Saturday, 13 August 2016

A city built for a bigger population

Date: Saturday 13th August 2016

Weather: Sunny and very, very hot.

MP3 track of the day: Te Wa Tsunagou – Ayaka

I couldn't believe it when my alarm clock went off at 6:30am. I knew that I had fallen asleep the moment my head had hit the pillow. I also knew that I had slept well however, it felt as though I had only been asleep for eight minutes, and not the eight hours I'd actually been snoozing away for. I hit my alarm and had another ten minutes sleep before getting up, taking a long shower, getting dressed and prodding the newly formed bags under my eyes.

I wondered if this hotel had experienced a foreigner at a free breakfast buffet before. I piled my plate high with sausages, potato crochets, salad and cold meats amongst other things. I then also had a side salad dish and two cups of orange juice. As I sat down I noticed that the Japanese were much better at this than their western cousins. Not only had the guy, to my left, got a lot more food than I; but he had arranged his beautifully across five different plates.

I walked to my car and discovered that, to my joy, it had only cost me £1.50 to park my car for the entire night (much cheaper than the £4 hotel car park however … a lot more inconvenient). I got in my car and planned my route to Eihei-ji, a Buddhist temple where a community of monks live to this day. Not being hugely into religious things I wasn't raring to go however, there isn't really anything else to see here (a part from a dinosaur museum, as Fukui has the largest amount of dinosaur bones in all of Japan … but the museum was far away and most of it would have been in Japanese). I therefore got in my car and set off, glad to see that the temple was only 20 kilometres away.

I found the temple high in Fukui's nearby mountains built on the slop of a wooded mountain. Due to being super early, I found an 'all day' £3 car park virtually empty. I abandoned my car and went into the temple complex knowing that these things often open super early. I did the outskirts of the temple first however, a part from a graveyard, there wasn't much to see. I therefore paid the £4 entrance fee reluctantly, as I have seen hundreds of temples and this one couldn't possibly be that different.

It wasn't. What was nice was that, as mentioned above, monks still live and work here. One of them even rushed up to talk to me which I thought was a very nice thing to do ... until he pointed out that I still had my shoes on and I should have taken them off. I was still quiet tired and so my patience was quite low. I told him – in my pigeon Japanese – that I didn't want to sit through hours of sermons or talks; I just wanted to look around and take a few photos. He then showed me to the starting point of the tour and from then on, I followed the directions. Eihei-ji stands for the 'temple of eternal peace' and it certainly felt like that. Built on a wooded slope, the trees kept the sun away and there was a lovely quietness to the place. The buildings were the same as any other temple including the ridiculous amount of golden offerings. As I walked around the site, I thought about that monk I'd spoken to. Religion is just another way of saying “I'm afraid of dying” and to devote your whole life to a set of rules which restricts your liberties so that you can mentally feel more at ease with the thought of death seems bizarre to me. Anyway, each to their own.

Finally, I looked around the last room in this huge complex and made my way to the exit, by-passing the gift shop (what would religion be without money?). I put my shoes on and went back to my car. Before driving off I bought a drink from a drinks machine and downed it … this wouldn't be the last time I would use a can machine today.

I made it back to my hotel just after 10am. Due to the fact that I needed to park my car for a good nineteen hours, I used the now vacant hotel car park. I then slipped into my room to drop of some stuff before heading into the city of Fukui.

As mentioned above, Fukui has the largest discovery of dinosaur bones anywhere in Japan. This hasn't been lost on the prefectural government of Fukui, as three dinosaur models have been placed outside the impressive train station. The train station too has a huge dinosaur piece of art with the words above reading 'Dinosaur Kingdom Fukui'. As mentioned before, the area around the train station was very impressive with beautiful new buildings. The train station was lovely though a little small. I went to the nearby information office where I picked up a handy city map. I asked the lady to pinpoint the 'restaurant area' part of town (I wanted to have a look around and find somewhere for tea) however she only highlighted single eateries. Once done, I left to have a wonder around and find Fukui's 'eight attractions', as shown on the map.

My guidebook wasn't kidding when it said that there wasn't much to do here. The 'eight attractions' of Fukui consisted on a shrine (there are shrines everywhere), a hill, one stone block which is labelled as the 'ruins of Fukui's stone wall', a tree, a museum, a garden, an expensive tea house and the cities old castle sitting in the centre … which is off limits as it has been turned into a giant police station. The only good thing about these sites was that, they were spread all over the city meaning that I saw the city as I walked between them and, it was the city which was far more interesting. Fukui has a few sparks of life; hidden away are alleys of interesting shops and stores however, most of Fukui seems barren. Lots of retail units are abandoned and, a part from around the train station, no one is walking about. This could be down to the heat however, not many people were driving either. As I walked around – trying to walk in either a north or south direction as that was where the shade was however, this was difficult as all of Fukui's attractions are on a west / eastern axis – the city felt weird; not like a zombie town, more of a failed project. The cities infrastructure is amazing. A brand new electronic tram, underground parking, underground walkways, covered walkways - to protect from snow in the winter and the sun in the summer, electronic bus timetable information and a beautiful new train station. It feels as though this city was built to attract people however, they didn't come. Things were starting to make sense. Yesterday, road sights hardly showed Fukui until I was 30 kilometres away. Today at the tourist information office, the lady probably didn't mark a 'restaurant area' of the city because, there probably isn't one.

Due to the cities 'attractions' turning out to be a little disappointing, I found myself at 1pm with little to do. This didn't however, stop me spending money … in fact it meant that I spent more. Due to the heat, I couldn't stop drinking. I bought a can from a drinks machine, followed by a lovely ice cream. I had only walked the length of the street the ice cream shop was on when I went into a Burger King and had another ice cream, a drink and a burger and fries to eat. Last night I pondered why I had budgeted so much money for food and now, I remember why … liquid. I am not hungry, I just want to drink.

Once out of Burger King I decided to head back to my hotel for another shower and to relax until dinner time. Many of you probably think that Fukui has been a bit of a disappointment; not at all. After the mammoth drive yesterday, and the huge drive to come tomorrow, I needed a place where I could spend half the day sightseeing and the other half resting. I needed a 'stop-over city' and Fukui has provided that for me. At 4pm I got on with looking through my photos for the day.

At 6pm I went out in search of food. I wasn't particularly hungry however, I needed something to eat. The streets of Fukui were just as deserted as they were during the day. I found a 'cheapish' restaurant where I was greeted by the Japanese equivalent of a Yorkshire woman. I asked for the curry to which she replied “...are you sure …. it's hot!...”. I said that I was; though my mind saw me leaping to my feet. I would then tell this woman to 'fear not old woman from the north. For I am British and I am made of fighting stuff. I see old woman that you have brought a salad AND two cups of water with ice …. I will not be needing any of those. Watch me old woman, as I laugh at you whilst pouring your 'so called' hot curry down my throat....” My mind is a wonderful thing.

My God it was hot! Did I finish eating it? No. Did I come close? Yes. Did I need the salad and two cups of water with ice? Oh yes. At one point I thought about running across the street and going head first into the local fountain. I paid up, made the 'it was a really big meal … I'm full' excuse and went back to my hotel.

So tomorrow is the big day. I am getting up at 5:30am before driving to Tokushima to watch the Awa odori. It finishes around 11pm therefore, I won't make it back to my hotel until the early hours. Very excited however, I am not sure when that blog with be written (I may start to write it in Tokushima as I wait for the festival to begin … time depending) or in what form it will be presented to you … It could be very quick indeed. All I know is, is that I will try my best.

Toodle Pip!

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