Pages from my Diary: Shikoku Love at First Sight

Pictured: Negoroji by Devanshe Chauhan

by Devanshe Chauhan

Pages from my Diary: Shikoku Love at First SightMarch 28th, 2007. 05.30a.m.

My plane taxied into Kansai airport. Soon after, I got off, following the few passengers, feeling very much like the proverbial lost cow: up the steps, along the corridors, down the escalators to the immigration control. One of the most boring airport I’ve ever got off on – clean, sterile and plain boring. After the mad chaos of Delhi airport and the miles and miles of exhausting duty free shops at Swarnabhumi airport, Bangkok, this one seemed way too tame.

6.40a.m. Hung around the airport till the airport limousine left: destination- Takamatsu, capital of Kagawa prefecture, Shikoku.

The previous week had been hectic. You know how it is before leaving to live in another country - all that packing, last minutes shopping and then hoards of relatives wanting to say goodbye. Plus the 9 hour flight. Despite all this, I was wide-eyed and awake – very much in my element. I wouldn’t for the world want to miss my first glimpses of Japan. All those tales of wonder I’d heard.

Well, the bus got on the expressway alright and all around, below lay the city. Osaka, followed by Kobe. Oh ugly. Ugly as all cities are with their buildings, tall towers, and maze of roads and telephone poles. I’ve always despised these man made concrete jungles. They all look the same. Cities look pretty only at night. Under the black blanket they transform into individual living beings, each with their own peculiar flavour and character. Seriously.

I closed my eyes, a bit disappointed. And decided to catch up on some sleep, but one obviously can’t. One can’t possibly sleep in a new country, riding a bus with big, wide windowpanes and the dawn just breaking. An early morning Spring sky, in the Land of the Rising Sun. You definitely don’t want to sleep!The night was just melting into dawn and the sun was slipping up the horizon, lighting it with its golden orange beams.Just then I looked down, out the window to my left, to my right. And I fell in love.

I don’t know when we’d crossed Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, the one that gets you across from Honshu to Shikoku (via Awaji-shima island). No more buildings and telephone poles now.

Pictured: Oboke by Devanshe Chauhan

I was enchanted.That first sight of the green countryside: fields just ready for rice planting, traditional Japanese cottages with their black tiled roofs, curving gently, tiny smatterings of gardens, each with its handful of Japanese dog-woods and pines, trimmed and trained to perfection, a couple of apricots and cherries, an arranged assortment of stones and rocks meant to mean something and a variety of early spring flowers. Beyond this, the meadows rolling gently up and into low hilly thickets of bamboo, cedar, oak, red and green maples and wild-mountain cherries, blossoming gloriously.

The magic didn’t stop here, for there were these tiny ponds every few kilometers, like drops of opal and emerald. Later I was to learn that these ‘ike’ (Japanese for pond) are an exclusive feature of Kagawa. This tiniest, driest and sunniest prefecture of Japan is dotted with such ponds, which, in the past, served the villages as reservoirs during the hot rainless summer months.

Try imagining this almost picture perfect countryside: The deepening blue of the sky mirrored on a still pond surface, trees bursting with young leaves and white, pink and deep pink blossoms, neat square fields with neat rows of rice paddy or spring vegetables, low hedges separating the fields and the fields themselves separated from the tiny village cluster of Japanese cottages, each with their patch of garden, fenced in by pruned trees.

Not the pretty wilderness of an English garden or the colorful riot of a Tropical garden, but a garden where everything has symmetry, design and a purpose. A garden that would look out of place anywhere else.

So there was the pond, the fields and cottages, in a saucer shaped valley enclosed within a semi-circle of woods and hills.

Shikoku Forests

Now the kind of woods I’ve seen are the deep, dark pine green, thick coniferous forests of deodar, cedar, blue pine, spruce, cypress, oak and rhododendrons, stretching for miles and miles along the N-W Himalayan ranges. My hometown lies nestled amidst such a forest, at 2000mts.

And here was this mixed temperate forest on the mountains of Shikoku. Mountains at a mere 400 –1500mts; not towering gigantically above you like the Himalayas, where one must tilt the head up and backwards to see the mountain tops, but hillocks and hills really, low undulating camel hump-like hills at almost eye level, abounding with a colourful mixed foliage. Everything seemed so quaintly, wonderfully and picturesquely different from my image of mountains and forests.

The Tokushima - Takamatsu expressway sort of curves along the northern coast of Kagawa, not bang next to the coast line, but every now and then, if I looked out to my right, beyond the villages and countryside, I could get glimpses of the Seto – Inland sea.

Now if you’ve only seen the mighty Pacific or the Japan sea or any other ocean, which is an endless span of thick rolling blue, grey waters, you won’t understand when I say that the Seto Inland Sea is one of the prettiest sea I’ve ever seen (not that I’ve seen too many to be honest, having lived in the mountains most of my life). The Seto Sea is small, still, sparkling blue, dotted with tiny green islands, scattered in abandon, floating merrily on choppy little twinkling waves.

Add to the already beautiful picture of the county side and hills, a sea, and you’ll get microcosm of the land of Narnia.So beautiful, I didn’t want to breathe and disturb the perfection with my exhalation. It is at moments like these when I want to get down on my knees and kiss the earth and thank my parents for bringing me into this world

That was my first impression of Kagawa, Shikoku. Over the last two and a half years that I’ve lived here, I’ve constantly been surprised by little gems of beauty in places where I least expect it. Discovering nooks and corners that aren’t the run of the mill places: Virginal, untouched and unspoiled by commerce.

I don’t want to besmirch this lovely picture, but perhaps, for someone who is used to city attractions and conveniences, Shikoku might seem a bit like the backwaters.

But then that’s what I love here. You can live in a city or town, but 10 minutes away, head in any direction, you are in the countryside. I am a farmer inside.

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