By now the experience began to feel surreal. Since I had stopped rushing around the island trying to find the Daishoin Temple, the magic of the place had a chance to get to me. On the way back to town, I barely blinked when I was faced with a life-like wooden horse staring at me from a shrine.
Nevertheless, it was time for lunch. I couldn’t rule out that dehydration and the lack of food were beginning to have an effect.
It really wasn’t my day. I found an inviting restaurant, pointed out my chosen set to the guy at the entrance and he obligingly shouted out my order to the kitchen, but just as I’d sparked up a cigarette and taken a long cooling swig of iced tea, one of the waiters appeared and said something that sounded like German.
I froze and put down the glass.
He said something else and as I focussed on the words, I realised that he had spoken Japanese all along. My mind was playing tricks on me; sometimes Japanese can sound a little like German when pronounced clearly. I might even have understood some of it if I had concentrated instead of behaving like an arrogant gaijin.
That was just the start of my lunchtime troubles.
Somehow I managed to order. Not that the dish (Zaru Soba) had a complicated name, but it would have helped if I had spotted the English menu tucked behind the Japanese one.
I stared at the set for a while. The dish came with a quail’s egg which was raw, as expected. I peeled it gingerly, but of course it slid down to the bottom of the wooden box.
I lifted up the sauce cup to reveal the glistening mass underneath and tried to wedge it back up.
Have you ever tried to catch an egg yolk with chopsticks?
After a brief debate, I upended the cup over the noodles and scooped the mess inside. I succeeded, but liquid had sloshed everywhere.
It was a blessing that I was the only guest, and partly hidden from the kitchen by a wooden partition. Nobody appeared to be watching.
As I worked my way through the noodles, I revealed a bamboo matting underneath, now soaked in dipping sauce.
I finished the meal in morbid silence, resolving to stick to the 7/11 from now on. I wasn’t quite done with it when the guy from the entrance appeared and signalled that they were about to close. They had probably been waiting for some time.
Among Miyajima’s unexpected sights there is an aquarium, closed by the time I reached it. A white marble statue of a girl with what looked like Irrawady dolphins drew my attention.
Of course, I wasn’t the least bit surprised to find it there; I expected it. If Cthulu surfaced from the shallows and wrapped His tentacles around the floating O-torii, it wouldn’t have surprised me either.
Irrawaddy dolphins are thought of as cute because they can distort their faces like beluga whales (to which they were thought to be related). They are drawing increasing interest from marine mammal exhibits in Asia, a worrying trend. But later Googling revealed that the animals are finless porpoises (Neophocaena phocaenoides), and that they are apparently bred there. I didn’t find anything on the Commerson’s dolphins which they also seem to have.
I saved the Itsukushima Shrine for last: recently restored and painted an eye-watering fluorescent tangerine that is probably not authentic. The bright colours nearly made me sway along the long wooden gangways.
The shrine is built above a mudflat, flooded at high tide, so that no commoners’ feet would sully the sacred ground of Miyajima Island itself. Crabs scruttle along the mud and barnacles encrust the wooden poles on which the structure rests. I couldn’t help picturing myself with a bucket and wellies, wading through the mire in search of specimens.
My head began to spin as I continued along the gangway, past paper lanterns and stacks of sake barrels. This was certainly a long way from St. Andrews or Millport.
The light was fading. It was time to head back. On the way to the ferry terminal, I passed people wearing traditional yukata and geta, probably on the way to the bathhouse.
I vowed to come back one day with John. We would stay in a traditional ryokan on a hill, overlooking the floating Otorii and the inland sea, and participate in the tea ceremony at Daishoin Temple. And I would get to see finless porpoises.