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Totes Kumamotes Good Time

What we did in Kumamoto

semi-overcast -25 °C

For our first activity, we both signed up to tie dye tshirts at our hostel. You haven't seen anything this crafty since Art Attack:


Incidentally, the hostel owner asked us to hold up our tshirts so he could get a picture of us with them to go on the wall. There is a collage of similar photos in the kitchen. Emma misunderstood the instructions and started putting hers on, Ashton followed suit to keep her company. You should know we are going to look like the mega keenos in that collage of tie-dyers.

After that 2 hour arts & crafts extravaganza, we hit the road to Kumamoto Castle. It's fair to say that our map reading skills seem to have improved vastly as we walked to the castle without getting lost. Did we mention that it was fairly close and well sign posted (you can see it from the hostel roof terrace).

Until you reach the entrance of the grounds, it is difficult to appreciate how massive the whole grounds and structure are. You walk up a winding path with intimidatingly big walls on either side. The walls are so high about you, once on the path you can't see anything else but stone. The steps are enormous so you feel like a child trying to make it up them.


We ventured around the grounds admiring all the different buildings. We went inside a hall area which would have been used as a theatre, a turret (1 of almost 50) and the castle itself. Looking at a scale model on site, it seems as if the castle and its grounds once took up around 1/5 of Kumamoto City. Internally and externally, the architecture is so different from anything we have seen at home. It made us a bit embarrassed about our own local castle- step it up Arundel!!


We hiked to the top of the castle and entered the top floor, panting like a couple of asthmatic grannies but ready to enjoy the view nonetheless. As ever, it was spectacular. Wherever we have been in Kyushu, you can always seen the surrounding mountains on the horizon, covered in a sun haze and cloudy mist. It has a slightly magical feeling about it.


We also headed to the Suizenji Jojuen Garden. This was built by one of the lords who presided in Kumamoto castle and took 80 years to construct in total. The site was chosen because it has fresh spring water which originates from Mt Aso, which meant they could use it for their green tea ceremonies. We think the healthy water has helped the inhabiting fish grow because the buggers were massive.


As an aside, the bees here also reach outrageous proportions and we found out yesterday that they have a venomous sting. The bee dodge dance we do now when we see one makes apparent how scared we are of them.

The garden is beautiful and the landscape represents stops on an old road leading to Kumamoto, there is a representation of Mt Aso itself. See pics below:


We have noticed in Kumamoto more than Kagoshima that people really gawk at us in a mouth open, unflinching stare sort of way. Most of the kids wave and say hello. It's quite fun but becomes borderline uncomfortable sometimes.

Another thing we noticed is that everyone cycles but no one seems to lock their bike up.

Also the roads here are INSANE! Bikes on the pavement dodge pedestrians by dismounting into oncoming traffic. Mopeds drive off the road onto pathways. At junctions, cars from all sides drive at once and there doesn't seem to be much of a system to it rather than weaving about what gets in your way. If there's road rage though, no one shows it, it's a honk-free zone. As a pedestrian, when you see the green walking man sign to cross the road, sometimes that still means cars can cross that section. You have to keep your wits about you!!

You'll be pleased to know that we are well and safe considering and excited about moving on to Nagasaki tomorrow!

Posted by Ashton and Emma 23:52 Archived in Japan Tagged garden castle kumamoto suizenji jojuen Comments (0)

Choo Choo All Aboard to Kumamoto

Second Stop in Kyushu

sunny -25 °C

After our flight debacle we were quite apprehensive about getting ourselves to Kumamoto but all ran smoothly! Here is us loaded up like donkeys ready to trapse to the station:


Those big bags are SUPER heavy, we have a maximum carry period of 15 minutes before we collapse. Wearing our backpacks on the front also makes us feel like we've got a baby carrier, so we feel pretty weighted down by it all.

We got our first ride on the Shinkansen (Bullet Train)- not the fastest one though! As you might expect, the train arrived 45 minutes early and dropped us off bang on time at Kumamoto. It was pretty luxurious. We're going to email our pictures to Southern Rail to encourage them to step up their game!


It was quite simple for us finding our hostel on the other side. Mostly because an old lady who we asked for directions went out of her way to escort us to the front door.


We are in love with this hostel and want everyone to come and join us here. It is in the traditional Japanese style, with sliding paper doors and tatami mat floors to sleep on. There is a garden terrace on the roof where you can sit and look out at Kumamoto and see the castle. This hostel's facilities are tip top and there is even space to make tea on the roof!

This is our room:

Other images from the hostel:

We decided to put posh frocks on and check out Sun Road Shinshigai and the Shimotori Arcade (a long street arcade with shops and food outlets) to find a place for dinner. We were on the cusp of getting lost trying to find our way in the dark but luckily a Japanese man asked us if we needed help and walked out of his way to take us to the arcade.

The restaurant we decided on had no English on the menu so luckily we ended up with cheese on tofu rather than raw horse, which is a speciality in this part of Japan.


We also took the opportunity to try some Sake! It is extremely strong and we found it difficult to drink two small cups of it. Ashton started developing a Sake head roll every time she drank some. Check out the photos:


We had to buy ourselves some tea after that to sober ourselves up a bit. We discovered that it's quite common for tea to come ready powdered in sachets with powdered milk. It took us a little while to work out what the dickens was going on with our teabags but we got there in the end. We went and drank it up on the roof terrace and got talking to a couple of the hostel's other residents- one from America, one from Germany.

All in all, a pretty successful day!

Posted by Ashton and Emma 20:30 Archived in Japan Tagged sun hostel road arcade kumamoto nakashimaya shinshigai shimotori Comments (0)

We're off to Sakurajima

Hiking Boots A-ready! (Well...Converse...)

sunny -25 °C

The early birds caught the worm this morning and we were up and at them by 6:00am. We were up early enough to engage in a fairly disastrous attempt to wash our clothes in the sink. We soaked all of our wash tabs and have to hope they dry out for later usage.
A brief wait at the bus stop to Kagoshima Port allowed Emma to make some acute Kagoshima based observations, namely that there is NO litter ANYWHERE! But also, we can't find any bins to put rubbish in! Go figure.

We took a ride on the Cherry Queen ferry over to Sakurajima to see the active volcano there. We set sail with the wind in our hair and excitement in our bellies.

Luckily for us a kindly gent pointed us in the correct direction for the Sakurajima attractions. We learned on more than one occasion on this trip, that our map reading skills left a little to be desired!

After a brief educational stop in the Sakurajima Information Centre, we headed to the Yogan Nagisa Trail. There were scarcely any people about and it was a peaceful walk beside the picturesque bay, looking across at Kagoshima City. The trail itself was like stepping back into the Jurrasic period: intense heat, black volcanic rocks and cacti looking plants in abundance. This was all pleasant until a hoard of gigantic dragon flies was released upon us. Sure, they weren't going to hurt us but we like our nature in small doses. Flapping like mad, we left the trail after 2km.
On the brink of hysteria and back on the main road, we were passed by a gaggle of Japanese school girls who, despite us looking less than cool, were very excited to ask us where we were from. This sort of ecstatic reaction is probably the closest we're ever going to get to knowing what it's like to be famous.

From here, we managed to pick up a bus that took us to the main observatory points on the island. The air conditioned bus was an oasis in a desert for sweaty walkers like us, who could barely see out of our condensation smeared sunglasses.

The main obeservation point is 330m above sea level and commanded exceptional views of the volcano and the bay. Here's a little sample of 2 amateur photographers snapshots:

On a high (pun intended) from the observatory, we headed back into town. Some minor misinterpretations of the map led us off the beaten track and it took us almost 3X as long to find the Rest Stop. It's fair to say we'd had enough of walking by this point! The restaurant at least was really good fun and we tried out the unconventional ticket machine ordering device, which gave you small pictures of dishes of food and the price. Vegetarian dish dilemma strikes again! That aside, we enjoyed a traditional Japanese dining experience sitting on tatami mats.
For 2 tired travellers, there was nothing better than hitting up the outdoor foot spas overlooking the bay. Relax to the max.

Unofficially, today became 'what's in the vending machine' day. There are about 5 vending machines on every street, mostly with cigarettes and drinks. After the success of a canned cafe latte in the morning, we went on to try out some grape fanta (tasted like hubba bubba) and topped off the day with a 2nd coffee can from the ferry vending machine as a little pick me up. To our surprise, this one came out hot! We approached it with some trepidation but you'll be pleased to know it went down a treat in the end!


Posted by Ashton and Emma 01:47 Archived in Japan Tagged volcano trail sakurajima kagoshima yogan nagisa Comments (0)

Getting to know Kagoshima

Amu Centre, Ferris Wheel and the Shimboya Observatory

sunny -25 °C

An early 8:00am start, the itinerary included: Amu Shopping Centre, Ferris Wheel and the Shimboya Observatory.

We were missing 2 essential items, including an adapter to enable us to charge our electronics from a Japanese socket. A minor oversight meant that we had bought an English-European plug. Unfortunately, we could only find a European-Japanese plug, so all future charges have to be done via the 3 plug pile up. It looks like a health and safety nightmare but we're quite impressed at our own resourcefulness.


Walking into the Amu Shopping Centre is like receiving a sensory overload. There is every kind of shop available: cosmetics, clothes, instrumental shops, music shops, home wear, games arcades, restaurants, a cinema, a waterfall, and a room dedicated to themed photo booths. There is music and lights everywhere and you can barely focus on one thing before you are distracted by the novelty of the next.


Having been distracted by all this hubub for long enough, we made our way to the 6th floor of the shopping centre to hop onto the rooftop ferris wheel. Emma is getting quite the knack of deciphering all the Japanese ticket booths etc. It was such a beautiful view from the wheel and we could see all the sights of the city.


After a shopping/ferris wheel frenzy, we'd worked up an appetite to try our first Japanese restaurant experience. Most of the restaurants have pictures of the food they serve and plastic model displays to show what's on offer. Somehow, although this may seem extremely helpful, we still accidently found ourselves in a pork specialist restaurant. Even with the helpful staff and an English menu, we still weren't 100% sure that Emma's dinner was entirely vegetarian.


There was green tea a-go-go- FREE! A free sesame seed paste appetiser- it looked suspicious but we ate it so as not too seem rude. It was actually quite nice- Emma did a down-in-one with it before she lost her confidence. We received some instruction and some laughs at our use of chopsticks. We are slowly getting the hang of it out of necessity. The whole dining experience was great and unbelievably good value!!!


We moved on and navigated ourselves on the bus to the Shimboya Observation Point which over looked the city and volcano. It's hard to convey how beautiful it was there, so we will just insert a few of our pictures:


Then off back to Kagoshima Central where we treated ourselves to a cheeky Starbucks! We felt a bit naughty but you can't beat those home comforts!

Pit stop at the Family Mart to pick up some dinner and then back to our hostel for the evening for some socialising. We have a really mixed group here, speaking various languages but all communicating in English to different degrees (lucky us!!) This is us outside our hostel:


Posted by Ashton and Emma 02:39 Archived in Japan Tagged shopping centre observatory kagoshima shimboya amu Comments (1)

We've got 21 hours to go...

Travelling to Kagoshima

sunny -25 °C

After months of planning and backpacks packed to the rafters, strictly with essentials you understand (bling, budget sheet and vegetarian sign cards) we hit the road at 6:00am.
The first flight from Gatwick to Milan (1.5 hours) ran smoothly with a bit of reading on Emma's part and a mid morning siesta for Ashton. We made friends with a wonderful Jamaican lady who snored a little and was on her way to Tokyo.
The transfer to the Milan-Tokyo flight (12 hours) began the more eventful leg of our journey. To start with, staff at Milan Airport seemed bemused by our arrival and only let us through after a minor interrogation of the first passenger to grasp why we were there. The language barrier between passengers at the airport also led to Ashton walking in on an Asian lady in the toilet who had misunderstood the door locking instructions; there was equal embarrassment for both parties concerned. Milan Airport is as you might expect, catering for the higher end fashionistas, we felt too shabby to enter the shops but we sniffed at the leather from outside the stores.
Flight two Milan-Tokyo (12 hours) began in a more comfortable setting (more leg room and a TV) but first appearances can be deceptive and it didn't take long for us to get the fidgets...
Lunch came swiftly and we were quite impressed with our food. Breakfast turned out to be more of an oddity, Emma got woken up to a boiled egg and some cold asparagus. There was quite a lot of bread involved with all meals- this led to some bloating which only made our quarters more cramped.
Travelling narcolepsy failed us on this trip and we managed an hour's sleep at most. We resorted in the main to one long movie marathon! It served to entertain and block out the continuous crying of one child on the flight.
Having landed in Tokyo and collected our luggage, we headed for Tokyo Narita Airport Terminal 2. We left the airport for a short bus ride to the other terminal. Walking outside, the heat hit us and it was bright sunshine- we were quite jubilant at this point feeling that the worst was over and we had made it to Japan! Boy were we wrong!
After reaching Terminal 2, we discovered at the Information desk that we were in completely the wrong airport for our flight to Kagoshima. Having spent some time reaching this conclusion, we only had 2 hours till our flight and a 1-1.5 hour bus ride to reach Tokyo Haneda Airport. Having faced a complete lack sleep on the journey so far, I think it's fair to say that we lost our heads a little when we received this information. Not enough to keep a sleepy Emma awake on the bus to Haneda though. After rocking like a nodding dog and in a hallucinogenic dream state, Emma was only startled awake by cracking her head on the bus window.
We ran to check in, to deposit our bags and to our gate and made it with 5 minutes to spare. We seized the chance for a quick toilet break, only to be bamboozled by the high tech, gadget mad toilet. There were more buttons than you could shake a stick at! It took Emma most of the 5 minutes before boarding to work out the flush function.
Flight 3 Tokyo-Kagoshima (1.45 hours)- neither of us could tell you much about this. Apart from a hazy recollection of being offered at drink at some point, we both passed out on that flight.
Bus journey 3 Kagoshima Airport to Kagoshima Chuo Station (45 minutes). We were both mesmerised by the beautiful surroundings here, the clear blue sky allowed the best views of a mountainous backdrop furnished all around with a canopy of trees. We were also pretty thankful that we'd made it here at last.
It's a 5 minute walk from Kagoshima Chuo station to The Little Asia Hostel where we are currently staying. Unfortunately, it took us about an hour to find (and only with the help of a taxi in the end).
The hostel seems friendly and well located, so we were relieved to finally settle in for the evening. Our first food shop has been fairly eye opening to the difficulties with the language barrier. It's pretty much all guess work in terms of the content of our food and how to cook the darned thing! We're enjoying the chancey game of 'what's for dinner tonight' though.

No photos from this part of the journey because as Emma said 'we looked like a disgrace to humanity' for most of the journey. We didn't rock the travellers look very well but who pulls of sweaty, bloated and sleep deprived anyway?

Posted by Ashton and Emma 02:45 Archived in Japan Tagged kagoshima Comments (0)

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