Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Japan Diaries, part IV: HARRO!!! (Hagi)

We went to Hagi and did it again. When we arrived at the tourist office to ask for directions to the ryokan (traditional Japanese guest house), it turned out that it was not in Hagi. It was in Tsuwano, where we were supposed to be going the next day. My friend had booked it when we were in Nagasaki. She was determined to find a good place to sleep that was not in the Lonely Planet and after much searching she had found Hoshi Ryokan. Charming place, not cheap but also not too expensive. Turned out it was in the LP, but for Tsuwano. Where it is located.

We ended up in a business hotel in Hagi with the unparallelled name Royal Intelligent Hotel Hagi. (Yes, we have a picture of me doing the Thinker by Rodin at the front entrance.) The hotel itself was nothing special except for the lack of intelligence in the rooms, shown by an automatic light in the entrance near the door. The light had a motion sensor but it was not adjusted properly which meant that it switched on every time S turned around in her sleep. Or what was left of her sleep. Vely interregent. We stayed there only one night and left for Tsuwano (and Hoshi Ryokan) the next day. But first we explored the town.

Hagi is described as a ‘charming castle town’ in the Planet and that was what drew me to there in the first place. It turned out that S had been drawn also by the prospect of the beach but the weather did not permit lounging in the sun so we explored. Hagi at first looked a bit bleak, an average provincial city where people just live and work and nothing else much. We decided to rent bikes and check it out anyway. Wowsa! Hagi is not just a provincial town, it is a provincial town with massive historical roots, going back to the age of shoguns and samurai, and much of that is still visible.

Hagi played a pivotal role in the turn of Japan from the shogunate (17th to 19th century), an age of martial rule, to the Meiji Restoration in 1868 when the emperor’s power was, well, restored. Before that time, however, the castle lord of Hagi ruled in the area and had gathered around him a score of samurai. The castle was destroyed during the Meiji Restoration but some of the samurai houses are still there. As are many old wooden merchant and artisan houses in another part of the town. It is the old Japan from Seven Samurai, it is amazing. (If you haven’t seen Seven Samurai, shame on you! Go see it now before you get hit by a bus and it’s too late. You don’t know film if you don’t know Seven Samurai.)

As we biked around we repeatedly ran into large groups of school children, ages about 12 to 16. They would invariably greet us with a happy “HARRO!”; I am still sorry I didn’t ask them to pose for a picture but their teacher looked so stern, I didn’t dare mess up her schedule.

Hagi is on the coast of the Sea of Japan. How cool is that? For someone carrying a Dread Pirate around, it is pretty damn cool. We decided to take a boat trip on the river and a bit on the sea. But we needed to find out first how long the trip would be. We weren’t going to spend three hours on a boat that day. Finding out the duration of the trip proved to be a bit of a challenge though. We spend over 5 minutes trying to explain the question. Yes, we knew it was 1200 yen. And yes, we understood that we could leave at 1 o’clock. But how long? Where is that phrase book when you need it? Well, in the lockers at the station that’s where, but luckily I had peeked into it that morning to learn a bit more Japanese words. And I had read and subconsciously remembered ‘pun’ for ‘minutes’. So after S and I drew a picture of a boat leaving and then arriving with a clock with an arrow around it, and I heard one guy say to another something like yon ji pun something in my head went “!” – I recognized something! Forty minutes? Hai, forty minutes. Hurray! Me so proud.

The boat trip was lovely. The biking was wonderful. The ice coffee with cake was marvellous. The train ride to Tsuwano, first along the coast and then into the mountains, was fabulous. And so we arrived in Tsuwano where the English-ish speaking hostess picked us up from the station. The ryokan was beautiful and peaceful, a pot of tea was waiting for us. Everything was alright. The following morning we were woken up at six by the hostess’ family life. Even that was alright.

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