Published: November 25th 2007November 23rd 2007
The hotel had a fairly early check-out time at 10 am, but it suited me fine anyway, as it would put me on the road to Kumamoto without delay. Through the last days I had seen more and more people walk around town with face masks, and unlike a common belief that this is due to protect themselves from heavy pollution there is another important reason as well, they are not wearing it to protect themselves, but out of courtesy to other people. Yes... it is because they are ill, infectious, contagious, impure, dangerous to the productive society. But in a country with a high population density it is of course impossible to survive without becoming affected by any virus doing the rounds, and I was to be no exception. When I woke up I could feel in my throat that it was going to be one of those days. One of those days you'd prefer to stay in bed, one of those day's you'd prefer not lugging a lot of gear around unknown cities, but the game was on.
I checked out at two minutes past and made my way to the large Kagoshima-Chuo railway station. Like other big
cities Kagoshima comes equipped with two large railway-stations-slash-shopping-malls-slash-eateries-slash-if-you-haven't-got-anything-better-to-do-why-not-come-down-hang-with-us. Still, I had indeed been fortunate with the weather here in Kagoshima, as today the clear blue sky was replaced by a layer of little grey and white clouds, and somehow you could feel that the air wasn't so fresh as the days before, the taste of pollution was present in each breath. After a quick walk over to the station I got myself a seat ticket for one of the trip's highlights, finally it was time for me to catch a ride on the shinkansen, or as it is known here in Kyushu, the Tsubame
. The Tsubame is a relatively new introduction here, operating only since 2004 and so far the grid isn't finished. It is expected that a corridor will extend from Kagoshima-Chuo in the south to Hakata in the north by 2010. As of right now the train makes it all the way to the town of Shin-Yatsushiro
. From here, us passengers towards Hakata and Kumamoto would ride the last stretch by conventional train, known as the Relay Tsubame
Another interesting thing about Shin-Yatsushiro station is also that this is supposedly the only place in all of Japan
where a shinkansen train will stop on the same platform as a regular train. Usually they are separated, even with different terminal buildings. Indeed, the shinkansen platform in Kagoshima reminded more of an airport departure gate than a station platform. As was to be expected, the ride on the Tsubame 800
train was as smooth as if being a piece of soap gliding down the pale skin of a woman's back... Unfortunately though, much of the route involved long tunnels, and when the train travelled topside there were constantly tall concrete walls separating the track from the rest of the world, leaving photo opportunities at a minimum. Still, with the spead it took to reach Shin-Yatsushiro there was barely time to sit down and enjoy the ride. As we arrived at the platform (dead on schedule, of course) the Relay Tsubame train was already waiting, and of course my reserved seat in the train on the opposite platform was in the coach straight across the platform; these guys know their stuff. And unlike the labyrinth of different ticket classes and discounts for ordering a set days in advance and accepting that your ticket cannot be changed or refunded, the tickets
here are stricty one tariff; deduct 500 yen if travelling without seat reservation, add a special fee for green car (first class) depending on distance travelled. All onboard personnel turn around at the exit door and bow when passing through the coaches. Swedish railways SJ
, take notes and distribute freely within your organization. Thank you.
The whole trip to Kumamoto from Kagoshima took about one hour including the last fifteen minutes by Relay Tsubame. I walked out of Kumamoto
station having spent 6350 yen on the ride. Inspired by Kagoshima's closely grouped tram stops I decided that I would walk over to the hotel here in Kumamoto, seeing as it was only five stops away. I quickly learned that the residents of Kumamoto weren't quite as spoiled, but the walk didn't take longer than 20 minutes anyway. Check in was at 2 pm but my room was ready for me so I got in and offloaded my gear and sat down to pant a bit before heading out on town. The weather was much better here than in Kagoshima, clear blue sky and sunshine so I didn't hang around for long but instead headed directly to the main attraction
here in town, not to be caught off guard by clouds later on.
And for those that do not know, this city is the proud home of Kumamoto-Jo
, a magnificent 17th century castle, although the current building is a 1970s concrete replica, seeing as the original wooden structure was sacked and burned to the ground. However, some of its outlying structures are still standing, and incidentially were in the process of being restored for the 400th birthday party which seemed to be in the works. Kumamoto-Jo is located within a huge walled perimeter with a moat, and once you catch sight of it between the treetops you can't help but gawk and mutter those oohs and aahs you thought you were too jaded to utter. Come and see for yourself!
After having walked around the area for a while and catching the last cool rays of light fall on its western side I made my way back downtown and wondered if I should do a city walk to catch the last good evening light or if I should perhaps pay some attention to the Kyushu Basho, the 13th day is here already and the last days travelling found
me completely unaware of the current standing. I had no choice, I had to watch at least the top Makuuchi matches. On the way back I found the time to stop for dinner at the underground Center Plaza shopping arcade, located just underneath the large Kotsu Bus Station
, handily available just one block from my hotel. I settled for a noodle place and I have no idea exactly what it is I had with my noodles except that it was vegetables, but it tasted great as expected. This gave me the opportunity to try out a new word I picked up earlier today, gochisosama
, a courtesy towards the provider of the meal, and it was clearly appreciated. One to try and remember, that is.
Speaking about hotels, I am quite impressed with the choices the travel agent back in Fukuoka had done for me, she'd now scored three good hotels with fair prices and excellent locations. Of the three this room was the smallest and it was kind of necessary to keep things neatly in order, throwing your gear around you and you'd soon fell the walls come closing in. Now that I have five Japanese hotels under my
belt to compare, it would seem that some gizmos are apparently standard, except the funky toilets that rinse, spit and swallow there is typically also a hairdryer, pay-tv with questionable and anonymous 24h channels, refrigerators (most often as a clear service without any stupid minibar items), waterboiler and teacups, pyjama, climate control and free internet. The only thing that bothered me a bit was the obssessive-compulsive behaviour of the maids. they'd leave everything squeaky clean and refreshed, to the point where I start to wonder how much it really undermines the Kyoto Protocol. For example, when I handed in my laundry in Fukuoka last week the clothes were returned to me as if they were fresh from the factory. Each garment came in a sealed plastic bag, and the shirts were stuffed with plastic and cardboard sheets around the collar and in the back which seemed a tad off the mark. In fact, this could easily develop into a whole new blog on its own, the way the Japanese are obsessed with extreme over-packaging and junk-production in relation to all their commodities. Addendum: 24th November, 2007
Well, as expected I didn't feel were good at all this
day, so decided to take it easy and not do anything over-ambitious. I didn't have any further agenda set for Kumamoto anyway, there were some nice spots to catch a view of the city, one or two interesting temples and gardens, but I settled for a quick two hour outing in the neighbourhood, walking the downtown shopping arcades and follow the rivers around the city centre. There was no doubt in what was the most popular pastime in Kumamoto on a lazy Saturday, joining the crowds in the busy shopping arcades. All the usual suspects present, including McDonalds and Starbucks and a lot of young staffers standing outside their places trying to scream people inside, only here they had to hold bug placards instead. Just outside the plazas I did stumble on a record shop, a vinyl heaven complete with trendy and disdainful looking youngsters in camouflaged hoods and pants, heaven if you happen to like hip-hop or reagge that is, so I moved on. I had a quick bite in a Chinese noodle place, one of those helpful places that put plastic samples in their windows so all you have to do is point and choose. Then I withdrew
to my quarters so as not to bother people too much with my constantly running nose. Tomorrow is another day, as they say.
There are more photos below