Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Journey to Japan (Part 4)

 I woke up the next morning feeling refreshed, but it didn't keep me from snuggling underneath the comforter for a bit longer. Through the paper screen door, I saw one of the hosts open up the blinds/curtains to the window just outside of our room.

 I knew it was time to start my day, and I had really needed to use the bathroom that night (though there were so many light switches I couldn't tell which ones to use so I gave up), so I got up and picked out my outfit for the day.  

Taking that to the bathroom with me, I walked very quickly; My companions had warned me about how cold the hardwood floor was. It wasn't as cold as they made it out to be, but it was still cold enough that I didn't want to stay on it for long. Luckily, the bathroom had slippers. (And a heated toilet ♥(✿ฺ´∀`✿ฺ)οΎ‰ )

When I got back to the room and we were ready to go out and join our hosts in the living room, the male host came in and gave us oni (demon) masks and roasted peanuts (I think they were, which can be used in the place of the traditional soybeans). It was Setsubun! The wiki link will tell you more, but it's basically a spring tradition celebrated on February 3rd each year. It aims to drive out the demons and bring in good luck.It's like spring cleaning for you and your home's luck!

We tossed the beans and shouted "Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!" Which basically means Demons out! Luck/happiness in! I had to be taught the phrase on the spot, and it was difficult to learn under the pressure of learning it in a matter of seconds. It, paired with the throwing of beans/nuts, is supposed to scare the oni away.

After that, we double checked our plans in the living room with our hosts; I had another cup of milk tea. The male host ended up walking us to the bus stop. Have I mentioned how sweet this couple is?

We took the bus to the train station and took a couple of trains into what was basically the boonies. It was really quite lovely to see. I was used to seeing buildings upon buildings, but I was getting my first real glimpse at the rural area of Japan. Eventually, there wasn't another train to take and we took a bus instead; The city we arrived in was decorated with manga characters, as Cat Island is also known as Manga Island. There, we ate lunch from a convenience store; I had fruit sandwiches and chocolate chip melon pan.

The only way to get to the island, though, was by boat. We took a ferry called the Mermaid. After hearing that foreigners were taking the ferry to the island, a reporter boarded and asked if she could interview us! Of course, I was the only one who was comfortable enough to have my voice and face possibly on television, so I had one of them translate the questions for me and I would answer them in english (which she said was fine).  She asked why I was interested in the island after she found out that I was dragging my companions with me to the place. I answered the question quite honestly, and it was mostly the same answer for every other question she had, " I love cats." The reporter gave me her business card and a sheet to sign to approve to be on television. She later came back and gave me another sheet to keep that said when and where I'd probably be on! Unfortunately, I lost that sheet and business card (still looking for it), but I think the date was sometime in March.

 It was very cold riding on the outside of the ferry- If I went inside the cabin, I started feeling sick. We all talked, sometimes just the three of us, sometimes the reporter would come back and ask more questions, on and off the camera (she was very friendly and sweet!)

Finally, we arrived to Tashirojima and got off at the second port. At first, I didn't see any cats, but one by one, I slowly began to spot them. I made it my goal to pet every cat that would let me. Before making it to the houses, we ran into a sign that noted that they were still recovering and rebuilding after the  2011 earthquake and tsunami. Walking around the island, you could really see the damage and destruction caused. As we made our way into a small village, the number of cats totally multiplied from a few to quite a lot. They were everywhere! Huddled together in baskets, hiding in holes in the wall, on top of roofs, just lazing about in the street.... I think you probably get it. I instantly made friends with a long haired brown tabby. He followed me about halfway to the shrine, where I met a bunch of other cats who were playing in the forest and resting on someone's driveway and doorstep. Cats meowed at me as I walked by, and eventually began to follow me. Some would let me pet them, other's would get close and didn't want to be touched. Most of the cats on the island had been very wary of me though and I had only been able to pet a few.  Houses disappeared as we continued on the road to the cat shrine. Trees surrounded the road and their branches made a canopy above me. The weather was a little warmer here, warm enough to take off my coat and warm enough that most of the trees were still green.

We finally made it to the shrine, passing an old school used as the tsunami evacuation point now along the way. It was a small shrine, but it came with a story; and a very talkative cat who was having nothing to do with me getting close to her. I was briefed on the way of praying at the shrine and then I approached. I threw in the 100yen coin, clapped my hands, bowed, clapped again, closed my eyes and made a very special prayer for the kitties on the island. I then turned my attention to the blue-gray tabby who was clearly trying to say something. She was now allowing me to pet her, though. She was so adorable and I wish I could remember her name (which was written on a smooth stone on the bench beside her.) (Edit: It was apparently Kuro (which means black)) I sat down and gave her a good petting and scratched behind her ears and under her chin. The tabby would sit right next to me or follow me around from that point on. I was read off the story of the shrine, which speaks about a cat who had a rock land on it during some construction work. The people of the island buried it and built a shrine around it and promised that they would do their best so that nothing like this ever happened again. It's a sad story, but its good that they are looking out for the cats now.

Unfortunately, it was time to leave, and I had to say goodbye to my new gray friend. She didn't want to say goodbye to me so she instead followed me quite a ways away from the shrine, meowing along the way. I felt really really bad for leaving her and I hoped that there was someone who would come up to give her water at least (as I only had juice on me). 

On the way down, I noticed that the cats were a little more willing to come to me and let me pet them. Maybe the cat had heard my prayer for the sake of the kitties on the island and let them know I only wanted them to have happy lives. I'd like to think that the prayer would be heard and answered.

I met back up with my brown tabby friend and we walked around the lower part of the island. A lot of other kitties started following at this point and it felt like being in a large group of friends. We all discovered a bigger shrine and investigated there, admiring the beauty of it. Not too far from that, there was some wooden ruins of a house with a gate out front. It was beautiful in it's own ruin and I had to take a picture of it. I can't see much of the house in the shot, but I'll always remember how beautiful it was. The last boat was going to leave soon, though, so we had to make our way back to the ocean and board the Mermaid again. I waved goodbye to the kitties one last time, seeing my brown tabby friend (who I just called "Friend" at that point) just one last time was heartbreaking.

I think I napped a lot on the way back to Sendai. While in Sendai, we had Yoshinoya (the beef bowl place I mentioned in an earlier post) for dinner before boarding the bus and walking through the quiet neighborhood to the house again. Another nice shower and bath and another night planning our route with the hosts, and my last night in that fluffy futon. The next day I'd be seeing snow in Sapporo! 

Created with flickr slideshow.

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