Most often to read his words and be in places; this rare time to be in places that inspired his words. – 10.05.15
What followed my long day in Kyoto is a free one with no particular destination in mind. With some strong of luck the previous night, I came across an article on a town nearby with destinations related to my only and favorite author Haruki Murakami.
On my bucket list are visits to locations mentioned in his novels (which are mostly in Tokyo so clearly not to be a check in my to-do’s for this particular trip). Yet this surprised me with something better – a visit to place where he spent his earlier years.
With a Hanshin tourist pass and maps on hand, I visited a NISHINOMIYA EBISU – a shrine said to inspire one of his best novels (Kafka on the Shore), KOROEN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL where he spent his early student days, HANSHIN KOSHIEN STADIUM where he was said to bike to watch high school tournaments and ASHIYA – UCHIDE PARK (also called Monkey Park) as this used to have a monkey cage as he mentioned in his novella and first work Hear the Wind Sing.
Bonuses to this include seeing the clock with time set forever at around 5:46PM — stopped right before this earthquake that destroyed town, cheap shot of sake at noon, ending with these adorable kids at the park who proved that words may be off and hazy but gestures speak.
Hanshin refers to area between Osaka and Kobe in the Japan’s Kansai region. While it is generally infamous for the great earthquake in 1995, as I have earlier shared (in quite some detail), Hanshin is also one of the hometown of renowned author Murakami who from Kyoto transferred there when he was a child. This is known from an essay he wrote detailing his walk around the area brought back memories.
As for I being a fan, while I cannot recreate in detail this walk (as if I remember right it was a long one), I had a day to see and what it was like to be in places he has been. (And I hope I didn’t sound as creepy saying that).
First things first, of course. I bought a pass that enabled me to go around the area without having much to worry buying train ticket each time. On my way to sales office, there was even this surprise at discovering a new Murakami book shown in a poster by a bookstore window. It was in Japanese still, but of course not a factor to not buy it.
Some details on Japan’s friendly pass options
On my way to the platform came across this bookstore and voila, there was a new Murakami book!
From Osaka, Nishinomiya Station is about a 30-minute train ride. It is one of the more popular stops in the Hanshin railway line and while it seems to be at the center of town, I was immediately greeted by the stillness of the place. I didn’t know it when I first set my foot there but it was on latter part of that day when I would appreciate the painful history that surrounds the place and the rebuild it successfully has undergone.
From the exit is this immediate stillness
Just because at first I thought, it was that clock.
I guess it was this early of a day for these food trucks
Mandatory ‘I was here’ show selfie
(considered the head shrine of all shrines of Ebisu – god of good fortune)
First stop for the day was a 5-minute walk from the station.
I was there really early that I was the only guest and probably the third human in the area next to a sweeper and a crew member manning the shop’s counter. As such, what I appreciated most was the quiet – which the first for me as I often visit temples most popular yet consequently are also the most crowded.
I couldn’t how many times I have walked around the entire ground, capturing what caught my attention – which at that time oddly were pieces of rocks that felt ‘alive’ to me. Maybe subconsciously, I was thinking of that shrine and other stones referenced to in the Murakami book.
And so I was sure there is no way I can be wrong
A perspective on how the entire ground looks like
This one looked like a giant baby’s head.
And this one a mountain from which a ‘giant’ tree has taken root
Of course, some souvenirs
After about half an hour of walking, other people started coming in. Quiet remained though as they were mostly locals strolling. As with fellow tourists, there was a just a big group that came in later on, taking photos at the main temple.
O-mikujis (literally ‘sacred lot’) which are fortune or blessing strips of paper
Wooden wishing plaques seen in most shrines and temples
Beside the main shrine is this one with the sake barrels on a cart
I also walked several times across this pond which offered scenic views there were little girls in geisha costumes having their photos taken. The pond is also home to several fish and turtles (the latter a personal favorite!).
This tree looks like some long-armed person
Pretty much the crowd
Second pass at this rock and Murakami has to be in it.
And the photo op began
Father and daughters
Hand-washing tradition before entering a temple
(which ooops, ironically I only saw when I was about to leave)
From the outside
Koroen : Murakami’s Grade School
Within walking distance from the shrine is this school where Murakami has apparently studied when he was in grade school. There was no glaring proof to that – no monument, picture etc but I would say this has got to be my best destination on that day. It was intimate and raw and gave me the feeling that while he is this great author, he was also once a ‘normal’ child.
I spent my first minutes outside the gate, trying to take pictures from the outside. I did not know whether I can get in because there was literally no one in sight. If classes were ongoing, there was no way to tell because the rooms were far from where I was at the gate. (I would do some more walking later on and verify that there were indeed classes because I could hear kids playing. Apparently, I was initially at the back gate).
Of course I wanted to get in so I kept on looking for an entrance where there could be someone I could ask. There was only one I saw – a small gate close to where some bikes are parked. I lurked there for a few minutes then when someone came close, I had to ask whether I can get in.
And whoa, I did! I went to this hall and was welcomed by a fountain with three resident turtles. From there, I took less obstructed captures of the vast field / playground.
There was almost no one there as well but umbrellas and footwear near the entrance suggest human life. I realized later on I was at the hall near the offices. I did not want to intrude as much so I just stayed there briefly but that included a chat with someone. It was hard to talk in English so I just showed her the Murakami book and gestured that I think he used to study there. She just nodded – of course I cannot be sure whether we understood each other but still, that was a memory with a stranger worth keeping.
As I was trying to be respectful of this institution’s privacy, I didn’t linger as much I wanted to and kept limit to my photos as in below.
Find the hidden me after my stalking mode
SIDE TRIP: Noontime Sake
This has nothing to do with Murakami but as Nishinomiya is also known for its sake breweries, decided to spend some break having a shot at their sake. I am not a hard-drinker so I was scared to drink any but for the sake of trying (no pun intended), I took a shot of their special sake. There are several kinds available for purchase but since I am not sure how I can take this during the flight, I just grabbed a small one branded with the iconic Hanshin Tigers. Great, two birds in one stone – and at a conveniently-sized container at that!
Body warmed from the sake, I walked my way back to the station. I wanted to see more of the sake museums I passed on my way there but to manage time, I decided to take a rain check on that.
Reminded me of our family
SIDE TRIP : Clock that stopped at a shopping street
As shared earlier, it was only later when I will learn of a story of pain for this town. As one of the badly hit areas of a strong earthquake in mid-90s, in the midst of the a shopping area is this clock timed forever at 5:46 when the earthquake began that morning on 17th of January, 1995.
This has no direct connection with Murakami as I think he was no longer living in Kobe at that time but when I read his essay on this walk to Kobe after this trip, this event was actually what triggered that walk to begin with.
This was one of the most hit streets there
Hanshin Tigers Stadium
It was hard to totally free myself from gloom after that realization but I set myself for some replaced feelings of inspiration as I went to the stadium which I thought inspired Murakami to be a writer. In his first novel Hear the Wind Sing, he detailed how his decision to be a writer happened out of the blue while watching a baseball game and I thought that game was held here. I was confused and later on learned that apparently, this was not the right place. Nonetheless, this stadium is one of the places he would frequent to watch high school tournament games.
Stadium was closed on that day so I just spent my time taking photos of this massive structure from the outside. Even the shops were closed so did not get to take home any souvenir as well. Yes, all sadly, so I managed to entertain myself with the name-engraved brick tiles surrounding the stadium. I disciplined myself to stop because it was eating too much time so off I had to be on my next place-to-see.
Monkey Cage Park
(also Ashiya – Uchide Park)
It was briefly referred to in Hear the Wind Sing as “a park in the monkey”. I personally do not remember from which scene but as this was near Nishinomiya, I decided to see for myself. My online research made it sound like it was easy to find but when I reached the station, it was one of the less busy ones that I had to seek the help of officers in a police station. Communication was again a struggle but somehow, I managed to find it with a rather detailed map.
Quite some ghost town of a station
Map that led me to that park
As pre-read, there was no monkey in the cage. Interestingly though, there was a painting of animated animals – in stark contrast with the rusty cage. Odd. My first impression was – fine, very Murakami-like.
The park itself was small but at that afternoon, it was a good spot for people-watching as there was a bunch of kids playing and an old man sitting in one of the benches. I guess I may have stood out as a non-Japanese that kids started taking occasional glances until one by one they came near me to talk in broken English. Gesture itself was the sweetest but I was even happier when they started giving me chips, a flower, some seeds (for some reason). One was even showing me some playground game which I just read is some popular one among Japanese kids. (At that time, I had this note to self to make sure to ready some Filipino trinkets to swap when these moments happen).
I couldn’t let this moment go uncaptured that I asked for a picture (too bad I am no good at selfies) and I also asked them to write their names on my notebook. I stayed a while as they played and when it was time to go, I couldn’t help but recheck on them and wave goodbye after a few steps. (Gaaa and now writing about them, I kind of miss them!)
These kids are adorable that the thought of not seeing them again gives me this pinch of sadness
HOW TO GET THERE:
To be honest there was little of practical details that I do remember but let me refer you to my entry on navigating through Japan’s railway .
Article isn’t mine but linking you also to more detailed spots in the Hanshin area.