Saturday, May 13, 2017


Some days you don't understand why you want what you want. Maybe it's ice cream. Or a beer. Maybe it's a short walk or a long movie. But that's what you want and it doesn't matter if it gels with any other thing in your life. Like a plaid shirt and a striped tie. It feels like the right thing to do, and whatever it is propelling you forward, you have to heed it or else you'll feel incomplete.

That's why I went to Suma. Because it felt like the right thing to do.

I cannot count the number of times I've been through that station, on a rapid express that zipped through on its way to somewhere more important, train-schedule-wise. The little town (little being relative in Japan) is squeezed between hills and ocean. I didn't have a very firm plan; I might go to the beach, I might go to the temple, I might find something else to do.

My trip was not on the Japan Rail train; I didn't have a rail pass and needed to budget my money, so I took the Sanyo line. Personally I prefer that line; it runs through a more blue-collar area. There is some interesting psychology as to why I like that, the rural areas, places where struggle is an every day thing, why it appeals to me. When I lived in Japan, I often went to that area, to Shosekiheki, a small seaside cliff that has some really good climbing; I spent hours and days discovering routes there, baking in the sun. In later years I went with my father in law to paraglide, though I long ago gave up that sport for reasons I don't know.

First, though, I did a couple of other trips I have been wanting to do.

Just east of Himeji is the city of Kakogawa. Located in the city is a temple that gets far too little foot traffic: Kakurenji. This temple is beautiful, and they were prepping for New Years. In some ways, that's a better time to go to a temple or shrine, because you get to see all of the work that goes into the celebration. You see the love and care, the passion that the volunteers have. And they are mostly volunteers, members of the community doing their part.

I spent an hour in the temple, including their small museum. It was, I realized, the very reason I was out and about that day: to just do what I felt, and I had felt like going to that temple.

Then I did the only thing I had actually planned to do that day: went and played disc golf.

Anyone familiar with my other blogs knows my passion for this sport; I don't play it as much as I want, because I have no course near my home that isn't crowded, and I have little patience for crowded courses.

What is cool about the course is that it is built in a park that's on an old shrine ruin. How awesome is that? It was not clearly marked, and I spent a lot of time hunting for the tees and baskets. Other than that, the layout was very well done. It is in my top five courses.

From the disc golf course, I walked the two miles to the Sanyo station, where I took the train to Suma. I exited Suma station and walked towards the beach. Almost immediately I was sidetracked by Coppenhagen Suma: a Danish hot dog restaurant.

Years ago - more than I can think about - I knew of this place. I was an associate editor at a magazine, my boss a hilarious, brilliant British man named David Jack; he was an old-timer, a foreigner (gaijin) salty and prone to giving us newcomers a difficult time. But he employed me, promoted me, and had I gone back to Japan, would have probably helped me lead the magazine; that was a plan we discussed over beer, and maybe it was just the beer. But the way regret works, I've built up this grand mythology of what that life would have looked like, me the editor, me the salty old man giving the newcomers a hard time along with a chance to succeed.

During those years I heard of Hansen; he was in Okayama then, and when I went to Okayama to climb, I was told to go seek him out, because in those days there weren't many foreigners in Okayama. I didn't, but, later, when his restaurant moved to Suma, I thought about going. And then I forgot about it.

I walked in and the young lady working there, who I learned later spoke English, did the one thing every language learner wants: she assumed I spoke Japanese, which I do, and we communicated in Japanese. Then I met Hansen, a tall, slender man who is almost impossibly Caucasian. We chatted about his move to Suma more than a dozen years ago, the area, his thoughts, etc. I got a hot dog and enjoyed it immensely.

I didn't go to the beach; there was no pull to do so, even though it was just a short distance away. It was a gut-feeling sort of day, and that wasn't what my gut wanted me to do.

Walking up the hill, I followed the signs to Suma Temple - Suma-dera, in Japanese. I'll let you figure out which word translates as temple.

On the way I passed a famous Kara-age chicken restaurant. For those unfamiliar, this is basically fried chicken nuggets, but oh-so-much-better. I took an order to go, planning to eat it at the temple. I bought an oolong tea at a convenience store and proceeded up the hill.

Suma Temple is ancient, and plays a significant role in The Tale of Genji, one of the world's first actual novels. I ate lunch in a park as planned, and wandered the temple for over an hour. It's not that expansive, not really, but like Kakurenji, there was preparation going on for New Years, and I absorbed that activity before walking back to the station.

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