Getting on the ferry at Wakayama at 830 in the morning felt like starting another holiday. Waiting to board, six huge gleaming Harley Davidson motor bikes driven by small older Japanese gents, drew up alongside us. They had every gadget known to motor bike enthusiasts on them and not a speck of grime. We later encountered them on the winding road up to the Oboke gorge on the island of Shikoku. The ferry was slightly elderly and certainly not gleaming like the bikes – plenty of rust on display. It felt very Japanese as there was an area with no seats, where everyone took there shoes off and lay on tatami mats just like at home. As we left, the castle could be seen in the distance, along with lots of heavy industry.
Two hours later and we arrived in Tokushima ready to drive to Takamatsu to visit the Ritsurin garden. It is a strolling style garden, over 400 years old, designated in 1953 a special place of scenic beauty and rated one of the top three gardens in Japan. The word Ritsurin means chestnut groves, but the garden is all about pine trees, as many as 1400, their branches beautifully pruned like bonsai trees. One apparently was even planted by Edward VIII in 1922. The Matsudaira family developed the garden over successive generations and it became finally a public garden in 1875. There is a small arts and crafts museum with some lovely old kites as you enter the garden.
The first things to capture our attention were not plants, but cranes. Standing stock still till they see a fish and plunge into the water. We even saw one succeed in catching a fish.
But soon it was the garden views that were enthralling us. Especially around the teahouse, where a boatman punts groups of people sporting straw hats round the pond. The pines form hedges and the topiary is a work of art. Bridges of several types set of the scenes and colourful carp abound in the clear water.
We would have loved to spend longer at Ritsurin, but soon we had to negotiate the basics of working out how to release the car from the car park which puts up a metal plate under your car as soon as you park. Thankfully with some help from friendly car park attendants we were soon safely released and on our way.