Christmas day with the exception of a call from Mom and Dad to my cell phone was just another day here. I followed a few Japanese customs (When in Rome…) so I gutted my apartment for the new year. It’s the same as Christmas cleaning just later and because it’s warmer here you can take the windows out and scrub them too. My apartment sparkles and because it’s small I managed all this in 2 days.
I had actually planned to do a lot of outdoor stuff especially hiking but the weather wouldn’t allow it so I tried the more challenging task of baking! Mom had sent me a recipe for blueberry cobbler ages ago but blueberries being $6 a can here I soon substituted apple. It was quite a hit with my friends. My banana cake was a flop but it provided me with good sponge-like things for cleaning..
Then there was the cyclists’ party. They are a group of 50-60 year olds with whom I cycle regularly. Well, they had a “bon-enkai” (which means ‘forget the year party’ This “forgetfulness” is attained by copious drinking and merriment). I had to oblige so BF and I ate drank and were merry with my biker buddies for a night. We generally have a good time together as they are a very gregarious lot and this party was no exception. Before I knew it I was singing YMCA on the karaoke machine and those who were not passed out, were dancing or flinging arms. The Japanese do not hold their liquor very well.
On the evening of the 30th BF finished work and we headed south to Kagoshima (it’s the furthest point south on the main set of islands) My friend lives there so she had invited us to visit her parents and fiancee for the New Year. I had met the family before (four years ago on my return form Okinawa) so I was actually looking forward to seeing them all again. In addition my friend is now pregnant and engaged to her Georgian husband (Georgia of the former Soviet Union) so he was able to tell some great tales. His English was really slow and easy to understand so BF could communicate too.
Anyway, we drove through the night until 4 am in turns to avoid the
horrendous traffic that occurs during any Japanese holiday. We caught some winks in the car because Koji’s van is designed so the seats go down into a bed.
Before we got to my friend’s, we took a short side trip to Sakurajima, a large active volcano nearby. It erupted in 1995 so you can’t get too near it for the obvious reason that you may find yourself blasted some several hundred kilometers from your car. We had a lovely clear day to view it. An active volcano just spews smoke and vapour and smells bad so we took some photos and headed on.
We spent New Year’s Eve Japanese style- eating lots of good food with the family followed by buckwheat noodles (symbol of making it through the year) and a trip to the shrine to get our fortunes and make a New Year’s wish. My year is set out to be not so lucky according to my fortune but they often have small cups of free sake as well but this shrine also offered a warm soup so I can’t be THAT unlucky!
Jan 1 we started eating again. Then my friend, her husband, BF and I went out in town for a bit of a wander around. My friend showed us around Kagoshima (as much as her 8 1/2 month pregnant body would allow) and we dropped them back off, bid our hosts a hearty thank you and a farwell and they sent us off to Kirijima where they said it was really worth taking in.
And they weren’t exaggerating. It was the highlight of our trip. First, it was unusually cold so that by the time we got to the mountain, it was snowing a fair bit. So we saw puffs of smoke and vapour rising out of snowy mountains very close up. Let’s just say so close that if the sign says “don’t walk past this point” you don’t again for fear of being blasted kilometers from your car or being steamed alive- well.
The next day was exceptionally cold for Japan with snow in the mountains. The highways department was recommending chains. In Newfoundland your mother would just say “make sure you wear warm boots and dont forget your cap! BF let me drive ’cause I enjoy winter driving and have FAR more experience than him. We couldn’t really enjoy the view up there since we were in the clouds and snow but we did go for a hike (I had packed the gear for a hike
of another mountain that got thwarted by the weather) so off we went. We hiked up to a crater with lake in it. We couldn’t see it at first but the wind changed and we caught a glimpse of about half of it through the fog. I started to get a little homesick straining to see something in the grey haze.
We were reasonably chilly by the time we finished hiking but we were in the land of hot springs and, lo and behold, BF and I found a 2 dollar open air bath. This is as close to the original hot spring as you can get. When I was a kid, I had a poster on my bedroom wall of a frosty monkey sitting up to his neck in hot water. I had found it in my National Geographic World Magazine and thought it was interesting (must’ve been fate). Well that photo was taken in Japan of a little fella warming himself in an open air bath. Now replace that image with me in there (well, maybe the monkey image is easier to handle).
The bath was girls and guys separate with changing rooms (more like
sheds) but you didn’t have to try to hard to get a peek at the other side. Being icy cold and slippery there was only one other couple there anyway. We gals covered ourselves with a towel and invited the fellas over for spell. They didn’t take long to come scampering over the snow They couldn’t stay too long for fear of getting caught by the managers just down the hill or by other folks who may have come by.
The next day we visited Sea Gaia a HUGE money losing tourist attraction but it was great fun for we two fish. It’s basically an indoor beach complete with waves than can be beaten up to surfing mode at the push of a button. Included is some caves with a dragon and mist and stuff, a water slide, a flowing pool so that you can swim in circles for hours if you wanted. There’s cafeterias and shops and little mountains and jacuzzis and sand and…. well lots of stuff! So BF and I spent the better part of the day “at the beach”.
You even get a wrist tag that’s your wallet so you just go through the register with your arm out to pay for things. It’s brilliant. It was a little expensive at 30 dollars but it was worth it. Even BF admitted that it was better than he was expecting..
So we wrung ourselves out, shook the water out of our ears and headed north for Beppu and famous hot spring resort in Northern Kyushu (Kyushu is the big island in the south). We spent the next morning just looking at fancy hot springs. There’s one that bubbles mud, one that’s blood red, one is pale blue and one is a geyser. Others steamed out of the rock but we’d seen lots of those in Kirishima.
All of Beppu steams and simmers and people can tap into the springs and have their own private spas in this town. Or tourists like ourselves can pay varying prices to soak in a public one. At this point we’d been in so many spas plus a day in the chlorine of Miyazaki that I just wanted to push on home so that’s what we did.