Knowing Tranquility Part XIII: Shimo-kamagari 下蒲刈 & Kami-kamagari 上蒲刈
Edward J. Taylor
Shimo-kamagari and Kami-kamagari are two islands off the Hiroshima coast that are administratively part of Kure. Shimo-kamagari is connected by bridge to Honshu and the two islands are also linked by bridge to each other. Further bridges connect Teshima and Osaki-shimojima.
Mitarai lies tucked away in a small bay. I would gush about it, but Donald Richie already has, and he dedicates a good number of pages in his book The Inland Sea to the town.
I approach with some trepidation, worried it had lost the charm that he found here. I too am lucky to find things unchanged, not only from the Edo Period, but from Richie's visit as well. Throughout these wanderings I keep wondering what he saw in his day, and for the first time I find us sharing the same view. I crisscross the town a couple of times, following the lanes laid-out like the ribs of an open fan. There is the usual decay, but here it has a certain beauty, especially the old school, and the crumbling temple nearby. All the rest is vibrant and alive, the residents actually moving about. I run into one woman twice, and another one, three times.
Like Kinoe, this town too had a pleasure quarter, but of a higher grade. Feudal period courtesans once paraded the streets. I begin to think how ironic it is that places with an Edo Period look have been better preserved (a grand generalization in a country like Japan), whereas those from the transitional Meiji have been allowed to fade. Do we value older history more than new? Or perhaps it is political rather than cultural. After the Second World War, the Edo Period became fashionable, as if the bushido samurai code of ethics was necessary to rebuild the country, which the west picked up in the 1980's when all of Wall Street seemed to be reading the samurai classic The Book of Five Rings.
(Equally important, many of the samurai films of the early 1960's told stories of lone swordsmen fighting a corrupt Shogunate, in an off-hand criticism of the military government during the war, and even the modern Japanese government of the time.) Meiji values, though they too had rebuilt the country, did so in a way that led to an ultimate apotheosis in the war itself, and therefore, could no longer be trusted. Funny, considering that most of what we think of as being "traditionally Japanese" was created at that time. But as I walk, all I am concerned with is today. In a most poetic metaphor, the hands of the clock hanging above the old clock shop no longer move.
Had that clock been correct, it would have told me it is nearing lunchtime. I duck into Shiomachi Kan, which serves as a souvenir shop and cafe. I talk with the proprietor over a coffee, talking about island life and asking questions that had arisen during my walk. I mention too how disappointed I am in myself for not staying on the island, as recently I've been opting for cheap hotels on the mainland, convenient to early morning ferries. Far better, in hindsight, to have taken a late ferry out to the islands themselves and stayed there.
For this day at least I am through with boats. A bus takes me along the rest of the islands in the chain, crossing high above the water on the bridges that interconnect them. As the bus is nearly empty I moved from side to side, keeping the water close. On Kami-kamagarijima, I jump off the bus, despite the driver telling me it is too far to walk to the beach I seek.
Another sign of the times perhaps in modern Japan, where the elderly are advised not to walk a distance that Google maps tells me is a mere eleven minutes. But the walk is a pleasant one, through mikan farms and old farmhouses. When I get to a busier road, I am able to hitch a lift for the final stretch to Kenmin-ga-hama (県民の浜). This beach is considered one of Japan's best and it is easy to see why, with perfectly groomed gold sand, clear waters and swaying palms.
Beside the beach is a soccer pitch and a polo field, and further away from the water stands a row of small cottages. Sadly the restaurant is closed due to some function, so I walk back up the beach to neighboring Koi-ga-hama (恋が浜), a bit more down to earth with its campsites sheltered by pines. The heat is coming up so I roll up my trouser legs and wade into the cooling water, finding yet another reason to return to a part of the country which is quickly becoming one of my favorites.
And Sannose on Shimo-kamagarijima completes the hat trick. This simple row of houses near the inter-island strait has had a long and international history, formerly used as inns for the noblemen who once passed through.
The town was considered important enough to host a number of diplomatic missions in the feudal period, most notably the Koreans and the Dutch. Evidence of these missions can be seen at the Shoto-en, in the form of hundreds of artifacts from around the world. But it is the gardens themselves that most impress, awing even the Korean statues that bow reverently to the handful of buildings on site.
It would be easy to spend a full day here, visiting some of the nearby galleries and proud Edo Period houses. But I have one last bus to catch. Along the way to the bus stop, I hear some great old classic jazz coming from Maruya cafe. Overlooking the water, it is the perfect place to linger awhile, again to be tabled to a future date. As it is, the owner makes a take-away panini for me, and as my bus rolls and pitches its way toward the final bridge toward Kure, I enjoy the taste of curry. It seems fitting.
Access - Getting To Mitarai
Mitarai, on Osaki-Shimojima island, can be reached by ferry from Takehara Port. There are seven boats a day and the trip takes about one hour. From there, hourly buses cross the islands west to Kure.
Kure can be reached by train on the JR Kure Line, about 30-45 minutes east of Hiroshima depending on the type of train.
Mitarai has a number of small traditional inns www.yutaka-kanko.jp/stay
Kenmin-ga-hama has a larger hotel that also rents cottages: kennhama.net
There is no lodging in Sannose, but plenty can be found in the nearby city of Kure.
See here for a full listing of hotels and guest houses in Kure.
If you wish for us to reserve accommodation for you anywhere in Japan (for a small fee) please contact us.
See here for hotels in Hiroshima.
About the Author
Based in Kyoto, Edward's work has appeared in a variety of print and online publications. Co-editor of the Deep Kyoto Walk anthology, he is currently at work on a series of books about walking Japan's ancient highways. Edward is the author of the blog notesfromthenog.blogspot.jp