Toeps in Takamatsu: Tour de Hard-Off

Please note: contrary to my book, which has been translated by native English professionals, this post is translated in part by Google Translate and might not be perfect.

This post is also available in Nederlands

While in the Netherlands the corona virus is taking hold, everything is closed and everyone has to stay at home, it is slightly less intense in Japan. Yes, certain things have been closed for weeks. But although everyone suspects the government of lying (because of the Olympics), it actually seems to be not too bad here. Otherwise we would have had heaps of dead people by now, and you can’t easily sweep them under the carpet. I think that the standard Japanese customs, such as face masks, bowing instead of shaking hands, and the fact that this country is extremely clean, and the population very vital, play a role in this.

But with the flea market canceled, Disney closed, Charlotte at work and the Netherlands on lockdown, I decided to do something for myself. Traveling. I heard from everyone that it was so quiet everywhere, Kyoto especially, because the Chinese are not allowed, and the Europeans do not want to come. Well, fine, then I’ll go there myself to help the Japanese tourism industry.

"What brings you to Kagawa?"

I was chilling in a Starbucks at Takamatsu station for less than an hour when a kid of barely twenty years old came up to me with an iPad and a map. “Hi, I’m from the tourism office, can I ask you some questions?” Um, ok. “What brings you to Kagawa?”

Kagawa? I was in Shikoku, right? I saw that everywhere: “Discover beautiful Shikoku, yada yada ya.” But that was my mistake, because Shikoku is the whole island, Kagawa the top part. A prefecture, so a kind of province. What I came to do? I really had no idea. I really wanted to take the night train, the Sunrise Seto. And Takamatsu was the end point.

My favorite TV show, Japan Railway Journal, just made an item about these trains. I already wanted to go with Riemer in 2017, but back then it was sold out. Now there was plenty of room, so I booked a single cabin. It seems small, but it isn't. I had a good night's sleep, and the 9.5 hour journey was over in no time. If you take this train, don't forget to set your alarm at 6:30 am, when you'll cross the Great Seto Bridge. That's the view you're doing this for!

Back to the interview. “Have you been to the park yet?”, the kid asked. I knew there was a famous park in Takamatsu, but no, I had just arrived, so I hadn’t been there yet. Apparently my story about the night train got lost in translation. The boy also looked very shocked when I told him that I didn’t have any plans, so for his peace of mind, I said I would go to the park that afternoon.

I had to do something anyway, as my cheap, crappy hotel closed between 12:00 and 4:00 pm. Very annoying, and I would certainly not choose that again, but hey. Time to go on an adventure.

Polaroids and back streets

I am not your average tourist. I don’t care much about temples, castles and parks. I had saved three Hard-Offs in Google Maps beforehand. Number one was almost opposite the park. They had one Polaroid with the little rainbow, still completely in its packaging.

After that I felt obliged to visit the park, but once I got inside, and almost fell over from hunger, I thought, fuck this. I walked to the train station (whoa, sugoi!) And decided to do only things that I actually like from that moment on. I mapped out the route to Hard-Off number two.

Because the Hard-Off shops are often about 15 to 20 minutes from the nearest station, you can actually see a lot of a city in this way. So after a shopping spree at this store (they had, among other things, a beautiful leather camera bag from Canon, with corduroy on the inside) and a lunch and recharge session at the Makudonarudo (yeah, McDonalds) I decided to walk back. It took only 45 minutes or so.

I walked through alleys with small wooden houses, often deserted or in bad shape. People hung their laundry on the railway fences, stray cats sneaked into empty houses. Theft and vandalism don’t seem to exist here.

The next day I visited the last Hard-Off. To get there I walked through the shopping arcades: covered shopping streets, which Takamatsu claims have the most of in all of Japan.

Takamatsu may have the most, but almost every other Japanese city has at least one. A sad promenade, that usually has a contrastingly happy name. Sun Mall, Sun Road, Sun Plaza. I walked about twenty minutes through these covered streets to a shopping center, which also served as a train station. Roller conveyors took me to my platform.

I thought it was weird. Takamatsu was so quiet, so deserted, that I thought, “Why do they have so many facilities here?” The city has three rail lines, from two companies. But everything else looked very sad, weathered and abandoned. In the Netherlands I ordered the book Treurtrips (sad trips) a few months ago, and I was on one big sad trip, but in Japan.

“How did this town ever have the budget to build all these things?” I asked Riemer. Wikipedia provided insight. Before the Great Seto Bridge was built, Takamatsu harbor was the port of entry for the entire island of Shikoku. In the Second World War it was seen by the Americans as an important junction, and therefore completely bombed. During the rebuilding effort they must have thought: “Covered shopping promenades, they’re the future!”

I loved being in Takamatsu. Although I promised myself never to take such a cheap hotel again, I felt quite relaxed. On the before last day I ate the local specialty, udon, and the next morning caught the Marine Liner back across the Great Seto Bridge to Okayama. To be continued…

All photos in this blog were taken on my iPhone 8 and edited on that same iPhone. My SLR is way too heavy to carry around to take random snapshots with.

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