Noilly Prattle: Day trip to the Sea of Japan (日本海の旅行)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Day trip to the Sea of Japan (日本海の旅行)

autumn foliage along the Takahashi River  - (高橋川)
      Road buddy (a.k.a. my wife), who works freelance as a translator, got a call from an agency she does work for last week wanting to know if I'd be interested in doing a one off gig. I said it depends, what do they want me to do? The idea was that I would go to (松江) Matsue (a city about 2 ½ hours from here on the Japan Sea coast by train) and meet with a couple of consultants who wanted to get a foreigner's take on what would make tourism more appealing for foreigners in Matsue [pronounced mat-sue-ay as in way].

      The notion of a day trip sounded appealing but I wanted to know what they were looking at in terms of compensation, i.e., money. It turned out that they were offering train fare but only what I considered to be inadequate pay for the time and effort I would have to put into it (it was an all day commitment including time on the train and the gig itself), so I turned it down.

Yakumo - train from Okayama to Matsue
      A few days later we got another call and they said that they would pay the amount that I had quoted. I agreed, and the following day, the start of a three-day weekend, I went to the station to catch the 10:05 a.m. train [called Yakumo] to Matsue. There is a famous shrine called Izumo-taisha associated with a story from Japanese mythology not far west from Matsue that was having a big festival. A lot of people were taking the same train to go to (出雲市) Izumo it turned out. Fortunately I got to the station early, but the queue was already pretty long for the Matsue/Izumo train. I was able to get a seat but the train was crowded with a standing room only crowd filling up the aisle.         

      I arrived at Matsue (means Pine Cove) Station around 12:40 p.m. and met the consultants. It turned out that neither of them spoke English and I was forced to use my far from fluent Japanese. Another foreigner had also been hired for the gig and she soon arrived, a young woman from Australia. Without going into a lot of detail, they wanted us to walk around a couple of shopping areas and get our impression of how appealing these shops would be to foreign tourists. 

Matsue Castle - 松江城
Lafcadio Hearn
     There is a very nice feudal castle made of wood in Matsue. It's one of the few authentic wood construction castles left in Japan; many others, including ours in Okayama, are merely replicas made of concrete. The city was also the first home of a Western writer named Lafcadio Hearn who came to Japan in the 19th Century and translated Japanese legends and ghost stories into English. Although these would be the sites of primary interest to foreign tourists, we weren't asked to visit them, but to restrict our attention to the shopping arcades, which we duly and diligently did.

young people doing a traditional dance -
 outside Matsue Station
tourist bus
      The weather was iffy, an on and off light rainy day, but we walked around for a couple hours [I took a few random photos along the way] and then had a debriefing session with the consultants. Basically we told them that the most important things they should do was to have more English speakers in shops and signs/menus in English as well as Japanese (we had seen no English menus, for example, and only one shopkeeper I met spoke any English). We also advised them to catch up to the Internet age by getting their information on online sites such as tripadvisor,, lonely planet, etc., where people could get advance information to help in making a travel decision.

period boat on old castle moat
perfect for a rainy day

beautiful garden in expensive Japanese restaurant

one of the 7 good luck gods in Shinto

holy of holies in a Shinto shrine -
the small building in back with the horned roof

a rather quaint izakaya -

 mobile Starbucks giving away free latte samples

weary travelers on the night train

another weary traveler
on the night train

how things look to a bleary-eyed traveler on the night train
        We finished earlier than expected and I had almost an hour to kill before catching my train back home. I decided to check the schedule board for the platform number and noticed that I had time to catch an earlier train. A very kind ticket man helped me to change my seat reservation to the earlier train. I finally arrived back in Okayama around 7:45 p.m., road buddy picked me up and we came back home and I had a much appreciated soak in the bathtub and then we both had a Rusty Nail [scotch and Drambuie].

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