Matsu means pine

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7 August 1999

I left the Aonos with my new karuta cards and pottery souvenirs filling my bag. After thanking Aono-san for all the trouble he’d gone to to make my vacation so special, I bid the family goodbye at the station and was on my way east to Takamatsu and Tod.

Takamatsu is not a very exciting city. It’s kind of flat and although far smaller than Tokyo, it’s made of ferro concrete and asphalt just like its larger cousin. But it is a great jumping off point for other destinations and there are a number of nearby sights to see.

Tod took the Shinkansen from Tokyo early on Saturday morning and after chaging to a local express train, arrived in Takamatsu at about 12:30. I scheduled my arrival from Nyugawa to give me enough time to visit the tourist information centre for maps and to scope out the coin lockers. But I left plenty of time for a good blunder, too.

I walked up to the information desk and asked

“Sumimasen, Matsuyama no chizu ga arimasu ka?”
Excuse me, do you have a map of Matsuyama?

“Matsuyama no chizu ga arimasen,”
I don’t have a map of Matsuyama, the man at the counter answered.

“Ah, so desu ka. Sumimasen.”
Oh, ok. Thanks.

And I walked away but I was confused--why didn’t the information centre have a map? Then it dawned on me...I went back to the window.

“Sumimasen. Watashi wa ‘Matsuyama’ wo iimashita ka? Machigaimasu! Takamatsu no chizu ga arimasu ka?”
Excuse me. Did I say ‘Matsuyama?’ That was a mistake. Do you have a map of Takamatsu?

The man happily handed me a map of the town I was in, Takamatsu. Matsuyama is on the other side of Shikoku and I wasn’t due there for four more days!

Tod arrived sometime shortly after I stopped blushing my embarrassment. We locked our bags into coin lockers at the station--the first of many times my bag was to be shed from my shoulders and locked into temporary storage--and headed toward the only attraction in town we wanted to see.

Ritsurin Koen is a strolling garden designed by a lord of Sanuki (the ancient name for Kagawa prefecture) about 370 years ago. As we walked along the paths, each turn brought a new vista:

A 300 year old pine tree with a weathered rock placed in front of it dominated the landscape. But we turned down the path to the right and in five steps were standing on a bridge over a lotus pond in full flower.

A carefully cultivated hedge of pine trees with limbs painstakingly twisted so that the branches face the gravel path opened out to the shore of a different pond with a tiny islet in the centre.

Following the path around the water’s edge we came to a teahouse which we couldn’t see when we started our walk at the pond.

The teahouse served two sorts of green tea--sencha, the brewed leaf, and matcha, powdered tea which is frothed into boiling foam with a whisk--along with a traditional sweet-potato filled cookie. But better than the refreshments was the view. The teahouse was placed on the shore of a pond and no matter which of the openings we gazed out, we saw water and greenery. The sound of late summer cicadas was very soothing.

The teahouse was larger than it appeared from the outside when we approached it. Used by the feudal lords for large and small receptions (some of the rooms are barely big enough for two), it can be divided into many rooms by opening or closing the sliding panels. After our tea, we wandered through the teahouse to see the views, admire the simplicity of the architecture--and even accidentially stumbled upon a young couple seeking privacy in the farther reaches of the interior.

Slipping back into our shoes at the door and continuing the stroll, we saw the foundation of the park which looked to me like a bunch of rocks on a hill but to the experts in ancient park design, the style in which the rocks are placed tells the history of the park. I dunno; looked like rocks on a hill to my Philistine eyes.

To reach the park, we had walked two kilometres down Japan’s longest covered shopping arcade (every town in Japan claims some superlative thing--tallest, prettiest, longest, oldest), but we opted to take the train back to the station to pick up our bags and settle into the hotel with no further ado. Dinner and breakfast were included in the price of the room and we wanted to make sure we didn’t miss dinner.

The hotel was conveniently near the station but it wasn’t much to write home about really. We had a Japanese style room with tatami flooring and futons to sleep on. I have become a fan of real Japanese futons on the floor. They are most comfortable! This was a business hotel so there was no shared bath--we had to bathe in our own room. Dinner was a standard Japanese meal with lots of little dishes of pickles, some sashimi which was very good, and other local delicacies.

After dinner, which was over by 7, we decided to wander around outside again. A cold beer was what we craved. So we tooled around the back alleys looking for someplace interesting. Eventually, having seen nothing that jumped out at us, we stopped on a corner and said “Ok, this place (Snack Love) or that place (Pub Patohiru). Patohiru won out--I just couldn’t go to a place with Love in the name.

It turned out to be a good choice. We opened the door to a tiny bar with maybe a dozen seat. All of them were empty! The barkeep and his assistant were sitting chatting and they looked more than startled to see two foreigners coming in. Takamatsu has a pretty small foreign population and I suspect none of them ever make it to Pub Patohiru.

Tod put them at ease by asking them in Japanese if they were open. Tod carried the conversation mostly. I answered my four common questions--where are you from, are you on holiday, how long have you been here, where have you visited--and that was the end for me. But Tod carried on a more normal conversation. He even made a joke.

Pointing at the umbrella stand full of forgotten umbrellas, he said,

“Kyaku-san ga imasen, keredemo kasa ga takusan arimasu.”
There are not too many customers, but there are a lot of umbrellas.

OK, it wasn’t very funny, but it was in Japanese! The bartender laughed.

He also warmed up to us and started giving us some of the local sake and even dug into his collection of postage stamps and gave us a first day of issue Ritsuren Koen stamp set and some other very pretty scenic Japan stamps.

So even though it was a little scary going into an unknown bar where we knew we’d have to speak Japanese exclusively and even though Tod carried the conversation for us pretty much entirely on his own, it was a good experience.

But after our beer and sake, we were tired so it was off to bed before another full day of adventures.

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