Sunday, 11 April 2010


Next and final stop on our adventure was Yakushima, an island south of Kyushu accessible by ferry from Kagoshima. Yakushima is famous for the old cedar forests, with one tree some 5000 years old (yes that is right, 5000! However it is a 10 hour round trip to see it so we were content to see a 3000 year old example). We had heard 2 things about Yakushima:
1. Yakushima calls you.
2. It rains 35 days a month!

Thursday (early) morning: Because we wanted to spend as much time as possible in Yakushima, we got the first ferry from Kagoshima in the morning at 7:45 and two hours later arrived in Yakoshima. We picked up our rental car and headed to the ryokan we were staying to get changed into our hiking gear (well gear more suited to hiking). The host was nice enough to let us check into our rooms early, and we found that they were fantastic! The
whole place beside a creek with a backdrop to the mountains of the island, with little cabins nestled in the forest, with. After getting ourselves organised we set off to Yaku-sugi Land for a 2.5 hour hike to see some of the older trees on the island. This was our first real experience of Yakushima. Oh and we were lucky to have fine weather on our side!

Thursday night: After returning to the ryokan we relaxed with a few beers. After that we had an onsen before heading to the dining room for a delicious traditional Japanese dinner and some more local shochu.

The creek that ran past the ryokan, right near our room. One onsen looked out over this creek, another looked into the surrounding forest. Each day they swapped from men to women and vice versa so you got a view of each.

The first old tree we came across, this one a mere 1000 years.

Hungry monkey snacking while we strolled past. They also sat on the side of the road in a group grooming each other.

One of the creek crossings

Gnarled roots
Mother and daughter trees, both over 2600 years old... a long time to wait for grandkids.
From the other side

Friday: Our friendly host at the ryokan told us that another very popular spot Shiratani Unsuikyo. This was the forest where a well known Japanese animator, Hayao Miyazaki got his inspiration for the forest in his movie Princess Mononoke. Being big fans of his movies we were very keen to check this out. With yet another fine day after rain the night before, we decided to head off straight after a very hearty breakfast to hike into the forest. It unfortunately took us longer than expected because the pamphlet was a little misleading, however the extra hour was time well spent as the forest itself can only be described as magical.

Towards the end of our walk the rain started, and ended up setting in for the day. We decided to find somewhere nice to have some lunch and then perhaps drive around the island to see what other sites were around. In fact, we found a great cafe called stax, where the owner had a massive record collection and played a selection of 70s funk music whilst we sipped on great coffee and enjoyed delicious food. It was hard to imagine heading out into the rain so we relaxed for the afternoon, went back to the ryokan and had an onsen, some beers, followed by another great dinner.


On the road up to the start of the walk
The creek crossing on the way

One of the many small deer grazing in the forest whilst we walked past

Different shots of the forest that was the inspiration for Princess Mononoke. The photos hardly capture the magic of the forest.

On our private balcony after our onsens enjoying a drink and some snacks

Saturday: We were sad that it was the end of our holiday, but were looking forward to the day of shinkansen travel. Over the course of the journey we day dreamed about a longer holiday in Kyushu and Yakushima. We both felt it was our favourite area of Japan that we have seen so far. The people were super friendly, the scenery amazing, the food delicious and of course the shochus were tasty!

Fukuoka & Kagoshima

Next stop was Fukuoka, located on Kyushu island (the southern main island of Japan) and is known not only as a bit of a party town, but also for the late night ramen. Kyushu ramen is tonkotsu with the noodles cooked less so they are served harder than we are used to - so of course we were very excited!

Tuesday night: We arrived late afternoon into Fukuoka, and after a surprisingly long walk to our friendly hostel (quite often in Japan, directions that indicate a walk will take 10+ min, will in fact take 5 or less, not so this time), cleaned up, and hit the town.

Whilst we were wandering about, we saw a lot of temporary ramen tents/stalls set up on the sidewalk outside office buildings. They are erected sometime after the offices close and then magically disappeared in the early hours of the morning, ready for business the next day. They are very popular, even on weeknights and we passed one that had a line up outside!

After a rocky start to the evening, when we could not find either of the bars we were looking for, we stumbled upon a small back alley jazz bar called Agomon. We hesitantly walked in and did not regret the decision. One beer in, we had made friends with the owner (Shyozosan) and bartender (Toshisan), and ended up the only people there.

After a few beers, we asked for their recommendation of shochu and got a few free tastes of shochus, nihonshu, and sake. Paul played a few rounds of darts with Toshi, while Jocelyn was practising her Japanese (JH: which always seems to improve after a few beverages! PM: Go figure!). Over the course of the evening the subject of ramen inevitably popped up, and Shyozo and Toshi recommended their own favourite ramen joint, Yamachan. At closing time - which was when we were topped up about as much as we could on shochu, Toshi actually walked us to the restaurant and introduced us to the owners, who knew him by name! This was around 12:30am! It was one of the best (PM: if not the best) ramen we have had.

The shochus at Agomon
Us inside
Joss tasting one of the fantastic local shochus

Toshi, Paul and Shyozo

Joss getting into the midnight ramen.

Wednesday: A little tired, and very disappointed to be leaving Fukuoka so soon, we again jumped onto a shinkansen, this one bound for Kagoshima.

Kagoshima is in the south of Kyushu, and the transit point for our further travels south via ferry. Apart from that it also has an active volcano a stone throw away. The local specialty is tonkatsu - battered and fried pork, and of course sweet potato shochu.

Initially Kagoshima was just a stopover in order for us to get the early morning ferry to Yakushima. However the more we found out the more Kagoshima sounded like a great place to visit. We soon found the rumours to be true. The active volcano, Sakurajima, is an ever present image guarding or threatening the city, spewing ash into the air. It is said ash falls like rain in Kagoshima, although we did not need to get out the brollis during our brief stay. Just after we arrived, Joss' parents Jan and Grant arrived also. They had travelled from Kyoto after finishing their tour of Japan to join us for the night in Kagoshima before heading to Yakushima together.

We went out to a great restaurant where we tried a few local sweet potato shochus and three different tonkatus, including black pork (which we think means a pig of the black fur variety), baru tonkatsu, and roast tonkatsu. All were delicious and left us wanting more.
Unfortunately an afternoon and night was not enough to see all the sights, but we saw enough to realize that we would like to return, especially to the friendly ryokan we stayed at.

Sakurajima, that is ash and smoke, not clouds or haze.

Inside J-Style restaurant

Hiroshima & Miyajima

We are currently on our way back to Tokyo on the shinkansen after a week long holiday around Japan (sorry the battery died so only posting now).

With a 7 day pass JR in hand (semi-legitimate) we travelled as far south as Yakushima (more on that later) but out first stop was Hiroshima. For those who have never been to school, Hiroshima was devastated by an atomic bomb, dropped by the U.S.A on August 6th 1945. As such, a large proportion of the city has been rebuilt, and the city is dedicated to peace and the disarmament of nuclear weapons.

After a few hours at a hanami party in Tokyo, we jumped on the first of many shinkansen rides to Hiroshima. We arrived around 8pm and after checking into our accommodation had a quick look around town and some dinner.

First up we went to the Hiroshima Peace Museum, which was dedicated to the events leading up to and after the fateful day in 1945. Although not the most cheerful place it was nonetheless a very interesting morning. It was a beautiful sunny day and with the Cherry Blossoms in full bloom, it was the perfect day to wander around Hiroshima after our solemn morning. Even though it was a Monday, there were quite a few people in the parks for hanami (it looked like some had snuck away from work during their lunchbreak!) After a successful day taking in the sites we finished off with a quiet dinner ready for our next days travels.

The A-Bomb Dome (or Peace Dome). This building was a council office when the bomb exploded, it was only 150m from the epicenter! It was one of the few buildings to remain standing (although all inside perished) and has remained the same today as it was the after the bombing.

Joss across the river from the A-Bomb Dome.

Looking down the river lined with sakura.

Across from a castle, reconstructed after the bombing.

Tuesday: We took the ferry from Hiroshima to Miyajima, which is famous for the Tori gate in the water - one of the three most photgraphed scenes in Japan. Whilst wondering around, we ended up with a four-legged follower who was interested in our softserve. This was after it had already raided our rubbish bag and took the rest of a conger eel fish stick that we had not finished. It seems this particular deer may not have been a real vegetarian but one who also eats fish! After heading back to the mainland we jumped on another shinkansen bound for Fukuoka.

Temple on Mikajima

Joss with the famous Tori Gate in the background

Both of us in front of the Tori Gate.

The hungry deer! Just after this, it jumped up onto the ledge to get closer to the food, we decided then it was a good time to move

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Sakura at Ueno Park

PM: Well while Joss was working at the conversation cafe today, I thought I would go and check out the Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) at Ueno park. It is famous for the Sakura and a lot of people go there for 'Hanami' parties, and today was no exception. The park was packed with people, both wondering around like myself and sitting around on tarps enjoying food and drink. The well organised had brought flat pack boxes and had made tables, this is Japan after all! It certainly made our Jazz in the Domain efforts seem quite amateur indeed. Needless to say that apart from the set ups, I was quite envious of the food and drink spreads. Here are some pics.

The crowds at one of the main paths, lined with Sakura.
This geriatric needed a standing frame.
Old but it sure was impressive, worth the effort to keep it upright
A temple hidden by Sakura.