When we were in Kansai, we bunked in with a friend of Y’s to save on accommodation, and one day our host M rented a car and took us to some less touristy parts of Japan so he could seek out a very specific type of Udon. To this day, I call this my Japan Hour experience and recall it fondly.
What does Japan Hour mean to Singaporeans?
I don’t know if other Singaporeans have had this same experience, but Japan Hour is a long running documentary on Channel NewsAsia that is presented Japanese and showcases some far flung Japanese destinations that are not commonly visited by international tourists. This documentary tends to run at a weird evening time on weekends and is one of those things I always happen to watch by happy accident, but I love it because everything on that show is just so enthusiastic. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an episode where anything was less than Sugoi! and Oiishi! and Kirei! (Amazing! Delicious! And beautiful!)
So this particular road trip that we were taking felt very much like I was in an episode of Japan Hour for myself, because I’d never even heard of the places we were visiting before that day, and most of what I know is stuff I either found on on that day itself or researched after the fact for this article.
Our route – from Akashi to Takamatsu
We started driving west of Osaka to a place called Akashi, where we drove across the Seto Inland Sea through Awaji Island to Naruto and then headed west to Takamatsu on Kagawa, and then turned back around and headed back to Osaka.
Akashi Kaikyo Bridge
We first headed out towards Awaji Island from Akashi, where we drove across Akashi-Kaikyo bridge. At 3.91km, this is the longest suspension bridge in the world since 1998. It reminded me a little of a white version of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco for some reason.
You can also view the bridge from the nearby Awaji Island Park, where you have information, food courts and viewing points all in one spot. This is probably where you want to head if you want to get yourself an Awaji Island souvenir. It was a rather misty day when we were there though, so visibility was not great.
Sanuki Udon at Yamada-ya in Takamatsu, Kagawa
The main reason we took this road trip was because M really wanted to check out the udon in Kagawa which is what they are famous for, so we skipped Awaji Island for the time being and headed straight towards Takamatsu in Kagawa where we searched for Yamada-ya, a well known restaurant famous for Sanuki Udon.
And after some searching, we finally found it! It was about 1pm, so essentially we had driven 3 hours to get to a lunch of udon. Well… adventures!
We weren’t actually sure how good the udon was going to be – M had googled for it and taken a chance. All fingers were crossed as we made our way in. Turns out the carpark we saw was bigger than we thought, and we saw some pretty fancy cars in the parking lot. If rich people are making their way there, it had to be good… right?
Yamada-ya is an entire house compound in there with various wings, so big that the host at the door has to use a mic to communicate with the various wings to find you an available table somewhere within the compound.
We each ordered our own udon bowl – I had the tempura prawn udon. M had this yummy looking meat sauce udon while Y had a lavish set of cold udon, and some oden to share.
The verdict? The udon was indeed very good – springy and tasty enough to make you want to eat more, yet not so overpowering that you got tired of eating too much of it. Good soup base as well… yum! I only wish I had more prawn in my udon.
And since we made our way all the way there, we weren’t leaving without any souvenirs, so we each bought a couple of udon packets to bring home as souvenirs. My mum cooked my 2 packs on the weekend I returned home, and the noodle consistency was just as good.
Uzu no Michi – The whirlpools of Naruto
After Takamatsu, we headed back towards Naruto where the Onaruto bridge connects Naruto to Awaji Island to catch the high tide for the whirlpool action. We found our way to the hilly car park quite easily and trekked a little way to reach the underside of Onaruto Bridge.
A pedestrian pathway has been built underneath half the bridge complete with glass floors and information panels, that puts you just 45m away from the water, the next closest way to actually seeing the whirlpools up close by boat.
We hurried over as we realized we were about half an hour late to the ‘peak’ high tide (when the tide is highest, the whirlpools are supposed to be the most spectacular.
It cost 600 yen to enter the bridge, and they gave us a special postcard and paper crane as a tourist gift for foreigners. It’s quite a long walk out to the middle of the bridge, and throughout you can see that the water here doesn’t flow like most rivers/seas do – the water constantly curls and swirls which is what results in the whirlpools.
We still manage to see some whirling action despite being a bit late. The whirlpool action isn’t as violent or intense as one might imagine from the swirling tornado action you see in cartoons and movies – boats can get up quite close to the whirlpools for a closer point of observation.
The walkway had some other entertainment after we got bored of trying to make out the little whirlpools in the distance:
Since we had already paid a bomb for tolls to pass through Awaji Island (more on that below), we decided to drive around the island to see what we could find. We tried locating the sake brewery but ended up in the countryside with a closed gate.
After that we attempt to find the famous Awaji Island burger but end up in the harbour area with no restaurant in sight… argh! So much for our hope of Japan Hour-esque discovery of Awaji Island, everything closed by 4-5pm so there was nothing much in the late afternoon. No pix cause I mostly spent my time mooning out the window, but soon we were heading to Kobe for dinner…
How much did it cost to drive this route?
Driving in Japan was definitely an experience, and a pretty expensive one at that. Japan’s highways all have toll charges, and these charges are not cheap. We spent roughly 22,000 yen (that’s about S$350!) in total on the car rental, tolls and petrol in all for just one day of driving. Good thing we had 3 people to share the costs, but man that was EXPENSIVE. Cycling is definitely a much cheaper option, albeit more tiring.
Driving across the Akashi Kaikyo bridge alone was INSANELY EXPENSIVE. According to wikipedia, they use the toll money to pay the 500 billion yen bill (that’s too many zeros for me to deal with) that it cost to build the bridge, and while most sites and guidebooks will tell you that the toll costs roughly 2000 yen (that’s about S$32) one-way, they’ve apparently raised the prices in the last month or so and our toll cost a whopping 5,200 yen (S$80+) one-way. YES, IT COST US MORE THAN S$160 just to get across that damn bridge. All 3 of our jaws dropped collectively when we heard the cost of the toll.
Well, that wasn’t quite the excited ‘Sugoi!’ Japan Hour exclamation I was going for, but I’m probably never going to get over the cost of that toll, ever.