In our new world filled with limitations and isolation, I found solace and inspiration in the company of Dr Akura, a visionary inventor. Together, we embarked on a remarkable journey through Japan's picturesque landscapes, immersing ourselves in new experiences, and embracing the lessons life had in store. Join me as I recount the unforgettable moments from my mini West Japan tour and reflect on the valuable insights gained along the way.

Breaking Free from the Chains

As the demands of Mirai Eye (Dr Akura's inventions company) kept me busy, my yearning for outdoor adventures grew stronger. Although COVID-19 restrictions limited our movements, we received coupons to support local restaurants affected by the pandemic. Determined to break free from isolation, we seized the opportunity to explore Japan's hidden gems. Luckily Japan is not enforcing a lockdown.

Unveiling the Treasures of Kobe

He usually travels around for ophthalmologic surgeries that he performs in different prefectures. I was asked if I wanted to join their adventures while they get business done. I was happy to do so. I packed my bags and got ready for a mini West Japan tour. We started on Tuesday morning and returned on Friday night.

Our journey commenced in Kobe, a city that effortlessly blends elegance and charm. It was my second time back in the city, and I was happy to be back. With Eminem's melodies accompanying our drive (I was very surprised by finding the city in their car), we savoured the city's class and beauty. From savouring delectable yakitori to revelling in the vibrant atmosphere, we rediscovered the magic that makes Kobe one of our favourite Japanese cities. We stayed the night in Nishinomiya to charge up on strength for the next day.

Embracing Adventure in Tottori

Leaving Kobe behind the next morning, we set our sights on Tottori Prefecture, eager to explore the wonders it had in store. The road trip allowed us to witness the magnificence of Mt Daisen, soak in the healing waters of Yubara Onsen Town, and encounter the rich history preserved in old establishments from the Edō period. Amidst breathtaking scenery, I got fake punched.

Yonago's Warm Welcome

Our expedition continued as we arrived in Yonago, a city close to Dr Akura's heart because he studied ophthalmology there. Checking into the business hotel, the receptionist's request for identification reminded me of some of the challenges faced by foreigners. I let it go and settled into my hotel room. After a well-deserved nap, I was fortunate to indulge in a dinner of Tottori's beef steak and smooth red wine. I've come to love the beef here. It is almost always so easy to eat and flavourful. But the softness of the meat is what always gets me.

Hiroshima's Powerful Reminders

While Dr Akura attended to his professional commitments, I accompanied his assistant on a poignant journey through Hiroshima. Despite the closure of the Peace Memorial Museum due to COVID-19 restrictions, we paid our respects to the Atomic Bomb Dome, a solemn reminder of the city's history. Over a comforting Italian lunch across the dome, we reflected on the weight of war and the importance of peace. It was a rainy sombre day, and since the weather wasn't good, we couldn't visit One of Japan's most revered sites, the ancient Itsukushima Shrine.

Matsuyama's Castle in the Sky

After the surgeries, we headed for Shikoku Island. On the way there, I was fascinated by many phenomenal bridges like the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge. We were heading for Matsuyama City in Ehime Prefecture. Driving through the wet, windy roads at night, we eventually made it to the Japanese inn (ryokan; 旅館) we stayed. It was my first ryokan experience. So, I was touched by the whole ordeal. Things were very personalised. Matsuyama is also known for Dogo Onsen; one of Japan's oldest and most famous hot springs. Since we arrived fairly late, we went a few meters down the road to go dine. The drinks were cold and refreshing, the meal was plentiful and fresh. With freshly caught fish from the Seto Inland Sea, the sashimi was some of the best I have tasted.

After dinner, I ventured on a lone mission to walk around the neighbourhood and explore. The weather allowed as it was a light drizzle. I was impressed by the area, the buildings, the history and heritage all around me. I was absorbing all of this and exploring with no destination in mind, I eventually found myself in the city's red light district.

After a filling traditional breakfast with an assortment of dishes, we headed to see the enchanting Matsuyama Castle that stood proudly, offering panoramic views of the city below. The ropeway leads you all the way up to the castle if you do not wish to walk/hike up the hill. I was captivated by a magnificent black pine bonsai, standing as a testament to the artistry and patience required to cultivate such trees.

Naruto's Whirling Wonders

Later that day, we dashed across the prefecture in the trusty purple Honda Stepwgn Spada. The car itself made it feel like I'm in a video game. Our destination was Naruto City in Tokushima Prefecture. Though our initial plans to visit the Otsuka Museum of Art were thwarted by the pandemic, we discovered solace in the mesmerizing Naruto whirlpools. Walking high above the water on a skeleton bridge, we marvelled at this swirling spectacle below. Otsuka Museum is known for having replicas of original old European art. It is a massive exhibition space, and the building itself is a work of art. I'm rather sad that COVID has ruined so many experiences and events.

We eventually left Naruto and Tokushima to catch the evening ferry back to Wakayama. We made it back safely but were exhausted from the amount of movement during the past few days.

Reflections and Lessons Learned

As our journey drew to a close, I reflected on the invaluable lessons gleaned from Dr Akura's wisdom. Our exchange of skills and time in lieu of monetary compensation taught me the immeasurable value of bartering. So much can be settled by bartering. I also learned to embrace new experiences and remain teachable. This journey reaffirmed the importance of continuous learning, personal growth, and the power of curiosity.

Closing Remarks

As I conclude this chapter of our travel tale, I want to extend heartfelt congratulations to my sister on her traditional marriage. Though physically absent from the celebrations, my love and well wishes transcend the distance, welcoming a new brother into our family.

With each adventure, I find solace in the enchanting landscapes, warm encounters, and inspiring lessons I am blessed with. The memories will forever remain etched in my heart.