Dispatches from the back of the sock drawer of life

Tag: Beppu

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.

Beppu: Crocodiles and Towers

December 28th 2018

(bit like snakes and ladders, but different)

So in the end I only got 5hrs sleep. Judging by the state of my head, the second bottle of nihonshu (sake) had been a mistake… I took a walk out on deck during the night to see what conditions were like – Very blowy, could hardly stand up.

Went out on deck to watch the sun come up over the Seto inland sea. It would have been nice to do this trip during the day, as the landscape of the islands is spectacular and we went under several of the suspension bridges of the Shimanami Kaido (see trip notes from 2016). But that would have wasted a whole day.

View from the ropeway

On time arrival at 7.05am, and straight onto a bus to Beppu station. Little Mermaid café for breakfast (last visited one in Onomichi), waitress looked Indian but was from Fiji. Dropped luggage at hotel, no chance of early check in unfortunately so headed out on a local bus to Beppu ropeway, up Mount Tsuruga. Started to see tiny amounts of snow by the time we reached the ropeway terminus, and the temperature had dropped considerably compared to the coast.

Got a couple of good photos on the way up before the cloud closed in and the snow increased. On arriving at the top, immediately discounted walking the 10 minutes to the summit at 1370m – ambient temperature was -8degC, and the wind chill was brutal! Hopped straight back onto the next car down, even better views as the cloud cleared.

In the ropeway shop. Nope, me neither.

Waited in the ropeway shop looking at Kumamon themed souvenirs for a bit, but when the bus arrived it was full, so had to wait 30 mins for the next one. Back into the shop to get bored, better than freezing me nuts off outside.

Got off the bus at the top of the town, at the first of the jigoku, or ‘Hells’. These are hot spring features with different themes, the first was pools of boiling mud – the name was Oniishibozu Jigoku so called because the bubbles that form and pop resemble the shaved head of a monk. Others have milky white or blood red colourings from the dissolved minerals in the spa water, and one particularly intriguing one uses the water for heating pools for raising crocodiles. They had some truly impressive – and scary – specimens there.

At another, a large greenhouse heated by the springs contained flowering waterlilles, and even fruiting banana palms. The springs are also used to cook local delicacies – at this one, I tried a hot spring boiled egg. Startling colour inside, but very delicate flavour, very tasty with some salt and soy sauce.

Last one had a number of aquaria with some very large fish. The Colossoma were impressive, but even they paled into insignificance compared to the Pirarucu – at least 7ft long and with amazing red iridescent scales.

Yen. Honest.

Stopped for an excellent coffee, then bus back down to the station. Stopped at traffic lights by a greengrocers where I was puzzled as to why the grocer had drawn dicks on the produce signs – until I realised he was just a bit slapdash at writing the sign for yen. There were roadworks along the way as well – I counted 13 workers just to guide the traffic and retarmac about 5m of road surface.

Checked in at the hotel, and as soon as the spa bath was open headed there for a soak. Bliss. So tired after the ferry and long day crashed out for a few hours.

Went into town and wandered until I spotted an izakaya (Izakaya Kansha) that had an English menu. Pretty efficient – they had a printed one, but also had a QR code that you could scan to take you to a website in English and other languages with all the items and prices.


Toriten (chicken tempura), raw egg over a bowl of rice, edamame and miso. Washed down with an Oita Kabosu highball very tasty. Strolled the narrow streets, spotting some interesting bars along the way, and also a rather impressive mask of a tengu (demon) used in a local festival.

On the walk back stopped for a beer at a little bar called Route 10. More over manning – 3 bartenders (chief and 2 assistants), 6 customers, max 20? One of the barmen was from Kumamoto, had a good chat with them and on their request put a pin in their world map to show where I was from. Head guy said they got a reasonable number of visitors from the UK.

Observation: Patience here is a virtue for sure. Coffee at Little Mermaid this morning was made in a small drip machine fresh to order. Irish Coffee in this bar, made with a siphon coffee maker – slow heated over a spirit burner.


Geek #1: Beppu and arrival in Kumamoto

Sunday 26th

Emergency rations

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…



Beppu manhole

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.

The steamy streeets of Beppu

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!

Nice hotel – spotted this parked outside…

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.

I approve of this message

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.


Monday 27th

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.

Afternoon tea Kumamoto style

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.

Top right and bottom left – huh?

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!

Me and my new pal!

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