Kyushu, it’s a game of point and pick.

Fukuoka.

Breakfast is the one meal of the day we like to keep ‘native’, or at least as close to what we are used to as possible.

The rest of the time we are up for experimentation.

The port city of Fukuoka, on Japan’s Kyushu Island, has offered us a bit of a challenge in this regard, as I like good coffee for breakfast. Our first challenge was finding a cafe that had an espresso machine, as most only serve the American filtered variety.

Eventually we did find Cafe Veloce, a chain of coffee shops that had big chrome espresso machines and, more importantly, staff who could use them.

We arrived in Fukuoka, by ferry from Busan, in the afternoon and after checking into the Hakata Miyako Hotel, which is right next to Hakata Station, we went exploring.

As if we hadn’t had enough of shrines in Korea, our first attraction in Japan was Sumiyoshi Shrine and then Shofukuji Zen Temple. At the temple a monk was hard at work removing grass cutting from the pond after the lawns had been mowed.

We had enough culture and went for a walk along the Naka-gawa River, where we came across the Red Light District of Fukuoka. This has become a trend as we also discovered the ‘Ladies of the Night’ in Busan.

The evening meal on our first day in Japan was yet another enjoyable challenge.

As few restaurants have an English menu, selecting what to order became a game of point and pick. On our second night on Fukuoka we were faced with a menu, entirely written in Japanese, without a picture in sight.

The next day it was back to the shrines, this time we visited Dazaifu Tenmangu and Tenkai Inarisha.

The most impressive was Dazaifu Tenmangu, founded in 905, with its 6,000 Asian Plum trees, bridges and ponds filled with very large, multi coloured Carp. However the most enjoyable was Tenkai Inarisha, with a steep walk up to the Shrine through many bright orange Shinto Gates.

Late in the afternoon we took the subway down to the bay area to see the Fukuoka Dome, built in 1993, and home to the Hawks baseball team. The stadium can hold 38,561 fans and was Japan’s first with a retractable roof.

I had seen it from the ferry, coming into Fukuoka, and believe me it’s a lot more impressive from the sea than the land.

Kumamoto.

The next day we were traveling again, this time it was the Bullet Train to Kumamoto. It was an effortless journey, once we had worked out where the platform was.

Our hotel room wasn’t ready so we headed into Kumamoto to do some site seeing.

When travelling between cities, I carry an iPad and MacBook Air in my camera bag, that’s about 9kg.  It was too heavy to carry around when taking snaps, so I just took my Sony RX100, compact camera into Kumamoto.

This proved to be a test as I didn’t have my normal range of lenses to choose from.

We visited Kumamoto Castle and Hosokawa Mansion, where we kept on meeting a group of US sailors who were on shore leave and doing a bit of sight seeing.

Kumamoto Castle’s history dates back to 1467, when fortifications were established by Ideta Hidenobu.

The castle was besieged in 1877 during the Satsuma Rebellion, and the castle keep and other parts were burned down. In 1960, the castle keep was reconstructed using concrete.

From 1998 to 2008, the castle complex underwent restoration work, during which most of the 17th century structures were rebuilt.

The craftsmanship in the restoration is meticulous. The features of the original castle and palace were copied from artifacts, excavated from the site and then reproduced using the tools of the era. Even the painted screens were copied to perfection.

A walk around the castle grounds, where groups of teenage school children were playing in the parkland, brought us to Hosokawa Mansion. This is the former residence of the Feudal Lord Gyobu. It’s a huge house, measuring 990 square meters, with a labyrinth of verandas, corridors and rooms, all set in a beautifully manicured Japanese garden.

There was no point returning to the hotel, so we took the tourist bus back to the city centre and walked through the Shimotori Arcade.

We found a strange bar that was serving prosciutto, in a Spanish style on a metal rack. We then found ourselves again in a Japanese restaurant, with no English menu, or pictures to guide us. However we did manage to order a delicious meal of salad, grilled beef and an excellent barbecued fish.

We are getting quite good at this.

A visit to Mount Aso was on the agenda and the rain had returned.

It was an interesting train ride from Kumamoto via 2 trains and a bus. One train went on spur-lines and switchbacks and had us continually wondering if we were on the right track.

Aso is reputedly world’s largest Caldera (Caldera means ‘large pan’ in Portuguese) and there is still volcanic activity. In fact the cable car ride, that goes over the volcano, was shut due to a ‘Crater Eruption Warning’.

The Caldera, especially Kusasenri, is a very fertile valley and home to Aso’s famous beef, known as Aka Ushi.

The best way to keep dry, and entertain ourselves, was to spend time in the Aso Volcano Museum. It had interactive displays showing the geology and history of the area. It also had photos of other Calderas around the world. It was then that we realised that we had been to quite a few. Truk Lagoon in Micronesia, Santorini in Greece, Taupo in New Zealand and Mount Teide in Tenerife.

On the train ride back to Kumamoto a chap, with a bulging plastic bag, started offering the passengers sweets. He then produced cold Asahi Beer, also to share around.

The Japanese are very friendly.

Beppu.

Our last stop on Kyushu Island was Beppu, on the north east coast.

Our hotel, was in the centre of the ‘Jugoku Meruri’ or Hells Area of Kannawa Beppu. It’s a series of eight parks or themed entertainment areas.

We visited Umi-Jigoku which had thermal springs, baths and gardens.

Steam is everywhere, gushing from a network of pipes that crisscrosses the park and the entire town.

The park boasts a 3km walking path. We only managed to find a few hundred meters of track as everything else was roped off.

There was a pond and glass house with tropical water lilies and other exotic flowers.

The hills behind Beppo are like a natural, yet artificial environment. The heated subterranean waters creates a tropical climate, in an area that is 33 degrees north of the equator.

We stayed in Kuradaya Ryokan, a traditional Japanese hotel and spa.

Low tables, no chairs, no beds, as we understand them, and you are encouraged to wear your dressing gown or Kimono around the hotel.

Dinner in the Ryokan was as much an experience as a meal.

Yuki Tsubosaka was there to introduce us to the hotel and explained what the schedule was. She was also our hostess for the evening meal. The entire menu was interpreted from Japanese into English, with Yuki constantly referring either to her hand written notes or an electronic dictionary.

We ate in a room, on our own, that was behind sliding doors. This was to be ‘Our room’, for both breakfast and dinner, for the remainder of our stay.

Being behind closed doors was probably a good thing as our chop-stick etiquette wasn’t up to scratch.

Leave a Reply