8 August. Matsuyama.
Rising at 6.00am, we left the minshuku before 7.00 and took a tram/train to the ferry port. We bought tickets (2500 Yen each way) and waited for the 9.45 ferry. We went into a port restaurant for a breakfast set. The waiter inquired where we came from (the Japanese generally assume that westerners are Americans and are surprised to find the English abroad). At last, one of my hard-learnt Japanese phrases would come in handy! Igirisujin desu I announced. A look of incredulity flitted over the waiters face. Could this be? A gaijin speaking Japanese? In sign language this time, he asked for confirmation. Stephen assured him in fluent Japanese that the information I had imparted was in fact correct. Visibly stunned at this display of unexpected Japanese linguistic dexterity, the waiter retreated. He returned a few moments later, bearing a small packet containing origami cranes on which he had stuck the Japanese national flag and a Union Jack. He presented them to Val, saying, Welcome to Hiroshima!. We were very touched by his friendly gesture. Having boarded the ferry, we caught up on some sleep in very comfortable armchairs during the three-hour crossing over the Inland Sea to Matsuyama (Cedar Mountain).
Disembarked, we caught a bus from the modern terminal to our hotel near the Railway Station. The Central Hotel is a business hotel. The rooms are small, with a western-style bed, a table and cupboard, a TV, and an en-suite bathroom of tiny proportions. The bathroom contained a western W.C., a washbasin and a deep bath/shower unit about 75cm by 125cm. It was smaller than caravan bathrooms I have used, but quite adequate for the purpose.
We took a snack in the café attached to the hotel. This is called the Ulaan-Bator, in honour of the several watercolours of Mongolians in yurts that bedecked the walls.
We then changed some travellers cheques in the bank round the corner and hailed a taxi that took us to the ropeway leading up to Matsuyama Castle. This turned out to be a ski-lift, which took us singly up the steep hill. Walking from the top station, we came in sight of the castle.
This was the first Japanese castle I had seen. It is very large, with enormous sloping defensive walls on which the buildings stand. There are multiple gates to pass before reaching the donjon, each enfiladed so that it would be extremely difficult to breach the defences and guarded by substantial buildings. Before the advent of air-power, I doubt that this castle could be breached by military means. Neither artillery nor infantry would find it easy to enter, even in colossal numbers. The best bet would be to burn each successive layer of buildings down, but this would be under massive cross-fire and would take a great deal of time and loss of life to effect. Or of course, you could besiege it and wait for the occupants to starve. (Thus ends my military analysis of the military architecture of Japan!)
We removed our shoes to ascend the four floors of the donjon via ladder-like staircases. There were stunning views over Matsuyama City and the surrounding countryside. Leaving the keep, we paused for a very welcome cold drink in the castle courtyard before making our way back to the ropeway. We returned to our hotel for a wash and brush up. Going out, we found a little restaurant where I had tonkatsu. This was a pork cutlet served with rice and the same brown sauce I had experienced with the okonomiyaki the previous night. It was excellent.
Leaving the restaurant we took a taxi to the entrance to a shopping mall. We passed its shops and kissaten. At the end, facing us, was the Dogo Onsen, the oldest onsen in Japan.
Such is its historicity and reputation, that the Emperor has a private suite here. Paying 980 Yen each for the second-best service we entered what one guidebook says is the hottest bath in Japan. We took our shoes off at the entrance of an apparently old, dark-wooden traditional building. We entered a robing room where the women attendants furnished us with a yukata and a lacquer tray to place our clothes. Stephen and I went to the mens bath and Val was taken off to the womens one (which was very brave on her part. At least I had Stephen to rely on.) Taking off our yukata in the ante-room, we entered the bath room and showered. The onsen itself was quite large about 4 metres by 3 and was fed by three spouts bringing the volcanically-heated water in.
Whether it was coincidence or otherwise, the five or six occupants of the bath departed as Stephen and I showered. I envisaged the thought flitting through their minds: You want to catch horrible hairy disease from barbarian gaijin? But maybe they all simply had had enough of the heated water. However, thoroughly cleaned and shampooed, I gingerly entered the bath. It was H-O-T! I noted in my diary later that a sign said 43 Celsius, but honestly it must have been much hotter than that. Stephen joined me and I lay there soaking for ten minutes, which was very much enough, thank you.
Part-boiled, this lobster left the pot for the ante-room where I wiped myself down with the minuscule towel we had been given. In the middle of this, in sailed a woman! She was equipped with various implements and for a moment I thought she was going to give me the Japanese equivalent of a Finnish birch-twig thrashing. Fortunately, the implements, on closer inspection, comprised various cleaning apparata. Hiding behind the ten square inches of towel, I cowered behind a locker. She would not have noticed my blushes, due to the colour I had acquired in the hot tub, but I felt them nevertheless. I dived for my yukata and eventually put it on, which isnt easy when you are damp, perspiring and confused.
We retired to the robing room where the ministering ladies provided refreshing green tea and biscuits. Val was still soaking, but joined us soon after. All the time we were there, we could hear loud, rhythmic drumming. This turned out to be a Taiko group, performing for the 2000 Yen customers. Standing on the balcony, we saw considerable numbers of bath customers clopping around the streets in their yukata and wooden sandals. We could also see the pipes bringing the scalding waters down from the volcanic springs further up the hillside. We dressed and took our leave, feeling very relaxed.
We strolled back through the shopping arcade and found a vending machine which provided a welcome cold drink. We saw an amazing mechanical clock with many tiers of figurines, many of a humorous nature. One was a scene in an onsen, another of an amorous couple, another of a drunken sailor. It was hugely entertaining and went on for many minutes.
We took a taxi downtown and found the Piccadilly Circus bar, where I drank Sapporo beer, while Stephen was delighted to be served with Newcastle Brown Ale.
We returned to our hotel, still warm and comfortable from the onsen, at 2.00am.
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