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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Adventures in Japan: Yawatahama!

Do me a favor and google some travel blogs for visits to Yawatahama. Okay, how about Shikoku in general? Not finding a plethora of pictures?

Not a lot of westerners make it to Shikoku island at all, let alone Yawatahama, but that is where we went next on our adventure through Japan. Our wonderful relatives drove us all the way from Fukuoka to Beppu, where we caught a ferry to Yawatahama to see our ancestral home and our family's grave site.

Shikoku is the smallest and least populous of the four main islands of Japan, and the JR railway express only has one rail line on the entire island that runs along the perimeter, to give you some scope of how rural it is compared to the massive Tokyo metropolis. Shikoku is famous for its Shikoku Henro, a Buddhist pilgrimage that goes along 88 shrines around the four provinces of Shikoku.

Of course, there's no pilgrimage stop in Yawatahama. Yawatahama is a port city, with the largest fish market in Shikoku with a natural harbor. The main agricultural export is the mikan, or the satsuma mandarin. This reminded me a lot of my home here in Orange County, California as I grew up playing in an orange orchard.

With Tsuneko on the front step
I wish that I could have spent more time in Yawatahama as I loved the way the citrus grew on the steep mountainsides, and I knew that around every corner was a tiny shop, restaurant, or shrine I would have loved to explore. Which might not be a brilliant idea, as foreign tourism is basically nonexistent. I would have gotten lost quite easily due to the lack of signage (couldn't find a street sign, English or Japanese, for the life of me!). More than anything, though, I loved meeting Tsuneko, my great aunt who at the time was 93 years old, sharp as a tack, and still living alone in our ancestral house.

Ignore me, look at the view
Our ancestral home is located right off of Yawatahama's natural harbor, very close to the water and the mountainside looming directly behind it (our house is a little bit to the right of the houses you can see on the top photo). A pretty perilous trek behind the house leads up that mountainside to our family's grave site. When I heard that Tsuneko climbed those steps every day to clean the site and honor our ancestors, I felt very out of shape indeed.

Midway up, trying not to gasp for breath too pathetically, I noticed there was a sign that stated to evacuate to above that point in case of a tsunami warning. I concurred that if a tsunami occurred, I would simply be washed away as there would be no way I could make it to that point on the steep mountainside before the wave hit. The delicious lunch we had just ate didn't help.

Check out the cat lounging on the front entrance!
But when we got to our family's site, after I caught my breath and my mother stopped laughing (and shooting super unflattering photos of me, see above), I couldn't imagine a prettier place to rest at peace. Citrus trees and mountain greenery, with a beautiful view of the harbor.

We also visited the local Buddhist temple, a beautiful old set of buildings where our family has their shrine.

The close up
Looking back, I loved how peaceful it was compared to the crazy tourist atmosphere of the temples we would visit in later days. This one had zero tourists, no attendants outside, only a sleepy cat to greet us. We lit incense there as well as at the family grave site to pay our respects to our ancestors.

Lighting incense
After paying our respects, we drove back to Beppu for our next stage in our adventure. We had to stick to a strict time schedule, but if I had my choice I wanted to go grocery shopping with Tsuneko, take her to lunch, explore Yawatahama, and go back to her house for tea afterward. Next time! 

But before Beppu, let's talk food:

Yawatahama is famous for its champon, a dish where tons of veggies and meat are first stir fried and then boiled with wheat noodles in a clear refreshing broth. Another food unique to yawatahama is jako-tem, deep fried minced fish. Unfortunately I did not get to try either of these foods due to our tight schedule, however I did get to sample the local citrus, which was delicious and I wish I could get those varieties at home.

What will I be featuring for Yawatahama and Shikoku in general? A restaurant review and a recipe! Stay tuned or use the links below! I've also included my recipe from a while back for reito mikan, a perfect winter snack that showcases Ehime's citrus.

Yawatahama Champon
Reito Mikan 

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