The plan was to leave the dorms at 10:00 AM and head for Matsuyama. I managed to sneak in an early morning run to the harbor.
Captain Crunch, Mountain Bike, Peaches, and I met up outside the main entrance and proceeded to pile into Peache’s car. The car ride itself was fairly uneventful; we spoke in a spattering of English and Japanese and stopped by a convenience store for drinks. I recognized a good amount of the scenery from my earlier escapade…I’m glad I didn’t try to walk all the way to Matsuyama -_-
Our first stop after arriving in Matsuyama was CoCo Ichiban for lunch. I ended up ordering Hire Katsu Curry at level 2 spiciness. It was delicious. While we were waiting for our food Mountain Bike showed us some pictures from his recent travels to Nepal and India. He commented on how some of the food and drinks there were dangerous, a couple of times he saw a bright light after consuming a beverage or meal.
After lunch, we headed over to the local Shotengai (shopping arcade). In addition to having a bunch of shops selling assorted merchandise, there was a festival going on that day. Unfortunately, I left my camera at home T_T
After a bit more wandering, we ended up at a CD shop. Not too much to say really, the layout was pretty similar to shops in America, minus the fact that all of the merchandise was in Japanese. They even had Eminem’s new album, with all of the track names translated into indecipherable katakana equivalents. They also had a little sign to call extra attention to the album “Recvery”, I guess having a plus sign in the album name threw them off. On a side note, they didn’t have Rurutia, my favorite Japanese singer that no one knows about. Though I guess the fact that her PR strategy is to have no PR, it’s not really too surprising.
Leaving the CD shop, our group wandered over to the nearby game center; mostly at my behest. I looked around for the Gundam Card Builder game that captivated my brother a couple years ago, but it seems like it has been replaced by a different card game. I forgot the exact title but it’s based on the Three Kingdoms, a time period that everyone in Asia loves. I also played a variant House of the Dead game, it played as a series of mini-games based around two zombies escaping from other zombies. For the games you alternated between using a pedal and a pistol to accomplish objectives ranging from picking apples to fighting off an undead sumo wrestler.
Following my unsuccessful escape attempt I stumbled upon some Gundam battle pods. Basically an immersive pod with controls that mimic the cockpits from the Gundam series. Seeing as there was no one playing I decided to give it a try. I chose to be Zeon pilot (Sieg Zeon!) and was given control of a Zaku II. For this game you get a card that keeps track of your progress, as you play you get level ups that give you access to new weapons or mobile suits. The gameplay itself was kind of lack luster, but I can see it being fun as your get better suits or find a team of people to play with. There are even headphone and microphone inputs in the booth so you can hookup a headset and yell at your teammates for being incompetent.
With a pilot card in my wallet and a couple GM kills under my belt, our next stop was Best, an electronics store. The first floor was dedicated to cell phones, I browsed a bit trying to find a cheap one. The most inexpensive one was around $200. Giving up on acquiring a phone for the moment, we headed upstairs to the game department so I could grab some DS games that I had been wanting to buy, Inzauma Eleven 3 and Love Plus+. Inazuma Eleven is a soccer/rpg that has garnered quite a bit of interest and achieved a good amount of success. Love Plus+ is a dating sim that has been very successful and also attracted quite a bit of controversy. When picking out my games, all of my Japanese friends were a bit dubious about my choice of Love Plus+. Ignoring their warning I made my purchases and we continued on our way. On the way out of the store I also got a external DVD drive for my computer and some batteries.
Leaving the store loaded with electronic goodies, Mountain Bike suggested that we stop by a local café that was run by some of his relatives. The café was in a rather questionable location, it was off the main road and the only hint that it existed at street level was a small sign at the entrance of an alley. As we precariously made our way through the alley I commented how the food here might make us see light -_-;
We received a warm welcome as we entered the café and were ushered upstairs to where the tables were. The café was converted from an old inn, the aesthetics were nice but the layout was a bit odd. The menu also caused some concern for us. Looking at the menu all of the drinks were about $4.00, including a glass of milk. The thing that threw us the most though, was the fact that their handmade cake was only $2.00. After discussing various theories to explain the discrepancies in prices our drinks and (complimentary) cake arrived. Reservations aside, we dug in. It was easily the best $2.00 cake I’ve ever had. While we were eating Mountain Bike’s aunt (I think) came up and Mountain Bike told her I was from America. She responded by saying that she had completely thought I was Japanese. While you might think this is a compliment to my Japanese abilities, I hadn’t said a single word to her by this point -_-;
In any event, if I keep my mouth shut I can pass as a Japanese person.
We left the café and made our way towards the ropeway to the local castle. On the way we passed through the Shotengai again. At this point, the festival was in full swing; couples and families walked around buying things at the various stalls and vendors yelled trying to attract customers. There was a haunted house too, but we didn’t have time to go in 😦
We got to the ropeway and bought tickets. Then we got on a chairlift and made our way to the castle. After getting off the ropeway we ran to the castle, it was about 4:00 and the castle closed at 4:30. We decided to run for the ticket counter in front of the castle (I was first!) and handed over our tickets to the lady there. She smiled and said we still had plenty of time, she also gave us postcards.
The castle was filled with antique weapons and armor and telescopes on the top level so you could see the surrounding scenery. They also had a map pointing out some major landmarks, the map was written in several languages including English, Spanish, German, Chinese, and Korean.
After making our way back from the castle to Matsuyama proper, we headed towards the hot springs that served as the model for the hot springs from Spirited Away. Honestly, I couldn’t see the resemblance at all. The hot spring was located in the middle of town at the end of a shotengai. There was a Studio Ghibli store selling super expensive plushies and a stream of people coming out from the bath house. We walked around the outside for a bit and then decided to head back to the car.
Since we had walked pretty far, we took a street car back to where we started. After getting on the train, the conductor found out I was a foreigner and asked me to check his English. Apparently he gets foreigners every now and then, and he wanted to make sure his English was correct when telling them to pay as they leave. So I hooked him up with some sweet words to use and enjoyed the ride back to the car.
We got back to the car, parted ways with Y-san and headed back to Imabari. Back in Imabari we stopped by a ramen shop for dinner. The ramen shop was peculiar in the fact that it was built inside a bus. It was also peculiar in the fact that I couldn’t stand up inside the bus/restaurant. There I ate some delicious ramen and oden, and talked about Japanese politics. Well, it was more or less them explaining the Japanese political system to me and commenting on how they’ve changed the prime minister a lot recently.
When I finally returned home I broke out my new games and played for a couple hours.