2014
06.13

SYNOPSIS:  About three things out of sync — about the fatigue factor…  About a famous garden.  About forgetting why I was here and about manifesting the answer.  About my new hotel.

It had to happen sooner or later: I got on to the wrong train.  The woman at the information booth had clearly said “track one” but then she had pointed straight ahead and so I went straight ahead and sat down in one of those local trains — it looked right and it felt right until I got out after the second stop and was in the middle of nowhere.  Back I went to the starting point — I had been on track 4.  Come on!  I realized that I had paid zero attention and just gone straight.

As if that was not enough, I got out after the second stop, map in hand, looking for my next hotel.  And I walked, on and on, counting streets up to the corner where I figured the hotel should be — nothing.  Nobody who spoke English was in sight, but at least there was a woman who could look at my map and figure out that I had way overshot my walk.  Back I went to nearly the starting point — the hotel was so close to the station and so close to the park!  All that lugging for nothing…

But I had chosen well:  the hotel was located right next to the park I had come to see:  The Ritsurin Garden in Takamatsu.  I showered, I went.

A garden you might ask?  Aren’t there enough gardens you have seen by now, and more to come?  Why go out of your way for a garden?  Well… yeah… there is that issue again: does it matter if it’s the real thing or a reconstruction?  I had to know.  And the Ritsurin Garden is one of the most famous gardens in all of Japan in part for the fact that it was not destroyed during WWII or for any other reason, even though the town of Takamatsu got hit badly.  And as the garden stands now it is nearly 400 years old!

They started to work on this thing in the 1640s and considered it done by 1754.  Now that is patience!  A garden that was worked on for over 100 years to complete and of course takes legions of workers to this day to maintain.  I can’t say that I am not impressed.  Since 1875 this garden has been open to the public.

This garden has over 1400 pine trees, several ponds, hills, bridges, a tea house, guest houses, a villa, plum trees, lotus ponds, an iris garden, a borrowed mountain in the background and ever-changing scenery to be enjoyed, ideally throughout the various seasons.

The most defining characteristics are some of the so-called box-pines; pine trees that have been forced to grow square using bonsai trimming and pruning methods for over 300 years.  I spent a full three hours in the garden and if there had been benches…  Once again, this is conceived as a strolling garden and the places to sit and rest are preciously rare.

But one thing did not go out of my mind:  I was enjoying the garden alright, but why on earth had I booked two nights in this town?  What else was I going to see that made me choose this town?  For the life of me I could not remember and my guide books had been of no help.

Half way into the garden, Matsu appeared — another volunteer guide, just like Taro or Rie in Himeji.  We had a pleasant conversation but then I sent him off.  I just did not need all the lords and all the details of history while I was going to enjoy the views and the scenery of this place.  And for once, this garden was labeled with excellent and detailed descriptions in Japanese and English — that was all I needed.  Thanks to whoever is responsible for that!

Soon after, two Australian ladies caught up with me, and since we were following the same route, it was hard not to coincide constantly.  So finally,  we just walked together: Judy and Philippa.  As we were enjoying the scenery we were chatting about our Japan experiences and the two of them mentioned the trip they were about to embark on: Nioshima — an island filled with contemporary art galleries.   That’s what I had planned on doing!  Thank you manifestation, god!  It came all back to me.

Mind you, I had a total of 2 weeks to prepare for a 70 day trip to Japan.  Making hotel reservations and calculating my main route, figuring all the variables between time, UNESCO sites, railroad pass, and festivals was more than enough to make my head spin.  But of course, that is no excuse.  I know.

I remember that I did not want to leave out the Shikoku Island completely and that I chose two cities on the island as a side trip.  But a whole day on an island to explore contemporary art sounded exhausting by now.  I needed something more manageable.  How about Noguchi?  There is a Noguchi Garden Museum not far from here.  A two months reservation is recommended to join one of the three tours given three times a week.  We shall see…

After the garden tour I retreated to my new hotel.  It could not be further from the Engakudou in Himeji.   It’s a run-down, slightly dirty and neglected looking building — that’s why I walked right by it in the first place —  right next to the railroad.  In fact, my room in the fourth floor looks down on the train tracks and I have the pleasure of the train going by at least twice per hour, more likely three to four times — zoom and loud!

But after all the people at the Engakudou, I just love my privacy.  I have a Japanese-style tatami floored room again.  For the first time in this country, I have my own bath, sink, and toilet.  No sharing.  This room holds up to three people, but in contrast to the USA where rooms are charged by the number of beds, rooms in Japan are charged by the number of people.  So I have lots of room for the budget price of one.  And I have antique little pieces of furniture: a triple-layered box, which held my kimono-style bathrobe.  Just like you are provided with a towel in a real Japanese hotel, you are provided with a robe to wear casually at the end of the day.  I have a small tokonoma niche with a painting and a small lamp, a chest with a fold-out mirror and a small desk with a 2-inch cushion to sit on.  Out-of-shape lady that I am, I piled up some of the bedding from the somewhat stained closet and created a comfortable 10-inch seating pad on which I can sit and write this blog.

The energy of this place is good.  I like it here.  Who cares about the train going by and who cares about the dirty lobby?  The train mercifully stops between midnight and 6 AM and the lobby is far away.  And I have my ear plugs.  Perhaps, that is the most essential piece of equipment to pack on any trip.

Good night.