Friday, November 16, 2007

Revisiting My Childhood... Again

Intrigued by yesterday's revisitation of my past and discovery of the reasons behind my recurring dream, I actually lobbied to go on another road trip today - albeit a short one.

I wanted to go to nearby Tosa-Shimizu to visit one of the places I loved as a toddler, the Tatsukushi Kaichu Tenboto. Say that ten times real fast! Somehow I was able to pronounce that without stumbling at the age of two. Of course, I could also hold entire conversations in Japanese, and now I stammer my way through something like, "Yes, I would like more rice, please."

For some reason, I imagined that Tatsukushi Kaichu Tenboto was just down the street from our place. Technically, it is, if you consider a windy seaside road going on for 45 minutes is just down the street. Along the way, as with the rest of the road ringing Shikoku, you see these little signs showing the silhouette of a Buddhist pilgrim.

Shikoku - as in the entire damn island - is a pilgrimage site for devout Buddhists. Some local Buddhist who became a saint set up 88 temples all around the island, and those seeking enlightenment come do a circuit to see all of them. The hardcore do it on foot (this takes around two frikkin' years), so it's not uncommon to see pilgrims clad in all white, wearing nothing but a knapsack and a rice hat and carrying a walking stick. Catering to these pilgrims is big business, so it's not uncommon to see signs for temples juxtaposed against signs for lodging or other tourist traps. In this case, the signs for the smallest Buddhist temple I've ever seen (it's a small wooden box that looks like a temple) and the unmistakable red "plus" shape for Tatsukushi Kaichu Tenboto are one in the same. A roadside sign advertises the silhouette, Tatsukushi Kaichu Tenboto, and even some brand of iced coffee all in one.

Now you're probably wondering what Tatsukushi Kaichu Tenboto is... It's this:

When I was a kid, I absolutely loved this place. Even up through high school or so, I looked at pictures of it and dreamed of going back, in hopes that it would still be there.

It's still there, exactly as it was back in 1976.

Wait, wait, you say. WHAT IS IT!?

It's only the world's coolest observation deck. Climb up the ramp and enter and you stand over the sea - very cool when it's raging out - and have a clear view of the ocean and of the rocky coastline. Not that you couldn't get that from the shore, but this time you're doing it in kitschy 60's architectural style!

The cool part is when you walk down the spiral staircase, and walk, and walk, and walk until you're 10 meters (about 32 feet) under the sea. A bunch of portholes open out in 360ยบ fashion revealing the reef and the sea life in it. It's like being in a giant aquarium, but you're the one who's trapped in a tiny space. And from this little space, you look out and see angel fish, parrot fish, sun fish, puffer fish... you name it.

Yeah, it's a bit rinky-dink and way outdated, but I still love it. It's strong enough to withstand tsunamis but gentle enough to hear and nearly feel the currents moving around you. And it's an integral part of my early childhood memories, dammit. That's gotta be worth something.

Of course, I forged a new memory just outside Tatsukushi Kaichu Tenboto. (I just like saying that over and over.) Walking amongst the gorgeous rocks smoothed by years of tides and striated by layers upon layers of volcanic activity, I saw the biggest damn sea turtle ever, making its way under the rocks. I accidentally call it a tortoise at one point in this video, but I'm running on little sleep and partaking of cold medication, OK?

Ah, the power of nature.

Before heading back to Nakamura, we stopped off for a nice, relaxing break in Oki-hama, home to one of the most impressive beaches on Shikoku, both in terms of view and surfing. Unfortunately, I had neither my wet suit nor board with me, and being a bit hazy and foggy out, it wasn't ideal to just lay out or take a dip. But I did park my ass there for a while, and inspired by the waves and the scenery, I zipped off my pantlegs, kicked off my shoes, and decided to wade in a bit.

This was supremely stupid considering a) my shorts wound up getting all wet by waves crashing into me from behind, and b) I was carrying around $1500 worth of photo gear. I was smart enough to have someone warn me if a wave was trying to sneak up on me, but it was still stupid. But hey, it's always worth it when you wind up capturing moments like this...

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