All these shiny new swimming pools, glowing stadiums and miles of pleasant countryside — with Mount Fuji popping up each from time to time — have served as a reminder of what a captivating nation Japan is.
And for me, these Olympics have introduced again vivid reminiscences of a visit I took to the island of Shikoku shortly earlier than the pandemic hit.
It’s the second smallest and least visited of Japan’s islands and, due to its historic isolation, has retained most of the nation’s conventional traits. What I hoped to realize from my street journey was a glimpse of tea ceremonies, misty mountains and thatched-roofed homes. I used to be not disenchanted.
Rise and shine: The gorgeous Ritsurin Backyard in Takamatsu was laid out by a feudal lord within the seventeenth century
First cease was Takamatsu, within the north of the island — a bustling concrete metropolis. Right here, the road indicators are the one indication of the place I’m. However after I left its honking site visitors for the Ritsurin Backyard, I stepped right into a watercolour. The ‘strolling gardens’ — as they’re referred to as — had been laid out by a feudal lord within the seventeenth century, and the traditional black pines, humpback bridges and bonsai-strewn lawns stay just about as he left them.
Maybe inevitably, the spotlight was the tea ceremony, launched right here within the 1640s. Within the historical teahouse, I kneeled to observe our ‘hostess’ whip the matcha (powdered tea) to a pea-green froth, then, like honoured visitors over the centuries, I wandered out with my brew to gaze on the hypnotic clusters of carp within the lake.
In Takamatsu, I stayed in a contemporary lodge, however my subsequent evening was spent at a ryokan, a conventional inn with tatami matting and communal baths. On arrival, I used to be proven to an empty room, which later acquired a futon, and was handed a yukata — a light-weight kimono-like dressing robe. It proved remarkably forgiving of the multi-course feast served up earlier than I used to be directed to the ladies’s bathtub, the place the outdated palms had been moisturising and flossing bare in entrance of a wall of mirrors.
The matcha tea ceremony has been an integral a part of the normal Japanese tradition for hundreds of years
Shikoku is the second smallest and least visited of Japan’s islands
I skipped this step, however fortunately slipped into the big, heat pool for a protracted soak, which proved to be significantly extra soothing than my ordinary speedy bathe.
The following day, I moved on to discover the Iya Valley, one of many nation’s ‘three hidden areas’. Inaccessible and distant with steep mountains nonetheless blanketed with forest, the realm grew to become a citadel for political refugees from the twelfth century onwards, and remained just about an impartial nation till the primary public street was constructed within the Nineteen Twenties.
Right here, I mustered my inside Tom Daley and wobbled nervously throughout one of many few remaining vine bridges poised above a steep river gorge.
Afterwards I felt grateful to return to the security of my automotive, from the place I loved the misty landscapes on the journey to Ochiai. This turned out to be a hamlet of thatched-roofed homes restored by American Japanologist Alex Kerr.
The softly spoken educational first arrived in Iya within the Nineteen Seventies, when the outdated world was nonetheless intact. ‘Cooking was completed over an open fireside sunk into the ground and folks working within the fields wore the woven straw raincoats you see in Samurai motion pictures,’ he stated.
Kerr has made it his long-term mission to renovate outdated homes to hire out to guests. ‘The Japanese themselves like to go to outdated cities; they simply don’t wish to undergo.’
Ochiai is a hamlet of thatched-roofed homes restored by American Japanologist Alex Kerr
Actually, my keep was suffering-free. I liked the elegant naked rooms divided by fusuma sliding paper doorways and lounging within the former fireside, now repurposed as a settee, warmed by double glazing and under-floor heating.
Although rural communities stay underneath menace because the youthful technology migrates into cities, they do nonetheless function, and a journey alongside don’t-look-down mountain roads introduced me to a type of Japanese Airbnb at a one-woman small holding.
The farmer — an brisk 70-year-old widow — spoke no English, however welcomed me with an enormous smile and the worldwide gesture of ‘Are available, are available’. After a beneficiant home-cooked meal — accompanied by rugby on the telly — she pointed to a pile of futons, indicating I ought to discover my very own spot wherever in one of many multi-functional rooms.
The Each day Mail’s Lisa Freedman recollects wobbling nervously throughout one of many few remaining vine bridges in Iya Valley
My last cease was in Wakimachi, a city that grew wealthy within the 18th century producing the well-known ‘Japanese blue’ indigo dye used within the Olympic flag.
In the present day, its grand service provider homes have been rigorously restored, and wandering via the ethereal splendours of the Yoshida Household House, with its carved picket panelling and peaceable courtyard backyard, I had no drawback imagining its kimono-clad ghosts.
Later, as I whizzed down the primary road on a Brompton bike, previous rooftops embellished with household crests and protecting demons, I felt I’d managed to see one of the best of Japan, outdated and new.