Me: “I won’t be online in a while, we’re renting a 9-man van and going on a 12 hour road trip down to Kyushu for the weekend”
Brother John: “Cool. Don’t get eaten by any bears.”
Me: “Heh ok. I’m sure it’ll be all right, I hear bears here are small. haha”
John: “I had a dream you got eaten by a bear though.”
John: “Ya, just don’t sleep under a tree alone. That’s how it got you.”
Me: “…I’ll keep that in mind”
Armed with my new life saving knowledge and over-bear-ing fate, I hopped into a cargo van that had been outfitted with 2 benches to accommodate a total of 9 people. With me were Charity, Ross, Matt, 2 Ericas, Jake, Jon and Noboru from Australia, Scotland, England, Canada and America respectively. Jon outfited a Japanese sign to tape on the side of the van; literally translated: “Kyushu going! 20 heisei year” (the Japanese calendar uses Emperor’s names as the years, it is currently the 20th year of Heisei). That sign basically means Kyushu Road Trip 2008. Japan is broken up into 4 main islands and the furthest one to the southwest is Kyushu.
After everyone got off work Friday we met up in Matsumoto to load up the van. We would be driving all night, so we got some snacks and stuff including alcohol for the trip. It’s something of a novelty for me to drink in a vehicle, something entirely legal in Japan so I wanted to give it a try. I found out the next day though that sitting stagnant for hours with alcohol in your body is really bad for you as I found out with the heartburn and other cramps that coincided with being folded into a box shape for hours on end. This cargo van and its removable benches weren’t really built for this kind of action, especially from people as tall as me; my knees are still a bit sore today.
The space for cargo was fantastic though, and it didn’t take much uncomfortable squirming before longing eyes stared into the back carrying big foam futons for the camping. A system was quickly developed where people could take turns crawling in the back and laying down, providing much appreciated relief as the 2 left on the bench could stretch, even if just a little bit. This went on all through the night as we got to Beppu around 8 in the morning and paid over $200 on the road toll (the guy working there had a priceless expression when he saw the total).
Beppu is one of the larger tourist draws of Kyushu, sporting many vents from a nearby volcano. I got my first good whiff of sulfur coming off that expressway; it’s a mixture of pickled and rotten eggs. The city sure looked pretty though with all the smoke rising in different places. After a quick bite, we wanted to go to an onsen (spa/public bath) to freshen up, as the van was a bit funky. We went to Takegawara Spa, a place where they bury you up to the face in hot sand; it was very relaxing. I felt sorry for the workers though, as they were sweating quite a bit over this hot patch of sand with their shovels in hand to bury you. I said “this feels great” in Japanese only to get a sad, silent response from the tired, sweating worker, and then I felt bad. It was a great experience though, even if that sand was hard to wash off later.
We explored the area, seeing things like the nearby beach on the Ocean and a shopping district with numerous seedy venues easily accessible. One of these venues that caught my attention was branded “Playstation” with large vivid paintings of video game characters. My limited translation ability picked out you could view various levels of cosplay, up to the “super cosplay” package or whatever which was $300 for 50 minutes. My curiosity is still running wild here as nobody had any ideas what it could be, I wonder if google can help me out later. We all figured if you are paying that much you are getting more than a ‘show’… perhaps Vegas style.
One of the town’s big draws were these natural vents they called Hell in Japanese. There were at least seven prominent areas to visit ranging from boiling grey mud, to a 200-meter deep pool that was cooking hard-boiled eggs, to gassy vents, to dark red swampy stuff and a real life geyser. In the summer there were pictures of children standing on the monstrous lilly-pads that grow near these infernos. After however many Bugs Bunny cartoons I was beginning to think geysers weren’t even real. I guess this one is really famous because it blows quite frequently; once every 25 minutes shooting boiling water 20 meters in the air, and it lasts about 5 minutes. Every event had a lot of steam rising off, and many danger signs and barriers warning to the effect on how things were always around 90 degrees Celsius.
It was also explained on some signs how these hot springs were great for exotic wildlife to thrive, creating an excuse to shoehorn in a Zoo with things I hadn’t seen before like a Hippo and Flamingos, and other things Japan doesn’t even have like crocodiles. It’s great being with people of all different backgrounds too as Erica from Mississippi would tell stories of how these crocodiles regularly eat joggers, and Charity from Australia would talk about how she’s knifed and gutted wild pigs before.
Of course with the different backgrounds come the different accents, and I think my hearing may be rather bad.
Matt (British): “Alright we can head to this city’s volcano, Aso”
Me: “Why is it called asshole?”
Matt: “It has the biggest rim” (perhaps not hearing me)
Me: “Um… I guess that makes sense…?” and left it at that.
I made many blunders during the trip, maybe the most humorous being when Matt said “I went to San Francisco” and I said, “You went to Samurai Disco?” It sure sounded cool.
In the end (no pun intended) we never went to Mount Aso, instead opting to drive to a camp site and start setting up our tents while it was still light out. The tourist help shop we visited said we were crazy to want to go camping before July, saying everything was closed. So to get information we reworded our questions, which got us results. “If it was July, where would we go?”
Of course when we got there, there were many people and many tents, not closed at all. When Japanese people camp, they gets very elaborate as there were pretty sophisticated systems set up, like different kinds of burners and whatnot. As the sun was setting I was treated to a spectacular sight: there were so many jumping fish. Back home you maybe heard a ‘plop’ or whatever and never really see the fish. Here, fish were jumping quite often I even got a picture or two of them a half meter out of water just off the beach.
It seemed many people left at sunset; I suppose it did get a bit on the cold side. We had a roaring fire on the beach though and bought a $20 BBQ. We used driftwood along the coast as fuel and had a great time listening to the ocean and watching the fire. We had all kinds of different meats and veggies and wine. I was rather exhausted from a night of mostly non-sleeping so I was in bed by 10 unfortunately. Before going to bed though, the tide went out pretty far, so I went out for a quick walk to see it. This was new to me and very cool.
I had a better view in the morning though (Sunday), and there were many people out on the exposed mud digging for clams or whatever they were doing. Fascinating stuff for someone like me, I definitely want to live near the Ocean for a while some day.
We packed our stuff and went for Onsen again. We went somewhere more modern this time and I bought eggs to cook while I was bathing. It was cool carrying around the bag with me; the desk lady said they would be cooked in 15 minutes. I have a suspicion the eggs were hardboiled already as I’m not sure the water was hot enough to boil an egg. Either way it was tasty, even if the egg was odd. Perhaps it was free ranged? The ‘white’ of the egg was a maroon colour. Also at this Onsen were those steam boxes you sit inside that I also had also only seen in cartoons before. It was neat I guess, if not a little hard to breath at times with all the steam coming up around your neck.
We headed out for Fukuoka this time, a rather large city to the North. We were more interested in nice beaches as last night’s rocky coast and cool waters left us longing. During our random driving we accidentally found a rather popular tourist attraction. Two large “married” rocks were out in the ocean where you could watch the sun rise (or sun set?) between them. It was a beautiful site so we stuck around and snapped some pictures.
We set up tent a little further down the coast and got settled for the night near a beautiful golf course on the mountains lining the ocean. Needless to say we didn’t get much done that day, although our drive through Fukuoka passed a harbor or two where I saw some really cool things like tugboats and large freighters being constructed on land. It was another enjoyable night with merry making and fireworks, but it was cut a bit short by rain, perhaps before midnight.
It gets pretty windy on the beach, as our straining tent testified. Some people woke up wet and packing the van was a little complicated; trying to keep the wets and the dries separated. We went for onsen again somewhat to my disappointment as that day we were headed to Nagasaki, where the second atomic bomb was dropped and I wanted to get as much out of it as I could.
I found it a bit weird there, as they had black shampoo and black soap. I gave it a try anyways, and found a bunch of my hair immediately fell out, making me a little sick in the stomach as I washed it out immediately. This brought up the larger issue at hand if I should start shaving my head for the rest of my life. Everyone offered to help and said it would look good; I’m just not sure if I’m ready for that level of commitment, or even being a skinhead from now on. The day is approaching I suppose; everyone said I would look badass, but they’re also saying I’m a giant; things I don’t necessarily agree with. I suppose I was the tallest person there and I weigh almost twice as much as a couple people. They tell me I make Saskatchewan sound like this magical place of giants with nightly auroras and insane weather; I guess at least I’m not making Sask sound bad anymore.
That aside, we made it to Nagasaki and I was treated to sights of those lovely streetcars again like Hiroshima. Nagasaki is an incredibly beautiful city. We went a little fast through the museum but it was still really interesting and sad again. There was a clump of melted glass with human bones stuck inside from the heat, and many disturbing/shocking photos from the massacre. It was interesting that I was at Hiroshima a month earlier as I could see the differences and similarities a lot easier. It was extremely interesting and I’m glad I went, I won’t talk too much about it like last time though as it really is devastating.
A short walk outside got us to the hypocenter, where the bomb exploded directly above. A large black monolith was erected here along with a tombstone with the number 143,124 (people) on its side. The cathedral up the hill was destroyed, but a large beam still stood and was relocated nearby; the angels’ faces charred black from the heat. There was a display down the stairs where the ground was left as it was after the bomb, and it was just a mess looking inside; roof tiles and kitchen dining sets were among recognizable pieces all crushed together, everything else was ash. Another short walk got us to another park where more statues and such were set up. It was built on top a site of a former prison, where its .25-meter thick reinforced concrete walls were reduced to rubble; no one survived from that building, “only the kitchen chimney remained standing.”
At the end of this park was a large statue of a man, erected by the city in 1955. He looked a bit like Zeus and was called “The Peace Statue”. Another short walk up the hill got us to the rebuilt cathedral where the pope visited a number of years ago. The terrain is vastly different in Nagasaki with the hills and whatnot, which is probably why more people survived even though the bomb was stronger. The outside of the cathedral had pieces of the rubble from the original, and the inside was very beautiful.
Nagasaki was maybe the highlight of my trip and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there; too bad it is a 12-hour drive away and the toll is $200 one way; if I ever go back I’ll have to fly I think. After some delicious Indian food we were on the road again for another all night endurance test; we squished 4 people spooning heavily in the back this time on the futons.
We went to a famous Onsen (again) on the way home, this time in Nagano-ken. This place is famous because it is natural (so it smells of sulfur) and it is mixed. Boys and girls can get naked together and mingle in this white water treat. Poor Jon forgot to take off his jewelry and the sulfur turned his silver items into a copper color in a minute or two; I’m not sure if he got it cleaned up yet. The water was a bit cooler compared to other onsens, probably because this one was all natural; the threat of it turning into sulfuric acid always in my mind should the volcano decide to burp or be grumpy.
How the mixing worked was you got into the water through something of a private doorway. Once you stepped in, the white water had very low visibility so you were covered. We all hung out together for a good while, as the lower temps didn’t force you to get out right away without risking fainting or anything. Now I can say I bathed naked with men and women alike ^_^ Everyone’s eyes were on Jake and Charity, the only two dating couples as their close nature, lovey-dovey stage reeked of shenanigans and we didn’t want to get in trouble. It was all in good fun though.
That hill had many onsens, as I found out while snapping pictures of a waterfall; nearby it was a bunch of naked people. Whoops. It was a lovely drive through the mountains as we made our way back, the 9 of us almost ate 100 plates of sushi at a sushi train restaurant and went home; Ross and Charity had to work at 5. In those 4 days we drove over 3000 kilometers and had a great time, and a bear didn’t eat me. It’s shocking how time flies, what with Jake leaving in 3 months along with others; time moves on.
“Why buy a dog when you can bark yourself” –Erica Pyle