I had a week off and really wanted to see a part of Japan that I had not yet seen. I thought Kyushu or Hokkaido made sense and I was prepared to go it alone. Fortunately a friend of mine from work, Kanamori-san, was also going to Kyushu so I kind of invited myself along. Thanks for letting me tag along.
Unfortunately it looked like the weather was going to be somewhat uncooperative with us even going. A typhoon was heading towards Japan and although it was not going to be too strong in Fukuoka and Kumamoto where we were going, it was looking like it was going to get pretty bad in Nagoya. Kanamori-San found a cheap (10000 yen) to Fukuoka on Fuji Dream Airlines so instead of taking the train, we were flying. It really saved him a lot of money. The rain was pretty strong when we got to the airport and a flight from Kumamoto was cancelled so I was a little bit worried. We loaded about on time and the flight was remarkably smooth considering we were on the edge of a typhoon.
Kanamori-san is a BIG ramen fan, so a trip to Fukuoaka isn’t complete with Hakata ramen (website of my favorite Hakata ramen shop in LA). We went to Nagahama’s Nagahamaya restaurant for our ramen. The shop looked like we could eat there AND get our oil changed.
The beautiful exterior of our ramen shop.
Other ramen shops in the area.
Kanamori-san spent a year on working holiday in New Zealand and one of his Japanese friends from New Zealand runs a backpackers in a very remote part of Kumamoto called THE スナフキンズ (snufkinz). We were the only guests there the first, but they had a friend staying there and helping them. Dai-san and Mika-san are great hosts and I was immediately comfortable. Of course I’ve stayed at some really nice hotels, but there is still a time and place for a nice backpackers. This was the time and place. More on THE スナフキンズ in a different entry all to itself.
We stayed up pretty late the first night. Kanamori-san was catching up with his Dai-san and I was just happy to listen and be on vacation. Some alcohol was consumed.
The door frames in this country house are definitely lower than US or modern Japanese houses. I had to duck every time I went through a door frame. In the morning, I forgot that that I had to duck and smacked my head really hard as I was walking to the bathroom. So, no, it wasn’t me just thinking I had to duck. I really had to.
I rented a car in Fukuoka to give us the opportunity to see various places. We decided to go to Kumamoto-shi in Kumamoto and visit the castle there. We walked around the castle grounds. We quicky learned that the castle was of a mostly modern construction, but the castle walls were still from old days, and the castle was beautiful from the outside. The weather was fine, and we weren’t suffering from rain, or high heat.
The architect of Kumamoto castle.
An interesting, if not a little bit intimidating, tour guide.
We also went in search of a special library that was supposed to be architecturally interesting, but alas it was not be found. We did go to a library though, and I tried to make it interesting (but it really wasn’t). I guess I didn’t try too hard because I have no pictures!
After three years in Japan, and over a year with an perfectly valid driver’s license, I drove on the streets of Japan for the first time since 2004. I drove in both the countryside, and the “big city.” Pretty cool. I think I did fine, but from that point forward Kanamori-san drove everywhere.
We headed back to 中十町 (Nakajicho) to THE スナフキンズ and picked up Dai-san and Nobu-san to go to an onsen. We ran some errands at first though, and went to a butcher shop where we picked up some 馬刺 (basashi), or horse sashimi. That’s right, horse sashimi.
The white stuff is basically neck fat, and really does melt in your mouth like butter. Believe it or not, this wasn’t the first time I had horse sashimi to eat. It’s not bad, especially when you throw in some wasabi and soy sauce. Alcohol tends to help as well.
The onsen we went to was great in its kitchiness. It did not have a rotenburo (outdoor bath) but did have many different pools. We enjoyed the various temperatures, went back home, and made dinner.
I slept really well on a futon on the floor. The room was comfortable and the air had cooled significantly.
Our plan for the next day was to drive to Mt. Aso. We were surprised by a visitor (チェックイン) sitting on the deck in the morning. Hey! It turns out he owns a guest house around Aso, so he gave us some good tips. Dai-san and Mika-san always baked bread overnight, so we always had a good breakfast ready for us.
We drove towards Mt. Aso and Kanamori-san ignored the somewhat annoying voice of the navigation system and instead listened to the advice of チェックイン and instead took the Kikuchi Skyline. A very good choice. I felt a like a little kid because there was a sign for the Kikuchi Gorge and I thought it looked interesting (See Rock City! See Ruby Falls!). We parked, and went on a short hike along the flowing river and all the rapids. I tried various shots, and of course tried to get the streaming water look. I succeeded a little bit.
This squirrel is nervous about failing rocks. Uh oh!
An added bonus was stumbling across 焼きとうもろこし (yakitomorokoshi), or grilled corn on the cob. Growing up in Indiana, corn on the cob was a summer staple, so I was happy.
Mt. Aso is basically a HUGE active volcano. The caldera is a a valley, with some active areas along the edge. The Kikuchi Skyline terminates at the Milk Road (not the Silk Road, but the Milk Road. This was another suggestion by チェックイン. The view was outstanding, and I took a lot of pictures of the same green areas.
We started down this small road, in spite of the cones in front of the entrance. We learned the cones were there for a reason, but no damage was done so all was fine.
We continued down and across the valley to the active area on the other side. There, in the clouds, it was almost cold! We got a few more pictures and then left Aso.
This picture is actually an older dome, komezuka. But the next two show how active it is.
On the way home, I wanted to go to an onsen, and Kanamori-san wanted to visit a shop that specialized in fans. The shop in 山鹿市 (Yamaga-shi) closed at 5:30 pm, and the Navi said we would arrive at 5:35 pm. That meant no onsen around Aso. That was OK. We made it to the shop, 栗川商店, in time and were able to shop for fans. I didn’t even know I wanted one, and bought four! I’ve given away three already, and kept the fourth for myself. We went to a local onsen, that was more like a Super Sento but were able to soak away our day. Thanks to Dai-san, Mika-san, Nobu-san, and チェックイン for waiting for us for dinner. You didn’t have to wait! We tried to eat dinner outside, but the mosquitoes were just too heavy. So in we went.
The next morning we were able to share a nice breakfast outside, and I was grateful to have the chance to have spent a few days in the countryside. I had one panic driving alone to the airport because the Navi was clearly giving me the wrong directions. Was that a cruel practical joke from Kanamori-san, or just a by product of turning of the car? Fortunately, Kanamori-san showed me how to enter the rental car location into the navigation system, so a quick reset and I was off. To the airport in plenty of time.
Thanks so much to Kanamori-san, Dai-san, Mika-san, Nobu-san, and チェックイン for making my vacation exactly what I wanted. Especially though to Kanamori-san for allowing me to come along, meet his friends, and show me around. My Japanese isn’t good enough to understand everything and when we are together just the two of us, I mostly speak in English. Speaking in a second language is hard work – I appreciate the effort made.