Matsue. The choice of location happened much the same way it was picked the last time, that is, not by all that much reason.
I had planned to take my parents on a cherry blossom seeing trip, however after a month of basic planning it became clear that any cherry blossom seeing is not feasible for them. Cherry blossom required far too much walking, subway travels that may or may not have seats, and just all round terrible for my parents.
So Matsue just kind of popped up since my parents really liked this photo I took of the rabbit statue against the sunset at the Shimane Art Museum. Why not take them there to watch the sunset.
And that’s really all there was to the thinking process, back to Matsue to watch the sunset.
With sunset comes the timing. Either end of May before the raining season sets in but after golden week, or end of October after the typhoon season, those are the times when Matsue generally has the best weather. May was too soon so October it was, plus, I vaguely remembered that the Matsue Drum Float festival is in October too.
Initial planning calls for 6 days, it’s a long way to Matsue and supposing a stop on Okayama on the way and back to break up the trip, that’s about 4 days by itself with 2 days or 3 days in Matsue.
Then is the question of entry from where. Kansai, would be the obvious answer. It’s closer and combines well with the Kansai Wide and Okayama-Sanin rail passes. That’s supposing we don’t go to Hiroshima, which I kinda of wanted to since I missed it last time, if we did then it’ll need the Sanyo-Sanin pass which opens up the options.
Sanyo-Sanin pass basically gives a free for all on everything between Kansai and Hakata in norther Kyushu. Which means we can fly to Fukuoka and go from there. It’s a little further to get to Matsue, but if Hiroshima is slotted in somewhere, it can work out.
So assuming Hiroshima is in, then Fukuoka and Kansai looks about equal. However there are a few things that set it apart. Kansai being the larger airport, has much more flight options and.. actually that’s about it. On the other hand Fukuoka airport is a tad closer with a shorter flight time, and is remarkably close to the city centre, in fact a quick 15min taxi ride that’s fairly cheap at about 1500Y, compared to Kansai’s 40min train ride (cost covered by rail pass). Fukuoka also avoids the dreadful customs queue that’s recently plagued Kansai with the influx of tourists on the cheap yen. So time wise Fukuoka probably saves about 2 hours on the way in and an hour on the way out.
So entering through Fukuoka is decided, I throw in another day making it 7 days total to be sure I have enough time time to cover Hiroshima. Friday to Thursday to cover the drum float festival on the 3rd weekend of October. As luck would have it in October Matsue also has what’s called Suitouro event, meaning Path of Water Lanterns, a fitting name given the watery surroundings of the city, where the areas around the castle is lit up with lantern displays and there are a host of activities.
With the flights locked in planning then moves to hotel bookings and other locations.
The usual way of getting to Matsue is via Okayama, taking the 2 hours 30min express to Matsue. Initially I had broken Okayama and Kurashiki into halves, half day on the way in and half day on the way out. This bothered me however, as this meant lockers both on the way in and out and if there’s anything I hate more than finding a place to eat, it’s finding lockers and dealing with luggages. Ideally I would like to put Kurashiki and Okayama on the same day, spend a night in Okayama and take advantage of leaving luggages at the hotel. Since the flight is already booked and the festival starts on Saturday night, this means Okayama must come after Matsue.
Moving Okayama to the back half is simple enough, but leaves a hole on Saturday morning. I could take the train all the way to Matsue but that means an 5 hour train ride none stop, first getting to Okayama from Hakata via Shinkansen then the Yakumo express.
So I started looking for place to break the journey or alternative paths entirely. After some search I could find no locations along the Shinkansen that can be easily done in half a day. I did take note of the possibility of leaving the Shinkansen at Yamaguchi then taking the train up the Sanin coast, avoiding Okayama entirely.
The route up the Sanin coast is slightly longer, about 6 hours in total while opening up several potential locations. Yamaguchi, Tsuwano, Masuda and Ooda with the historic Ginzan silver mines. I soon settled on Tsuwano, a small rural town famed for its koi fish filled waterways, historic buildings and a shinto shrine with winding pathway covered in many red toriis.
Once Tsuwano is decided it’s then fairly straightforward, doing a clockwise trip from Hakata to Tsuwano, Matsue for 2 nights then Okayama 2 nights, then Hiroshima on the way back to Hakata. This simplifies bookings by a fair bit by having just 3 hotels of 2 nights each (Hakata on the 1st and last day).
Throughout planning, even up to the month before departure I’ve thought about whether to spend the last night in Hiroshima. This will allow extra time for Hiroshima and with the Shinkansen it’s only a short hour to Hakata it’s then simple connection to the airport by taxi.
However I’m nagged by my own rule of being able to have an answer if plan A falls through. The problem with Hiroshima is that while it’s very quick to get to Hakata by Shinkansen, it’s actually about 300km away meaning any plan B is immediately shot. If for whatever reason the Shinkansen is unavailable there is no possible way to get to the airport in time. Now the Shinkansen is remarkably reliable and punctual, but all it take is one chance. Bad earthquake timing or personel hazard and it’ll throw everything out the window. If it was just myself my answer might be to risk it and eat the cost of accomodation and flight change, but that’s not something I can do with my parents along.
So the last night remained locked in Hakata.
Making the hotel bookings is of little note by now, using Jalan and Rakuten. There were some juggling while I finalized the plans for Matsue and which hotels to book, whether close to the station or not.
A home visiting special threw a little distractions a few months out. Furusato, roughly meaning visiting one’s home in the countryside where one or one’s parent once grew up for the city folks. The sales offered massive discounts, sometimes half prices for accomodations throughout Japan (but not Okayama nor Matsue, sadly). Half price onsens in Kyushu was very very tempting, especially for the few very good ones in the Kurokawa area which has been on my list for a while.
I thus started on an alternative plan based on the locked in 7 day schedule. The plans developed some ways, from Hakata to Kumamoto, Aso, Kurokawa then Yufuin. A roadblock remained however the matter of transport. The onsen areas cannot be accessed by train and can only be done by bus or car. Bus is slow while car is costly and tiring, and no train or bus passes really fit the schedule, either too slow, too few, or too short in valid days to be worth while.
In a way the locked in 7 day messed with the plans somewhat as it means I get a little more greedy, but if I trim too much then I’m left with days with locations I’m not really that interested in visiting, like Kokura or Nagasaki.
Ultimately the onsen plans gets nowhere and I’m back to my Matsue or by now thought of as Suitouro planning.
Being fairly familiar with Sanin already eased the workload of making the detailed plans, I already knew roughly all the timetables and directions so I spent an inordinate amount of time into dining scouting. Which I should say didn’t really end up amounting to be of much use, and not a great use of time in terms of efforts involved. But hey, that’s why I hate working out where to eat, because they rarely work out.
Having time to pour into other aspects of trip planning does produce fruits in other areas, which I’ll go into later in the day by day write ups.
I’ve also finally broke my anime pilgrimage trends, but not by a lack of trying. I did look into whether any animes I knew are set in the Sanyo Sanin areas but alas, the only one that remotely came close was Tamayura set in the Onomichi area which there was no time for. Shame, it’s okay though, I’m sure I’ll make it up someday by doing an all pilgrimage Kansai trip.