Hikone: Finding Myself in Remote Japan

November 19, 2019

6 min

1626 words

Journal

My plan to Hikone is a spontaneous plan after a quick sight through Google Maps when I take a rest at a park in Nagoya. I spend only a night and a half day in Nagoya, not because it’s not interesting, but I really need to take a proper rest since I haven’t fully recovered after hiking in Kawaguchiko, my foot whispered me to leave the city and spend more time in the countryside.Hikone is a small city in Shiga prefecture, extended along Lake Biwa — the largest freshwater lake in Japan. From an article I’ve read, in the middle of the lake, there is a sacred island called Chikubu inhabited by the goddess Benzaiten. The emperor Shomu who was responsible for the construction of The Great Buddha Todai-Ji Temple in Nara received its divine message from Amaterasu (the goddess of the sun) there. Today, the island is devoted for meditation and pilgrimage purposes. It’s interesting how the story similarities spread around the world differ on the surface but resemble the same essence such as the idea of god deliver its message to a chosen one in a secluded place and the chosen one sanctified that place for a spiritual destination

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It takes about an hour to reach Hikone from Nagoya by local train. I passed several stations and only transit once at Maibara Station. My Suica card doesn’t work, an officer immediately comes to help, he brings the card to the office next to the gate and does something with the card before giving it back. The road and the pedestrian are almost empty. Most of the shops are closed. I don’t understand what’s going on, maybe it’s because Sunday. My next stopover is about 15 minutes walk from the station, slightly hidden in the middle of the dense neighborhood — dense but so quite. The front entrance of the guest house is being renovated, the owner put a direction board to the back entrance which immediately gives a small zen garden view

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I fell asleep from the late afternoon until 9 o’clock. My room is a typical dorm with fewer beds and a homey atmosphere. The side of the room is transparent glass which gives a relieving outside view. I haven’t seen anyone in the room so far. My stomach is rumbling so I decided to look for dinner outside. I take a walk on a dark and quiet street, I keep walking and not find any restaurants in the near distance, I walk a bit far only to find a closed one before ended up myself in a 7eleven and buy a salmon onigiri, choco bread, and grape juice. While waiting for the traffic lights, I hear a sweet tune from a music box playing ‘beauty and the beast’ theme. A cold night, quite street, soothing music, and a bright moon. This journey never ceases to amaze me

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I return to the guest house and eat my food in the kitchen. It’s facing the room entrance, I sit while watching outside. The door is a framed wooden with transparent glass so I can see the garden and the owner inside his dim space sitting in front of a laptop. A few moments later from the female dorm someone came out. She is clearly a westerner but she is talking on the phone in fluent Japanese. She greets me briefly and takes a seat next to the kitchen table. After the call ended she greets me again and asks a typical introduction question. She is a German and has been living in Japan for about a year, currently still working with a working holiday visa in Okinawa. We talk much about her days in Japan and her Vietnamese boyfriend who is still struggling with the Japanese language

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I rent a bicycle from Hajime-san, the guest house owner. Right before I left, Lera, the German woman with whom I spoke last night ask my plan and decided to join me but there are no more bicycles available so I accompanied her to look for a bicycle near Hikone Castle. I ask her if she can help me to buy a specific muscle pain relief balm in a drug store. Her Japanese skills help a lot, even though I don’t get the one that I’m looking for the drug seller recommends an alternative. We buy lunch at the nearest supermarket. Lera could not help herself not to buy a bunch of foods, she likes to eat, she also explains some stories of the Japanese foods. I buy a pack of raw sushi and a random flavor of soy milk (Tonyu). We cycling around the Hikone castle and traditional souvenir places at the castle street. The day is getting hotter, we continue to the south of the city and stop by at a shady spot on Lake Biwa. Shortly after lunch, I back to my plan to visit Omihachiman city, about 25 km from Hikone. On the halfway, Lera decides to go back since she is not sure if she could get back in time to return the bicycle

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The nuance of this city resembles a lot of my hometown; the bridge, the lined hills, the rice paddy fields, quiet street, empty queue on the traffic light, farmers working on the fields, the reflection of the sun on the sea.

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Overall, I really adore the pedestrian sidewalk here, even in a remote place like this. In contrast, most of the pedestrian sidewalk in Indonesia have never properly designed, there is a kind of infectious disease that spreads in Indonesia’s pedestrian sidewalks, it looks like a ninja warrior arena which surrounded by reckless poor white elephant installation public facilities, it daunts you even before you begin. It’s not a question anymore for how and why it’s happened — lack of supervision, corruption, and perhaps collusion between the rulers and the stakeholders to make people have a high dependency on personal vehicles in order to keep the game up.

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I’ve come to understand my constant longing for nature or old-fashioned places, and for the most times I usually travel or search for a new place alone, I think that the feeling of loneliness can be a good counterweight for a retrospective. Moreover, I can be more flexible to manage my time without being bound by other people’s interests and fully absorb every time that passes.

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In the end, the scenic panorama I have seen throughout Hikone to Omihachiman becomes two-dimensional historical objects. As Borges once said “I am not sure that I exist, actually”

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I arrive in Omihachiman city almost at 5 PM, the sky is still bright, I stop by at Lawson and buy a lemon juice before enjoying it in front of the store, suddenly the Lawson cashier approaches me back, he says something in Japanese which probably means ‘you left your camera’. How careless, I put it on a small indent at the cashier. I continue by visiting a residential area called Hachiman-Bori, it’s lined up with old wooden Japanese houses between a canal which leads to Lake Biwa. Walking here, in the footpath alongside the canal is like a time travel to Edo’s period. I can visualize a samurai warriors like Miyamoto Musashi or Sasaki Kojiro commuting back and forth, conversing about their Shogun, stop by at a sake bar, and owes a plate of ramen, or just sit around reminiscing about the wars they had been through.

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Cycling back from Omihachiman to Hikone reminds me of Che Guevara monologue once he arrived at Machu Pichu during his journey in South America with a motorcycle, “How is it possible to feel nostalgia for a world I never knew?”, I’m not sure the answer to this rethorical question. The colors of the twilight sky and the sunset, the flock of crows on the electricity pole, a row of rice fields, and the approaching wind.

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My mind goes back to the Wayan Mirna Salihin murder case after watching a film called ‘13 assassins’. The film is about a group of samurai in a secret mission led by Shinzaemon Shimada to prevent Lord Naritsugu — a wicked barbaric murderous man from the Akashi clan which is still related with the former Shogun (the supreme ruler of Edo) — to be appointed as a shogun senior adviser. After a long battle and leaving only Shinzaemon, Shinrokuro (his nephew), and Lord Naritsugu, it’s ended up with Shinzaemon give one stab in Naritsugu left abdomen. Only one stab so he can thoroughly feel the process towards his death, a long painful death experience. Naritsugu who has never been injured and involved in a war then said in tremble towards his death

“Will I die?”
“I’m scared, I’m really scared, I don’t want to die”
“so death comes to all of us”
“of all days in my life, today is the most interesting”

How is the correlation to Mirna’s murder case? I remember the dissatisfaction expression of Mirna’s families and people in general on the day when the judge set 20-year sentences for Jessica Kumala Wongso. They wished Jessica to get a commensurate punishment, in other words, “a soul are paid by a soul” said Mirna’s sister. I can grasp that disappointment, but when I think about this one stab of Shinzaemon to Naritsugu, I’m quite sure that the more painful way to torture someone physically or psychologically is by giving them a slow death process while they’re still alive. Considering the 20 years she will spend in jail might rob away her youth and a possible psychological battle inside her, it’s more tragic than an instant death.

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Hotel: Guesthouse Muga
Hotel Environment: Tsuboniwa Style (Traditional house with enclosed garden)
Treatment: Green Tea
Others: Closed to Hikone Castle & Lake Biwa
Impression: Time travel to the samurai era