Last night I had a very traditional Okinawan dinner – taco rice! All the fixings for tacos – spiced minced beef, cheese, salad, salsa – piled on a bowl of rice with a runny fried egg on top. Might not win any Michelin stars, but oh my word it was tasty. I was joined for dinner by an unusual companion, who just kind of hung out…
Talking of animals, the day before I’d met a dog owned by one of the staff, pretty sure he was a golden retriever. He looked very hot – just lying flat out next to his water bowl, tongue lolling. So how do you keep a hot dog cool? I found out the next morning – shave him! He looked cooler, though not in a fashion sense.
So the morning started with a pretty impressive torrential downpour, that led to a rather cool double rainbow. Turns out today was one of those where the ferries were cancelled from Uehara, and we had a 50 mins bus ride down to Ohara to get the ferry there. Got one last selfie with the island mascot, and you can see a plushy version on the bus next to our driver.
Sad to be leaving this beautiful place and heading north, some nice shots of the island retreating into the distance, and another huge liner moored up in Ishigaki port. Saw some things that made me ponder the accuracy of Japanese/English translations: there was a woman on the ferry wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “Derived from a plant”. What was? Could be the cotton of the t-shirt I guess… Then the crew baseball cap proudly declared “Yaeyama Kano Ferry: We are willing to a safe navigation”. I was pleased to hear this.
Whole day travelling, flew Ishigaki to Naha (on Okinawa) where I had most of the day to wait. Went into town to find a late lunch at Helios bar where I’d visited last time – turned out to be a mistake. I’d forgotten that most bars don’t open until 5pm, then discovered that Helios was closed for the month anyhow. And it was so hot and humid I was glad to get back on the next plane north to Kagoshima.
More translation shenanigens: the airline I flew from Okinawa to Kagoshima was called “Solaseed Air”. Since the English language version of their website had no way to actually book tickets – just lots of info – I had to use Google Chrome and have it machine translate the website so I could make my booking. The airlines name was variously presented as “Solaside”, “Solar Side” and “Sorashid” – this last because Japanese has no ‘L’ in their syllabary, nor a ‘V’. Written Japanese is a syllabic language, with single characters for syllables like “ka”, “ta” and “na”. But the lack of L or V means difficulty with translations, hence hearing someone say “runch” for a midday meal, or local convenience stores – or convinis – being pronounced “conbini”. It also leads to the hackneyed (and a little racist) mispronunciation of “lovely” as “rubbery” when a gaijin (foreigner) mimics the Japanese.
Arrived at my transit hotel around 11.15pm via airport bus. Lots of business types aboard, all probably wondering what this scruffy gaijin was doing there. Kagoshima airport is around 35km away from the city itself, and as I was arriving late decided to pick a hotel close to the airport. Also, as it turned out, close to a volcano that just started erupting – Shinmoedake, only 25km away. Luckily the prevailing wind was blowing any ash away from us.
Hotel Kyocera-Mae was very plush. A tall oval cylinder with a massive central atrium running the height of the building, with a glass walled wedding chapel at it’s base – obviously a popular spot for ceremonies. The wedding store there also had some very interesting ideas for bridal outfits…
Now that’s what I call a breakfast – especially when the hotel only cost £58. Hopped a taxi to Hayato station for the Limited Express run into Kagoshima, back on the rails again. We are further north now, but it’s still 26degC. But not quite so humid thank goodness. The train passes people harvesting rice from newly drained paddies, it’s always interesting to see so many paddies and allotments dotted among residential areas.
As is common, the line hugs the coast, skirting the mountains that take up much of the interior. The occasional tunnel punctuates the scenes across the bay towards Sakurajima wreathed in cloud – or is it smoke?
Pulled into Kagoshima and hopped a taxi to the North Port. This is where I could get a ferry across to the volcano – and luckily for me it wasn’t smoke but clouds, the volcano is still very active, and regularly drops drifts of black ash on the neighbouring city if the wind is right.
Sakurajima Ferry Line brought me across to the island in just 15 minutes, they run all day, every day, every quarter of an hour. And they have a cute manga (cartoon) mascot – in Japan? Who’da thunk it! They also have a ferry tricked out like a Lousiana paddle steamer with fake smokestacks – sadly I didn’t get to ride that one.
Set off on a 6km walk around part of the coast, huge tumbled pieces of lava everywhere and black, gritty sand underfoot. The design of the lampposts was cute – in addition to being volcanic, Sakurajima is also known for huge radishes, Guinness record holders!
While strolling I met a couple of the 4 legged inhabitants – they were very interested in me until they realised I didn’t have any food for them. Carried on to an observation point – originally a gun battery location used to bombard the British fleet in 1863, during the Anglo-Satsuma war. The circumstances of Japan ending its isolation in 1852 when the American fleet arrived, and then the ending of the Tokugawa (or Edo) period in 1868 (when the old order of the shoguns was toppled, and the Emperor restored to the throne) makes fascinating reading.
Hopped the sightseeing bus to the highest point on its route, at an observation building – Yunohira Observatory. Great views up to where ash and rock is mined for processing, and down to the bay and Kagoshima beyond. In the third photo below, you can see what looks like a concrete river channel – these are to divert lahars and boiling mud flows from future volcanic activity away from buildings. Bus back, and walked to the Tsukiyomi shrine. The info graphic shows how black lava dust coats everything – it also shows that the area I hiked around (shaded in pink) only came into existence during the last large eruption in 1914.
After arriving back on the ferry, I went next door to the Kagoshima aquarium. A very impressive building, with a huge tank on the second floor populated by many locally found sea creatures – plus a couple of divers cleaning up. Smaller tanks on other floors contained examples of both seawater and freshwater fish found around there, plus some pretty weird looking crustaceans. And I found Nemo!
One interesting thing about the signage: very little English (not surprising), but the Latin names for all the exhibited creatures was given.
Located the hotel, and found a local craft beer bar called Dolphin Industry which did excellent Kobe beef hamburgers and Japanese craft beers. One was brewed very locally indeed – just a short walk up the road – at Shiroyama Brewery. A Saison style beer, flavoured with Yuzu peel (a Japanese citrus often used in dips, marinades etc). Then two guys came in for food, and the bar owner introduced them as the head brewer and his co-worker at the brewery! Couple of Brits arrived and we got chatting, turns out they are travelling around and working as English teachers, placements at multiple sites. They thought I should do the same – a very, very tempting thought…