Takayama festival

This morning, I got my things together as I’ll be leaving for the airport this afternoon as it’s my final day in Japan. The town is all in a bustle today not for my leaving, but for their semi annual festival, one of Japan’s largest and most ornate. Throughout the town, you can see huge tall skinny doors like barnyard doors protecting the portable shrines that are tall and slender. Only the lucky get to see the doors open and take a peek of the culturally significant and beautifully adorned carts that hide behind.

Those who don’t get to see this in its preview state, get to see them this morning. Set out around the city in specific areas completely unveiled for viewing, picture taking, and observing. Parade-goers are all excited to see these unique carts, and of course, one picture is not enough.

By around 11 o’clock, a girl came over the intercom initiating the parade, and Taiko drums began to sound. By this point, I had already seen them up close and personal, and was ready for lunch :) My lunch from the previous day did not set well with me, and for the first time in my life, I have experienced indigestion. The funny thing about Japanese food, is while it can be quite healthy, it can also be quite disgustingly fatty, where meats are so marbled, that you take a bite and more than 80% of the chewing is through fat. Trying to demurely spit out fat when only given a single serviette makes for quite an embarrassing aftermath of spat out fat, but alas, I must not have spat out enough, because I paid for it the whole next day, almost feeling nauseated, yet hungry. I thought, how can I already be getting ill this early on my trip, and in one of the most sanitary of all places?

After lunch, I felt uncomfortable again, and figured I wasn’t going to be good walking around watching this festival prance around everywhere, so I headed to take an earlier train out of Takayama and headed for my little capsule at the airport to relax, rest, and be ready for my flight the next day to China.


This morning, I joined a tour bus that took us to Shirakawago, a village that is a UNESCO heritage protected site. It is a village filled with ‘Gassho Style’ houses where they used this grassy material to create the roof of the houses in really sharp inclines so snow wouldn’t accumulate. The tour bus drove us through the hills and tunnels and we started to see the mountains of the Alps behind the landscape. They were still capped with snow! It’s been so cold here however, so I’m not surprised!

After our drive and short explanation, we were let out at the village where we could walk through and actually go in one of the houses to see how the structure was from the inside. We met the owner, who was a 5th generation owner of the house, and in the living area, there was tea for everyone. It was interesting to see how the structure was built, though the smoke accumulation at the upper floors was really odd. It wasn’t unbearable, but definitely not a place that would be usable.

I walked around with a guy named Eduardo who was from Peru but currently living in France. We had a good talk about our own journeys and enjoyed chatting. After a couple of hours at the site, we got back on the bus and headed back to Takayama. I kept a low key afternoon after a lunch with Hida Beef, and was stuffed so full that I had to come back and take a nap.



I left Ise in the morning and took the train headed for Nagoya to change up to the local line up to Takayama. Once I got to Nagoya, and picked up a sandwich for my next train, so many people started to pack in so I was glad I had reserved a seat.

Next to me and really surrounding me, was a group of Thai people who have come over on their vacation. It was interesting, because the girl that sat next to me was single, traveling with 3 couples. Through our talk, I learned a lot of interesting things about her and her trips to Japan, which always included Takayama. She said something that I thought was interesting, specifically for her self awareness in being surrounded by couples, she was absolutely not looking for a husband, and was very content in a life that can be fulfilled by her own being. While we were the same age, I was impressed by her articulation in English, highly accented, but the words showed so much thought and meaning behind them, that I was impressed.

She and her group made me remember how fun Thai people are, and I instantly got excited about being able to return to Thailand in the next few weeks.

After we arrived to Takayama, we went our separate ways, but Takayama is quite small, so we ran into each other a couple of times.



After walking around the village of Takayama, I was surprised that it was as big as it is. I’m not going to call it a village. But actually a town. The town part of the area had a lot of old houses that still lined a street selling foods and goods to the town. I had read that Takayama wasn’t as touristy as other places in Japan, but I’m sad to report either the timing of me being here, or the misinformation that may be out there about Takayama, is this little town is very touristy.

In the evening, I checked out Tripadvisor to see what restaurants were around the town, and I found the oddest thing—a #3 highly rated restaurant that was Mexican! Most people know my rare disinterest in this cuisine, but I had to see what this ‘Japanese Mexican’ food was all about. Plus it was literally a few blocks away and I was able to get there quickly.

I walked in, and a little Japanese man was manning the grill and I had a seat at the counter. We soon started chatting and he was telling me his story of his interest in Latin America and the Mexican culture. Back when he and his wife first started their lives together, they tried to have children and couldn’t. So they opted to take an opportunity to go to Mexico for him to study the cuisine, and start creating the plans for a restaurant back in Japan.

During his time in Mexico, he said he went to Guadalajara and would take his notebook, draw pictures of the dishes, watch how they cooked, and did everything by hand note wise. He took his notes, impressions, and thoughts about how to recreate a sense of Mexican food within the confines of produce or ingredients that are found in Japan.

It was a fun dinner, and again, I love these random meetings and listening to stories of people and their journeys through their own lives.

Day in Kagoshima


Today after a good rest, I was able to slowly venture out of the hotel. After my recent purchase of the antique box and Kabuto, I took the box and walked it to the post office where I prepped it for its long journey back to Austin, Texas. I have now added yet another story to the Kabutos apprarent long history, and while I’m still curious of the previous ones, I bet it had never imagined its placement on American soil, much less in a townhome in Texas.

After leaving the box at its final Japanese resting place, I continued walking over to the port. At an intersection, I saw two other foreigners that looked like they were heading for the same ferry, so I started up a conversation. They were Erna and Turko from Finland, a couple who had been traveling around Japan for a couple of weeks. They are from Tampere, where I had visited back in 2002 which surprised them, and we headed onto the terminal together to start our trip across the bay to the grand volcano island of Sakurajima.

The boat ride was short, and when we disembarked, we were quickly moved to the Island View bus which would take you around the island at the stops to see the panoramic views from the island back towards Kagoshima. Several of the stops also told history about the volcano and its activity through the past century and beyond. Sakurajima is one of the most active and most observed volcanoes in the world, and is made up of 2 actual cones, one to the north and one to the south. The south cone is the one where smoke continuously escapes. While we were able to see the smoke rising, we felt nothing, smelled nothing, and heard nothing from the silent ticking bomb. Apparently it becomes more active in the summer months where the earth releases from contraction of the winter months.

After the tour around the island and the boat ride back to Kagoshima, we bid farewell to one another and I continued walking back towards the hotel to find lunch. I then continued onto the central train station to secure my tickets for my journey the next day to Ise, which will be a long train journey from Japan’s most southern tip.

While at the station, I found my way to my most favorite electronics store, Bikku Kamera which has all the latest electronics from home goods, ipods, battery backups, tvs, and everything more that you can imagine. I scored some of Sony’s newest earbuds that sound incredible, and not available in the US J


Atop the central station is a ferris wheel. While I’m not a huge fan of these as they are slow moving and not super interesting, the panoramic view that is offered from being this high up was something I figured I should see. Sakurajima towers over Kagoshima, and despite high rise buildings obscuring its view from usual city streets, crossing roads and holes in the skyline always offer a glimpse of the monstrous mountain behind. This ferris wheel was able to take me above the buildings to look at the beast straight on. And believe me, I would not want to wake that beast.


After a full day of walking and exploring, I went back to the hotel to do a workout and stretching for my next day on the train. I spoke with the gym people which was fun, and got a great recommendation for a place for dinner. After my workout, I went out to find the dinner venue and successfully scored a table for myself and had an incredible meal fit for a king.

Day in Nagasaki

Our last day together, and last day in Nagasaki, started out with a ride on the street car down to Glover house. Nagasaki has a really interesting history, not only for the bad that happened here, but the beginnings of the opening of Japan to western culture and knowledge. Mr Glover came to Japan at the age of 21 and started setting up companies and took advantage of the opening of Japan to create businesses and wealth. Along with him came other westerners who created this little perch of a settlement that has the oldest western home in Japan still standing.

After spending a while walking around the gardens and houses, we walked around more to other shrines and finally to ‘MeganeBashi’, a bridge that with the reflection in the water, looks like a pair of bifocals. We had another nice Sashimi lunch of raw fish, and continued walking around the town.to

20140409-090601.jpgAt the end of our walking around, we found a small street with shops, so we started to look around at things. This was the real Japan that I was wanting to get something from, off the beaten path, but things available for festivals such as dolls, decorations for various holidays and such. I found a really cool drum, but it was a little big for what I pictured for an item in my bookshelf. We then came across a shop with an old man inside who at first seemed not very energetic, but when I started speaking in Japanese asking questions about things, he jumped at the opportunity to speak to me.

Since he was a young man, he’s participated in the Nagasaki Glee club, a quartet of 4 men, and absolutely loves musicals. So much so that at the ripe old age of 79, he is still planning yet another trip to New York (after his trip somewhat recently to see Phantom of the Opera) hopefully soon.

All the items in the shop were hundreds of dollars, so definitely out of the range of what I was looking for, and a bit too nice as well. However, when I got to the back of the store, there was this cute little stand that held a beautiful robe for the traditional boy’s day celebration. The price tag was $30, so I asked if that was just the stand, but it was the entire set. It was beautiful, so I ended up getting it.

We continued our walk, and found a total hole in the wall antique shop that was so narrow, I had to literally back up without turning around to retrieve myself from the items. There were all sorts of things from pottery, to clocks, to fabrics. However, on the bottom of this little stand, sat an old steel Kabuto hat, shapely and the perfect size of what I’d been looking for. The gold wings that shoot straight up from the center of the hate had a patina of sorts on it, and the tattered orange cords and tassels were worn and ragged. But it was perfect. I told myself before I went on this trip, that I should not hesitate if I see something that I would love to showcase at home, and this is when that came in handy.

Thinking how I would send this home, I asked if she had a box for something like that to ship. She didn’t really have anything, but coincidently, sitting literally beside it was an old box with Japanese characters reading, ‘Official documents Box.’ It was a perfectly wooden box with a latch, old and ragged, but very cool and sturdy. We put the Kabuto inside, and it was a perfect fit for being able to ship home, along with anything else I want to ship in the next day or so.

After the purchase, we carried it back to the hotel where I got my backpack and we were ready to part ways. Shoko’s plane leaves tonight, and I’m making my way back down the island to Kagoshima to see Mt. Sakurajima, the volcano at the very bottom of Japan. Nagasaki was a really beautiful seaside town with hills, history, and interesting mix of western an eastern architecture, and definitely worth a visit if you’re ever in Kyushu.



Atomic bomb museum of Nagasaki

We left Hakata in the morning to catch our train to Nagasaki. The train ride was fairly short with great oceanside scenery. I wrote my blog entries along the way while Shoko fell asleep with the vibrations of the rail car. We arrived in Nagasaki just in time for lunch, and went to the hotel to check in and leave our bags. We asked for a suggestion of something local to eat, and from the recommendation of the hotel staff, we went down the street and had a good lunch. After lunch, we took the street car towards the Atomic Bomb Museum, and got started. The museum was really well done with a tasteful, matter-of-fact description of events, how the bomb was created, how it was deployed, the story of that fateful day and the aftermath of just what happened in 1-3 seconds of the bomb detonating. Moreover, seeing the pictures of the decimation of the entire area was incredible to think it could all happen in an instant, and for absolutely no gain.

Though most of the images were really moving, upon exiting about 2.5 hours later, I found myself completely struck with sadness at a picture of a young boy who had his younger brother strapped to his back like a backpack. The boy stood emotionless, but strong and with might, as it to about to salute. After reading the explanation of the photograph, it showed that he was there bringing his baby brother, completely lifeless (not asleep) to be burned with the other bodies of those lost during the explosion. It also read that during the cremation of the brother, that the little boy bit his lip so hard that blood was seen. To think of the horrors that so many generations before ours have seen, heard, and experienced really is incredible to think of how sterile and ‘soft’ our lives our with all our conveniences. I think one thing that can be learned from traveling, is the reality check of we all have a story. No one’s story is more important than someone else’s per se, but if you’re willing to listen, everyone has a story to tell—and usually, they’re pretty interesting. Our evening ended while walking through the Peace park and making our way back to the hotel to drop our bags and head out for dinner. We found a street that had some restaurants, so decided to stop at one called ‘Isshin’. The inside was loud, and the woman came to us saying they were full, unless we wanted to sit at the counter. Again, another perfect opportunity to meet people around you :)


A man to the left moved down to open up even more space for Shoko and me. As soon as he saw Shoko and I chatting about what to eat, he interjected complimenting my Japanese and continued on giving us recommendations of what people of Nagasaki eat. About two hours later, we were all taking pictures together with Mr Yashima, and knew about his family, his career (which he just retired from as well in the financial industry), the owner of the sushi restaurant, and the fun fact that Mr Yashima comes to this restaurant weekly. Well, every day that is divisible by 7 to be exact. IE: 7, 14, 21, 28. Mr Yashima also now has pictures of us, and SushiGuru is now known even more with new customers from our fun dinner that ended up being a great end to a full day in Nagasaki.



Kumamoto Castle

20140407-082436.jpgOur day in Kumamoto started out at the hotel where we got to the bus to head for Kumamoto Castle. It was only a short ride until we made it to the bottom of the castle grounds. When we started to walk through the parking lot towards the entrance, we saw a newly weds in complete traditional garb of kimonos and Katsura, to be photographed in front of the majestic castle in the background.

We then entered through the gate. The air was a little cool, but patches of sun peeked through giving a rush of warmth. Wind would pick up and blow cherry blossoms off the trees to their resting place in patches on the ground. The light pink color looked like splotches of water color in a picturesque setting of the castle grounds.

Kumamoto castle is a very impressive structure. It’s strength and dominance can be easily felt simply by looking at the stone curved walls that stretch upward to the crisp white color of the actual wall part of the castle. I don’t know why, but the architecture of the Japanese castles are so awesome, that by looking at them, you can be instantly transported back into time where Shoguns ran the show.

20140410-175331.jpgWalking around the castle grounds, we found our way into various buildings, taking off our shoes each time we entered a building. We saw amazing state rooms which were laden in traditional tatami mats that stretched for what looked like a football field, with gold embellished artwork as the background setting. The rooms were spotless, and oozed for formality.



After visiting and reading through the history of Kumamoto castle, we went outside to enjoy a picnic bento box lunch on the castle grounds. Shoko and I both noticed how ‘lax’ the rules were at this site. Usually, where there’s grass, you cannot sit. Where there’s a historical site, you cannot freely roam. Where there’s historical artifacts, you cannot touch. We were very much surprised that what was turning out to be a beautiful sunny day, we could sit on the grounds of the castle with the most incredible surroundings, enjoying a peaceful yet majestic day in a park watching people slowly roam the internal castle grounds like sheep grazing.

We then left the castle and walked around more areas of Kumamoto and researched a restaurant where we could try one of Kumamoto’s delicacies—Basashi—horse meat served raw like sashimi. After a trek back to the hotel to drop our things, we started a small walk to our destination of Mutsu Go Ro. Reading through all the signs of restaurant names is exhausting because they’re everywhere, and I’m decoding each one like morse code. Pachinko, nope, not there. Now selling socks and shoes, nope not there. Motsu SAN ro, darnit, was a close call, but nope.

We found the sign for the restaurant and went down into the basement to see what awaited us. Luckily it was not a long wait and we were seated at the counter within minutes. We were also quite hungry, so selecting a ‘Moriawase’ or chef’s choice was an easy way to go.

Basashi is something that you shouldn’t really think about to enjoy. While hay is for horses, it seems as though Basashi is for Kumamotoans, and it’s available literally at all restaurants. From it’s overall look, you wouldn’t really be sure of what you’re eating. It could pass as a fish, though a little darker red than usual.

Before this experience, I thought I had had horse before, but what I remember was cooked, and a little tough, which is what you would imagine from a muscular being such as a horse. But after dipping this little piece of meat into the sauce, and tasting the delicate softness of the meat, I was shocked that I found it as delicious as I did. While I’m still bad with organ eating (like livers, giblets and the like), I suppose I wouldn’t like the thought of Basashi. But after reaching for the last slice, I noticed I had eaten the majority of the plate J

After our dinner, we made our way back to the hotel and called it a night and got ready for a trip to Hakata the next day.



Kurokawa to Mount Aso to Takachiho

The morning started after feeling so refreshed after a great night’s sleep. We decided to have one last bath at the inn, and this time, I went to the ‘family bath’, which again, was a private little bath that only I occupied. It was so nice to bathe and then sit in the warm water. After enjoying a peaceful morning soak, I headed back to the room to meet up with Shoko so we could go down to breakfast.

Again, a gourmet meal awaited us, and we enjoyed every bite. Mr Iwaki was there with his wife, and we said hello. After breakfast, we packed up our things and headed for the car, where we had happened to park next to Mr Iwaki. We took some pictures together and bid farewell and congratulations to his retirement, and were on our way to Mt Aso.

During our drive, we noticed it getting colder and colder. The rain was slight, but as we climbed the mountain, the rain started looking more like frozen rain. After a turn, we were shocked to see snow covered grass mocking us as we continued driving up the mountain thinking that we’d be able to get out and climb to see the Volcano.

Unfortunately, the weather was so freezing cold, that it really made my mood change as to even going to the volcano anymore! We did stop at a pedestrian bridge that was absolutely freezing with rain. We walked across fighting the strong winds as we crossed over a humongous gorge. I’m all up for adventure, but when the adventure deals with rain and cold, count me out L

We made it across, and the only thing I could think about was, oh my gosh, we have to go all the way back across to the car again. After making it back across, we found a vending machine. Japan has a great idea with their vending machines, and several drinks are served hot. So, we got some warm drinks and were able to feel our hands again.

We continued on and stopped at this little building that said it was open. It was perched on a hill, and looked like nothing special at all. As our little Cube bumped through the muddy driveway up the hill, we parked beside just one other car curious as to what we would find inside. From the outside, it was a two story looking house, ugly yellow, stale looking. When we walked in, we were so surprised by how chic and modern the interior was. Complete with a little fire stove in the middle, the open floor plan was airy and modern. The owner greeted us, and was dressed like he’d come from fashion forward Tokyo just to serve us lunch. After warming up by the stove, we started talking to the group that was already there, who happened to be showing a guest from Berlin around Kyushu. The German girl wouldn’t even make eye contact with me, but didn’t seem like she was able to speak Japanese enough to contribute to the conversation, so I continued simply with everyone else. Shoko and I always laugh because of our situation and wondering what people think. I’m the foreigner, and she’s left her husband at home to tour Kyushu with a friend she had in San Francisco. We always laugh and play a fake conversation telling everyone our story after they’ve left and we’re alone.

After lunch we continued our way towards Takachiho. There is a traditional dance put on at 8pm that we wanted to see. It’s a folk tale about the creation of Japan through myth. When we arrived at our hotel, we checked in, and I was instantly disappointed that it was a room that had been smoked in. Being in Japan, I’m actually surprised I haven’t had to deal with smoke as much as I have.. it’s only been once or twice that I’ve smelled it, and unfortunately, the hotel room smelled of it. But, rooms weren’t really available here so we put our stuff down and got a bite to eat.


After a surprisingly delicious dinner of Karaage chicken battered so lightly that it was soft and delicious, we made our way to Takachiho Shrine to get seated for the traditional story. There were 3 skits done with masked characters each acting out the story of when Amaterasu, the god of light hid herself in a cave to punish her brother for destroying crops, hiding the world from her light in eternal darkness. The gods came together to make noise so much to make her think she was missing out. Once she peeked out of the cave, the other god took the stones that had closed her in and threw them far away (actually to another prefecture and island) so as to never allow her to hide her light again. Then came the day and night balance again. It was a fun dance to watch as I’d never really known much about Japanese mythology.


Kurosawa Onsen

This morning, I got my stuff together and headed for the train station after a ‘Viking’ Breakfast, which was a huge spread of all sorts of breakfast foods. The hotel was great, and the food was the cherry on top of a nice stay. It was just a few minutes walk from the station, so it was easy to get to the station to head down to Kumamoto to meet up with Shoko.

After riding the Shinkansen for a short time, I texted Shoko to get her ETA. I’d taken an earlier train since I was up anyway, and arrived literally as she was arriving as well. We met at Mr. Donuts, and of course, we had to get some before we went to pick up our Rent a car. Luckily, it was right next to the station and we were able to walk directly to the place and pick up our small sized car. It turned out to be a Cube, which is actually quite big. Obviously, in Japan, the more compact the better, as they tend to drive in small places. After a quick review on how to drive this car, we started out onto the roads of Kumamoto and headed toward Kurokawa Onsen.

20140407-220923.jpgAfter about 2 hours of driving, we arrived in a little village, and it began getting colder and started drizzling rain. This town was literally out of a fairy tale book with winding narrow roads, old Japanese architecture, and an air of gray throughout the entire walkable village. Barely squeezing through these winding roads, we weaved our way to literally the last inn of the town and found Fujiya, a beautiful old Ryokan (traditional Japanese Inn) that was kindly awaiting our arrival. We left our bags after being formally greeted by the Inn keeper, and went out to get some lunch.

A town this small you would think would have at least some lunch spots, but we were surprised to find most of the places that showed signs of food were closed for the day–which was fine too, as it made this sleepy little village feel even more like an old village of days before. We finally happened upon a spot that was serving lunch, and we had a nice traditional lunch. By this time we got warm and sleepy and went back to the inn to enjoy the natural hot springs.

The inn was absolutely amazing. After returning, we were shown our rooms. Each room was named after the character for a day of the week. Moon, Fire, Water, Tree, Gold, Earth, and Sun. We were in the ‘Earth, or Saturday) room. Sliding open the door to our foyer, we took off our slippers onto traditional tatami mats. There’s nothing like the smell of a room covered in Tatami, it’s got an earthy yet fresh scent.

20140407-221107.jpgThe room was completely traditional Japanese style with a table on the floor, chairs with no legs, but the window was cracked open to let the noise of the rain water falling creep in. The fresh cool air with hints of sulfur filled the room as we were pleased to finally relax a bit. After unpacking a little bit, we went to check out the Onsen baths that were available for us to use.

The baths looked like a Hollywood set they were so traditional. Walking into the men’s bath, was a normal cubby system to put your clothes in, along with rows of sinks for you to do any toiletry items. Then through a sliding door, you time traveled into a stone laden floor with dripping water and fog that filled the air that was open to the outside. To the left were little stools for you to sit on to bathe yourself before entering the bath. Sitting on the little stool, I bathed myself in my own completely private onsen, as no one else was there. After bathing, I explored a little by putting my hands into a stone barrel like structure that had a sign telling you to pour this water over your feet when finished with the bath. It was ice cold.

I then put my hands into the lower bath that was like a small lap pool. It was hot, but not too hot to be able to enjoy by simply wading and sitting. I then saw a little ewok like door that led outside. So, completely naked, I crouched over and fit through the small door and I found myself outside looking at the creek that was flowing below. The air was crisp but I found another little door with a sign above reading the characters for ‘Sauna’. I tried to open the door, but it was stuck, the little latch that closes the door was a little jammed. So I went back into the cubby area, grabbed my key, and used the key to push open the latch to release the door. Inside was a personal sized sauna room, with a ceiling high enough only to be sitting up right in. I immediately had a frightening thought. What if this door closed, and I was locked inside. So I ensured that the door didn’t close, which lost the meaning of the sauna, and gave up to head back into the true onsen part of the bathroom.
Now that I had explored, I felt I could relax in the water. The womens and mens room were basically touching, and I heard a noise, I shouted over to see if Shoko was enjoying the bath, and she was. We chatted back and forth for a little bit, until we both succumbed to the power of a hot bath relaxing our muscles, including our mouths.

After some time passed, I heard a noise of someone else coming into the bath. Drats, I thought. I wanted this to myself. A little old man in his 50’s/60’s bathed and left out the little ewok door. I was impressed he was able to fit through because it really was a small door. After he returned, his face appeared and he joined me in the bath. I smiled and informed him to be careful with the sauna door, because it was stuck. He said he wasn’t even able to get it open, so I told him how I did. Then he realized that he was speaking to a foreigner, and we started chatting about why I speak Japanese and why I was in Japan.

Mr. Iwaki was here with his wife, to celebrate his retirement. Though they lived nearby, they didn’t come to Kurokawa Onsen often. He had worked for over 30 years in various retirement homes, and had actually stopped work for a short time before getting bored and wanting to return to doing something. Finally, he decided to retire, and just 3 days ago, had been his last day at work. Mr. Iwaki and his wife were staying in ‘Wood, or Thursday’ which happened to be the room right next to ours. He seemed extremely interested in our conversation, yet a little reserved, as if to be skeptical as to why I was able to speak so well. After another good 15 minutes or so, he peered out the side of the bath across the creek to a little bath house and said, I think it would be fun to go check out that bath. Won’t you join?

So we gathered our things, put our yukatas on, and got umbrellas to walk over to explore various Onsens. Shoko was just finishing as well, so she joined us to the first one. The rain was dripping consistently now and cool air was a welcomed feeling after warming up from the hot spring. We weaved our way up to a bath and within minutes, were derobed and wading in the hot springs in the outside like little monkeys. Mr Iwaki and I continued our conversation, and we both put our washcloths on our heads while sitting in the smoking hot spring.

He then said, ok let’s head out for the next one, and we dried off, and donned our yukatas again, and off we were to another hot spring. I think this is probably Japan’s version of ‘Bar Hopping’. As we hopped to the next hot spring, it was a mixed bath, which was unusual, but again, within minutes we derobed and were wading in a hot spring. This time, there were about 4 other foreigners including a woman who were all enjoying the hot water in the cool, rainy outside. Again, we continued talking about things from the Ukrainian situation, to the Malaysian airlines disappearance, to basically any topic that came to our minds.

Again, he was ready to see the next and next. Our last bath was at one that included caves. It was cool, because after you entered, you walked through a cave, and inside the cave had the hot water with little coves that you could sit in. At this point, I had had enough of the hot water, though I don’t even remember pruning up at all. Mainly, I’d just gotten tired of drying off, putting on the robe, then taking the robe off and doing the same thing all over again—haha.

Finally, we were done, and the time was close to dinner, so we headed back to Fujiya to make it on time for our dinner serving. Shoko was in the room in her robe enjoying the scenery from the window that had paper sliding doors. It was truly an amazing place.

20140407-221013.jpgWe then went downstairs in our robes and enjoyed a traditional Japanese feast. Beautifully arranged, every dish had a little container, and the flavors varied from sweet to salty to savory to sweet again. I had no idea really what I was eating, but each bite was so delicious. After enjoying our meal for an hour or so, we went back to the room and watched some tv while we chatted about the next day’s plan.

Our futons had been placed out during our dinner, so we were able to simply lie down and go to bed. What I didn’t know before laying my head down, was that what would feel like years later, one of the best sleeps I’ve ever had was about to be had.

Train to Hakata

Today I started my journey heading for Hakata and packing up my backpack with my newly acquired Muji Travel supplies. The one thing Japan is great at is individually organizing things, whether it be individually wrapped snacks, or a box of cookies with each one individually wrapped, I found every little container, packing item, and organizer that I could possibly want to help organize my backpack.

After packing up and leaving the apartment, I headed for Shinagawa to exchange my JR Pass and validate it so I can start using it. I bought a 14 day pass which will be great to not have to think about buying individual train tickets. Though, it will be helpful that I can actually reserve seats on longer trips, such as today’s trip down to Kyushu, the south island.

I made it to the train station about an hour earlier than I thought I would as I woke up earlier too. Great thing about this is, of course like clockwork, the Japanese Shinkansen and train system is quite efficient, and I was able to catch the same thing an hour earlier. Once I boarded, I was a little disappointed to see that my seat was next to someone, so I sat on the empty row to eat my Bento lunch box. After eating, I knew that I’d be able to see Mount Fuji from the opposite side of the train (where my reserved seat was), so while the man got up to use the bathroom, I headed over to organize my seat and get my cameras out and such so I could be ready to see Mt Fuji.

Little did I know, that this old man traveling solo reading a book, would soon be a great conversationalist and spend the next hour and half talking with me about his life, his own journey around the world in the army on a ship, his career as an architect for the army, and his current trip going to a funeral.

He was a man probably in his fifties, but highly energetic and smelled of smoke. Not so much that I had to move, but definitely enough to make me aware. Amazingly, coming from Osaka originally, his enunciation was pleasingly clear, and it made for our long conversation on be interrupted twice for me to ask for him to repeat something. I think the biggest thing I’ll miss after leaving Japan, is the ability to interact, communicate, and seemingly be a part of the culture of any other place, which is a shame, but especially unique in my situation with Japan. My time here so far only reignites my love of being here, and I know I will continue venturing to Japan for many many more years to come.

After a long day of traveling down the entire island of Honshu, I arrived at Hakata, Fukuoka. I made my first reservation by phone in Japan, for a hotel last night that I found rated #1 on Trip Advisor. I called after the online reservation system failed to let me reserve a room, so I was left only with the option of calling the hotel directly. I was surprised, never having called to make a reservation or anything before, that I was able to get through the entire conversation with no trouble at all. I love it. :)

The hotel was extremely modern and chic, and the rooms are just big enough for a double bed and a little area about 4 feet wide next to the bed. It’s all you need for simply staying in a hotel. I wish more places offered this type of nice accommodation, cheaply. There’s even an onsen on the first floor! After settling in a bit, I headed out for a long walk around the city, and wandered down the streets that wound strategically around a canal. The little alley ways were filled with small stalls offering all sorts of dining options, even little stalls that were so temporary, that if a gust of wind came, I don’t know how it would survive. After about an hour, I decided I’d deserved a meal, and went to find a place that had been recommended by the hotel for Yakitori. It was lively, but walking in was like walking into a smoke room in an airport (so I imagine), and I couldn’t even start to think if I could possibly manage this during dinner. So I opted to go to another restaurant just the same block, but had a group of girls instead.

I sat at the bar facing the two cooks, Hiro and ?. They are both 29, and have just started the restaurant in January as their first venture together. We talked the entire evening about what I was doing in Japan, what they were doing with their restaurant, and by the end, they wanted to connect with me on Facebook :) I tell you, this new way of traveling where you have technology and connections at your fingertips is definitely a new way to travel. I haven’t quite decided which way was better–being completely isolated and struggling nonstop to maneuver through unknown cities, the frustrations of walking in circles with no maps, or walking directly to a store you’d found was rated well on trip advisor, and being able to maintain connections with anyone you happen to meet. Honestly, for this long term of travel, I can only think that the former (with tech) is going to be a godsend when I’m wanting to share something with a voice, if I find myself ever lonely during the trip. Japan has been an interesting ‘ease’ into this round the world trip, as I’m definitely not isolated due to no language barrier, but it’s foreign enough to be quite the adventure anyway. After Japan, I’ll go from reading and speaking and hearing, to only reading about 40% and guessing what the Chinese are trying to say with their way of using the characters. Should be interesting. By the time I get to Thailand, I’ll be basically blind and deaf to the language–which leads to the real feeling of travel!

After arriving in Hakata, I decided to head out for a walk around the town. It was getting a little cold so I didn’t want to really go too far, but the walk was nice, and I saw a lot of flowers along the way. After passing through various winding streets of little restaurants, I found a place that looked fairly open, and went inside to sit at the bar. To everyone’s surprise, it was great fun to chat with the owners who were both 29 years old and had just opened the restaurant just a few months earlier. I had a delicious salad, and then meat on a skewer, and some French fries. All were great.

It was a fun experience to be there and talk with everyone and by the end, we exchanged business cards and bid each other farewell. I found my way to the hotel and headed down to the Onsen to have a bath and relax before a well deserved rest.