The weather has been quite wild on this side of the world. February’s weather was full of contradictions. We experienced both freezing cold weeks and then warm spring-like days. It even snowed in Kobe, a rarity here! Meanwhile, I have been studying for DipTESOL and only have a little time for my adventures. But, of course, even postgraduate studies couldn’t stop me from getting itchy feet last week after I heard about a famous oyster festival in West Hyogo. So much for an earnest student!
I sometimes wonder if I am a “normal” functioning adult because people around me seem to work and study harder than I could ever dream while I am on the hunt for new places and adventures all the time. But thankfully, the world is a big place that can harbor people from all walks of life. That’s the beauty of life!
I didn’t know I would experience two extreme kinds of weather in the same week on my trip, though!
Oyster Craze in Aioi and Ako
I daydreamed for about a week before going on this road trip. If I decide something, it’s challenging for me to step back or change my mind. And I only get to eat oysters once or twice a year, so! It was a beautiful Sunday, so we decided to head west to do some oyster-hopping.
We traveled to Aioi and Ako, the east of Setonaikai National Park, where they cultivate oysters in winter. This national park stretches across ten prefectures and has many hidden gems like Shodoshima. Seto Inland Sea (瀬戸内海) also happens to be one of the most peaceful places in Japan for me, with its Aeagean Sea-like coasts.
Although I live in Kobe and enjoy my life and city adventures here, I prefer more tranquil places in Hyogo, such as Aioi and Ako. They are less famous than Kobe and thus less traveled, which makes them even more attractive to me. I have never been a traveler who enjoys well-known tourist destinations except for my last trip to Bohol and Panglao in the Philippines.
Did I say Aioi and Ako were less popular than Kobe? Unfortunately, that’s not the case during the oyster season. When we arrived in Aioi, we were welcomed by a massive traffic jam that could have been a spirit breaker if the weather hadn’t been so splendid that day!
The first place we visited was full of people, but we managed to grab a table with a barbecue grill. At this place, you buy your seafood and grill it yourself. I had waited for that moment for a few months, so you can imagine my excitement when I finally got to grill oysters and shrimp! The oysters were delicious, and so was the giant shrimp!
We headed to Ako after Aioi and visited one of my favorite places there called Kirakira-saka (きらきら坂). I had been there twice before but wanted to see there again because the weather was irresistible. After walking around a bit, we visited a nearby historic neighborhood named Sakoshi. The ice cream we ate at a local store was superb!
We ended our day trip at a small port, whose name I can’t recall now, between Aioi and Ako. I watched seagulls fighting over shells and making the funniest noises ever while feeling blue over more oysters I couldn’t eat because they were now sold out.
Well…we can’t have it all, can we?!
Visiting Tonomine Highlands in Winter
Tonomine is a sublime highland tucked in Kamikawa Town, north of Hyogo. It is famous for the movie Norwegian Wood, adapted from Haruki Murakami’s novel with the same title. I read the book and watched the movie despite no longer being a “Murakamian.” I devoured his books back in college, but the novelty wore off quickly after his books started to feel formulaic.
I visited Tonomine Highlands two years ago at the peak of COVID-19 in spring. There were many visitors, the majority of whom were bikers. A few days after our oyster adventures, we went for a random drive, and as most of our experiences are bound for, we found ourselves in the middle of nowhere. Discovering we were near Kamikawa, I suggested going to Tonomine Highlands to see it in winter this time.
It never crossed my mind that visiting it would be such a hurdle! For starters, we didn’t know the place would be snowy; hence we had no snow tires. Once we went up the hill, we could see snow on the sides of the road, and after a few minutes, the road was so snowy that it would be impossible to go further.
Knowing that we were underequipped, I gasped in terror. However, I didn’t tell my husband about my nightmare a few nights before. In my dream, we suddenly went off the rails while driving on a snowy road. I thought we were in serious trouble for a moment because he could neither drive back nor go ahead. Thankfully, he is a skilled driver, and his wife is a ninja, so he managed to get us out of that narrow road.
We parked by the road and saw some people coming down the mountain. I wanted to hike to Tonomine Highlands, so we left the car and headed up. I instinctively knew we would go hiking that day, so I wore my boots. I am glad I did because it was cold up there! There was no trace of the sun or warmth we had basked in a few days before!
Despite having cold sores in my mouth and a nervous breakdown due to stress in the car, visiting Tonomine Highlands and seeing it covered in snow was one of the highlights of this winter. It was abandoned as if nobody had ever been there before. I felt like an explorer putting up a flag on the moon. The snow had no human footsteps, only some footsteps of an unknown animal. I am guessing they belong to a fox. What do you think?
I loved the silence that enveloped the whole place. The fear I had experienced earlier was suddenly replaced by peace. The hills were sleeping under the snow gently, and the earth tones dominated everything. I could taste the absolute solitude, and it felt like a different era that was rid of humans.
I got to play with the snow to the point where I could no longer feel my hands. I needed to lose touch with the harsh realities of everyday life. Some might think it’s a morbid reason to travel, but this is why I travel to remote places. I need to be reminded of the mightiness of nature, capable of calm and calamity at the same time.
While departing Tonomine Highlands, I looked in the rearview to no avail, hoping to see the animal that left those traces. Instead, I saw the sleepy chocolatey hills that sighed at the view of this reckless human being and imagined what they would say if they could talk to me. Perhaps they can, but what if they don’t want to?
I left this month on a high note with these trips and will travel again in March. I hope your February was terrific! Please, share your highlights with me from your corner of the world!
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