Like all kids, I used to hate long family car rides. Anything over 2 hours was sheer torture for me, especially as this was pre-Internet and I couldn’t just plug into a game or movie to distract myself. No, we had to talk or, if conversation failed, play games. I particularly liked car bingo, played with these cool, retro cards, where you would slide a red pane over the required landmark as you checked it off. There’s a foreign license—slide the red pane! Look, an 8-wheel semi truck—slide the pane. A chicken? Oh, that’s going to be a tough one, especially here on the freeway! Wait, there’s a fast-food joint with a giant chicken statue on the roof. Score it!
On my first train trip to Hagi, Japan, it’s déjà vu all over again. From Shimonoseki, the town where I’m teaching English, to tiny Hagi is a 3-hour journey on a VERY slow train that stops pretty much everywhere. Although lovely, the scenery doesn’t change very much on this trip along the Sea of Japan: Rice paddies and more rice paddies. About all I can do is read, nap and listen to my Walkman (again, no internet yet!) From time to time, a group of school kids get on, dressed in their black and white school uniforms. The really brave ones venture a “Hallo!” or perhaps a “Do you know me?” then giggle and run away. Out here in the far reaches of western Japan, foreigners are few and far between. In terms of notoriety, I’m a cross between Michael Jackson and a giant space panda. But hey, that’s part of the job. Still, it’s all getting a bit old. When is this train trip going to end?!! Are we there yet, Dad?!!
Arriving in delightful Hagi makes the 3-hour train trip well worth the journey. A pottery town, Hagi boasts a pottery store on every block, selling the reddish-glazed bowls and cups that the town is famous for. Hagi also features a number of small lanes flanked by white-washed walls with black-tinged shingles – a scene straight out of a samurai era movie. The thing to do in Hagi is get off the train, walk right and rent a bicycle (with a basket). You then criss-cross your way through town, allowing yourself to get a little lost as you head steadily downhill until you reach the water, where you find the ruins of an old castle. The water here is deep blue in color, contrasting nicely with the bright blue sky overhead. There are no billboards in sight in Hagi. No McDonalds. No Starbucks. Just un-spoiled, rural Japan. Hagi is one of my favorite places in the whole world to visit. Few foreign tourists come here. The food is terrific. Time doesn’t seem to mean much. Frankly, I’m glad it’s hard to get to. Here’s hoping they never build a Bullet Train line out to Hagi. Some places are meant to be remote!
(We live in a world where it’s nearly impossible to be bored! At even the first hint of tedium, we can just whip out our smart phones and dive into a fascinating news stream, curated specifically for us by a very clever algorithm. But perhaps boredom is something worth seeking out. The next time you find yourself with nothing to do, close your eyes and follow your thoughts. Notice what’s “up” for you. Notice how quickly your mind moves on to something else. Notice how, the more you notice, your mind settles down and your mental agitation decreases. Where’s your Hagi, and how can you get more of it?)