Thursday, 29 August 2013

The final day

Sunday 25th August 2013

Weather: Good; sunny but not too hot. Once again the cloud descended when it was time for the concert to begin making sun cream redundant.

MP3 track of the day: Earth Festival 2010 - Kodo drummers

My alarm went off at 7am allowing me to get washed, dressed and complete yesterdays blog before leaving the hotel at around 10:00am. I'd also got a few snacks left from yesterday therefore there was no need to grab more food just yet. Instead I got in my car and raced off towards my first location; a mountain.

It didn't really matter which mountain I drove up however, it turned out to be Sado's highest mountain. With the weather giving me a canvas of bright blue, and with beautiful white clouds as far as the eye could see, I wanted to get to an elevated position where I could view terraced rice paddies flowing into the valley below. As I traveled further up the 'gold line', getting such a view was becoming problematic due to two reasons; firstly I was ascending too quickly (if I continued climbing at this rate I would soon be unable to distinguish the height difference between each paddy) and secondly, as soon as the road started to hint of a change in height I was surrounded by dense woodland. Still I persevered hoping that I would be proved wrong.

For those people who cook cakes and biscuits; you know those 'cutters' you can buy which you press into pastry etc to make different shapes (for example you can buy rabbit cutters so you can make rabbit shaped biscuits). Well imagine concrete taking the part of pastry and someone coming along and pressing an hexagonal cutter into it (leaving the hexagon within the concrete and letting it dry). Well this is what the road surface was like. I wasn't sure if it was to provide grip during the winter months; all I can tell you is that driving over these 'hexagonal in-prints' was very noisy indeed. It also started to get very bumpy and so I put my foot down, turned up the music and tried to blank the constant rumbling beneath me out.

Soon the road really started to climb and once past a military base (rather sharpish I can tell you) I was starting to get views which, though weren't the original goal, were more impressive. As I've mentioned before Sado is an island made up of two small mountain ranges (one in the north and one in the south). Between these mountain ranges lies a large flat valley. By now I had climbed so far up I'd stopped, almost at the summit, where a small shop with a viewing platform had been erected. From this viewing platform I had a commanding view of the whole island. Below me I could see Sado's flat valley; to my left I could see Sado's sea boarder with the rest of Japan and, to my right, I could see Sado's sea boarder with mainland Asia. In front of me was the other mountain range so in effect, the whole of Sado lay there below me. It was a stunning site. The whole valley floor was covered in rice paddies; it looked as though below me was a sea of light green with small islands of trees and villages dotted around. The view was sensational and I felt very lucky that the weather was so good.

Before heading back to my car I went into the shop where I found a photo book of Sado for sale. At £22 the book wasn't cheap however, the quality of the photographs was extremely high. The book was huge therefore it wasn't 'value for money' which almost stopped me from buying it, it was that the photos taken didn't truly represent how I saw Sado. The photographs were split into sections depending on how high above sea level they were taken from. They were all themed around nature and farming however, those small quaint villages I'd seen dotted around the island hardly featured at all. It was this fact which almost stopped me purchasing the book however, purchase it I did as the photos were of an excellent quality and I didn't think I would find another.

Once back at my car I looked at my map. In all honesty I wanted to head back the way I'd come however, I hate going the same way twice. I therefore decided to proceed over the mountain and then drive back around the base. I set off and it didn't take long to realise that the other side of the mountain was engulfed in heavy cloud. As I wouldn't be able to see anything I turned around and went back down the mountain the way I'd come.

Once back in town I noticed that my petrol gauge had dropped another notch. As I was looking for petrol stations I also noticed that the first four I came to were closed. This started to worry me therefore I turned the air-conditioning off and drove in 'economy mode'. As I was driving to Mr Donuts (for a mid-morning snack) I asked myself why; it wasn't that early and I was driving through the main town on the island. What could it possibly be? I then realised that it was Sunday however, in Japan, Sunday has no religious significance (it's a day just like Saturday where shopping's concerned). Once I arrived at Mr Donuts I planned my route for the day taking into account my lack of fuel. I therefore plotted a very logical route which would use the least fuel and still allow me to see all I wanted to see. First of all I would have to back-track a little before heading south towards four shrine complexes. This would eventually lead me to the south-western part of the island where I could complete 7, 8 and 9 on the clock face (remember yesterday's blog?). Still conscious that I wouldn't have enough fuel to complete all I wanted to do today I left Mr Donuts, got into my very hot car and gingerly pressed the accelerator pedal.

It didn't take long to get to my first temple complex. As I parked in Kompon-ji car park I looked at the petrol gauge content that another bar hadn't disappeared. I then paid the 300 Yen (money wasn't an issue) entrance fee to photograph an old Japanese temple complex within a beautiful wooded area. In olden times, Sado was used by the 'high and mighty' to exile people who had fallen out of favour. Among the x-emperors was a monk named Nichiren; he was exiled here and he wasted no time in converting the islands population to Buddhism. My guidebook had warned me to 'arrive early to avoid the tour groups' however, here I was, close to midday, and the only visitors were me, a penguin and a tambourine. This was all the better as the peace and quite complemented the surroundings perfectly. Once back in my hot car I proceeded to another temple which, though up hill, was only two kilometers away. This temple was free to enter and it turned out to be my favourite. My guidebook said that the temple had fallen into disrepair with it's stone path, which guided you through a beautiful wooded landscape to an open area of grass, being uneven and unlevel. Seisui-ji was the name of the temple and it's famous because it has a similar wooden pavilion to the Kiyomizu-dera temple in Kyoto. I have been to the Kiyomizu-dera and I preferred this temple. Sure the temple in Kyoto is beautiful and well maintained; but it's that maintenance which is it's downfall. Here nature was slowly reclaiming the land the temple had stolen; I could see what the Kyoto temple would look like if left to the elements. It was all very ' tomb raiderey' and I loved it as it felt more real.

Once done I drove a little further to Myosen-ji temple site which had a five-storey pagoda. Annoyingly the sun was right behind said pagoda whitening the sky within all of my photos. I then visited the main temple site which was a lot better maintained that the last. This meant that, while I got some good shots, my interest faded fast and so I proceeded to the last temple site. Though not as indeed of repair as Seisui-ji, Kokubun-ji temple wasn't exactly 'looked after' either. From a distance everything looked normal but, looking closer, here too nature was fighting back. It was here where I met a British couple from Manchester (who live in Tokyo) and we exchanged a few British pleasantries before heading our separate ways. Once back in the car the time was almost 1pm; I'd finished the temple sights however, they had taken their tole (I'd lost another bar of fuel). Next up was Sado's extreme south-western coastline which would finish in Ogi where tonight's Earth Festival was taking place.

As I drove along the road to Ogi, I saw an oasis in the distance. I didn't believe it at first but, as I pulled in a guy came to my car window. I turned my engine off and asked for 2,000 Yen's worth of his finest petrol. Finally a petrol station was open and even though it was 15 Yen per litre (10p) more expensive than the mainland, I know knew I had more than enough petrol to see me through the rest of my stay. The air-conditioning went back on and I burnt rubber as I left the petrol station (giving a little wave of gratitude).

Going back to the clock face from yesterday. Ogi (where I needed to end the day) is roughly where the '7' is on a clock. My plan, to complete my 'trip round the island', was to start at '9' moving onto '8' before finishing at '7' however, the coastal road around this part was so tiny that I missed the start and ended up taking the inland road straight to Ogi. It mattered not; time and petrol were in abundance and so I went to Ogi and traveled around the coastline in the opposite direction (7 to 8 to 9). This tiny bit of coastline was quite different to the rest of the island. Sure it had the mountains, sleepy fishing villages and water however, the rice fields were missing and the drop into the ocean was more gradual. At one point there was a lovely sandy beach with, rather bizarrely, an old American passenger plane on it. It was in a position which, I knew, it couldn't have landed in or crashed in. I was therefore stumped how this old propeller-ed plane got here in such excellent condition and, mores the point, why. Without a logical answer I left and completed my tour. This part of the coastline was difficult as there wasn't a main road; this resulted in me turning around numerous times as I fought hard to keep as close to the sea as possible. Eventually I made my way back onto the island road to Ogi. As I darted out of, what looked like, a path leading to someones house, I knew I would have never found this road.

Fed up of 'rubbish hippy festival food' I stopped off at a 'Save on'; the islands convenience store (which, considering the size of the island, is pretty good) for some better food. I then drove to Ogi, parked in one of the remaining car parking spaces available and ate my food. Once consumed I went to get my colour card (even tough I was thirty minutes earlier than yesterday I still got an Orange card) and loitered around until I was let in.

Once in the park 'superb view' once again automatically took priority over 'sit where the babes are' and I headed to a spot where, in front of me, was a straight line of children allowing for a unhindered view. To get this spot I had left a rather large gap to my right however, no one asked me to move. Before the performance started I noticed two things; firstly, where I was sat yesterday was teeming with female groups and secondly, even though children are small, they are not very good at sitting still. This resulted in the children continually standing up and moving around which, apparently, their parents were all too happy to allow.

At 6:30pm the concert started with the same procession of drummers walking along the same path as yesterday. Today's festival was epic. Sure there were boring bits but we had a little bit of everything; solo drumming, the shamisen bloke, singing, dancing and more drumming. The way the drummers kept hitting their drums none stop for twenty minutes or so was spell binding. Also every move of a stick was choreographed so that everyone looked as though they were moving as one. We had drum battles where half the stage would play against the other half. We also had a keyboard player who, along with the drummers and shamisen player, played an almost modern piece. After ten minutes of 'yeah-ing' (where the shamisen person would 'yeah' and the crowd would repeat) we got back on with something far more entertaining. The final piece was being played where everyone was on stage; one of the female dancers had stripped down to some hot pants and a tight top (more like it) and golden bits of confetti were being blown across the stage. Everyone, even I, was on my feet clapping to this incredible finale with the drum beat forming the focal part of the piece. As the drums became louder and louder the shamisen player raised the head of his instrument before dropping it back down triggering all of the musicians to stop and for the stage to go dark. A huge applause erupted from the audience and I packed away happy in the knowledge that it had all been worth it.

Nothing changed much on my way back to the hotel. I stopped at another 'Save on' for some snacks and breakfast for tomorrow. Once back in my hotel room I noticed that it had been cleaned and that another futon was lying next to mine. Slightly odd I thought about asking why but then stopped; maybe it was for that dancer in the hot pants.

Toodle Pip!

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