Awoke to good news from James – new Gorillaz tracks! Now off to find breakfast at 6am… Luckily James warned me off of trying the Calorie Mate protein bars shown here. Apparently they are truly dire…
Helpful ticket office staff called me a taxi so I could get to the centre of Beppu, dropped my case in a station locker. Sadly Mister Donut not open until 7am, so went for a stroll – always interesting seeing a deserted town waking up. Sunday morning so particularly quiet…
The next part of my trip would involve monkeys. As can be seen here, there are many monkey motifs around this town.
Mount Takasaki national park opened at 8:30am, hopped on the bus to get there. The mountain is inhabited by many macaque monkeys. Was met by a young lady who apologised and said that the monkeys hadn’t come down from the mountain yet – in spring, they have a lot of natural food available. So decided to wait for the aquarium over the road to open – then 15 mins later she came jogging across to say that the monkeys had heard I was there and figured I was worth gawping at. Or something. Here’s a monkey trying to figure out how to make tools – or just bang two rocks together:
Two groups live on this mountain, one comes down in the morning and one in the afternoon so they avoid fights. In total there are around 1500 monkeys, the larger group of 800 comes down first followed by the smaller. The idea behind the project is to feed them so that they don’t raid local farmers crops, this has worked well since 1953 when they first opened.
It was really quite amazing just having them wander around you. Wild animals – but with little quirks and behaviours as you observed that were so very human. There were notices cautioning you not to make eye contact (they would perceive that as a threat and would likely attack). Certainly there was a lot of gaze avoidance going on. And yes, the boss man (dominant male) really did seem to have the biggest balls. Oh, and these two youngsters showed James just how much he has to learn about climbing:
And finally: if you wondered what feeding that many macaques looks and sounds like:
Beppu is known as a hot springs town, with many onsen and public baths. I headed back into town to have a wander around the springs area and see if I could have a soak – sadly signage everywhere was in Japanese, so I didn’t know if I would be walking into a restaurant with a particularly steamy kitchen, or a bath house. Still, I did get to steam my feet for 10 mins – was most relaxing, You take a seat, lift the lid from the steam chamber, then cover your legs with the wooden box.
Beppu also features a number of sites with geysers and mud that you really wouldn’t want to bathe in – they are around boiling point, some brightly coloured by the minerals in the mud. These Jigoku (“Hells”) are spread around the onsen area, I dropped in on one special one where they take advantage of the naturally hot mineral waters (suitably cooled) to raise crocodiles – and my are they big beasts.
Stopped off for a very nice coffee and cake, they do pride themselves on sweet things in Japan.
Onwards by train to Kumamoto via Kokura. On the way, I saw a big hillside sign saying USA, wondered what Trump was doing here – then realized we were just passing a town called Usa….
Got lucky (again) – I promised myself I wouldn’t fall asleep and miss my stop – so after falling asleep it turned out a fellow traveller had set their alarm for 5 mins before our stop and I made the shinkansen connection. Saw a new variant train, unusual livery – and a lot of people photographing it!
Hopped in a taxi at Kumamoto station, and had a rather confusing discussion with the driver. I asked to go to the Hotel Kumamoto Castle, and he repeated the name to me sounding rather puzzled. He started looking things up in his satnav, muttering the whole time. This was perplexing, as Kumamoto Castle rates as the #1 attraction in Kumamoto. Suddenly he says ‘ah, Kumamoto Castle!’ but pronouncing the ‘castle’ like a Geordie would say Newcastle – and we were off. Seems my Surrey pronunciation of Caaastle with a long ‘a’ confused the hell out of him.
A websearch tracked down a local craft beer bar – Voyager Beer. Spent some time there after dinner, with Akira the friendly barman practising his English with me. Interestingly they specialise in American craft beer, and I didn’t recognise anything on their list – always good to be surprised.
After breakfast, rode the tram down through town. Got off two stops past Suizenji Jojuen garden, to walk back there through Suizenji Ezuko park – luckily reached the haven of the Boat House as a thunderstorm hit. Drinking beer, watching the rain, waiting for the sun to return.
You can see extensive damage to the lake banks from last years earthquake, rebuilding underway, luckily the bridges seemed unscathed.
Suizenji Jojuen garden was beautiful, stopped for matcha (green tea) and a sweet that looked rather like a poached egg – very tasty.
The garden represents the 53 stations of the Tokaido road, which connected Kyoto to Edo (now Tokyo). It was the most important of the Five Routes of the Edo period in Japan, and walking it some day is on my to-do list.
Walked Kumamoto castle grounds. Absolute devastation in places, the only happy sight being the first of the cherry blossoms in bloom. After the earthquake in March 2016, there is a 20 year rebuilding plan in place.
Wouldn’t want the job of the guy in the first picture – there were a number like him, and it seemed they were just there to make sure people didn’t try entering the castle grounds.
Katherine’s bar for a swift Suntory and a snack. Huge picture of the owner and her two daughters (apparently one is quite famous), and branded snacks with Katherine in cartoon form. Then on to a restaurant for Kumamoto ramen with gyoza for dinner. Amazing flavour – one ingredient is garlic, which is slow roasted and turned into black stock which they add to the broth – intense. Mind you, not sure what I make of some of their menu items…
Back to Voyager for a nightcap. Mickey – one of the owners – was there, her day job is as a translator for businesses. Spoke English and Spanish, as well as an extensive knowledge of beer, her business partner is American hence all the American craft beer.
Got chatting with another customer, couldn’t pronounce his real name but everyone there seemed to have nicknames – his was Yohai. Man Utd supporter, very funny guy – would say ‘sorry God’ before saying ‘holy shit’ 😊. Said he will cheer on James if he competes at Tokyo 2020!