I and Jelai decided to forego Dazaifu. We simply did not have enough time for two cities that day.
With express train ticket, map & coupons in our hands, I and Jelai walked to a platform with “Omuta bound” analog signage. And like most days, Jelai continued to a vendo for her daily intake of coffee.
The express train came on time. We followed everyone on the platform into the train and then sat in front of a giggling Japanese couple.
We arrived Nishitetsu-Yanagawa station after one hour of switching between awkward glances at the Japanese couple and looking at the plains and mountains we were so glad to see from our window seats.
It’s already three in the afternoon. Two hours left.
I gave the first slice of our round-trip tickets to a subway’s staff and then we were led to enter the ticket gate that only has a metal fence locked in one side. We went down to Tourist Information Center located in the station’s ground level. A free shuttle will drive us from here to boat punting.
It was a very short ride. Walking could take 20 minutes.
“Can you understand Japanese?” our middle-aged boatman asked in Japanese.
Two Korean teenagers nodded and translated it in Korean language to their parents. I then gestured “a little”.
“Otousan”, calling out the father on the opposite end, “Japanese?” boatman asked. “Sou sou.” he smiled.
“I can only speak Japanese so I really do not have a choice. I hope you all can understand me well.”
Yanagawa City is known for its long-stretched river making it perfect for a late afternoon boat punting. The ride passes through a succession of wide and narrow canals allowing passengers see local houses (one is of a well-known local writer), a wedding hall and highways sitting on top of moated walls of the river.
The ride felt like a misty but surreal escape. Our boatman always directed our attention towards famous landmarks while he continued pushing the boat forwards against the riverbed with a long thin pole. There were only our boat and another one which was a half kilometer ahead from us.
Well, it’s summer, I thought. Yanagawa would probably be more beautiful in spring. Imagine how lovelier this ride would be if the trees swiftly shower cherry blossoms while we paddle on this green-colored river.
I saw very few people (mostly tourists) walking around the moated walls. Tourists were only doing one of two things: taking a wallpaper-like photo of our punting every time we emerge underneath a small bridge or resting under trees with sun glimmering through the leaves. Our experience was like an unconscious meditation. The only sounds I can hear were boatman’s singing voice and trees and winds swooping away to our horizon.
The cruise ended past an hour with smiles & goodbyes with our boatman. We were so ready to have our very late lunch.
The steamed eel cost me $20 (P1,000). It was a snatch! “We’re not allowed to buy or eat anything anymore today.” Jelai replied “Let’s just think we won’t be in Yanagawa again.”
To slightly compensate the price, the host did serve a very luxurious tasty meal. I can completely taste the oozing fat oil and the softness of the meat cutting through my chopsticks. A bowl of soup, tea and sauced rice complemented perfectly in my hungry stomach.
Steamed eel is indeed a must have in Yanagawa.
The rest of the day went on like we were in a suspense movie. The city was in total silence except for the sounds of cars passing us. We barely saw people on the street. I wanted an ice cream to wash off the strong taste of my lunch so we decided to head back to a store we saw when we were on the boat.
“Excuse me?” I called out from the entrance of the store. No answer.
I called out again.
“I am going inside”, I told Jelai who obviously looked excited about matcha ice cream, “wait for me here.”
“Sumimasen..” I called a couple more and continued approaching the inner part of the store where the seller might have dozed off. No answer again.
There must be someone inside. I can hear the TV.
“Sumimasen..” I called out again. I had already seen the entire store and reached the end but still no one was answering. Scenes from Japanese horror movies came in my passive imagination one by one. This is starting to feel creepy. I walked back towards the door feeling being watched.
“Jelai, let’s just go. No one is in there. And someone might see us trespassing the store.”