Trains, Okayama and Momotaro. (Part 1)

Although I’d intended to visit Kyoto over the holidays, I decided instead to go to Okayama for a few days. Not only is Kyoto prohibitively expensive during holiday season but it’s quite cold now and I’d sooner see it in the spring when the cherry trees are in blossom (sakura). As I hadn’t left Niimi since arriving in late August though, I was looking forward to getting away for a while; particularly so because I love travelling by train. I find it almost hypnotically soothing to watch the landscape unfold before me while listening to the rhythmic clacking of the rails. From Niimi, Okayama is little more than an hour’s trip. The train pretty much follows the course of the river through the mountains, passing through and stopping at a number of small villages and towns en route. It’s a short but very pretty trip.

Having spent the previous  four months  living in a relatively small town, arriving  was a bit of a jolt. Okayama’s Train station is an important transit hub. In addition to being a major Shinkansen  (bullet train) stop, all trains connecting Honshu and Shikoku via the Great Seto Bridge originate and terminate here. Okayama itself has a population of almost two million. During a holiday, particularly one as important as New Year,  the station is a seething mass of humanity! In the bustling confusion after debarking the train, it took me a few minutes to realize that, to exit the building you need to activate the turnstile with your train ticket. Who knew? Not thinking I’d need it after debarking the train, I really had to scramble to find the ticket.

Stepping out of the station I was greeted with a cold blast of winter air. Directly in front of me was the expansive boulevard I knew from my map to be Momotaro Odori St. Not really an auspicious first impression of a city, it was large, seemingly generic and grey: I knew that within a couple of hundred yards of where I stood there were two McDonalds! But then again, I reminded myself, there is always the legend of Momotaro…

“According to the Japanese fairy tale, an old, childless couple found a peach floating down the river, and inside they found a baby boy. They duly adopted him and named him Momotaro, or (quite literally) “Peach Boy”. As he grew, he began to feel greatly indebted to the couple that raised him, and when he was finally grown, he announced that he would be going on a journey to Onigashima (Demon Island) to fight the demons that had been causing trouble in the nearby villages. The old woman prepared kibi-dango (Okayama’s famous dumplings)  for him to take on his journey and bid him farewell.

On his way to the island, he befriended a dog, a monkey, and a pheasant by giving them each a piece of the kibi-dango. With their help, he defeated the demons; Momotaro took the demons’ treasures back home and gave them to the old couple to thank them for all the things they’d done for him throughout the years. The couple rejoiced that he was back safely, and they all lived happily ever after.”

Momotaro is legendary in Japan and Okayama claims him as “theirs”. When I attended the Daimo (samurai) Parade last October in Niimi, Peach Boy (or someone in a Momotaro costume), was there. My erudite fellow ALT Alex, told me of the legend. I’m glad he did because, as I was walking from the station I noticed the first of the Momotaro statues.  All along the wide boulevard there were statuary of Momotaro and his pals. Look down and there they are on the street manhole covers. I liked it: Along with the trams it humanized what otherwise initially seemed to be a cold and impersonal city.

My hotel, The Koraku, was less than a fifteen minute walk from the station: Pretty much about half-way between the train station and Okayama-Jo (The Crow Castle) and the  Korakuen Garden (said to be one of the three finest gardens in Japan). The staff were attentive and spoke passable English. As I entered my room, tossed my bag on the bed and noticed how perfectly appointed the room was, the thought occurred to me, “This is getting better by the moment”. I was looking forward to doing some sight-seeing, dining on local cuisine, enjoying the night-life and possibly meeting a few people. I’ll write a bit more about that in part two within the next couple of days.



Sakura (cherry blossom), is a big thing in Japan. Former JET and ALT, Will Ferguson is a Canadian author who, in a moment of drunken bravado, said he’d hitchhike (not really done in Japan), from the southernmost point  of the country  to the northern tip  of Hokkaido following the progress of the sakura. Having made the commitment, he sets out to do just that. The resulting travel account, “Hitching Rides With Buddha”, is insightful, funny, and at times poignant. I’d unhesitatingly recommend it to anyone with an interest in Japanese culture.







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