Dispatches from the back of the sock drawer of life

Category: Japan 2018 Page 1 of 2

Posts on my trips to Japan in 2018

Kumamoto: Here comes 2019…

31st December 2018:

Good thing i changed plans, mountain in the cloud today, so definitely wouldn’t have accessed the crater.


Started breakfast with a couple of the humungous apples I’d bought in the market in Beppu. The fruit here (when you can find it) is amazing. Then, a minute or so walk from the hostel was a patisserie with probably the best cakes – cream puffs – I’ve ever tasted. They make the shells in advance, then fill them to order with a sweet cream filling. Absolutely stuffed – but probably my own fault for not stopping at one!

Afternoon bus to Kumamoto, then tram to the hotel. Set out for a stroll around the castle perimeter to see how the rebuilding was going – and bumped into a guy from Taiwan again. Had met him on the train (he’s in the photo behind me), then on the bus to the crater, and now wandering around the castle in a city on the other side of Kyushu – small world! He’d actually returned to Beppu the previous evening by train, and Kumamoto just happened to be his next destination.
The rebuilding is still progressing. It’s clear to see where one of the main towers has been stripped back to its internal steel structure (these are all modern reconsructions of the original), but things are coming along. One of the corner tower buildings in the gallery is held up at one corner by just a single stack of stones…

So, I went to bed at midnight having discovered that on New Year’s Eve everyone stays at home with family, eating soba noodles and watching “Kōhaku Uta Gassen (Red and White Song Contest), a special NHK program aired annually on New Year’s Eve whereby popular male and female music artists compete against each other. The males represent the ‘white’ team and the women ‘red’, the traditional colors of New Year in Japan.”.

The acts were mostly of the J-Pop group variety, and as over the top as it is possible to imagine.

Dinner was takeout from a convenience store, as all the bars and restaurants were shut!

Aso: Cute train and a crater

December 30th 2018:


Early start at the station. Intrigued to spot an item in the vending machine I hadn’t seen before – alongside the hot coffee, hot soup in cans! Morning train: Aso Boy! Finally get to ride this one. Nice livery, but a fairly old diesel unit – but this made sense as we progressed, as it runs on a single track lime with passing spots, not electrified. Sadly, due to some Google Translate failures on this resort train’s website, the name of the train shows up in one spot as “Express on the tragedy!”, and on another page simply as “Motherfucker!”. Ahem.

The train’s mascot, Kurochan, was everywhere, kawaii as hell. One car is specially for families – cute double seats with one for an adult the other for a child. Also a ball pit with wooden balls made from local sandalwood. Saying the password ‘Aso!’ to one of the staff or the conductor got you a free gift of a pack of postcards. The observation carriages at each end had a fantastic wide angle view, since the drivers compartment was raised up above each of these. Should have booked a seat specifically in one of these, but people were coming and going pretty much the whole time anyway. Got a photo with the train sign – the guy sitting behind me will be significant on the next post…

It was a fairly slow run, covering 110km in 2hrs15mins, but always climbing – peaked at about 770m then speeded up as we hit the descent. Downhill into a tunnel through the caldera rim, then views opening up – soon at 560m.

Amazing views over the caldera floor (‘Aso valley’), nestled in the 128km circumference ring of peaks. 5 peaks here, with one still volcanically active. This was formed from four major pyroclastic flow events which occurred between 90,000 and 270,000 years ago. Amazingly fertile farmland due to the rich volcanic soil.

Dropped luggage at locker and hopped a bus straight away for Mt Nakadake. Unfortunately, due to shifting wind conditions the loop bus was suspended and the crater was too dangerous to visit – this happens quite often (and indeed had repopened by the time I got back to Aso city). Instead, walked back to the volcano museum, on the way spotted the helicopter that offers flights over the crater, but decided not to drop £35 for 4 minutes Plus I’d have had to wait in the open for 40 mins, and it was bloody freezing!


Bus back in to Aso, and late lunch/early dinner at the station café. Cutlet donburi – bowl of rice topped with a panko breadcrumb pork cutlet, with egg mixed with onions and soy sauce poured over – egg barely cooked enough to hold together. Delish.


Aso Base Backpackers was a lovely little spot for the night, £45 for a nice double room, dorm also looked good at just £20 a bunk. Chatted with an Australian couple who were living in Shikoku teaching English – more food for thought there. Got some photos from the railway bridge on the main road – the landscape here is truly epic, I think a hiking and cycling tour one day would be a seriously good idea…
They also had a kotatsu, a low table with built in heated blanket, very popular in Japan in the winter months! Finished the evening with a sake from their selection.

Beppu: Buried Alive

December 29th 2018:

Kumahachi Aburayama

Breakfast at Little Mermaid again. Just outside at the front of the station, there is a statue of a man called Kumahachi Aburayama. After travelling the world, he returned to Beppu to run a hotel. Using PR techniques he had learned in the US, he was very successful in promoting the Beppu and Yufuin spa areas to the world. Fittingly, he has been clothed in the local rugby team strip (even the little boy hanging from his cape has it) for the Rugby World Cup this year

50 min walk to the sand baths at the beach – very relaxing. Basically, you strip, put on a lightweight cotton yukata, then two ladies bury you in hot volcanic sand for 15 minutes. Amazingly it wasn’t too hot for me, the beach breeze kept my head fairly cool. On the way there, a long pier that looked equipped to berth fairly big ships (though I can’t see that it would be deep enough) was decorated with the Union Flag and the flag of Australia. Intriguing.

Afterwards, hopped on an Oita bound bus to visit the monkeys at Takasakiyama again. Main difference this time – it was bloody freezing with a stiff breeze. I envied the macaques their fur coats.

Headed back to the hotel to catch up on laundry and blogging.


Before dinner had a walk down to Beppu tower: https://www.japantowers.jp/en/. Kind of run down, many panes of glass with cracks and definitely needs a clean. Down one level to the bar, a curiously kitsch ’70s affair, with an older group (clearly regulars) round at the main bar. Oddly the barman didn’t invite me to sit there, but at the next side looking over Beppu. Pretty good view though. He kept the glasses so cold in the freezer, that the beer started to freeze at the bottom would then break off to form beerbergs of foam.

The 20Towers organisation promotes tourist sightseeing towers around Japan. Turns out I’ve now been to 5 out of the 20, a new list to conquer!!!:

Goryokaku Tower in Hakodate, Hokkaido
Kyoto Tower, Kyoto
Umeda Sky Building – Kuchu Teien Observatory, Osaka
Fukuoka Tower, Fukuoka
Beppu Tower, Beppu.

Could knock off 3 more on this trip – Tokyo Tower, Yokohama Marine Tower, Chiba Port Tower.

Dinner was the 2nd round at izakaya Kansha. Great grilled fatty Othoskh Atka mackerel with mushrooms stir fried in butter, washed down with Kubota highballs.

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