We visited Yamaguchi Prefecture to see real locations of a “Our Map Trip” picture book by Masamoto Nasu which I have loved to read to my kids over many years. The outline of the story is that two 5th grade boys had to find a missing lighthouse by using a map. This book was published in 1989, so I expected the scenery should be changed, but against all my expectations, all the same local and rural beauties in Aio town are as in the book. What is the best out of all of the picture book is the amazing attention to detail. You can see different stories in the pictures showing what the main characters are doing. You can find an old lady carrying some heavy luggage on 6 different pages. A moving truck was driving over several pages. If you see the map, you can see exactly the same shape of the peninsulas. I really enjoyed Brambly Hedge by Jill Barklem when I was a child and looked into the details of her pictures. My kids read “Our Map Trip” in the same way as I did for Brambly Hedge.
Starting Point: Yotsutsuji Station
We started our venture from the station which was the nearest station to the lighthouse and where the two boys got off. The toilet, a station house, a pedestrian overpass, and a taxi stop remain as they were. We were so excited to see the same scenery remaining after nearly 30 years.
AIO Sho Hachiman-gu Shrine
In the story, the two boys got lost and found an old shrine. We also found a torii gate along with Yamaguchi Prefectural Road 194 to Aio Bay. We were not sure if this was the real site or not, but the stone lantern and torii gate of the Sho Hachiman-gu Shrine were similar to the picture. The Sho Hachiman-gu Shrine itself was very calm, traditional and unchanged. In the story book, it was deformed but it still had the same atmosphere.
As the sea approached, the harbor and shrimp farm were illustrated in the picture as we saw in Aio Town. Finally, we arrived at the same lighthouse which the two boys climbed. The grass was so tall that it was hard to find a triangulation point. The area was shaped like a footprint of a dinosaur and we could see the same shape from the lighthouse.
When I talked with locals at different towns, they mentioned they didn’t visit Aio town often. They said they only visit Aio town when free graving of Kuruma Shrimp events happened. Yamaguchi, Hagi area and Iwakuni Kintaikyo are must-see sites. Aio town is not a sightseeing spot, but you will encounter unexpected scenery.
Minshuku Inn Shirai
In the book, Minshuku Inn Shirai was illustrated briefly, but I really wanted to stay at the same place. The building was renewed and all guest room were facing the beach. The bathroom and toilet were clean. When we talked to the landlady about why we had come here, she smiled happily. We also found a small shrine in front of the beach. The same warehouse of Shirai was located at the same location. Shirai has been serving up seasonal fish in this location for more than two decades. The best deal is an all-you-can-eat buffet in which Kuruma Shrimp is served salted, slightly baked and fried.
Aio town has been famous for the Kuruma Shrimp Farm since 1963. Kuruma Shrimp has stripes and brown color, so it looks like a wheel when it is round. The best season for Kuruma Shrimp is from June to September. You can have lunch or dinner at Minshuku Shirai and enjoy several kinds of shrimp dishes. If you choose not to enjoy the all-you-can-eat buffet, it operates as a restaurant.
How to eat Kuruma Shrimp
The landlady taught us how to eat live Kuruma Shrimp in front of us.
- Hold Kuruma Shrimp belly from the top with Thumb and pointer finger.
- Grab the head from the top and gradually pull out with the vein
- Peel from the head side
- Pull out the tail
We tried it out timidly and failed several times, but finally we gradually improved our skills and could eat faster and faster without any words.We shared a room with a couple and ate various kinds of buffet dishes, sliced raw fish, fried shrimp and barbecued Turban Shell and salads. The Shirai always serves fresh dishes from the kitchen next to our room. At last, they cooked the head of the Kuruma Shrimp by deep-frying. We could not stop eating the fried head until the time was up.At the end of the corridor, there was a huge guest room and about 20-30 people having dinner there. Only 3 groups including us were staying at Minshuku Shirai.
Our purpose was to visit real locations of the “Our Map Trip” picture book, but it is also worth going to Aio town to have live Kuruma Shrimp near the calm beach while visiting several sightseeing sites in Yamaguchi. We played at the beach and did fishing as always. Quite literally, you can do fishing anywhere along the seaside in Yamaguchi Prefecture.