I didn't want to get trapped under the kotatsu (heated, blanketed) table for the whole week. We decided on a one night getaway to Shikoku, however we never made it there. Something interesting happened along the way.
In order to get to Shikoku, we needed to first cross Awaji Island, and in order to get to Awaji, we drove through Kobe on the expressway, and then took said expressway over the longest bridge in the world. The bridge is four kilometers long, and then the expressway extends 55 km down the center of the island, before going over another bridge leading to Shikoku. The bridge took my husband courage to drive across. He could not glance aside at the sparkling waters. His hands gripped the steering wheel with white knuckles. Once over the big bridge, my husband wanted to see the view without having to worry about driving into it. We parked next to a ferris wheel at Awaji Highway Rest Area. We took some photos then my husband went off to buy onion and fishcake fritters, and takoyaki, and I bee-lined to the information desk. I was given an English brochure and map. So much to do! So much to see! So this is where Kansai people go to get out of the city!
The travel counselor showed us whirlpool tour boat brochures, from both Shikoku and from Awaji. The tallest ship that goes out for the longest time (one hour) leaves from Awaji Island. I confess I had never heard of Awaji before, but the next thing I know I was getting directions and reservations for at a seaside business hotel, with onsen access. Shikoku will have to wait.
Next stop: Hokudan Earthquake Memorial Park. We drove along a narrow road following the coastline under wind turbine-topped hills. At the Park, we were able to walk under one a turbine, hear it whirring, and feel a bit ant-like. The Memorial Park as well as that particular turbine, and probably the lot where we left our car, were built over a ten kilometer fault line, which was exposed during the 1995 Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, and later excavated and preserved under cover of the museum in this park. An earthquake-damaged house was also preserved for exhibition in the Park. Unfortunately, the earthquake simulator in the adjacent building was out of order, but there was a good film on featuring the recent Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, and warning us solemnly that another earthquake on the same scale is due to hit in this century.
Again, we drove along the seaside, passed the stunning hilltop Ichinomiya Awaji Castle, and many other roadside attractions on the way to Sumoto. Our hotel was below another stunning hilltop castle, Sumoto Castle. The sign on the door of our hotel directed us to check in at the adjacent onsen hotel (same management as our cheaper unmanned business hotel). There we found discounted tickets for our boat tour (Y200 off each adult ticket, so Y1800 each).
As the sun set, I flew a kite from the jetty while my husband and son fished. Bait was found at a fishing shop in a narrow alley next to our hotel. A quick Google search let us to seafood (sashimi) dinner 15 minutes walk away, in a one-hundred year old red brick building. My husband tried Awaji beer, my son loaded up at the salad bar with local wakame and I sampled the sweet soft raw Awaji onion from the salad bar.
The bed was lumpy, and the lamp didn't work, but access to the onsen with multiple baths and sauna on the rooftop of the sister hotel made up for the discomfort. The next morning, we embarked on the Uzushio Cruise from 9:30. We stayed on the upper deck although it was chilly, for the view and the fun of feeding the gulls (every passenger got a bag of bread crusts). It was a huge ship, with two masts and furled sails. Once we got back, we were able to soak our cold limbs in the whirlpool foot bath at the dock.
Next, we visited "The Great Naruto Bridge Memorial Museum and Whirlpool Science Center." First I lost Y100 to the UFO catcher at the door in an effort to get an island onion. We enjoyed sampling the souvenir snacks and made our way to the museum at the back, as our six year old son has been fascinated with whirlpools for some time. Unfortunately, the museum and 3D film could have been better. We bought Awaji Island Burgers for lunch there. My son chose a fish burger. I had a octopus burger. Not bad, but pricy. In the interested of staying away from tourist traps, I checked my Awaji Island FunMap and directed my family to Goshikihama Beach, "covered with small sparkling gem-like stones." Alas, it was covered with plastic bags, old tires, PET bottles, single shoes and so on.
Our visit ended on a positive note at Awaji Island Prefecture Park, where hawks circled lazily overhead and we got one more Awaji sunset. The water play area of the park looks like it would be worth a visit in the summer. The highlight for us was the roller slides; plastic bum trays are provided to sit on. Sure beats sitting watching the holiday programming on Japanese TV! I burned some calories there, to justify later binging on mochi and osechi for the rest of the week.
Awaji Island Prefecture Park - lots of climbing and sliding, fun even for big kids like me!
Seaside sundown, in front of our business hotel.