5.2.2: Heading South to Kyushu

Day 202: Kyoto to Miyajimaguchi

Today was the first day of my rail pass, so I went to the station this morning and got the shinkansen to Hiroshima. The bullet train was smooth and quick, though I slept most of the way.

202.1. My first shinkansen and a bouncy ‘kansen at Hiroshima station.

Though I didn’t realize it at the time I booked it, I found that my hostel was actually at the launch point for Miyajima island, a UNESCO heritage site with the famous floating torii, which is on the beach though it looks like it is floating when the tide is high. The ferry across to the island was also covered by my rail pass so in the afternoon I went to explore the island. The town on the island is very picturesque and there are many deer wandering about. They are surprisingly tame though they will try to eat your free map if they get a chance. Luckily I kept mine zipped away in pocket.

202.2. The ‘floating’ torii and the map-eating deer of Miyajima Island.

202.3. Around Miyajima town.

After exploring the town I walked up a hill called Mt. Misen. From the top there were amazing views over Miyajima, Hiroshima and the Inland Sea. In the evening I had a beer with a couple of French girls I met at the hostel.

202.4. On the way up to the top of Mt. Misen.

202.5. View from the top of Mt. Misen.

Day 203: Miyajimaguchi

Today I went to Hiroshima. I walked through the centre of town and came out near to the dome that was just about the only thing left standing in the centre of the city after the first atomic bomb was dropped here on August 6th 1945. It is now a UNESCO heritage site and subject to numerous preservation schemes so that it remains in its current condition for as long as possible.

203.1. The A-bomb dome in Hiroshima.

203.2. The Peace Memorial for the victims of the bombing.

203.3. From the museum: A watch stopped at the time of impact and the shadow of a person burnt into a step from the blast.

I walked past the memorial for the victims of the bomb, which takes the form of an arch looking towards the dome. Between the arch and the dome is a flame which will burn until the last nuclear weapon has been decommissioned. I then went to the Peace Memorial Museum. It was very impressive and described Hiroshima before and after the bomb and the reasons why it was done and why Hiroshima was chosen. There was even the letter that was signed by Einstein and addressed to President Roosevelt suggesting research into nuclear energy with the potential of building a bomb. It was one of the biggest regrets of Einstein’s life. I was quite absorbed by the museum and ended up staying much longer than I expected.

203.4. Hanami by the river in Hiroshima.

When I left I was quite hungry so I went to a convenience store to get some lunch and sat underneath the sakura by the riverside where I had walked earlier on. A Japanese couple sitting nearby took pity on me for being alone and invited me to join them. They were called Nao and Tomo. I offered them some of my chicken and rice but it didn’t compare their feast of duck, prosciutto and bread. We sat and drank wine and chatted about travelling and Japan. They had spent time travelling in Europe, hence the Italian lunch. We stayed for several hours and were a little drunk by the time we left, particularly Tomo who struggled to get on her bicycle. I walked back to the station along by the river and got a train back to the hostel in Miyajimaguchi. In the evening I had a beer with Alexei who had just arrived from Kyoto.

203.5. With Nao and Tomo.

Day 204: Miyajimaguchi to Nagasaki

I was up early this morning and took a train from Hiroshima to Hakata station in Fukuoka before changing to a local train to Nagasaki. My hostel was well located by a river near to the town centre and a short walk from the train station. No one was in when I arrived so I dumped my bag and took a train to Urakami, which was were the second atomic bomb was dropped three days after Hiroshima.

204.1. A giant dragon welcomes arrivals at Nagasaki station.

I went to visit the Peace Memorial Museum which was as harrowing as the museum in Hiroshima but not as informative and had much less about the history of the city before the bombing. The entry was very impressive though and depicted how the city looked just after the bombing using relics retrieved after the bombing. Sadly you were not allowed to take photos inside. Afterwards I walked through the Peace Park and saw the peace statue which was a quite cheesy huge muscular blue guy pointing at the sky. I then went to visit the reconstructed Urakami Cathedral before heading back to Nagasaki.

204.2. The Peace Memorial Statue and the reconstructed Urakami Cathedral.

In the evening I went for a walk through the town centre and visited the Chinatown in Nagasaki before going for dinner at a conveyor belt sushi restaurant. It was quite a cheap place with each dish 100¥ and I ended up having eight dishes. What made it more expensive though was my decision to have a beer which was another 500¥.

204.3. A little taste of home (L); Nagasaki Chinatown (R).

Day 205: Nagasaki

Today it pissed down with rain all day and I spent most of the day in the hostel. I spent a long time on the internet and later watched The Last Samurai, Spirited Away and Kill Bill I, all films related to Japan. It was the first time that rain had stopped play since I was in Chame, so overall I should consider myself lucky. Watching Spirited Away again motivated me to sort out tickets for the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo – not a trivial task! I found a pictorial guide on the internet on how to use the Japanese only ‘Loppi’ machines at Lawson’s convenience stores. It is pretty much the only way to get tickets in Japan as they do not sell them on the doors. I will try to get a ticket tomorrow.

Day 206: Nagasaki to Aso

After yesterday’s washout, today’s weather was much better and by the time I arrived in Aso the sun was out. The journey was quite long considering the distance as-the-crow-flies but due to Nagasaki being on a peninsula I had to get a train back almost as far as Fukuoka to a town called Tosu. I changed here to another train and got off at Hikorinomori, just outside Kumamoto, where I changed again to get a train to Aso. The Aso train had to change direction twice as climbed up the rim of the caldera before crossing the plain of the caldera to Aso. By the time I reached the hostel it was almost 15:00 but still not time for me to check in yet so I went for a walk and checked out some of the paths I was planning to take tomorrow.

206.1. The walk up to the rim of the caldera.

In the evening I went to a restaurant in town and had a good meal of chicken and rice with salad and soup for 800¥. Afterwards I went to the Lawson’s across the road and tried to use the Loppi machine. I got as far as the third step, where they asked for the month you want to visit the museum, and discovered you need the L-code of the month. I had no idea what an ‘L-code’ is and neither did the guy who worked there, so I’ll have to return to the internet. I bought a beer and went back to the hostel. I joined a Danish couple and two German girls called Silke and Sandra. Silke is working in Osaka as an English and German teacher and Sandra had come out from Australia to visit her. We chatted a bit about Hokkaido as Silke had been there before and I was planning to go there later in my trip. They went into town to get some food for tomorrow and I went to bed.

Day 207: Aso

I got up this morning and met Silke and Sandra who were already up. I had some bread, cheese and ham for breakfast that I’d bought yesterday and which would serve for lunch as well today on the walk. Silke and Sandra headed on ahead expecting that I would catch them up. I got ready and walked to the point that I had reached yesterday. I then began hiking the path up towards the crater of the volcano. About 10 minutes in there was a locked gate and a sign in Japanese, but I decided to just climb over it and carry on. There were no problems and the path was good and I reached the bus stop at the roadside near to the crater within an hour and a half.

207.1. On the walk up to the crater of Aso Volcano.

When I got to the craters edge I met Silke and Sandra. They hadn’t been able to find the hiking path and had walked along the roadside where they were picked up by a group of Japanese. There was quite a lot of smoke coming up from the crater and the main viewing point had just been closed so we went to another viewpoint but we couldn’t see down into the crater. The smell of sulphur was quite strong but luckily I still had the facemask that Joey had given me in Chiang Mai. When we came back down though the main viewpoint had reopened and we could go and look down into the crater. It was a strange green colour and there was a lot of smoke and steam issuing up from it.

207.2. At the crater’s edge.

207.3. The facemask from Chiang Mai proves useful again.

We then went to hike to the summit and crossed a stark barren landscape that looked something like the surface of the moon. The path that we found seemed to come to stop ahead of a rocky scramble that must have been at least 300 m straight up. I looked behind and saw a path that seemed to lead around the mountain and up a gentler slope and we decided to follow that instead. We reached the path and after a while it became apparent that it wasn’t going up the mountain at all and kept going east. By this time it had become too late to go back and try the rocky scramble path so we continued heading down and eventually reached a small town on the opposite side of the caldera. Silke could speak Japanese and asked for directions to the station.

207.4. The barren lunar-esque landscape near the crater of the volcano.

We got a train but it was going in the opposite direction and in the end we had to take two trains over almost the entire circumference of the caldera. We arrived back in Aso at about 18:00 and headed back to the hostel. In the evening we went into town to the restaurant I went to last night.