Dispatches from the back of the sock drawer of life

Tag: Naha

Onwards – Kagoshima

Thursday 12th

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.

Stained glass at Ishigaki Airport

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.

Hotel Kyocera-Mae

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…

Friday 13th


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.

First sight of Sakurajima

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…

Geek #1: Okinawa bound

Tuesday 28th

Compact and bijou…

Bus to Kumamoto airport for a lunchtime flight to Okinawa. My kind of airport – very small, only a handful of gates so no massive long walks.

Karashi Renkon

Airport duty free had an ‘interesting’ local delicacy – Karashi Renkon (Renkon = lotus root), where the holes of the lotus roots are filled with a mixture of miso paste, mustard and honey (which also coats the surface). Unsurprisingly, I passed on this opportunity…

A 1hr 40min flight brought me to the capital, Naha. The monorail from the airport, busy but very efficient, drops me a couple of minutes walk from Tokyu REI Hotel, my home for the next 3 nights.

The hotel was very central, at one end of 2km long shopping street called Kokusaidori, ‘International Street’. Crazy vibe to the place – like a seaside resort, hundreds of shops in the main street and side arcades, mostly selling tourist tat. Bustling, and very few western faces – mostly Japanese, with some Chinese. It’s a popular tourist destination, as well as being home of an American air base, a hangover from the second world war when American forces occupied Japan.

Dined on local sausages and garlic breadsticks at Helios brewery, very good locally brewed beers. They also had snakes in jars of Habushu – their Habu (local venomous snake) liqueur, bit like the worm in a bottle of tequila but way more heavy metal! Apparently the alcohol helps the venom to dissolve and become non poisonous – I felt disinclined to test this theory.

First sighting of American military types, technician chatting to a newcomer further down the bar. Didn’t introduce myself – quickly got the sense he probably would have talked my ear off. Settled for a book instead.

Wednesday 29th

Early bus ride to Gyokusendae – ‘Okinawa World’. Very bouncy suspension, luckily I kept my breakfast down!

I booked myself onto the 10:40am tour of the Gangala valley, then headed over to walk through the Gyokusendae cave. A 900m walk through the most amazing set of stalactites and stalagmites that I’ve ever seen – so good that after doing the Gangala valley walk I went and walked through again. Apparently there are another 2 km of caves that aren’t accessible to the public – I wonder if I could arrange a proper caving visit? It even had an escalator at the end to bring you back above ground.


The Cave Cafe

The Gangala valley tour starts in the Cave Cafe, where umbrellas are needed for the diners to protect from water dropping off the cave roof. This is a collapsed limestone cave that opens up into a beautiful subtropical valley, with stands of bamboo and banyan trees.


No caption required

We visit a couple more caves, one of which (Ikiga-do, or ‘Male Cave’) was thought to be occupied by a male deity – I wonder why? Local women have been coming here for centuries to pray for good fertility. There is also Inagu-do (Female Cave) with rock formations of a more curvy nature – however this is inaccesible due to unstable rocks.

This is also the site of the discovery of one of the 4 examples of Minatogawa Man, his remains were found in a rock fissure and are dated between 16,000 and 14,000 BCE. These are among the oldest hominid skeletons found in Japan.

Rounded off the trip with a beer or two at the Okinawa Sango Brewery, based at the attraction. Beers brewed with coral filtered spring water –  tasty! They also had some tanks where they were maturing habushu –  not one for ophiophobia sufferers.

On arriving back in Naha, rode the monorail to the far end of the line and took a walk up to the reconstructed Shuri Castle. In 1945, during the Battle of Okinawa, the castle was almost completely destroyed, leaving only foundation stones – some of the approaches bear the craters of Allied bullets. A beautiful rebuild job, based on historical records, photographs and memory.

On leaving the castle and walking back down the hill toward the monorail station, a rather odd looking car pulled up at the traffic lights ahead. Clearly the owner was an ecological enthusiast, as it appeared he had a mat of sacking or similar material containing soil tied to the roof, which supported a rather natty roof garden of ferns etc. Only in Japan…

Thursday 30th


Took a ferry from Naha to Tokashiki island for the day. Seriously underestimated the strength of the sun, so ended up looking like ‘The Vision’ or maybe Hellboy. Belatedly thought to wrap my towel around my head, alas too late…

Beautiful coral beaches, where it’s often possible to swim with sea turtles – must try that if I get a chance to come back again.

Hiked 3km or so to Tokashiku beach, explored and cooled my feet at the waters edge. Found an interesting cave carved into the cliffside, an information panel informed me that it was a suicide boat cave – speedboats packed full of explosives would be hidden here, then brought out under cover of darkness to be sailed across the water and rammed into American ships.

Then walked up and over to Aharen beach, allegedly 2.2km, but the winding road and 200m ascent to the viewpoint made it a lot further. Spectacular views, and it was about at this point I decided I should cover my big forehead…

Bus back to the ferry port, bought aloe vera gel there from a very friendly local – much needed! She didn’t speak much English but one look at me and she knew exactly what to sell me. That evening sitting in Helios bar, people must have been thinking ‘who is that angry looking Westerner?’


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