Ask Me Where to Go?

Jun 18,2014

I was recently asked by a local newspaper reporter to provide a list of my preferred locations in Tottori. I already wrote about my affinity for the Ikeda Cemetery in an article for the TPIEF bulletin years ago--I love the sense of ancient history invoked by the moss-covered tombstones of several generations of feudal lords and their families buried on a hillside, especially as the place looks in autumn--but beyond that I can't really recommend anything in Tottori that would qualify as a tourist attraction.

This is because I've never been a tourist here, and haven't the slightest idea what tourists might come for. The minds of the local industry seem to think it's a truncated, overpriced ride on a camel imported from Nepal followed by a scoop of pear-flavoured ice cream, but the paltry number of tourists from outside the prefecture, let alone outside the archipelago, seems to strain that assertion.

Now, I can tell you what I would love to see if I were a tourist, and it's more in line with the beauty that draws me to Europe when I decide to be: the ancient architecture, the wonderful food, and the depth and vibrance of the culture. What we have here is hideous architectural monstrosities, including a set of four ten-ton maggots adorning the Wakasa Bridge and a piece of modern 'art' in front of every station (this skeletonised clam at Yonago Station provides a fine example), serving to confront, confound and displace, but very rarely to enhance, the space it occupies. Several of the traditional restaurants are adequate, and for this reason I would advise all potential tourists to limit themselves to traditional cuisine, because the alternative is derivate 'global' fare nearly identical in every restaurant serving it: Hamburg steak, gratin, corn-and-mayonnaise pizza. Aspects of traditional culture remain, but old buildings are often demolished to make way for cheap tenements (ironic considering the decline in population) and pachinko parlors. Obviously, the trade off is the relative serenity and absence of crowding at any time other than during the Shan-shan Festival; if Tottori had the attractions of Rome or Budapest, it would have the same problem: you wouldn't be able to swing a dead cat in the street without hitting a Damned Yankee.

So here are the top five places I prefer to spend my time.

1. Home. It's a rented plywood shoebox, and my wife and I will spend glorious days there until we actually buy a house. It's tiny and so nondescript-looking that the robot drone that did the photography wasn't even interested in a direct shot. How's that for keeping a low profile? I can cook what I want to eat, including stuff grown in my own vegetable patch, I've got lots of books and musical instruments, and my music studio converts to a sitting space for a small group of friend on occasion. It's also conveniently located just behind the central hub of the fire department, so we get the ambulance dispatch announcements in full detail whenever somebody in Tottori stubs their toe or gets a fish bone stuck in their throat.

2. The gym at Fuse. I work out here at least four times a week. The equipment, business hours, and price are all great, and with a few notable exceptions, most of the people who work out there are congenial and considerate.

3. The Sendai River bank. There aren't any decent pictures on the web that I could find, but it runs past my neighbourhood and I run along it every morning. If you go far enough past the paper factory belching toxins into the sky, you reach a beach. I run in the opposite direction, just as far as the pavement goes, and then turn around and go back. I try to go early enough that there are few people out there, but a bunch are always there earlier than I am, walking their utterly undisciplined canines and walking or jogging on the right in flagrant violation of sidewalk etiquette and making some annoying obstacles, but otherwise it's a fair run.

4. Jupiter. This is a new import store right inside Tottori Station and is great for picking up the goodies I love, like olives, cheese, and the occasional Belgian beer. Sometimes I like to go and just look at the stuff without buying anything. It's not actually big enough to spend too much time just looking, but it's nice to see this kind of merchandise in a place like this. When I first came to Japan a decade ago, the only pasta sold in stores was spaghetti; now they carry pretty much every manner of it, and stores like this carry a plethora of other exoticisms as well.

5. Random side streets in Tottori City. I don't do it often, but now and then if I have a chunk of time without pressing obligations, I hop on the bicycle and then just follow some roads to see where they go. I've done this in pretty much every settlement I've lived in since I learnt to ride a bicycle, because I'm just curious. Sometimes I find a building or interesting piece of scenery I hadn't seen before. Now I've lived in Tottori for years and I don't know every street. I could probably learn about them all by looking at the pictures the robots took, but I like to surprize myself.

Very sorry to anyone who was expecting something exciting. The excitement happens once a year when we board a plane spend a few weeks in different country. For the rest of the year, it's life in the proverbial car park, where nothing remarkable happens and we like it that way.

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