Eh huh, so why we going there?
The better question is, where’s San’in?
San’in means the Yin of Mountains (as apposed to Hiroshima, which is in San’yo, the Yang of Mountain) is the stretch of land on the north side of Chugoku, consisting of Japan’s two least populated prefectures of Shimane and Tottori, and the northern portion of Yamaguchi.
Put simply, it’s the most rural and out of the way region of Japan, much like Hualian in Taiwan.
Back in March I decided on a holiday end of May and early June because I needed to go back to Taiwan and help my parents plan and organize their new house, it was then decided I might as well swing up to Japan.
So now that I know I want to be in Japan, then comes the question of where.
Not Tokyo, I’ve been there. Not anywhere north of Tokyo, those areas are better in autumn/winter.
Not any of the major metropolis, after Tokyo I realized shopping and delicacies just isn’t my thing and much of the attractions in the big cities revolves to some degree around shopping and/or going to patisserie/ramen/restaurant/whatever.
Not Kyushu, the further south the sooner the rainy season comes, end of May and early June is cutting pretty close to rainy season in Kyushu. (and don’t even think about Okinawa)
That leaves.. Kyoto, Chubu, maybe Shikoku and… this place San’in, where only 0.4% of tourists to Japan goes.
There’s no single moment when I went “right! San’in is the place to go”. Gradually the various blog descriptions of the area drew me in till I simply went “okay, a trip around Chugoku (both San’in and San’yo) looks okay”.
The trip called for a JR pass so naturally it’s going to be 7 days. Initially I aimed for 3+1 days in San’in, 1 day in Okayama, 1 day in Hiroshima and 1 day undecided.
The 3 days in San’in was set in stone early. I’ll base in Matsue and splitting the region in 3. 1 day west of Matsue (Izumo area), 1 day east of Matsue (Yonago and Tottori) and 1 day in Matsue itself.
The rest however was always in a state of flux, because it was quite difficult to slot Hiroshima in.
Btw Himeji was ruled out fairly early because the castle is under renovation and the entire keep is covered.
Hiroshima…to go or not to go, that is the question
I can base in Okayama and do day return on the Shinkansen to Hiroshima, but the early morning Shinkansen train doesn’t allow enough time to get to the A-bomb Dome before 8:15 when the bell rings to mark the time the bomb dropped, unless I get up super early. I can spend a night in Okayama and Hiroshima each, but that means hauling bags around. I hate hauling bags, either you put the bag in a locker (then having to go back to retrieve it) or you find your hotel when you arrive to drop off your bag first. Either way wastes at least 30 minutes and energy.
I also had trouble deciding whether to put San’in in between Hiroshima and Okayama (which’d give more time but more complicated logistics).
For the time being I booked for 2 nights in Okayama while I pounded on various options.
Then the devastating news came. The Torii at Miyojima (the island in the bay near Hiroshima) has been damaged by storms and will need to under go repairs, while being repaired it will be covered in scaffolds.
That made me drop the already difficult to fit Hiroshima and look for entirely new alternatives.
First choice was Kyoto. Since discovering that the Kansai Airport Express – Haruka starts in Kyoto, I was already contemplating about going to Toyosato, the setting for K-ON’s school about an hour north of Kyoto, on the last day. This means I can hop back into Kyoto, grab some lunch while waiting for the train.
But after researching Kyoto it became evident there’s no way I can do a one day tour of Kyoto. There are simply too many places and too far apart for one day to do justice, and I was not prepared to visit only 2-3 places in Kyoto. Kyoto, will have to wait for another trip. Besides, Kyoto is popular, if needs be I can join a tour in the future at anytime and it’ll probably be cheaper than a backpack trip.
Hold it, you picked this based on what?
Just when I was about to re-add Hiroshima, Hyouka (anime) came on and I was greeted with this picturesque town in the middle of Japan (like, smack in the middle of Chubu).
Kyoto-animation did a fantastic job using Takayama as a backdrop for the anime, faithfully translating the town’s landmarks and scenery across in fantastic manner. Then in episode 2 and 3 the anime showed this cafe in Takayama. To be truthful, there’s nothing overly special about this cafe, it’s not posh or fancy, but through Kyoto-ani it held an unswayable aura that instantly pulled me in.
It took me another agonizing week. Finally, I changed my hotel bookings with just over 2 weeks to spare before I was due to head out.
Going to Takayama actually simplified my itinerary, I no longer needed to worry about transferring at Shin-Osaka to get to Toyosato (there are no direct Shikansen from Okayama to Maibara, the nearest station to Toyosato) since I’ll be coming from Nagoya.
Then because I need to catch the first train to Takayama from Nagoya, this dictated that I spend the previous night here.
The trip thus became:
Day 1: Train ride all the way from Kansai Airport to Matsue.
Day 2-4: San’in based in Matsue.
Day 5: Early train back to Kurashiki followed by Okayama, then in the evening take the Shikansen direct to Nagoya.
Day 6: First train to Takayama, last train back to Nagoya.
Day 7: Shinkansen to Maibara, go to Toyosato, then further on to Kyoto to catch the Haruka to airport.
Simply and sweet!
Itinerary look a little thin doesn’t it?
After what happened last time with Tokyo where I dropped from exhaustion on Day 6 or 7, there will be no more out at 6am and back at 10pm and no continuous walking. My pace may be faster than many, but I still can’t walk all day for an entire week. Being tired also distracts from taking photos as I’m constantly on the look out for some place to rest.
The good thing about San’in is the amount of trains I’ll be taking.
Normally taking the train will be a waste of time, but here they serve as excellent pacing mechanism which give me plenty of rest between walks. Given I’m not stressed about what meals I have on this trip, I intend to also utilize the travel times by eating on the trains, either eki-bens or whatever I find in FamilyMart. Eki-bens are an experience by themselves 😉
Okay let’s go!
Most things planned, especially with a self-made train timetable for San’in based on Matsue, whose importance is second only to my passport and flight & hotel bookings. Packed lightly, no dragging around the trusty Samsonite, with just a shoulder-strap bag for clothing, a backpack, and the X10. It’s time to get lost in San’in.