I’ve been to a couple of CouchSurfing events across the world where I have met friends from many nationalities, many of whom I am still in contact with today. However, I’ve never actually stayed at a strangers house. For those who don’t know what couch-surfing is, it’s an online community which gives people the opportunity to learn about other cultures by staying at their house or having guests to stay.
I was a little nervous about meeting my first host Taka, a 63 year old retired Japanese man who lived in Imabari, a city that rarely gets a glance on a tourist’s map. The spontaneity and craziness of staying at a guys house who I knew nothing about excited me, so I took the chance and met him at 6am off the freight ferry from Osaka.
I’d just like to mention that although named a “cargo ship”, it looked more like the titanic. Despite walking over an hour with my four heavy bags after heading to the wrong ferry port, I arrived to the luxury of a cosy bed, some adorable old Japanese roommates, a hot steam bath and the freshest sushimi that I’d picked up at the local market that day.
Taka wasted no time in showing me around and we headed off to Imabari castle and Ōyamazumi Shrine. Taka told me that shrines aren’t religious as I once thought, but a worshipping of nature or in some cases animals, like a fox.
We caught a ferry across to Ōkunoshima Island which I soon realised was rabbit island, one of the places I have been looking forward to visiting the most. I love bunnies and the little critters were everywhere.
Taka talked to the visitor centre and they kindly let me have a go at some arts and crafts despite it being an hour from opening time.
I felt like a big kid with everyone watching me stick and glue. Not one for arty farty things, I was rather impressed with the results I must say. After a cycle round the very small island we sat down for a bowl of udon noodles. It was only midday but after just a couple of oranges and a spaghetti & scrambled egg roll at 6am it was a godsend.
Back on the island of Omishima we made our way to Hakata salt factory, worth the free visit if you’re in the area. I indulged in a salt ice cream which was a little odd but rather nice.
Next on the agenda was Tatara Bridge, part of the famous Shimanami Kaido cycle route across the neighbouring islands, a Mecca for cyclists.
Unfortunately we only had time to walk a bit of the way but still enjoyed good views. Kiroshan Panoramic lookout is the place for sunset but it was overcast and bitterly cold so just a short visit there. I never realised how many islands Japan has, it reminded me a lot like Ha Long Bay in Vietnam.
I think Taka picked up on the fact that I could hardly keep my eyes open and we went for an easy dinner at his local joint, restaurant Teoribayashi. It was yakitori dining which is grilled/fried meat and veggies on sticks, washed down with a couple of plum liquors and sake of course.
It was 9pm by the time we arrived at Taka’s and I was too tired to be nervous about staying in a strangers house. It was all quite peculiar with stuff everywhere, a bit like a hotel, all that anyone could ever need. This to me, illustrates the buying culture in Japan. Shopping is a big part of Japanese culture and many times I’ve witnessed a purchase because it’s been “cheap” even if the person has no use for it. I guess maybe Japanese people like to buy things as they see it as helping the economy, which indeed it does.
I had my own room, TV, a bath set at a hot 42c where an intercom sounds around the house letting me know when my bath was full and the automatic tap has stopped. Taka even did my washing for me and put his dog dryer on for two days to try and get it dry before I left.
The kindness was a blessing but I was still a little on edge. I was in a strangers house in the middle of nowhere in a country I have absolutely no understanding of the language. The journey continues…
Living life, loving adventure,