, I think it is disrespectful to enter someone’s worship place without having the proper respect. If you don’t have the same faith, or even similar beliefs, how can one properly show respect? At best, it would be merely polite curiousity bringing you; at worst, it could be a sort of twisted superiority complex, with one wanting to see “what God the primitives pray to”. I choose to avoid the conundrum entirely. If you think I think too much about it, hey, we are talking about my eternal soul. If you don’t think it exists, you can’t place any importance on it. If you do think it exists, you should understand.
Kanonji is a town split by water, and bordered by mountains. One side is vastly less developed than the other, as it holds Kotohiki Park and the highway out of town. The other side has most of the buildings, hotels, and restaurants. The train tracks controlled by the J.R. are a more logical splitting point; they split the town between the more commercial side and the more agricultural side. If you continue to walk a great distance, you can reach the Industrial area, which is basically, across a small “bridge” from the agricultural area. A dangerous design, one that I recall to this day.
Building archetecture has hints of old-school Japan. You won’t find the soulless concrete blocks as often as you do in Tokyo and Osaka, but the designs don’t differ that much from designs from my own native suburb of Montreal. To be honest, the only think that stood out
to me were the roofs and the powerlines which were in-your-face no matter where you would walk. (Compare this to small-town Canada where they usually hide the powerlines in the back of houses). You will find the same idiotic Pachinko parlours and the occassional bit of Americana in the city. Not to mention.. the vending machines.
The new “real face” of Japan.
Vending machines liter the city like you couldn’t believe; literally everywhere I went, I would see a vending machine. I don’t mean that in a good way; they were an eyesore and are a constant reminder of Japan’s position in world politics – beneath America.
My first day had me walk so much that I would exit the city limits and end up in a farmer’s field. As I started into the rapidly darkening sky, and strained to find a source of light, I could only ask myself how I ended up in the middle of a Japanese vegetable farm during my trip to Japan. God only knows. All I remember was hopping a fence, winding up on a street (of sorts) and sort-of walking towards any light that I could see.
I would pass by another Pachinko parlour, and car dealerships selling crappy Honda Life low-emission vehicles, 7-11s and restaurants; but in the end, I saw the train tracks and could follow them all the way back to my hotel, where my severely aching feet would get some much-needed rest. (Did I mention there are no benches to sit down?)
Frankly, Kanonji is polite, quiet, and boring. Of course, this is what I expected; it isn’t much different than my home city. I was still nervous about Japanese food so I went to McDonald’s most of the time, my great secret shame. I could not live in Kanonji though; no internet cafe, no foreigners, no English, no nothing. However, what was there was enough to justify my trip; polite locals, a taste of small town Japan; and more than that, a glimpse into an old dream of my father’s agricultural dreams. Dreams of farm life in a small town; perhaps a “what-if?” for my own life.
Of course, if I had come for that alone I would be a moron. I am most certainly not that; no, I came for Kotohiki Park, which I would get to know.. the next day.