Our mission should we choose to accept it was to infiltrate the town, view pottery made in one of six ancient kilns in Japan, purchase a tanuki statue and return home. The main objective of the mission would to be the purchasing of the tanuki statue. We had to go to the source. We were bound for Tanuki Town. In the middle of Shiga is a town that crafts the majority of the tanuki statues that are seen in Japan. The name of the town is Shigaraki. Shigaraki is a tiny little town that is situated out in the middle of nowhere. We did our research and planned the best route to the town. This trip would take a total of six train rides, three there and three home. We did not encounter any problems until we went to board the third train of the morning. It should not have been a complicated procedure. We needed to get off the train, exit the terminal, buy a ticket for a new train line, and head off to Shigaraki. It should have been easy. But as it seems, nothing is ever simple.
We exited the JR line and proceeded to the other train line. There was no ticket machine so I walked up to the window and asked for two tickets to Shigaraki. The gentleman on the other side of the glass responded by crossing his forearms into an X and speaking far too rapidly in Japanese for my ears to comprehend. As he did this, his comrade began to point toward the other side of the station and motioned in an arc. All in all I understood the meaning perfectly. We were in the wrong place. This was not the train line that traveled to Shigaraki. That line was somewhere “over there”. Now all we had to do was to locate the third train company that operated out of this tiny station. This proved to be a tricky proposition. By the time we finally located the hidden entrance to the needed train line we found that we had missed the train by two minutes.
On the up side we had located the hidden entrance, but now we were left to entertain ourselves for one hour in the middle of nowhere. So we did the only thing that seemed reasonable. We went to Seven-Eleven. Convenience stores here sell all manner of treats and we walked out with a box of chocolates called “Melty Kiss”, an apple Kit-Kat, and some rice balls filled with tuna salad. We hoofed it back to the train station and we sat on a bench eating our lunch.
Finally the appointed hour came and we went to board the train bound for Shigaraki. The train was one of the smallest trains we have ridden. It was a total of two cars long. We found a seat in the back car and prepared for a trip through the countryside. I thought it very interesting that I found the ride on this quaint little train to be more romantic than the ride we took in Kyoto that was billed as a romantic train ride. I was impressed by the myriad of fall colors that we could see as the train winded its way through the valleys of the Shiga countryside. The blazing yellows, reds and oranges that covered the hills and low mountains were striking and beautiful. It made me realize that I will always long to be near the mountains. I enjoyed watching the track drift off in the distance as the train progressed. The majestic view and tranquil country almost made up for having to wait to ride the train.
We arrived in the town of Shigaraki and were immediately greeted by the largest statue of tanuki I have ever seen. It made me laugh when I looked at his midsection and sitting in the middle of his tummy was a pay phone. It could have been worse and have sat a bit lower. That is not a phone I would like to place calls from.
Our first destination after arriving at the Shigaraki Station was the ceramic institute and museum. We were lucky that we found a giant map of the town and plotted our course. The walk to the institute was about a mile. It was a very pleasant day and the weather could not have been any better for a nice long walk. We finally reached the ceramic institute and took the opportunity to look around and admire the beautiful pottery creations made by some talented artists. It was a cross between a gallery and a museum. The art created was stunning. There was a vast array of styles. Some of the artists created cutesy knick-knacks, while others produced pieces of abstract modern art. We opted not to tour the actual museum because the price was too high for our liking. We also took some time to tour the grounds of the institute. The campus is situated on a very large hill that afforded an awesome view of the fall colors found in rural Japan.
The afternoon was beginning to wane and it was time to move on. We still had to find and purchase the perfect tanuki statue. This would not be a little decision. On our walk to the ceramic institute we had passed not fewer than ten large shops that displayed hundreds of tanuki statues each. We would have thousands of statues to choose from. We found the perfect one after much browsing and searching. I hope to one day set outside the front door of our home. Carrying the wrapped statue under my arm because it was too large to fit in the backpack we headed back to the train station. The sight of a very picturesque and vacant shrine just off the main road distracted us. We took advantage of the opportunity and entered the shrine to take in the sights.
In doing so we missed the only train out of town. Once again we found our selves stranded in a tiny little town in the middle of nowhere. This time the length of time we had before the next train was an hour and a half. We started to look around for someplace to eat dinner. Not far from the station was a sukiyaki restaurant that looked delicious, but at almost sixty dollars a person it seemed too dear for us. There was another restaurant next door, but the sounds of off key karaoke coming through the walls deterred us from entering. We were left with only one reasonable choice. Once again we would go to Seven-Eleven. This time we left with a snack. I had a can of hot coffee and a sandwich; Jenny had a bottle of hot milk tea and a box of milk cake. We wandered back to the station where we ate our food in quiet solitude until the stationmaster approached us and said that it would be okay to board the train that had arrived forty-five minutes before departure.
We rode the train back to Omihachiman and walked to the only restaurant still open at eight-thirty in the evening: McDonalds. We stumbled through the front door wearing and exhausted from our day of being stranded in small town Japan. We had to laugh that we headed off to a small town and found ourselves spending time in two small towns. It made us realize how fortunate we are to be located in Omihachiman. Our city is a fair size, not too big, not too small. Omihachiman station has trains that depart on a very regular basis. We find life and traveling to be convenient and simple.