Our cabinWednesday 26th May – Open Sea – Okinawa
I awoke during the night to hear Tony snoring loudly for the first time in ages then again at 7am by a breakfast announcement, Japan is an hour ahead of Taiwan, so it’s 8am. I am hungry as we haven’t eaten since 5pm last night, so went and unfortunately had to pay Y700 ($9) each for toast, ham, a fried egg and corn soup, filling but expensive.
At about 1230pm, we noticed the engines had slowed so we went up on deck to see Okinawa’s coastline come into view and were greeted by two American fighter jets which buzzed over our heads and landed at the nearby airport. Our Japanese backpacker friend was with us, we don’t really know his name but it sounds like “Momo”, he has resigned from his job and spends his days travelling, he has been to India and to the Everest Base Camp in Nepal, he says “Ah So!” a lot – quite amusing. By 145pm we docked and went through immigration on boardthe ferry, the eight passengers then boarded a bus and were driven a whole 500m to Customs, Tony and I couldn’t believe it,
we could have walked. At Customs, they went through my bag (as usual I had to repack it) but they didn’t go through Tony’s, just checked his passport, but poor Momo copped an entire body search (he does look feral).
By 215pm we were out of Customs and giving the cabbie directions to our Okinawa Guesthouse, interestingly in Japan they drive on the same side of the road as Australia, but it feels weird after being in China where they drive on the opposite side, Tony has just got used to getting in the R/H side and now must switch to the left (as a front seat passenger, of course). Well do you think we could find this so-called Guesthouse? We drove round and round, the cabbie asking everyone in sight but the road just didn’t seem to exist. “Maybe we should get out and walk” suggested Tony nervously as the meter crept up and up, but the cabbie was so determined to help us, he wouldn’t hear of it. By 3pm we gave up and told the cabbie to take us to the Youth Hostel, he knew exactly where to go and it took less than 5 mins.
Unfortunately, they were fully booked out, but the lady at the desk rang another hostel for us and gave directions to the cabbie. Already our trip to Japan was proving expensive. The meter was still going up, it was now around Y2750 ($35) but another short ride and we arrived at the hostel.
Just as we were getting our bags out of the boot, we heard a loud bang and the squeal of brakes, another taxi had hit a young girl on a pedestrian crossing. She was only about five years old and was lying under the car with one foot under the wheel, we ran over to her, she seemed to be okay, we managed to get her foot out from under the wheel and I picked her up. She was crying and shaking, the cabbie that hit her seemed a bit dopey so I think he was in shock. We took her over to the pavement where her friends were, but as none of them spoke English and were all a bit dim (standing there with their mouths open) we couldn’t find out where she lived. Then an old man appeared and a young woman who had
a child of her own, they took the little girl from me and said that they would look after her now.
After all this drama, our cabbie only charged us Y2000 ($25) even though the meter read higher. A small crowd had gathered around the little girl, but as there was nothing we could do, we climbed the stairs to our hostel. We nearly died at the price Y3750 ($48) EACH. While we were checking in we heard the ambulance come, I don’t think there was anything seriously wrong with the little girl, just bruising and shock. Our room was a traditional Tatami room with no beds. The floor is made of straw mats (smells like a stable) and we have thin mattresses that we unroll and put on the floor when we want to sleep, at least we have real pillows.
By the time we had settled in, it was about 430pm, so we grabbed our Let’s Go and headed off into the drizzle to find Naha’s main street. We located the main street easily, passing a laundromat and post office (both needed) on the way. The main street was great, with lots of interesting shops many
of which are surf shops. We spent some time wandering around looking for somewhere cheap to eat before we found a Taco restaurant that had inexpensive tacos. The meal cost Y1000 ($12) between us, which is cheap for Japan. Later in the evening we went to the laundromat and did a load of washing (we are running out of underwear), it took about an hour but we passed the time (or I did anyway) reading Japanese Manga comics which turned out to be almost pornographic, crazy Japs. Wednesday 26th May – Open Sea – Okinawa
We got the guy who runs the hostel to reserve us tickets on tomorrow’s ferry to Kyushu which will leave at noon, there doesn’t seem to be much point in hanging around Okinawa, as due to costs, we must move quickly through Japan. Once that was done, we caught bus 101 from the stop down the street, hoping it would take us to our destination, the Japanese Underground Naval Base, this was where 175 soldiers committed suicide in 1945 by blowing themselves up with grenades. After a 15-minute bus ride that cost about Y225 ($3), we had a short walk uphill to the
Naval Base. Parts of it were a museum, which unfortunately was all in Japanese, and then for Y420 ($5) you could go in the underground tunnels. The tunnels were very interesting and so clean, no graffiti, we got to see things such as the CO’s room and medical area, but it was the staff room that was the most interesting as this was where the mass suicide took place. There are still holes in the wall from where the grenades went off, it gave us a good insight into how it must have been.
We then caught the 101-bus back to Naha and then the number one bus that drops you out the front of Shurijo Castle. We walked (uphill) to the castle entrance but didn’t pay the Y800 ($10) to get in, we would prefer to see originals not reconstructions. Still we had a good poke around the park before walking up the road to the Okinawa Prefecture Museum. This only cost Y100 ($1.30) to get in with our student cards, and took about half an hour to go around, interesting, but again it was mainly in Japanese. It was now close to 230pm, so we caught the
bus back to the city and disembarked in the main shopping area. Again, we went to Taco-Ya’s for something to eat as it was so good yesterday.
As we walked back to the hostel we passed a ‘pet station’ but we are not sure if it is a pet shop or a poodle parlour, the previous day when we looked in the window about 20 little white dogs started yapping at us, it was so comical, they were all loose and jumping up and down, just like a scene from “101 Dalmatians”. Now I make Tony walk past and we look in every time, but there have never been as many dogs as the first time. In the evening, we spent time on the Internet. You are not allowed to wear shoes in the hostel; you must leave them at the door. Friday 28th May – Naha, Okinawa - Open Sea
I had a nice breakfast in the hostel this morning a plate of salad, egg, sausages, fruit and two slices of toast for Y630 ($8). The hostel is run by an elderly Japanese couple who are very cute, we like this place and consider it
one of the best we have stayed in, even the “tatami” room is comfortable once you lay the mattresses out. We left the hostel just after 10am to caught a cab to the ferry terminal Y690 ($8.80). We had a bit of a wait as we must board at 1130am. Tickets cost us Y10560 ($135) with a student discount and the ferry is called the RKK, which is berthed right next to the Arimura that we caught from Taiwan.
Once we boarded we got a big shock as our room is a dorm room with mats on the floor, I am the only female in a room full of males, I am not happy as our journey is about 21 hours long, I could cope for a small distance but not for such a long time. Tony not happy either, I guess we were spoilt by our first ferry adventure. A quick word to a crew member and an extra Y1000 ($13) each, got us into a cabin with eight beds, but we are the only people in here, so it’s excellent. This ferry is a lot older than the Arimura, but seems a bit smoother on the open
sea. In the restaurant area, there are eight vending machines that all produce hot meals (Japan is vending machine crazy, there are one or two on every corner) from chicken and chips to spaghetti to various Japanese dishes. We thought this was sensational and I had chips Y300 ($3.80) and Tony the chicken and chips Y400 ($5) for lunch, very tasty and comes out the machine steaming hot.
The ferry set sail at about 1pm, again there were hardly any passengers, about 11 or 12 in all, so we have plenty of space. After a brief nap, we went out on the deck and read until the sun went down, very peaceful and nothing to see but the sea. At 730pm we attacked the vending machines for dinner Tony had two hot dogs and a noodle dish, while I had the Spaghetti Bolognese, for small boxes the meals are quite filling. We are about 12 hours from Kagoshima, Kyushu. Saturday 29th May – Kagoshima - Sakurajima
At 8am our ferry was cruising through the morning mist and drizzling rain enshrouding Kagoshima harbour, visibility of the volcano on Sakurajima was severely reduced due to the lousy weather.
Once on shore we went to find the ferry to Sakurajima, it wasn’t hard to find, only five minutes’ walk away, but it was raining quite heavily now. The ferry to Sakurajima resembled a paddle steamer and only took five minutes to cross over to the island. We paid for the ferry as we got off, it was cheap Y150 ($2). We had a map for the hostel (Tony had rung ahead and booked us in when we were in Kagoshima) but decided to take a taxi because a) it was still raining and b) it was all uphill and would’ve been a killer with our backpacks. So, we paid Y550 ($7) for a three minute cab ride to the door of the hostel.
The hostel is at the base of the volcano and surrounded by forest and fantastic lava formations. We have an eight-bed dorm to ourselves and it’s costing us Y2650 ($33) each a night, plus an extra Y510 ($6.50) for breakfast tomorrow morning. The showers here are odd, as they are designed for communal bathing and hot tubbing, there are four hand held hoses in the wall that you shower with, each sex had to put
a sign on the door saying “Man” or “Woman”; so you know who is using the shower, thank goodness I appear to be the only girl here.
After showering we set off down the road to the Visitors Information Centre, it was still raining heavily which was annoying as you couldn’t see the volcano. The information centre had lots of information about volcanoes and plenty of “hands-on” exhibits, that plenty of Japs were “hands – oning” and a simulated eruption, it was OK but again everything was labelled in Japanese. We then visited a convenience store and bought sandwiches for lunch, which we ate sitting on the stairs outside. We then bought tickets for the sightseeing bus which is really the only way to see everything on the island, the tickets cost Y1700 ($21) for the three hour tour commencing at 130pm.
We were the only non-Japanese and as usual the youngest on the bus, we were given an English guide book so we follow the Japanese commentary, the guide would yell out the number and we would read it in the book, very efficient. First we went to the lookout, but the volcano was still shrouded in
cloud, so we had to be content viewing the surrounding islands and the sea, Sakurajima means “cherry tree island” but lava island would be more appropriate description as there were big chunks everywhere. From here we drove mainly around the coast, stopping at the obligatory tourist shops (one ceramic shop had an Emu!! Had to go say G’Day but it was unimpressed). After the tour we went back to our hostel, my eye is itchy and starting to weep, I think I may have an infection.
Dinner was again from the convenience store and consisted of pasta dishes which they heat up for you in the store, we sat on the steps and ate our “cheap” dinner (about $4), t wasn’t bad. On the way, back to the hostel we surprised an animal in the bushes, we are both sure it was a badger. Earlier in the day we saw some eagles, our last count was seven hovering in the sky. I have an eye infection, eye very weepy and sore, Tony broke out the medical kit and luckily, they have eye ointment in there. He washed my eye with saline solution but it still hurts. I went to
bed early. Sunday 29th May – Sakurajima – Aso
I awoke about 7am as breakfast is served at 730. My eye is bad but the ointment seems to be working. Breakfast was fruit, eggs and sausages, very tasty. We departed as soon as breakfast was over, boarding the ferry by 830am got us to the Kagoshima train station by 9am. We had to catch two trams to get there, although we had planned to catch a bus
. According to our Let’s Go there should have been a bus station nearby, but we went to the train station to ask where the buses were and somehow ended up with two tickets to Kunamoto on the Shinkansen (bullet train). Unfortunately, this lack of communication cost us dearly Y5800 ($74) for an hour train ride. The Shinkansen was great though, it went so fast
and the seats and carriages are all luxury, the ticket man comes in the door, does a very slow bow and then gives a spiel in Japanese about who knows what, then delivers another small bow before checking your tickets, all entertaining and painfully polite.
When we reached Kunamoto we then purchase tickets to the town of Aso, luckily, we only had about a half our wait. Tickets cost Y1680 ($21), we have spent nearly $100 today and haven’t even reached our destination yet. The train to Aso, even though an older model, only took about an hour too, we were talking to an elderly Japanese couple who gave us brochures on Aso (although they were all in Japanese) and then the man asked to take our photo (weird, considering my swollen pus filled eyes).
Arriving inn Aso just before 1pm, we couldn’t be bothered waiting 40minues for the bus so we decided to the one kilometre to the youth hostel. Boy did that turn out to be a mistake, it turned out to be an uphill slog and very hard work, every time we rounded a corner we prayed we would find the hostel only to find a sign saying it was so many metres ahead. Finally, we found the hostel located on the edge of the forest, quite a pretty location but an archaic set-up, there was a “lock-out” time, which means you can’t check in until a certain time, in this case 4pm, so we persuaded the lady to leave our backpacks there while we went up to Mt Aso. We just missed the bus to the top, so we had to wait 45 minutes for the next one, which came about 215pm. As we weren’t allowed to wait in the hostel, we had to wait outside, it was an overcast, drizzly, foggy day, but we must go to the mountain today or we will fall behind schedule. I’m in a pooh because we must have separate rooms at the hostel.
The bus took about half an hour to get to the top of the Mountain, there were only four passengers, ourselves plus an English couple and we arrived at the foggy top just before 3pm. We then had about a 15 minute walk from the parking lot to Mt. Nakadake, which is an active volcano, white smoke normally pours out of the crater, but due to the low cloud cover, we couldn’t see a thing, which is our second volcanic disaster in two days. In some places, you could see parts of the crater, so we did end up taking a few photos. We caught the 5pm bus back down the mountain (we spent some time in the souvenir shops sampling cakes and biscuits, I kept going back for more), the cloud layer had lifted considerably by now and the ride down was a much better view, you could see how green the countryside was and of particular interest was Komezuka, a hill they call “Rice Mound” as this grass covered mound has an indentation in the top which looks like a giant has scooped out a large handful.
We checked back into the YH around 530pm, and yes, Tony is in the boy’s dorm and I am in the girls. At first, I thought I had the room to myself until three giggly Jap girls came in an unloaded their bags. I just grabbed my backpack and marched into an empty dorm further down the hall, I wasn’t supposed to be in there but there was no way I would share with three teenagers. Tony copped three Jap boys so they must have all arrived together. For dinner, we walked back down to the main road and ate in a café, before trudging back up to the hostel, which is still a hard walk even without backpacks. I was feeling sick with my eyes and a sore throat so I went to bed after a shower. Tony went and bathed in the hostel’s thermally heated onsen (baths). Monday 30th May – Aso - Nagasaki
Another restless night, despite retiring early the three Jap girls rocked up around 930pm and then banged and crashed in their room until midnight. I heard male voices so obviously, they had snuck the boys up. I went to the toilet just after midnight and was less than thrilled to find my toilet roll holder playing: “now I know my ABC
……” (When I went to the toilet at Mt. Nakadake, the seat was heated and as soon as you sat down there was a speaker on your right that played the sound of a river running when you peed, and when you lifted your bum off the seat the toilet automatically flushed, ingenious.) Unfortunately peace didn’t last long as the Japs were up banging and crashing at 5am. If I had been in that room they would all be dead. I had arranged to meet Tony at 730am in the dining room, so I lay awake and listened to the rain for two hours. My eyes are feeling better today, but still puffy and swollen, which makes me feel miserable. Tony was waiting, he too, had disturbed sleep with the Japs coming and going out of his dorm.
It was pouring with rain now, absolutely bucketing it down, I have nicknamed the elderly couple Mrs Gomez and Lurch, as although they own the place, they don’t seem to do much at all, don’t even provide meals which is not good for such an out of the way hostel. Tony thinks they are cute and keeps telling me off when I call them that. We decided to catch a taxi down to the station as the rain was far too heavy to walk in, Tony asked Lurch to ring us a cab, he muttered something and then returned with Mrs Gomez who apparently was going to drive us. It took her about 10 minutes to parallel park her van outside the front door, all the time Lurch waving his hands and guiding her. Luckily it was only a 5 minute drive.
We were dropped off at the station just before 8am and to our dismay found we had just missed the train to Kumamoto. We had a 45 minute wait for the next one. At about 840am, we were told the train would be delayed, for 10 minutes, then half an hour, then one hour, we didn’t really know why as the station master didn’t speak English very well, but it was still pissing down with rain. At 10am the young English couple who were on the bus to Mt Nakadake turned up to catch the 1014am, they couldn’t believe we had been there for two hours, but they soon did when they were told their train had been delayed also. At least now we have someone to talk too and the time seemed to pass quicker. At about 11am, a train turned up going in the opposite direction, this gave us a ray of hope having been trainless for over three hours, then finally within 10 minute our train arrived. Without a moment’s hesitation, we all jumped on board for the one hour ride to Kumamoto, our day pretty much ruined in terms of what we wanted to achieve. I am starting to feel a bit queasy, my stomach hurts and my eyes are really sore, I tried had to sleep on train.
The train arrived in Kumamoto around 1230pm and we boarded the tram out the front of the station and traveled two stops before walked down the road to the long-distance bus station. Tony is so happy to find everything so easy today. The bus to Nagasaki left at 110pm, so after a quick Macca’s run, we were on board on time and settled for the tree hour to Nagasaki which cost Y3600 ($46).
I slept most of the way, we arrived just after 4pm. It is still raining, not quite as heavy as earlier in the day but enough to be a bother. Tony rang the youth hostel from the bus station and luckily, they have two beds available. Following the map in the Let’s Go got us lost again which was unpleasant considering the rain. In the end, we had to call the hostel who sent someone out to meet us and as usual we were only 500m away. The lady at the hostel tried to put us in separate rooms, but because I was still not feeling well I didn’t want this and burst into tears. Thankfully this worked and we got a room to ourselves (Tony said I should do this all the time) for Y 2940 ($38) plus breakfast Y525 ($7). By now it was dark so we were unable to o any sightseeing but we did visit a nearby Japanese restaurant for dinner before returning for an early night.
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