On May 22, 2010, Joe and I went to a Mystery Tour with the people from the English circle Joe speaks at every second and fourth Saturday, EWS (English WorkShop). This wasn't anything scary. Mystery Tour is an arranged tour of which members of the tour don't know where to go, so each place is a surprise. The EWS offered us this tour to join and we agreed to join, curious how it was gonna be. Two weeks before the tour agent gave each of us itinerary and some hints. As this was a mystery tour, they didn't give us the real schedule, only lunch at such and such time, and some hints of the tour.
The tour started early in the morning, and we were scheduled to be picked up by Omori-san at 6.10 am at Yokkaichi Station. So I set up my alarm for 4.30 am, considering my one-hour preparation, as we were going to catch the 5.35 train to Yokkaichi. 4.30! Matsura-san, also a member and my Japanese teacher, gave me a wake up call at 4.30. "Ika-san, wake up," she said, before I even said "Hello."
We arrived in Yokkaichi at 5.55. Station was quiet, although the train wasn't. We waited in the north gate, whereas Omori-san told us to catch him in the south railrode (which we didn't understand what that was supposed to mean). I made friend with a dog, a small dog, who was walking with his old master. I noticed this little brown puppy was so happy, pulling out his tongue, half walking half running, sometimes with a little jump, I could see an excitement in his eyes. When I waved at this puppy, his master walked him to my direction, and the puppy sniffed my hand, and then he climbed on my knee, he wanted to hug me, and I petted his little head. Had that not been in the station where his master could have been in a hurry catching a train, I would still want to play a bit with that cute puppy.
Haven't seeing Omori-san, we checked again his message and the place we were at, and turned out that we stood at a wrong place. And then we walked southward, and finally saw Omori-san's car under the rail road, near the west exit. Atsuko and Omori-san waved to us.
We were driven to Shinsho, the meeting point. The bus departed around 7 am. Our tour, as written on the bus, was "Dragon Pack (ドラゴン パック)". There were twelve of us, six men and six women. We shared that big bus with some other people from another group.
First place we stopped at was Suzuka, near a station and an AM PM, a combini, to give everyone a chance to pee or to get drinks, and then we continued the journey. The real first place we stopped at was some place in somewhere has a Starbucks. I got myself a cup of Espresso Blend with espresso flakes on it, and as we were so hungry, we bought some hampen (fish cake). I love hampen. I got for myself ika (squid) and ebi-negi (shrimp and green onion) hampen.
Next stop was a fish market. We had lunch there. We had a set of a sushi bowl, a cup of shrimp soup, pickles, and green tea. It wasn't good. I don't fancy sushi bowl, I prefer sushi rolls. So, this was a bowl of rice seasoned with mirin (sweet sake used as vinegar) and whatever they use to season sushi rolls, and the fishes and everything else were on top of it. Too much rice for me.
The tour leader, a woman in her early forty's or late thirty's, spoke all along the journey, incessantly. I understood not a d**n thing she said, and even if I had understood, I would still not be interested in what she talked about. I think most of us thought she was boring, not funny, and somewhat annoying. She talked too much. She really disturbed -at least my- peaceful moments, looking at the scenery.
We went to Fukui-ken (Fukui Prefecture), to a place that has the fishcake factory. Funny thing was, when we got there, Joe said, "Ha! I know this place. I was here before! I can't believe that I'm here again." He went there with the teachers from his school, and he had sworn that he would never come back there again, because other than that fishcake shop and fishcake factory, the place had nothing else to enjoy. Well, careful what you swear!
Then, to an old town of which name I forget. I didn't know what we were supposed to do here. We just walked and then we found a shrine. Thanks to Jason, before we went to Ise Shrine, he told us about "the temple book". This is a book with blank pages inside, sold in every temple and shrine, and if you carry this book to any temple and shrine, there's a corner where you can get souvenirs from the temple or the shrine, and usually there are temple officials sit there, doing whatever - receiving payments for the souvenirs - and also signing these books. The cost is 300 yen, the same for every temple and shrine in all Japan. And so I brought the book, and got it signed by this shrine's official. Funny thing is, even the Japanese people don't always know about this. Atsuko and Ayako were surprised to know that we have this book, and they haven't known about this book before.
Next thing we visited was a sesame museum. OMG, I guess sesame is so important! However, the sesame museum was quite interesting. To enter the museum, there was a spot where you have to shout at the speaker "Hirake goma!", and the door would be open for you. Joe was playing around, he said "Open the door please..." as if he has been speaking to someone inside the bedroom, and of course the door wasn't open. And then I took a chance, and shouted "Hirake goma!" loudly, and the door was open.
The last spot we visited was (again), an omiyage (snack souvenirs - oleh-oleh) shop. They had desserts made from azuki beans, but I didn't care. None of us did, I guess. We were just too tired maybe. Here we had a great dinner - sukiyaki in soymilk broth, cold soba, fried things (squash, squid, etc), rice, pickles and some other things. It was a lot of food and so good. And that was a wrap of the tour.
Honestly, this wasn't like I expected. When we were offered this tour, I imagined a kind of tour where we would go to a place, maybe to a temple or a castle, and did a bit of tour around the temple or the castle, and the next thing would probably nature - like a lake or sea or a hill or even just a park, something allows us to do an activity and enjoy a scenery- a tour which is a combination of culture, nature, and food (of course, you'll need to eat at some point).
I once went on a walking tour in Kyoto, Johnnie Hillwalker's Walking Tour, with my husband and his family. This was a tour surround Kyoto city, going to places which were not major tourist spots, but this was very interesting: we went to Higashi Honganji -a less popular temple compared to Todaiji in Nara or Kiyomizu Dera, the most famous temple in Kyoto, but very important to Zen Buddhism in Japan- then to a paper fans maker, then to Kyoto Community Center, where we learned a bit about the city and the old history, and then to the very first Nintendo factory. This kind of thing, is what I call interesting and worth the money. The mystery tour cost way more than Johnnie Hillwalker's tour, but was no comparison. All the tour was about food. It was a food tour. Oh, don't get me wrong. I love food. But even a food tour can be wrapped better. Hey, I watch food tour shows - No Reservations, Jamie Does, A Cook's Tour, Bobby Chin's World Cafe- I love food tour shows, but these shows are interesting: you get to see the food, you get to be introduced to the local culture. Whereas, in the mystery tour we went, we went too much to omiyage shops. So, it was like, "This is the area, and these are the famous snacks from this area", without any meaning of why we explored the area. So basically, the whole tour, a total fourteen hours tour, was about looking for omiyage. Omiyage should be a souvenir from your tour, not the whole point of your tour. Now I think back about it, it was the craziest tour I have ever done: a tour for looking souvenirs from the tour. Ha!
Walking home from 7-Eleven (ah, finally combini and the friendly people we see everyday), my husband said, "Now, I realize, I probably have forgotten the point of Japanese style tour - food."
His words reminded me of something. I probably had forgotten too, that it actually was what I saw in Japan Hour - a tour show around Japan - in Channel NewsAsia, when I was at my home country and watched cable TV, it was all about food.