Day 18: Sightseeing Kochi Prefecture

I stayed up until 3 a.m. Japan time watching the Mueller testimony before Congress and listening to my new friend, Massa, snore his head off in his coffin immediately above my coffin. I woke up at 7:30 to get my things around for the day. The plans were to go with Misono and Feliz to a nearby small town called Ino, where there has been a rich paper making tradition and now has a wonderful paper museum.

In recent years, I have really gotten into fountain pens and different ink. I plan to purchase some indigo ink in Tokushima City on my way back to Osaka to fly home, but I have never really thought much about different types of stationary. None of it should matter, my handwriting is awful and looks more like a bunch of chicken scratches, but it’s fun to write with nice instruments and pretty ink. I was excited for the opportunity to make washi (Japanese paper) and see the museum.

Misono picked us up a little before 9, which meant I had to of course scramble to get ready because I got sidetracked and started talking with Massa and Erie some more. We said goodbye to them as they were off to rent a car and go camping.

It was great to see Misono again, and I think she has really taken a liking to Feliz and I. It was about a 45 minute drive for her from her home to pick us up, and another 45 to 60 minutes to Ino. She’s taken the whole day off to drive around with a few people who were strangers just days ago and to visit a museum she has been to several times. What a gal.

Misono drove us straight to Ino and over the past several days riding with her I have learned quite a bit about Japanese traffic laws. Yellow lights at traffic lights can essentially be ignored, and everyone does that, especially buses. Pedestrians have the right of way, if vehicle traffic sees you. That one is big for walking henro. Fortunately, I and my massive pack typically stand out.

Ino has a rich history of washi, and the museum was really fascinating to not only learn that history, but see many examples of paper from hundreds of years ago and the brushes, ink, and stamps they used to mark on them. There were also a lot of displays about other uses for paper, including hemp material to make clothing, money, and as building material. Feliz and I had the opportunity to make washi, taught by a gentleman that only spoke Japanese. Misono helped to interpret when she could, but it was pretty much just follow the leader. We took these large screens and gathered a bunch of rice fiber from a large container, then shook it like crazy to get the excess moisture out of the screen. After it settled, we gathered another time or two until we had enough fiber in the screen. After separating the fiber from the screen, the gentleman then took our material to a hydraulic press to squeeze out as much moisture as possible. We then walked with him to a nearby room where he carefully placed the fragile pressed fiber onto a large heated surface, which cooked out the rest of the moisture and cooked the fiber together. The final texture turned out to be as thick as cardboard, but with dozens of layers of fiber cooked onto one another. We made 8 postcards from our gathering and got to keep them. 

In other parts of the museum, there were exhibits from a recent paper mache contest conducted by the museum. There were lots of beautiful, colorful pieces from ages ranging to elementary school kids (one entire elementary school class worked on one large exhibit) to adults that took classes at the museum. It was fun to see the imagination of all of these entrants. On another floor, a gentleman and his student were displaying their pottery they had created. Feliz bought a small wall decorative and the student gave her a vase as osettai. 

As we left the museum, we surprisingly ran into our new friends Massa and Erie, who stopped near the museum for a bite to eat at a cafe. We drove down the road and found a small farmers market with a restaurant and supermarket attached. Their special was an udon noodle dish featuring black udon noodles made from really old rice that is turned into a powder and added to the dough for the noodles. Misono also bought a couple bento boxes so Feliz and I could sample more of the local cousine. All of it was incredible.

Following lunch, Misono was feeling a bit more adventurous and wanted to go find a waterfall she has never been to. We drove around for about an hour and she stopped and asked for directions a few different times until we finally found the waterfall. It was an insanely steep hike down to the waterfall, which included holding onto a ropeway so you didn’t fall down the cliff. It had rained recently, so everything was still a bit wet and slippery. I hadn’t bandaged my feet since I was anticipating a rest day, so it was a difficult hike down to the waterfall and small lake and river on my injured feet. At the bottom, we were met with a beautiful view, and the whole drive and hike was instantly worth it. The water had a magnificent teal color to it and it was peaceful, despite dozens of people coming and going. At the bottom, we also found our friends Massa and Erie. It was funny how we kept crossing paths with one another.

Misono then drove us to find another waterfall, which was found in a wonderful valley where we walked alongside and over a river several times. Again, my feet weren’t ready for the hike, but the whole place was so beautiful I would have done it barefoot if I had to. Afterward, Misono tried to get me to eat boiled horse meat (I politely declined following our big lunch) but I opted for a sea salt ice cream cone. The horse meat was probably better. 

Misono then took me back to Kochi City to my hotel. Saying goodbye to Misono and Feliz was tough, even though we had only met days ago. It was fun exploring Kochi with them and Feliz and I will try to stay in touch over email.

Emilee’s flight had landed in Osaka and she was on a train ride to Kochi City to join me for the rest of my trip. I’m excited to share Japan with her and all of the amazing people I have met along the way. She also brought me an emergency ration of new tennis shoes, since I have already worn mine out. We plan to spend two nights in Kochi City so we have time to tour Kochi Castle and some of the other local sites, as well as sample more of their local cuisine.

After taking a shower at the hotel, I surprisingly found a Mexican restaurant on my way to the train station. I was craving tacos, and I was surprised to learn they offered a couple spicy taco food challenges. I love spicy food, and haven’t had anything spicy since I first got to Japan. One challenge was to eat two tacos within 10 minutes, with “level 55 heat”. If you complete the task, you get your meal and favorite drink for free. If you lose, you pay about $10 USD. The other challenge was to eat two “level 99 heat” tacos, and if you win you get the meal and a drink for free, otherwise you pay about $20 USD. I decided I didn’t want to risk paying $20 for two tacos, so I went with the level 55 heat. I found a couple bottles of Blair’s After Death sauce on the table, so I knew they were somewhat serious about these challenges. The waiter made a bit of a spectacle of the presentation of the taco challenge, and all of the Japanese patrons starting “oo’ing and ahh’ing” as the tacos were delivered to me. 

I was surprised to find homemade corn shells in Japan, and the tacos looked incredible. They were much larger than I expected too. I finished them in two and a half minutes, and got a standing ovation from the waiter and all of the Japanese guests. It turns out the only heat they added was to the salsa, so the tacos themselves went down pretty quickly. A Japanese man asked me what I thought, and I responded that the tacos were “oishikatta“, or delicious. He and the rest of his table repeated the word in disbelief. I went and washed my hands from the salsa and then made my way out of the restaurant, feeling damn proud of myself. I could have finished the level 99 tacos in 10 minutes, but it probably would have hurt. Later, it felt like my insides were on fire, so I think they used some form of chile extract to make the salsa. 

I picked up Emilee from the train station and went to a Japanese curry restaurant to get her some food. On the way, I stopped at a 7-Eleven to get a bottle of milk, which I ate with some garlic naan at the curry restaurant to help try to extinguish the blaze in my gut. Emilee’s curry was excellent too.

Tomorrow is a proper rest day for my feet as well as Emilee’s jet lag. We have plans to visit Kochi Castle and eat at Hirome Market, beloved by locals for the variety of food stalls and dozens of bars in a cramped indoor hall.

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