A blustery morning with leaves flying everywhere, the michi no eki Ipponmatsu Tenboen is busy with trucks coming and going but not much other activity until a JA market opens selling vegetables, mikan and kaki (persimmon).
Behind the michi no eki building there is a view down over a wide, flat valley and beyond to a wider flatter sea. The shining fields stretching to the far hills appear to be salt beds and there are clearly canals running from the sea. Some fields are flooded but others appear black. I thought, at first, they were solar panels but there are no connecting power lines so they must be some part of the salt making process. It is too far away to be certain.
The road to Kurashiki means one lane traffic for miles and there are huge leaves blowing across the carriageway, like stricken birds. We pass through Okayama, a lot of industry and very busy even on the bypass. A very large percentage of the traffic is trucks.
In contrast, the old town of Kurashiki is the altogether different aspect of Japan. A very pretty place with old, low, white buildings and a shallow canal with large carp mostly out of the shallow water. So much so, in fact, that D. thought they were dead. Two large swans are also waddling about in the shallows. Later, passing this same spot, the tide is in, the water deeper and the fish gone.
The canal is lined with willow trees and there are many interesting, old buildings. It is similar to Yanagawa in Kyushu but more extensive and better maintained. There are the usual tourist shops many selling Bizen Yaki, a heavy, brown pottery and curiously the place is famous for blue jeans. There are also a few serious, antique shops, discretely, not displaying prices.
We have lunch in small shokudo which, for the price and in a tourist town, is surprisingly good.
After leaving Kurashiki we make for the hills of the Hiruzen Highlands – the foothills of Daisen I think. Here again the scenery is pretty, and very welcome, after the industry of the Setonaikai coast, wide valleys and low hills of a prosperous agricultural area.
As we climb higher, however, the weather starts to deteriorate rapidly. The rain increasing in intensity as the temperature drops dramaticly. At the top of the pass, the temperature has dropped to 2 degrees. We cross a highland plateau area and then make a long descent to an onsen.
It is still raining when we arrive at Kaiyukan onsen. This very unpretentious place used almost exclusively, I would imagine, by locals. It is nothing special but good hot water, a fine radon bath. Clean and refreshed, we drive another 10 kilometres or so to the michi no eki. This one is Kaze-no-ie. My cold has not progressed and I hope I can hold it off but it is forecast to be 1 degree here tonight so I must keep warm. The michi no eki is deserted. We rarely see other shachuhaku people these days. Only crazy people are sleeping in their cars in December.
＊Kaiyukan hotspring ; 740 yen / adult
The author is a long term resident of Japan who has and continues to travel the country extensively. Avoiding highways where possible, the author has driven from Kagoshima in Kyushu to Wakanai in Hokkaido covering 20,000 plus kilometres and counting.