Kagoshima-Sakurajima, Kyushu

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January 4th 2009
Published: January 4th 2009
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Ah New Years, the 3 times a year that I have a week off to explore and indulge my travel hobby. This New Years vacation though, would prove to be one of my more interesting travel tales. It will also take a couple blogs to fill all of it onto the screen.

Let's begin the holiday vacation at 5:00am on the morning of the 29th, because that when I got myself out of bed to get the 6:00am shinkansen out of Sendai. After going through my morning routine and making sure I had all my needed things in my backpack, I set out in the dark to the station. Having bought my tickets the day before I headed up to the shinkansen tracks to find a problem. The conductor was explaining to a bunch of people waiting around the entrance that the shinkansen system was down, so no trains were running and they had no idea when the problem would be fixed. Slightly concerned, but not feeling panic yet, I went through the gates to loiter around the platform while silently praying that the system would soon be up and running and I would be able to make my flight from Tokyo at 11:30 that morning.

Sadly, I wasn't meant to get to that train. After waiting for an hour I finally called my JT's and asked them to help me. Two of them were not awoken when I called, but Chikako was and she was a huge help with making phone calls and trying to find out information. She called Emi, who lives close to the station, and Emi came out and stood with me and also helped me call my airline when the shinaknsen started running 3 hours later at 9am. After a bit of fumbling I was, thankfully, able to change my ticket time. So now I was on the last flight out for the night at 8:00pm, but then I had to call my hostels and change reservations and make a new reservation at my hostel in Fukuoka.

The second attempt to leave Sendai proved to be fruitful and I was at Haneda Airport with 2 hours to spear. The flight was a little nerve wracking, but all in all, I'm rather impressed with the Japanese domestic air system. I bought my ticket at 711 and only had to show them a slip with the store stamp saying I bought it. I showed them the slip and I had my ticket and was through security with no trouble at all. Being on the last flight of the night was good because there were no lines and the airport was rather quiet before my plane was shuttling into position. Arrived in Fukuoka at 10pm and after getting my backpack, getting to the subway and finally making the walk to the hostel I found my key taped to the reception desk and my bed and crashed for the night.

I had planned on being in Kagoshima; which is in the south part of the island, for 2 nights, but with the delay I missed a day, so I set out at the earliest I could the next morning, which was 8am, and got myself on a limited express/shinkansen bound for Kagoshima at 9:11am. The trip took around 2 and a half hours and was rather nice. The trains in Kyushu are different from the mainland, but they are really nice and comfy. I had a little confusion when we were asked to change trains half way through. Kyushu only had a shinkansen line between the bottom half of the island, so from Hakata I had to change onto a shinkansen from the limited express train I was on. After a little problem of not actually having a map to my hostel in Kagoshima, I asked the tourist information desk and she was able to direct me there. It was tucked away facing the train station tracks. I went through the check in process and headed out to Sakurajima.

Sakurajima is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. It's also home to the some of the biggest daikon radishes and some of the smallest mikan, or tangerines, in the world. I tried to take a regular bus to the ferry, but when I asked the driver if he went to the ferry he just said no and I hopped right off again. Instead I headed to the Tourist bus that takes you down to the waterfront. It was cheap and easy to get to the Sakurajima ferry.

After paying on the Sakurajima side I found a rental bike shop across the street and set off with plans to bike all around the island. Well, that didn't end up happening. The weather was really against me that day. It was really windy, cold, and looked like it would rain at any moment. So I decided to just bike around the small trails and take my time enjoying the island and some of the look out points. I only ended up with the bike for an hour and a half. I returned it and decided that I had seen all that I could and headed back across the ferry for some lunch and to secure my ferry ticket to Yakushima the next day.

So I walked over to the ferry terminal, talked with the guy inside and then headed on my way out to check out the other ferry services when I had a rather large stroke of travelers luck. I passed a couple, Takanori and Keikio, walking around the ferry area and the man, Takanori, saw me walking alone and was really surprised to see me. He said hello and we started conversation, in Japanese, and asked me if I was alone. When I told him yes he was so surprised and started asking me if I was lonely and where I was from and most of the "what to ask a foreigner when you see them" questions. I explained that I was on vacation and that I was fine traveling alone and started saying that I was looking for lunch. When I mentioned this I must for hit some parental nerve because they both decided that I needed food and that they would join me. At the time I didn't know that joining me really meant paying for my lunch and taking care of me the rest of the day. So we ate lunch, I got a reservation for my Yakushima ferry the next morning, and then they said that I should come home with them, as in stay the night with them and have a nabe (Japanese hotpot) party with their family that night. I managed to let them know I had already paid for my stay, but I wasn't able to shake off dinner.

Before going shopping for dinner they took me up to Shiroyama Mountain for the beautiful views of Sakurajima and Kagoshima at night. It's also the place where Saigo Takamori, the last samurai, committed seppuku after a failed attempt of a coup. The night lights of Kagoshima were beautiful from up there with Sakurjima over shadowing everything. After our night view, we went shopping and got kimchi and other nabe fixings. We then set out to pick up Takanori's youngest kid without telling her that the guest at dinner was actually a foreigner. When she opened the door and saw me she was very surprised and had absolutely no idea what to do with me.

We arrived at Takanori's mother's house in time to see his son coming home from work. He was also surprised to see that the guest at dinner was a foreigner. He also spoke a little English because he is a huge American punk rock fan; which is how I ended up listening to Nirvana and Green Day in a old Japanese house. It will go down as one of the more surreal experiences of my life. As we were eating Takanori's mother,who will be Baba from here on out, brought out her Japanese guitar and played a little for us and then asked me to play while dinner was being prepared. Then my stomach started acting a little strange. I didn't eat anything because I was afraid of getting sick yet again at a Japanese person's house (no drinking this time Mom I swear!).

Around 9pm Takanori and family drove me back to my hostel but with some unhelpful technology. We put in my hostel phone number into their GPS and it took us to the wrong station. All this time, Reiko's driving was causing my stomach to really want to revolt, until finally it couldn't take it anymore. I asked them to stop the car and then proceeded to get sick in the bushes of a Joyful restaurant. After Takanori decided that I ate something bad, they bought me medicine and dropped me off at my hostel. As I was walking away I noticed that I was still wearing Reiko's jacket from earlier. Takanori decided that I was cold, so he got one of Reiko's jackets for me to wear. I turned around to give it back but they were already gone.

After I stumbled into my dorm room I didn't even take off my clothes. I set my alarm, climbed into bed and fell right asleep.

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4th January 2009

What a story......
What a story so far Kathryn, (love my little personal note). You always find the nicest people to talk to. Looking forward to the rest of the story. LebdaWhen

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