More rain and almost a volcano

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Sakurajima YH redeemed itself by having it’s on hot spring onsen and loaning me a bike for the day (free stuff, yea!). It was a little rusty, dusty and didn’t have gears but did the job and saved me from hiring one.
The lady in the hostel told me at breakfast that there had been a small eruption overnight (at least that’s what I think she was trying to tell me) which I thought was pretty exciting. Heavy rain forecast again for the day and I think she thought I was a bit of an idiot to want a bike but I took off anyway, as buses around the island are few and far between. Probably once a month.
So, while the rain held off in the morning, I took off for the Arimura Lava Observatory, about 12 kilometres away, pretty much all uphill. I only got caught in a couple of showers and made good use of the umbrella while cycling. I barely noticed the rain though as I sweating buckets in the tropical heat. I passed lots of mudslide protection river looking things.
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I started getting a little nervous when I kept passing eruption shelters that are scattered through villages that are close to the peak but I pushed on. The lava observatory is another site of the 1914 lava flow, near where it joined the island to the mainland, and is supposed to be the best place to view the smoking peak. Unfortunately, all I could see were clouds. And I have to admit, I kind of expected a lava observatory to be a bit more interesting.
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After walking around the lava I had to spend over an hour in an eruption shelter, hiding from a torrential downpour. I eventually had to brave it and cycled back to the main town. There was no point my going further around the island with all the clouds and rain. The mudslide protections had pretty much turned into rivers.
The bike ride itself was good and a nice way to see more of the island. I rewarded myself by soaking my feet in the public foot bath again. And watching the rain come down.
I got an overnight bus back to Osaka again that night, which took a little longer than scheduled as one of the highways was closed. Probably flooded.

Volcanos and Rain

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Sakurajima, Japan

I was the only guest at the local YH and I wasn’t really impressed. It was expensive compared to the one across the water, very rundown, not exactly dirty but not exactly clean. Everything kind of smelled musty and closed off which I guess is not surprising if there is only one guest in July. Also, no kitchen which is unusual for a hostel. Especially one part of Hostelling International. Letting the standards slip I think.
The rain eased off sometime after lunch so I ventured out and discovered a public hot spring foot bath, 100 metres long. Though I didn’t need that much space, I was still one of the few people on the island. It started raining again so spent a wee while soaking my feet in the warm water, trying to make out the view of the mainland across the way.
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Sakurajima footbaths

Sakurajima footbaths

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When the rain stopped again, I headed to the coastal path and meandered my way along the coast, through the 1914 lava field which is now quite lush, green and tropical with rocks of hardened lava under the new growth. It was quite an adventurous walk with finally some sunshine, then a torrential downpour, an annoying Japanese man who got chased away with my umbrella, some steady rain and then some sunshine again. I managed to make it the 3.5 kilometres to the viewpoint but couldn’t quite make out the peak of the volcano from under the clouds.
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There was also a weird statue thing made from volcanic rock.
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Osaka Castle and stuff

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

As dedicated as I was, I thought I’d have a day off after the first two days of Frisbee. So I went to Osaka-jo (Osaka Castle). It was really interesting to see a non European style castle. The main castle keep is a multi-storey pagoda set on top of a pile of rocks. The inside of the castle holds the Osaka Castle Museum, with a few artefacts, pictures and the story of the Summer War, between two Japanese shoguns. They were having a sale on the ticket price so I went inside. Also I was really hot from walking through the gardens and the thought of air conditioning was appealing. The museum is kind of interesting but I’m glad I went so I could recommend to Barry not to bother spending his pennies on it. The outside of the castle and the surrounding grounds were better. But good air conditioning. And a few views of the city from the top.
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Spent a few hours exploring the riverside and parks of the city before hopping an overnight bus to Kagoshima, about 12 hours south of Osaka by bus. I figured it was a night’s accommodation and if you’re travelling overnight it doesn’t make much difference whether it’s 6 hours leaving at midnight and arriving at 6am or 12 hours leaving earlier and arriving at 8am. I also chose Kagoshima because it was one of the few places in Japan that did not forecast rain and thunderstorms, there was a cool island with a volcano 15 minutes away and I had read that there was a campground near the visitor centre there.
I arrived at 8am after managing a good few hours of sleep. It was raining. A lot. I took the ferry over to Sakurajima with my fingers crossed for a change in the weather across the water. I was wrong. It was harder than ever. As I had dragged the tent and roll mat across the country I was determined to camp so I slogged my way through gushing water to the visitor centre. There was no camp ground. Thanks Lonely Planet, wrong again. So I walked around looking for a place to wild camp. Then I waited under the shelter of the visitor centre to ask them when they opened. The rain got heaver and there was lots of thunder and lightning. I have heard the loudest thunder here in Japan. The storm the other night sounded like it was in our room.
More thunder. Or maybe that was the rumble of the volcano. A display in the visitor centre said that Sakurajima had had 732 eruptions so far this year, 615 of which were considered big eruptions, strong enough to cause some level of earthquake. The whole island is essentially a volcano. In 1914 villages and nearby islands were buried under the lava flow. Lava flow also joined the island to the mainland. You can now see fields of lava rock and the regeneration that starts to occur 50 years after an eruption of that magnitude.
At the visitor centre - possibly the only clear view of the volcano possible!

At the visitor centre – possibly the only clear view of the volcano possible!

Full of other information, the visitor centre could not tell me where to camp. More rain. More thunder. More lightning.

I stayed in the youth hostel.

Ultimate Fun

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Osaka is a big place and Sakai, where the WFDF championships were being held was miles away from anywhere. The train and metro system has a big coverage in Osaka but the problem is various things are run by different companies. So I had to get a JR train line into the city centre from where I was couch surfing. Then transfer to the subway to another part of the city. Then transfer to another private railway line to the get to the suburb where the Ultimate Frisbee was. Then a shuttle bus to the sports ground. It took me about two hours. Phew. That’s dedication and support for you.
But it was worth it to see the GB masters win their first game against Germany. I forget the score now but the important thing is they won easily. Ultimate is actually a pretty good game to watch and found myself getting quite into it. I started seeing lots of similarities to netball and decided to give Barry some coaching tips. I’m pretty sure he appreciated it and that it helped loads. Here are some photos of the game (I deleted all the ones where Barry is standing around not doing anything – he’s number 12).

After the match I headed back into town (but only halfway so only took an hour) to meet Mari, my couch surfing host, her daughter and another friend. We met in Shin-Sekai, a neighbourhood full of restaurants, pachinko (arcade game things) and lots of statues of Bilikin, the god of things as they should be. You rub his feet for good luck. Tsutenkaku is also there, an Eiffel tower looking things, but not as tall. We thought about going up but there was a 60 minute wait so we went for dinner instead. A much better option. The area is known for kishikatsu, which is essentially anything on a stick, battered and deep fried. I’m not sure why it hasn’t taken off in Scotland. I tried some deep fried octopus. The food was quite good but after a while just starts to taste like deep fried batter.
To work off dinner, we went to the onsen, a hot springs bathhouse. It was quite a fancy one in a hotel and one of the few things are cheaper here than in the UK. I had to cover up my tattoo while we were in there as they are banned in a lot of onsen. Also you can’t be dead drunk but that wasn’t me so I didn’t break too many rules.
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I think in general I prefer the simpler bath houses like the one in Tokyo but this hotel spa did have an outdoor onsen, saunas, a mud room, a salt scrub room and loads of other luxurious things. A nice way to finish off the day.
I went back to watch some Ultimate the next day (that’s right, I’m that dedicated) but could only stay to watch the boys easily beat France. I couldn’t stay to watch the Australia match as I had to go back to Mari’s and learn how to make gyoza (much more important). It was probably just as well as my loyalties may have been torn.
So I spent the evening wrapping up little parcels of gyoza and learning how to fry and steam them. And then I ate A LOT.
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Couch Surfing Fun

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

It would seem that I’ve stumbled across the best couch surfing host in Japan. Mari Nakahama has been wonderful and staying with her family has been a highlight of my time in Japan.
I stopped being a stowaway on at the Best Western Joytel and left Barry to the Frisbee on Saturday. My CS hosts were having a party for a festival on Saturday night to celebrate the meeting of two stars in the Milky Way which happens once a year. A whole bunch of Mari’s friends came the function room at her apartment building to decorate a stick of bamboo with origami and paper wishes. I was quite surprised to see that most of the girls were using their iphones for instructions on folding the paper. It made me feel less inadequate though!
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Mari’s daughter, Aayumi is also very talented in traditional Japanese arts. She held a tea ceremony for me which was quite fun. Well, it would have been more fun if there wasn’t an audience watching me hesitatingly turn the bowl, sip, trying to follow instructions on when to eat the sweets, etc. I did pick up that I was supposed to make a noise while drinking and got a great round of applause from the watching women.
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Barry and I have received a few compliments on our chopstick skills but I have to admit mine failed on me at the party when I was given some jelly to eat. I did notice that almost everyone else struggled too though, especially those with plastic chopsticks instead of wooden ones. You try it! Everyone said I looked very natural and comfortable wearing the kimono, and slurping my tea like a pro so it looks like I’m one language away from being Japanese!