In Part 01 of our once-in-a-lifetime road trip, we set out from Nagoya and headed to Maizuru City via Lake Biwa. Our car was an Isuzu fresh off of a head gasket change, and while Day Two was yet another day of pure rain, a quick look at the weather radar showed it’d be the last foreseeable shower for a while. Regardless, we weren’t going to let our spirits be dampened by dampness! So we hopped back in the 117 and hit the road again, out of Maizuru, sticking to Japan’s northern coastline.
The 117 was not only performing flawlessly, but the engine had been operating exactly in its sweet zone, meaning it was straight sipping fuel. The gauge was moving so slowly, in fact, we actually thought it was broken for a bit. After 2 and a half days of driving, it was still hovering at about half a tank.
The coastal road was, of course, utterly beautiful despite the overcast weather. To our right lay the Sea of Japan, and beyond that, Russia. The notion that Japan is an island nation besieged by waves on all sides really started to sink in.
Winding westward along the coast, we came across a parking area that simply couldn’t be passed up. After pulling in for some photos, a little sign informed us that the section of coastline we were traversing was called the Nagu Coast.
Looking towards the sea, we could see how the coastline of Japan snakes along, with little islands dotting the horizon. It truly is an amazing sight, and made sense of the statistic that Japan has over 6,800 individual islands. Only 430 are inhabited, and what we think of as “Japan” are the four largest ones — Hokkaido, Shikoku, Kyushu, and the largest, Honshu, where cities like Tokyo, Osaka, and Hiroshima are located.
With the rain starting to pick up again, we loaded back into the Isuzu and headed off. We cut inland to avoid the Tango Peninsula, which found us working our way through some gorgeous touge. It was a shame that the rain (and some minivans) was hampering our ability to truly enjoy the twisties.
We shot through Toyooka City and made our way back towards the coast. We had two particular destinations in mind for today, but still had a lot of ground to cover before we got there.
The first destination was called Tottori Sakyu, or the Tottori Sand Dunes. Formed naturally by sand deposits carried from the Chugoku Mountain Range by water flowing into the Sea of Japan, they cover more than 30 square kilometers and are the only large, natural sand dunes in all of Japan. On nice days, they even have camels that you can ride. Unfortunately, on a day like ours, even the dromedaries were holed up in their shelters.
The cold rain soon sent us back to the warm interior of the 117, and we continued on our way, skirting the coast toward our second must-see destination in Shimane Prefecture.
After a short drive, we arrived at Hakuto Jinja, or White Rabbit Shrine. This location was on our itinerary because we have a pet rabbit, but it also has a rather interesting story behind it.
Legend has it that a white rabbit wanted to travel from the Island of Oki to Cape Keta. So the rabbit challenged a group of sharks to a contest to see whose clan was bigger. He had the sharks to line up single file and said he’d tally a total by hopping on the back of each one, counting as he went.
However, when the rabbit reached the other side he boasted to the sharks that he had fooled them, getting them to line up only so he could use them as a bridge to get to Keta. The last shark in the line lashed out at the rabbit, ripping the fur from his body.
As he lay on the ground, wounded, a family of 80 brothers passed by. The rabbit asked them for help but the brothers were more interested in Princess Yagami, who they were on their way to woo. The first 79 brothers told the rabbit to bathe in the ocean and dry in the wind. The rabbit did as he was told, but the salt water only made his wounds worse.
When the youngest of the brothers, Okuninushi — eightieth in line and having no real no chance with the princess — came by, the rabbit again asked for help. Okuninushi told the rabbit to bathe in the fresh water of the nearby river and roll around in cattail pollen. This healed the rabbit, which revealed himself to be a god. He thanked Okunonushi for his help, and told him that he would be the one to marry the princess.
I’m not too sure what the moral is; don’t be malicious, I guess. At any rate, it is said that the waters from the river have healing properties, and today there are many rabbit statues hanging about the shrine. Visitors place white stones around the shrine for luck, often in the realm of love and marriage since the legend was about the courtship of Okuninushi and Princess Yagami.
After bidding farewell to the rabbits we continued west, suddenly coming upon a surprising number of electricity-generating windmills. They’re a fairly common sight in many parts of the US, but in Japan there usually isn’t enough room to build too many. Apparently, we’d stumbled upon a windy section of the country that didn’t really have any cities nearby, and there were hundreds upon hundreds of them. For a moment, I felt like a fighter pilot in Macross Plus.
As the sun began to set, we stopped briefly in Sakai Minato to check out a shotengai, or shopping street, dedicated to GeGeGe no Kitaro. The anime, about a boy that lives in a ghost world with the yokai monsters of Japanese mythology, started in the 1960s and had been running, on and off, up until to 2008. Unfortunately, between the rain and waning sunlight, a large majority of the shops were closed.
With the sun finally setting, we returned to the 117 for our last run of the day into Matsue City. We found a hotel and checked in, reflecting on the day. Time for some pizza! To be continued…
Our route for Day 02 began in Kyoto Prefecture, cut across Hyogo Prefecture into Tottori Prefecture, and ended in Shimane Prefecture, covering nearly 290 km.
Stay tuned for the next installment of our cross-Japan road trip, but until then, in case you missed it, here’s Part 01.