Thousands of Miles from Home


Journey to Shikoku

The time has arrived when I can count my remaining days using only my fingers, toes, and a friend’s finger or two. I should, by all means, begin to wrap up this year, prepare to leave, and say my goodbyes. Instead, the experiences seem to be coming even faster, so I apologize for latent blog updates and revelations. This weekend I took my final trip to the island of Shikoku. After an evening with Neil and Jez in the wonderful city of Takamatsu (2 Pac is not dead, hide and seek on the ferry), I literally cut Shikoku in half by train and made my way to Kochi City at a supremely discounted price thanks to a faulty barrier, meeting Micah along the way. We came to Kochi with little knowledge of the city (and almost no plans in mind), but in true form wandered the city on foot in search of “the real treasures of Japan.”

Our first stop was Kochi castle, nestled within the heart of the city. Kochi, as a prefecture, is one of the most beautiful parts of Japan (or so I had been told), so a trip to anywhere in the region on a relatively sunny day will certainly lighten your spirits. From the train, Micah and I spotted whitewater rafters and kayakers along the numerous streams and rivers traversing the landscape. At Kochi castle, we walked among ancient trees and stone walls as we made our way toward the outer limits of the city.

From the castle, and after visiting the Kochi Anime and Anpanman Museum, which was also playing host to a handicapped convention, Micah and I took a bus (12Km seemed a bit too far to walk) to Katsurahama beach, where you can dip you feat in the Pacific Ocean. This was my first experience with the Pacific in Japan, as Tamano is situated on the Inland Sea which I don’t believe qualifies as an Ocean. Another interesting fact about Katsurahama involves the sand, or rather the lack of it. The entire beach is ridden with colorful tiny pebbles (and almost no seashells), which makes for a unique barefoot experience. Micah and I took a nap on the beach, hobo style, before exploring the region around the seashore.

If you ever make the voyage to Kochi Prefecture, you will undoubtedly run across pictures, statues, and gift cookie sets inspired by Kochi’s most famous native and hero of the Meiji Restoration, Samurai Sakamoto Ryoma. Famous for a variety of reasons, Sakamoto was a key player in the creation of a Japanese Navy and envisioned a Japan without feudal ties to the Tokugawa Shogunate. Sakamoto is said to have been assassinated at a young age by the Shinsengumi, a special police group of the era (who you may remember from my picture with one at the Movie Village). Just to prove that everything in Japan links up one way or another, you might also be familiar with the Shinsengumi through Saito Hajime, who is a famous character and member of the Shinsengumi from the popular anime Rurouni Kenshin.

After exploring the area around the beach, Micah and I realized we had missed the last “special express” bus back to the Kochi city center, and instead walked up a remote mountain in hopes of finding a separate bus stop. We eventually came across a small bus stop next to clearing in the forest, and waited for the next bus to arrive. Micah then witnessed the CRAZIEST coincidence I could have ever imagined. From our bus stop on top of a mountain in Katsurahama, Micah spotted Tim, the English teacher from his town (which I might remind you is the smallest town in the smallest prefecture of Japan), who drove by in a small red car, flashing him the rock symbol. Micah couldn’t believe it was him, and we actually argued for a good 20 minutes about whether we could have possibly met Tim AGAIN while on a trip together (the first time occurred at a club in Osaka, when Micah spotted Tim from across the room). Tim never stopped, or even turned the car around to wave hello. It is as if the phantom of Tim follows us wherever we go, cheering us on with a friendly rock symbol.

Thoroughly stunned, but agreeing to pretend the random spotting of one man in a country of almost 130 million never happened, we returned to the city by bus where we called Urte (the exchange student living in Kochi) who was having her farewell party that day. She said we’d meet after dinner, so Micah and I embarked on our next adventure, the consumption of raw fish. Micah’s host mother had given him $100 and insisted that we spend it at a famous sushi restaurant that she often frequented, so although that seemed a bit decadent I had no objections.

Finding the location of the restaurant was easier than expected, and after a small wait we were seated at a long sushi bar. I really enjoy my sushi, and have sampled quite a few dishes from around Japan, but this restaurant is Kochi served the most delicious sushi I have ever tasted. An explosion of flavor in my mouth. Angels were singing. Add to that the fact that we were being bought drinks from two separate families in the restaurant, and I call that a damn fine meal.

After thoroughly stuffing ourselves we met Urte, who was dressed up for her farewell party, and said some quick goodbyes. With anyone else it would have been awkward, but even though I might never see Urte again a quick goodbye seemed oddly fitting.

The following morning Micah and I traveled to Imabari City in Ehime Prefecture. We met James, the exchange student in Imabari, and were driven to the top of a mountain by a man who taught us the Mbira, a traditional instrument from Zimbabwe that you play with your thumbs. The Mbira sounds much like a wind chime, but I was able to memorize a short song (James and Micah had played the instrument before, and easily bested me). I didn’t spend much time in the city, but playing an instrument from Zimbabwe on top of a relatively deserted mountain in Japan is very cool.

There was plenty of other excitement, but I can smell something delicious wafting from the kitchen. Expect a large VIDEO update very soon.


  • Ben,
    If it weren't 6am, I would be raising my glass to you. What an incredible year you have made this for yourself and for us. Thank you Rotary.

    By mom, at 6:42 AM  

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