Monday, 24 May 2010

PostHeaderIcon A Journey to the Nine Provinces

I’ve mentioned the ‘Golden Week’ holidays every year I’ve been here but nevertheless… there are a collection of public holidays in Japan at the start of May.  They don’t actually add up to a week and are usually spaced out in an infuriating manner.  For example, the Thursday of the first week will be a holiday and Monday-Wednesday in the following week will be as well BUT a lot of people still need to work on the Friday.  So… it isn’t a week’s holiday unless you’re a cheeky English teacher who books that day off in advance.  The interesting thing about this period is it is one of the few times where Japanese people feel able to go on a holiday.  I’ve read (and witnessed) workers only taking off about half of their holiday days because they’re all stupid.  I don’t know why they don’t collectively agree to take them all so nobody can feel guilty about taking a break.  Anyway, this period means that Japan is covered in Japanese people who creep out of their neon illuminated offices and venture outside into the fresh air.  Therefore, every hotel in Japan is packed and the flights out of the country triple in price.  I’m a little bit skint and tired of making my way to Kansai Airport… so Naomi and I went on a road trip in the direction of west.  We ventured to the island of Kyushu (九 nine and 州 provinces/state) which is one of the four main islands of Japan.  We set off a day early to avoid the traffic and the journey took us across our island before we got on a ferry for a few hours and arrived in a land that initially looked exactly the same.  We managed to take in the whole of north Kyushu in about six days.  I’m impressed we did that much as our holiday routine usually revolves around waking up at lunch and drinking at breakfast.

I'm a bit rushed for time this week so I think I'll just upload some pictures and comment on them instead of writing a massive post.  I think our trip to Kyushu was easily the best holiday I've had in Japan.  I'm glad we decided not to waste money on a  flight to Hong Kong or Taiwan as we had originally thought about doing . Although Kyushu (and especially Nagasaki prefecture) was obviously still Japan... it was the first I've visited somewhere  here that felt a bit different.  I've been to all the "international" cities here and haven't found anything different to any other city on the mainland.  However, the scenery and architecture of Nagasaki deluded me on occasions to thinking we were actually driving along a Spanish or Italian coastline.  Of course... this was aided with the fantastic week of weather that luckily appeared after an exceptionally wet April.  However, the most outstanding scenery came a few days before when we visited Japan's largest, active volcano in Kumamoto prefecture.  I'll explain more in the pictures below but the view was glorious.  The first few days were definitely the best as we avoided the initial crowds and managed to book a few nights in really nice and comfortable hostels.  Another thing I noticed was that the people in Kyushu were exceptionally friendly.  The people in Shikoku are similar in that they are laid back and interested in you but the difference was that they were a bit more internationalised in Nagasaki and the like so they talked in an almost normal manner with you.  Alright... I'll upload some pictures and see how many memories appear in the old brain box.

There are three wonders of nature in this picture.  The first is grass in Japan.  The second is cows in Japan.  The third is the caldera.  I didn't know what one was so I'll explain for you.  Mount Aso was a massive volcano about 100,000 years ago and an eruption apparently covered half of the island.  A caldera is the result of the volcano collpasing on top of its magma chamber.  Therefore, the mountains around the edge were actually part of the volcano.  There is almost a perfect circle stretching 27km across this area and the town and volcano are in the middle of the perfect scenery.

We drove up to the tourist friendly crater.  We were lucky as the volcano was quite active thatr day. There was green water in the crater that was bubbling away nicely.  There was a lovely aroma of eggs in the air and my shoes started to melt a little bit.  I got glue all over my bloody socks.

There were plenty of shelters at the top.  We were messing about in them because it reminded me of a WW2 bunker or something.  It's interesting to think of people actually needing to use them one day since you know... it's a massive, active volcano.

I have nothing interesting to write here I'm afraid.  I uploaded too many pictures and it broke this blog entry a number of times.  I'll use the deleted ones for other posts.  This one managed to survive.  I look sexy though.

I was really witty and tagged Naomi on facebook with this.  There's no bad translation to mock so I'll teach what volcano is in Japanese.  火山 reads as kazan and the two basic kanji mean fire and mountain.

I locked the keys in the car because I'm a fool.  I've only started locking my doors because I leave my iPhone in it sometimes.  I don't know why I do it because Japanese people won't steal anything... especially in a volcano car park.  Anyway, Naomi got a coat hanger off a lady and I managed to lift the lock up through a small gap in the door.  It was either that or a broken window for the rest of the trip.

Another piece of lovely scenery just down the road from the crater.  We nearly got a helicopter ride over the area but we were trying to be sensible with the ¥ens for once.  They had horse rides there too.  A delicacy in Kyushu is raw horse meat.

Naomi and I had a heated argument once because she didn't know what the cover of the Volvic water bottle lookd like.  Well, it looks like this even though it's a different mountain.  This one is called Komezuka and translates as 'rice mound'. On a sidenote... I noticed that the bottled water I sometimes buy comes from this area.

We drove and got another ferry over to Nagasaki prefecture.  We arrived at about 3pm but managed to cover the main tourists spots faster than an implosion of a plutonium core.  Nagasaki is only the third city in Japan that I've seen with an old tram network.  The other two were Hiroshima and.... Kochi.  It somehow seemed okay to pose with the peace statue in the background.  This was not the case in Hiroshima where hordes of Japanese smile with the dome in the background whilst everyone else stands around looking sorrowful and awkward.

The Peace Park in Nagasaki has a wide collection of donated monuments from various countries.  My favourite part was the communist mound composing of the U.S.S.R, the German Democratic Republic and Czechoslovakia.  Incidentally, every single one in the whole park was a mother protecting her child.  Some were dead and some were just about to die.  Every single one.  

The bomb detonated about 500 metres above the black marker on the mound.  The church spire in the background was originally in the hills close to the area.  My guess is that they moved it down to here because they needed to compete with the far superior dome that Hiroshima has.

Nagasaki was the original foreign port in Japan when the Portuguese and Dutch first arrived in the 16th century.  The former's attempt at converting Japanese people to Christianity was initially successful but pissed the rulers off so much that they were banished and helped lead to Japanese isolation (apart from Dutch traders in Nagasaki) for two centuries.  Christianity in Japan and Nagasaki managed to survive this somehow... and therefore lead to the great number of churches still present in the city.
We left Nagasagi and drove north towards Sasebo.  It's the second largest city in the prefecture and is famous for an American military base.  That was rather ugly but around the corner there was a lovely piece of nature called the '99 islands' or 九十九島.  We went on a boat trip around them.  The man was surprised that we wanted to go on the pirate boat instead of the normal one.
This was the view of the area from a platform at the top.  There are actually 208 (or 206) islands but  I agree that the name isn't as catchy.  I took this picture through my 1000 yen sunglasses because I'm an artistic genius.  One of them looks like a shark and two look like submarines.

Our journey began to face a few stumbling blocks in terms of reserving places to stay and running out of places to visit.  We drove to the north-west of Kyushu to see a pretty rubbish castle at Hirado or something.  We didn't really eat anything until we arrived in Fukuoka a few hours later.  Then we didn't really do much there despite it being the biggest city on the island.  We did see a monkey though.  Anyway, we saw a small sign for a waterfall earlier in the day and it proved to be the highlight.

This is the cover of our forthcoming album.

I was woken up in Fukuoka by these taxi drivers.  They were shouting and bowing non-stop.  They would switch positions and each of them would become the leader.  They did this for over an hour.  I have no idea.

The last visit of our journey was the port town of Beppu.  It is quite famous in Japan for onsens, gambling and the sex industry.  It is a very popular spot for Golden Week and it was absolutely mobbed.  This is a famous geyser that goes off every twenty minutes.  Japanese people came swarming in... took a picture and then buggered off again in a second.  I was knackered from driving so we were the last to leave.

The smoke in this picture is actually steam from the ground./onsens.  We found it impossible to find an onsen that wasn't fully booked.  We eventually found one down a tiny road that was run by an old couple.  It was the cheapest and most authentic one I've seen.  In the end we decided that Beppu was too busy and we changed our ferry time to late that evening.  I drove back to Kochi throughout the night after downing a few red bulls to keep me awake.  The sun began to rise in the last stretch of road on Shikoku and the mountains/sky looked like the background of this blog.  The highway down to Kochi is pretty much a straight tunnel so I sang David Bowie songs to myself for about an hour or two to keep me awake.  It was great.

That's about it for my Kyushu trip.  I'd recommend a similar trip to anyone who currently lives in Japan.  It was quite a slow and dull affair to upload all those bloody pictures.  Also, it's hard for me to be inspired to write about positive stuff.  Still, I had a great holiday with Naomi and it reignited a feeling in me that I really enjoy living in Japan and that I want to see a lot more of it before I leave.


Anonymous said...

Was the humidity bad yet?

Guy Representing All Members of Eastside Kochi Crew said...

If you get married in Japan, then I'd better get an invite.

Huw and Ben said...

If you get married in Japan, I'd better get an invite.

guy evidently bad at using the internets. said...


Ahoy hoy said...

No worries. It gets my comments up and makes this look more interesting.

I think we'll both be bucking the recent JET trend of getting engaged. You'd think they were Japanese or 8 year old girls the way they're going on for goodness sake.

Reikalein said...

Great post. I'm so gonna do the same when I show my boyfriend round Japan next year.

I found that after having see Aso san, Mt. Vesuvius was a bit disappointing; there was a tiny trickle of steam that made it look like someone had just boiled the kettle in the crater...

Ahoy hoy said...

Yeah it was pretty cool. They actually closed off a path as we were leaving because the activity kicked up a notch. The scenery around the volcano was by far the best part though. That whole area of Kyushu was fantastic.

chris said...

I really liked this post! seems like you had a good time.

p.s sunglasses filtering is ingenious you should be famous

Ahoy hoy said...

Cheers chris. Yeah it was great and I should be famous. I'm glad you agree.

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About Me

I am a 24 year old Scotsman currently teaching English to Japanese schoolchildren. I live in a small town on the east coast of Kochi prefecture.