With just a few hours before my flight back to Narita, I visited Kumamoto Castle. Lots of history, gorgeous grounds, beautiful rooms to explore--but what I found most fascinating was the local activity. We happened upon a bride- and groom-to-be, having their wedding photos taken at the castle. They were so fresh and earnest, dressed in the...more
Mt. Aso is the largest volcano in the world in terms of its outer rim. It is also active. It`s huge, unbelievably huge. You`ll have to see it for yourself.There`s a visitors center nearby where you can get a look inside of the inner rim which has regular eruptions, and what looks like boiling mud coming to the surface.more
The Chikugo River, rises under the Mt.Aso, is 143 km long and is the longest river of Kyushu.This river flows through Kumamoto-ken, Oita-ken, Fukuoka-ken and Saga-ken and it enters to the Ariahe Bay.It is very important to local agriculture as it is used to irrigate some 40,000 hectares of rice field on the Tsukushi Plain.A walk by this river shows...more
We just got off the plane, and we were having ramen. This is the place where the locals hang out after work. Very authetic.
Favorite Dish: Ramen and Yakitori
Shingaku a performance for religion purpose.
The movement is very slow and hard to understand...but enjoy the art.
You may watch this performence in Takachino Jinjya. Time: 20.00 daily Fee: 500yen/person
There’s a level of courtly hospitality ingrained in Japanese culture that makes it safe for women to travel the country alone. That’s the general wisdom... but there are exceptions to every rule.
Consider, if you will, our encounter with (cue dramatic music) The Panty Man.
It’s October 2010, Sondra and I have just finished soaking at an onsen in the hills above Yufuin, in northeast Kyushu, Japan. We had gotten there that morning by taxi, but plan to return on foot. As we walk, we study the map of Yufuin and decide to check out the community onsen, which we heard was exceptional in a no-frills sort of way. But at a crossroads, we’re not sure which way to go. Luckily (!) a car stops up ahead; the driver stands by the side of the road having a smoke. We ask him for help.
Sondra initiates the encounter. “Konnichiwa,” she says. “Which way to this onsen?” She shows him the map and points to the community onsen. He studies the map, looks down into the valley and points, responding in a language we don’t understand. He looks us over, then offers, “I can take you there.”
“Cool,” I say. I know we are only a mile or so from downtown, and perhaps two miles from the onsen. But if he knows where we want to go it can save us the hassle of getting lost and having to backtrack.
Sondra scoots around behind me. “You sit up front,” she says. I zigzag behind her. “What? Me? No,” I say, and deftly maneuver her into the front seat. “You started the conversation,” I say. “You sit up front.”
But as soon as we close the doors, I know there is something wrong. The car is a mess--so strange for the universally tidy Japanese--and the air is thick with cigarette smoke. I open my window and Sondra does the same.
“Where are you from?” he asks. “USA, California,” I reply. “I’m from New Mexico,” Sondra says. “I like California and Florida,” says the driver. “The women are very sexy. You are very sexy.” Ick, I think. He must not understand that that makes him sound like a creeper. “You think we’re sexy?” I ask, with a swagger intended to shut him down. Later, Sondra will swear that I was flirting… perhaps my swagger didn’t translate.
He turns off the highway well before we reach the town, and I start to wonder if we’ve made a terrible mistake. He soon erases all doubt. “I like cigarettes, sexy women and American porn,” he says.
Good for you, creeper, I think, and check to make sure my door is unlocked (it is) while calculating my chance of injury should I leap from the moving car. The road turns and twists through forest, canopied with old growth pine. We dive into shadow, and in panic, I lean toward the front seats. “O-o-o-o-ok, this is close enough,” I stutter. “We can walk from here.”
But he doesn’t seem to hear, and continues weaving his way along the mountain road, at the same time, fumbling with a plastic bag between the two front seats. His right hand keeps disappearing from sight. “Are you friends?” he asks.
Sondra answers, “Who, us? Yes, of course we’re friends.”
“Good friends? Really good friends?” he asks. (I actually don’t hear this part of the conversation because I just want him to get his hands back on the wheel. What is in that plastic bag, anyway? And where is his right hand???)
We break through the forest and enter a pasture. Still high up in the hills, we can see the town, can even see our hotel. We approach a warehouse-size A-frame building; he jerks the wheel to the right and turns in to the parking lot. There are no other cars in sight.
“This is not the onsen,” says Sondra. Our driver turns to her, suddenly flustered, and drops the plastic bag, spilling something between the seats. I flinch, then catch sight of something… something purple and lacy. I lean in for a look: he has liberated a bunch of cheesy, shiny, pink and purple g-string panties, something you’d find at Frederick’s of Hollywood, circa 1978. Looks like they still have their price tags, too. I grab Sondra’s shoulder and she says again, forcefully this time, “This is NOT the onsen.” (She has this fabulous Swiss accent that can make her sound like a scary dominatrix.) The driver loses his cool (“shame, shame on you,” we can hear his imaginary mother say) and he quickly makes a u-turn in the parking lot, heading back the way we came.
This time, he makes the “correct” turn, placing us in the heart of the arts district. We are now surrounded by tourists strolling in the street and The Panty Man (as he will forever be known) slows to negotiate his way through. He turns onto the main street. Blockaded by packs of tourists, he stops. Sondra and I nearly fall out our doors--in the process, I drop my pen, my precious Fisher Space Pen, and have to retrieve it from beneath the front passenger seat!--and stumble into the nearest shop.
Delivered from the heart of darkness, we stop to catch our breath. “What just happened there?” I say, and Sondra grabs my arm. We’re giggling like idiots. “I thought he had a gun!” I say. “He was playing with himself,” Sondra says, “and he had a porn magazine on the floor of his car!”
It’s only then that we see where we’ve landed. It’s a high-end sake shop, shelves lined with gorgeously etched ceramic bottles and tasty little tiffins packaged as only the Japanese can. The shopkeeper, a handsome and refined gentleman of obviously good parentage, approaches. “Would you like a tasting of sake?” he asked. We look at each other then turn back to him, replying in unison, “Yes please.”
We taste several types of sake, some yuzu soda and a non-alcoholic coconut drink, and choose to purchase them all--even a bottle of shochu, that grain alcohol they flavor with lighter fluid, just because the bottle is so beautiful--and soon, The Panty Man seems a distant bad dream. Finally, at the register, I spy some signed photos posted on the back wall, and my knees go weak: it’s Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Matsui of my beloved Los Angeles Angels. They have both been here, and I point it out to Sondra. She doesn’t share my infatuation with baseball, but nods politely. I, however, feel as though they have been watching out for us.
We pay, then remember that we’re here for a purpose. Sondra asks the shopkeeper. “Do you know where we would find the community onsen?” He begins to tell us, pointing out the front door and to the left, then gives up and beckons for us to follow. We leave the store and he leads us around the corner to an unassuming little structure. “Please wait,” he says, then opens the door and checks inside. “It’s ok. Please enter.” Simultaneously we realize what he had just done: It’s a mixed-gender bath, and he was checking to make sure there were no men inside.
We dip into the warm water, each reflecting on the two extremes we had just witnessed. The Shopkeeper, he’s the man we’ve come to know in Japan: civil even when confronted with a couple of giddy Americans. And The Panty Man: Is he the product of a repressed society? We laugh at his pathetic attempt at... at what? What was he expecting? That we’d get all turned on by the panties and porn? We pity him for about two seconds.
The indoor bath is too hot—118 degrees, we later learn—so we move into the outdoors pool. It’s perfect, and we settle in to enjoy a soak. Not long after, a man enters the onsen, quickly apologizes and retreats; perhaps he’s thinking it’s a women’s bath. A few minutes later, he’s back, and apologizing again. We scoot to the far corner of the pool to give him some privacy as he enters the indoor bath.
Of course, he can’t take the 118-degree heat either. But he won’t barge into the pool we’re in. It’s outside his realm of possibility, and we recognize that, so we say “Daijoobu-desu (it’s ok)” to invite him in. He thanks us, and thanks us, and thanks us again, as he slips into the more hospitable outdoors pool.
There are dozens of onsen to visit in Kurokawa, and the town accommodates curious bathers by offering a "meguri" pass, good for three onsen visits anywhere in town. Hotels sell these passes--little wooden discs with a stamp of a happy bather on one side (see photo, doesn't he look clean and happy?); on the other side, you get a stamp from each...more
In Yufuin, a tectonic valley in the shadow of the double-peaked Yufu-dake volcano, we are determined to explore as many onsen as possible. You can spot an onsen by the fierce plume of steam; with my friend Sondra, I head to the first of two baths we've identified as "must-sees." According to custom, we bring along some money, our hotel-supplied...more
So in August of 1992, I went to Genkai Nuclear Power plant with one of my host families (the father was the president of this nuclear power plant). It was an educational experience and I gained more of an appreciation for nuclear power (I still have big problems with nuclear waste though).This is the largest & most modern power plant on Kyushu....more