28.5. Iwaya, Awajishima 岩屋・淡路島

I woke up feeling, if not exactly genki, then at least alive. Jun headed for Tokyo, I packed up my stuff and finally headed out to Awajishima, taking a ferry from Akashi which passed under the recently completed truly gargantuan Akashi Suspension Bridge. (The ferry was a few yen cheaper and quite a bit more fun!) The friendly cutie at Iwaya's minute tourist office located and booked a cheap-ish minshuku for me, conviniently located right across the road from a Michi-no-Eki service area that will be a perfect place to hitch from tomorrow. Hamabesou (浜辺荘) also has nice views of the bridge and the price for a stay with breakfast only was a tolerably 5,500 yen; the down side is that it's a 20-minute slog from the center of the stretched-out village of Iwaya, although a more reasonable person than I would have taken a bus.

Iwaya's hot spring turned out to be of the irradiating variety, as the water contains radium and radon. According to the onsen's info sheet a 30-minute exposure would result in a few fractions of a microCurie (that's 10e-10), so I didn't mind too much, and the whitish fizzy water was (for once) odorless. The spring's natural temperature is only around 20 degrees Celsius, but courtesy of modern engineering it had been heated to be very hot indeed -- just the way I like it. The tourist center's notes about the tub having a view were a bit on the exaggerated side, as the only window was high enough up to be more or less invisible from the tub, and it faced out to the hillside, not the bay. (There is, however, evidently a somewhat bigger tub available as well, the owners just quite understandably didn't want to fill it up for their solitary guest.)

30.5. Mihara, Awajishima 三原・淡路島

'Twas a sunny but hazy day, I left the minshuku in the morning and started hitching south. My first ride, two young soccer fans tracking the progress of the English soccer team, spotted their target and took me down south to Tsuna while following it. They then circled around for a while, but I didn't realize they were looking for a place to drop me off: they ending up dumping me at Tsuna's little port, 5 minutes after the previous incoming ship and over two hours until the next! I trudged the kilometer back to the city and, for lack of anything better, hitched from the corner of a gas station. Surprisingly, I got a ride soon enough, from another bunch of soccer fans including one Japanese ex-hitcher (a most unusual species in Japan!). They took me on to Sumoto, the biggest town on the island, where I continued my way from the edge of a bus stop (just barely legally)... and that's when the fun began.

I was picked up by a 61-year-old retired architect, whose hobbies include copying Buddhist sutras (he had only a few days around returned for a leg of the 88-temple circuit in Shikoku) and making amazingly intricate paper dolls, some of which are exhibited in museums around Kansai. He lives in Mihara-cho, in the center of the island, with his wife, dog and cat, and it being a quiet day he offered to take me sightseeing around the island and invited me to stay the night.

Got that? Good, now erase every last bit of that mental image you just formed. Reality was a 1.5-meter wiry little chain-smoking hobbit of a man with a leg broken in a traffic accident (or so he said?), who called himself Occhan (おっちゃん) and whose gruff manner, simple samue (working clothes) and downright incomprehensible Kansai-ben dialectal Japanese fitted his real former occupation -- a kanekashi money lender affiliated with the yakuza -- to a T.

Needless to say, this was only revealed to me later; during the day he took me to see the famed Naruto whirlpools, caused by tides flowing between the Seto Inland Sea and the Pacific, and the Awaji Ningyou Joruri Museum, devoted to an amazingly intricate predecessor of the bunraku puppet theater. The first of several freaky moments came on our way back from the whirlpools, when he drove off onto a tiny forest road and started explain the phases of WW2 in these woods. Then he stopped at a little opening featuring the ruins of an army barracks (evidently once leading underground caves if I understood him right), motioned me out of the car, and drove off! -- a few dozen meters to a better parking spot, but even that was too much considered all my baggage was in his trunk.

Eventually, after treating me to lunch and himself to several beers, he drove me back to his house and we started knocking back the sake while waiting for his wife to come back. He talked a lot about how wide-hearted she was, but perhaps long-suffering might be a better word; most people wouldn't take quite so well to getting back from a 12-hour working day only to find a stranger in her house and her husband well on his way to inebriation. Dinner was, of course, excellent, although I was still feeling the aftereffects of food poisoning and wasn't terribly hungry. Fortunately, his wife's Japanese was remarkably clear hyoujungo ("standard Japanese") with only a few Kansai-isms thrown in, and thanks to this the conversation started to resemble interpretation with me constantly turning to her to explain what on earth he was saying.

After several hours of this, however, the conversation gradually degenerated first into an Occhan monologue and then a (largely incomprehensible) rant, mainly on the subject of the Japanese Spirit (大和魂 yamatodamashi), how today's youth have lost their purity and clarity of aim, yadda yadda. Eventually, he started to take umbrage at a combination of me not understanding everything he said and of confessing of being interested in photography (the implication to him being that I wasn't interested in anything else!), and then started first loudly, and then very loudly, demanding my passport. I was understandably a bit hesitant, but okusan hinted that I'd better let him have his way, so I did... and he crunched it up in his hand and started walking away! I wrestled it away and okusan talked some sense into him, after which he dropped to his knees, apologized (extremely) formally, and then almost with tears flowing from his eyes said that he would die in peace if I told him what I really thought right now. (About what?) I thanked him for his (previous...) kindness and shook his hand, and the situation was defused.

Or so I thought. Okusan shuffled me off to bath and bed, and I was looking forward to a well-slept night, a sober Occhan in the morning and an escape from this madhouse... when pops trundles into my bedroom and continues his drunken monologue. I shuttled him out as gently as I could, but pissed at this cold shoulder, he pulls a katana out from somewhere and starts waving it about! It was still sheathed, mind you, but he was daring me to pull it out and this nutcase probably takes the old bushido rule not resheathing a sword until it has tasted blood literally. Fortunately, okusan saved the day once again, and after a few minutes I heard the extremely welcome sound of Occhan snoring.

I slept legs facing the door, so I could see anybody (or anything) coming in, and not particularly well. At 6 in the morning I was woken by a truly unearthly sound from the outside -- at first I thought it was hailing, but it turned out to be Occhan washing the car with a high-pressure hose, half the spray hitting the corrugated iron plates of the shed.

My nose and eyes were seriously acting up due to the cat, and my stomach was doing backflips due to being stuffed full of raw fish and alcohol the previous evening, so I was grateful to find that breakfast was only a cup of coffee and raisin rolls. Occhan was also suitably apologetic for yesterday's events, although I was surprised to find him remarkably un-hungover -- had he started drinking again in the morning?

Using the convinient excuse of approaching rain I managed to get Occhan to take me to the expressway interchange tolerably early, although his driving style (noticeably worse than yesterday) increased my suspicions about his blood-alcohol level. But we got there in one piece, and after the requisite handshakes and professions of international friendship I even got him to stay on the other side of the road while I hitched. One car stopped, but it was going in the wrong direction, no worries... then Occhan, until then peacefully reclining in the grass and chewing on a straw while staring at me, wanders over and starts jabbering about the Japanese spirit again. I again respectfully ask him to bugger off, so he wanders over the lane divider and starts clowning about for a while... then a truck drives past without picking me up and he returns.

お: おらあって下手んだ! だれも乗せれられへん!
Occhan: You suck at hitching! Nobody's going to pick you up!
J: え!?
Yours truly: What?
お: 下手ゆうてるんの! わし車止ませてやるな!
Occhan: I said you suck! I'll stop a car for ya!

(A few Japanese notes here: 下手 heta is one of those words you never, ever call somebody else, and the word he used to describe "giving" me a stopped car, やる yaru, is used only to give something to someone much lower than you, eg. food to an animal. In a nutshell, the above was really, really rude.)

And then he starts clowning about I again, veering on and off the entry lane, spinning in circles and sticking his hand out like a policeman, this little pathetic shit who'd tried to steal my passport, threatened me with a sword, drove drunk, and was now totally destroying my chances of getting the fuck out before the rain started! This was just too much, and in Japanese I didn't even know I knew:

J: なんだ! おめえよりよくヒッチできるんだ! されー!
Yours truly: What!? Who the fuck are you to tell me how to hitch! Get OUT! OUT!

And before he could recover from his shock I started physically frog-marching him across the road. Well, you can probably imagine what happens when you talk to an ex-Yak like that: he turned red in the face and sputtered for the next few minutes about how I dare treat him like this after all he'd done, etc, all the while staring at me... from half a meter below.

Still, he did have a bit of a point there, so after he'd calmed down a bit I said "Sorry" and, as a last favor, asked him to just go -- and he did, still all the time yelling that nobody would ever pick me up. Some 30 seconds later, a car driven by a young couple did pull over and offer me a ride to Shikoku... and, like the fucking whack-a-mole, Occhan hobbles up the car and starts jabbering at the driver! Less than discreetly, I told them to ignore the crazy geezer and shoved my backpack in the trunk. Amazingly, the couple didn't freak out, and we were on our way... and I felt free at last.

The couple drove over the Naruto Bridge and dropped me off at the turnoff to Takamatsu (their destination, not mine); I consulted a map at a convinience store and started walking towards the nearest train station, but I found a good hitching spot along the way and as picked up by a talkative housewife, who chauffeured me to Tokushima's train station.

And boom! I was in Shikoku!