Updated: May 26, 2018
Kamenoko & Tsuyama
I often find myself with a lot of free time on the weekends. Especially since I decided against working a second job as many ALT's often do. To fill that time I like to explore new places. Thats why I played my game of "Train Stop Roulette". This time I asked a friend to choose my two numbers. This trip would take me twenty-one stations away with one transfer. So I made sure to not set my alarm when I went to bed and also made sure not to check my clock when I woke up. I took my time to get ready and then headed to the station while it was still relatively early. The first train would take me in the direction of Okayama, but since I had to change trains along the way, I decided to change to a different line upon arrival at Okayama station. By chance, I had switched to the Tsuyama line which would take me deep into the mountains and countrysides, almost half way between the sea of Japan and the Seto Inland Sea.
The train ride was very beautiful. It was a very scenic ride through the mountains. I sat back and enjoyed the ride as we passed over rivers, through tunnels, and passed through valleys and small towns. Unlike the Sanyo line which I began my journey on, the Tsuyama line was not an electric train. The ride felt different but I actually found it very relaxing. What I had failed to realize, was that I would end up traveling to an area where the IC cards were no longer accepted. This started to become clear as I took more notice of the tiny train stops along the way. Some didn't have a ticket booth or machine. Some were nothing more than a platform with stairs. This meant that the conductor would be handling tickets for passenger. Near Okayama, all the doors would open to let passengers on and off, but as we went deeper into the country only the front doors would open to let people off and on. Upon arrival at the twenty-first stop from my home station, I went to exit the train and just showed my Suica IC card to the conductor and apologized profusely in my best Japanese. I muttered out the words to say that I had come from Okayama and she was able to help me. So I paid for my ticket and then received a paper to give a station attendant in Okayama to adjust my IC card later.
Misaki-cho and Kamenoko Station
Stepping off the train, I found myself in a very rural and small town of Kamenoko. Technically, it was the town of Misaki and the station was called Kamenoko Station. This often occurs in the country side when several neighboring towns will combine into one due to population decline. The stations remain with their original names, and those names will refer to the area within that town. It's the same for where I live in Japan. Often you will here people in Japan refer to it as having towns within a city. Honestly, I am still getting used to and learning the differences between Japan and America when it comes to locations. In America, towns were just like cities except that they were too small to be called a city. Those cities and towns resided inside of counties which referred to areas inside of states, which made up the country. Japan uses regions and prefectures. Those prefectures contain cities which contain towns(like neighborhoods). I know it can be a little confusing, but ultimately it's not that important. In any case, I had arrived at my destination.
Kamenoko, which is located in Misaki-cho, is a small but absolutely gorgeous place. And more than a little strange. Upon arriving, I was greeted by turtles. Lots and lots of turtles. Let me explain. This place had a very unique obsession with turtles. There was a statue against the station, on the platform, with three turtles resting on top of each other. Like a turtle totem-pole. I thought the station was small and quaint until I saw that they used its shape to add a turtle head to the building to make it look like a turtle. It eyes were clocks. As if to tell you to slow down, and take your time. there were more statues in front on the station. One of the area maps was outlines and in the shape of a turtle as well. As if the turtle had been flattened and stretched out before having a map painted on its back. Even the roof contained patterns to make it resemble a turtle. I have no idea why it was like this, but it was very interesting for such a small town. Kind of cute too, in a very Japanese sort of way.
I began by taking out my camera and just to walking. I took many fantastic pictures of the small town and its surrounding nature. For a while I even followed after a hawk and got a little lost. Luckily, I was able to follow the river and train tracks to find my way back to the station. It was really a very relaxing and peaceful time. I wish I could tell you more about the town or the local culture, but unfortunately I just don't know any more. I never ran into another person that wasn't driving past and so never had a chance to try and use my broken Japanese to try and learn more. Really though, my Japanese is horrible. I might have learned nothing more but what is the popular food in the area. But I wont let my bad language skills stop me from getting lost in Japan.
As I completed my walk, I started back towards the station. I stayed close to the river as much as I could and even spotted some more wildlife. By chance, this was when I was able to capture some of my favorite pictures of this trip. As I was taking a picture of the trains bridge that spanned the river, a train came around the bend and I was able to get it as it passed by. I realized that I was getting back to the station area when I began to see yet another building made to look like two turtles. Seriously, what is it with the turtles? Still, it was an interesting and nice quiet place. I learned later that a friend and neighbor of mine had been in the same town that day to learn how to make Tofu. I had no idea.
There was still some time left in the day, so i decided to visit the nearby city of Tsuyama. While definitely being much larger in size, it still maintained a small town feel to me. There was much more here to see and do. Upon arrival the first thing you will come across as you exit the station is a well kept C1180 type locomotive. Tsuyama is well known for its railroad museum and fan shaped locomotive depot with turntable and thirteen trains that highlight the history of diesel trains in Okayama and Japan. All this, of course, are things I found out after my trip. So pictures of these things will have to wait until I can make my way back. Maybe I will do another post on more of this city another time.
I walked through the city and began making my way towards the location of what remains of Tsuyama castle. In retrospect, I probably should have used the bus or a taxi to get there since it was getting late. And by late I mean that it was almost 5 o'clock in the evening. I was enjoying the vast scenery and small town vibes as i explored though. That is why i was losing myself in thought and taking it all in. I walked up some very old paths that were surrounded by buildings from very old to very new. Every street you walk down, there is a blending of history with the modern. It is unlike anything you can find in America. Many buildings or roads often predate the existence of the United States. Some of these places can often feel like they are taken right out of time. Some are well kept and maintained, often using the same methods developed to build them. Others are left to ruins and are falling apart, but no one seems to tear them down. And even next to those you have some equally old places that are relatively well kept and there are actually people living in them or using them for businesses. This blending of old and new are something I find to be a very Japanese thing and it creates an almost magical feel.
Coming closer to the Location of Tsuyama castle you see hills filled with cherry blossom trees. Unfortunately this day was still during the end of winter and nothing was in bloom. I cant help but thing the whole area of around Tsuyama and Kamenoko would look absolutely gorgeous in spring and fall. Towards the top of the hill were the castle walls and a turret. You could tell this was a magnificent structure. From my understanding, when it was still fully intact, it used to rival Himeji castle in its own way. I couldn't wait to explore the castle grounds and look out over the city as it was on top of a hill that overlooked everything. More and more anticipation grew as I approached the top and the entrance only to be absolutely crushed when I arrived. The gates were shut and the area closed off to the public because it was now fifteen minutes after five and everything closed at 5 o'clock that day. Ouch.
Still, for a spur of the moment addition to my originally planned Train Stop Roulette trip, I was able to see and experience quite a lot. I was thoroughly satisfied with this trip and I still would like to go back and see more of the area. Now that it was getting a little late into the evening, I decided to walk back to the station. It was a very long train ride home and I did not want to get stuck there or in Okayama because I missed the last train. As I walked back, I began to notice something. The streets were lined with many statues of a strange creature. I was starting to get the same vibes at the turtles of Kamenoko. Weird, but cute....Japan. Turns out there is a strong connection to the mythical creature Kappa in the area.
Maybe you enjoy some kappa sushi (cucumber sushi rolls), and maybe you guess correctly that kappa also means cucumber in Japanese. But it is also the name of a Japanese Yokai, or demon. This is a creature that dwells in the river and its favorite food is, you guessed it, cucumbers. They are supposed to be green with a small plate of water on their head. If the water spills out, then they die. A useful demon in children's stories to teach them the importance of being careful around water. A "don't go to that part of the river to swim or the Kappa will grab you by the ankles and pull you under" type of story. I definitely recommend reading more about Kappa to anyone. Its interesting to compare these cultural phenomenon with your own cultural history and stories. The statues were really interesting and a little funny too. It was like seeing the turtles from Kamenoko mutate into a strange, not quite a ninja turtle, but a hybrid of a turtle, man, maybe a duck, and a fish bowl hat? I'm not too sure, but cool non the less.
Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed. It is my hope to document many of the places i go, things I experience, foods I try and more as I continue to lose myself and my way in Japan. I hope these articles will inspire more to take a chance and either visit Japan or come live and work here. I also hope to offer help to those people through my own experiences and trials and errors. At the very least, maybe I can feed your lust for traveling.