Our apologies for not updating the blog or, for that matter, Pam's Facebook, more frequently. After Onomichi, the focus of this blog post, we headed to Koyasan, the subject of a separate post that Pamela's preparing; there, we encountered cyber weirdness whilst staying at a Buddhist temple -- no email access, even though we had some other, limited internet access. Oneness and emptiness, I guess. We're in traveling mode, and there's so much to see and do (and eat) that dealing with the nuts and bolts of drafting and editing text and selecting and tweaking photos, and then uploading, etc., has a way of receding into the background of our priorities.
By way of examples: We've eaten lots of oysters (grilled, fried, poached, with udon, with rice and egg) here in Hiroshima prefecture. The region is famed for its oysters and we've made it our job to fact check. And we can confirm that the reputation is justified.
We returned to Pam's father's family's home area, Onomichi, this time for four days and three nights. Almost enough time. One doesn't go there for high falutin' big city culture; rather, it's Mediterranean warmth, casual atmosphere, dramatic scenery, role in Japan's film and literary history . . . and the stunning transformation we've witnessed in just the past year. Two phenomena deserve note: One is that mainland Onomichi and the chain of islands that extend out into the Seto Inland Sea have become a major Japanese and international biking destination. The island string can be accessed via well-marked, seemingly bicycle safe inter-island roads and striking bridges connecting them, or by a well-run small-boat inter-island ferry system. On weekends Onomichi's waterfront and ferries are overpopulated with archtypal bicyclists in proper helmets and silly spandex colors, many riding spectacular bikes made out of space-age materials. Several Onomichi hotels have become explicitly bicycle friendly -- most prominently Hotel Cycle (http://www.onomichi-u2.com/en/hotel_cycle.html) -- and the Onomichi JR railway station has a bicycle setup area. The city and the biking community have multiple weekend cycling events theroughout the year. (Parenthetically, I'm on a listserv for Garuda airlines, the Indonesian national carrier; late in 2014 they advised me of a promotion involving a long weekend of cycling in the region.)
The other almost startling evidence of Onomichi's rapid transformation is it's main covered shopping arcade.
We're no experts, but covered, multi-block street-based shopping arcades seem to exist in all of the small sample of Japanese cities we've visited. I expect they exist in part to address Japan's hot summers and frequent torrential rainy days. Regardless of their provenance, they're sort of charming, and can be quite stylish, very old fashioned, dowdy, hip, or an engaging combination of all of the above. The arcade near our little Shirakawa Cottage in Kyoto seems, over the last three years, to be case study in accelerating urban gentrification. Once, recently, a neighborhood shopping district with many shops shuttered or operated on short hours by elderly green grocers, fresh and dried fish mongers, dry goods merchants, butchers, hardware purveyors, etc., now the contractors have moved in, gutting, revamping, and repurposing spaces as guest houses, craft beer and eats joints, architects' ateliers, 100% organic cotton boutiques, French boulangeries . . . you get the picture. Many of the old merchants still exist, but their days, and the nature of the businesses they operate, are clearly numbered. Well, the same can be said for Onomichi's long covered arcade, which runs parallel to the waterfront, roughly two blocks up. A mere year ago it looked to be dying. On this visit we saw several new boutiques selling high-priced gear with contemporary design pretensions, fancier traditional Japanese sweets shops, fairly authentic Neapolitan-Japanese fusion pizzerias -- the contractors are hard at work remodeling Onomichi's arcade now as well. Of course this is all progress, and it beats the moribund scene of the recent past, but at the cost of distancing a place from its posterity, from its history.
No such issues yet visible two islands down the archipelago, on Pam's father's Innoshima. Although it's flooded with bicyclists in clown suits on the weekends, there was zero evidence of anyone having figured out how to capitalize on this potential new market of hungry weekend warriors. No cafes or restaurants open . . . on the part of Innoshima we visited. Tour buses disgorged small crowds of (nonbicyclist) tourists at Innoshima's International Flower Center, provisioned with what appeared to be mainland catered bento box lunches -- not so much as one of Japan's ubiquitous drink machines. Now Innoshima is a small island, but not Lilliputian, and we walked a handful of kilometers through several villages. Nothing open. Countless small farms and large garden plots, a handful of cars and motorcycles, the occasional bus, no taxis. Here and there, by the roadways outside the gates of weekend idled shipyards and other light industrial facilities, perhaps a drink machine.