Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Kyushu Trip

Japan: The land of the rising sun. Indeed. It features fantastic, awe-inspiring blood red sunrises and glowing orange sunsets.Do you think Japan has a wonderful booming economy and has buildings and streets covering almost every square inch of the country? Japan has millions of townfolks who love a chat with anyone on the street. And these towns aren't what you think they are. Patches of rice and agricultural fields dot the landscape and only low rise Japanese-styled houses are seen in small clusters among the green lands.Not only that, Japan has crystal clear seas. Colourful fish can be seen exploring every nook and cranny of the seabed. The deep marine blue of her oceans invoke the feeling of being free and wild in the landscape. Japan's features are truly breathtaking.Day 1: Arrived in the city of Kumamoto, somewhere in the centre of the island of Kyushu. Rushing before the sunset (which, in winter, is around 5 p.m.), we headed straight to Kumamoto Castle, relying greatly upon road signs and some tips from the locals. The castle is a great fortress. Walled thickly with granite stone, it was once known as one of the hardest castles to attack on the island during it's time. Inside the tall building, currently under renovation, it is all concrete and nothing like what you see in the movies where the floor is made of dark wood and creaks as you step on it.This is atop Daikanbo, which is a popular viewing point which is situated on the rim of the wide caldera of Mt. Aso. The weather was cold, but the wind chill factor affected our cycling greatly. Our nose and ears were numb and we could hardly squeeze the brake levers because our fingers were almost frozen.The crater of the still alive volcano that erupted around 300,000 years ago and created the world's largest caldera with circumference of 120 km. The volcanish ash made by the eruptions (there were 4) covered half of Kyushu island and on one occassion, it went up to the Yamaguchi prefecture. On the west side of the caldera is a live volcano which is still active and continuously smokes as well as having occassional eruptions. 3 tourists have died in one eruption. It is easily accessible by road and is a hotspot for sunset watchers.We drove down to Miyazaki (south of the Kyushu island), along with my neice, Saaya. The drive was about 5 hours long and I had to switch driving with my wife every now and then so that we won't fall asleep behind the wheel.This is a cool-looking bike which we spotted somewhere in Miyazaki. It's long and sleek (perhaps able to carry about 3 people). Interesting two-wheeler indeed!We rode along the scenic coastal road, said to be equal in beauty to the Amalfi Coast in Italy . The coast was about 80 km long, interrupted every few kilometres but long tunnels that cut through cliffs and hills. We cycled back to my sister-in-law's place, where we stayed, in Nichinan.We attempted to go to the Udo Jin Shrine along the way but I suspected it was a bit too far for us to cycle. However, when we diverted from the street that led us to it, we spotted it just around the hill where it was located.Going up the hills is strenuous as the inclines are long and rather steep too.On the return to Fukuoka, we stopped by Beppu, the onsen resort town, for 2 nights. Beppu is well-known throughout Japan as it hosts a dazzling variety of onsens (hot springs, or public hot water baths) where you can soak for endless hours on end. It contains 8 'hells', one of which is terribly hot. Some of the natural hot springs have different colours, depending on what minerals the rock around the hot springs contain. The water is piped directly from the hot springs itself which I heard is about 98 degrees Celcius hot. It is cooled to about 40 degerees for usage. It may be difficult to adapt to the scalding water so you'd have to slowly enter the pool starting with your toes. My son and nephews went to one and they complained it was the hottest onsen they had ever went to. Also, at our ryokan, it offered a furo, which is a private hot water bath . Other attractions include a huge aquarium, which is a dozen times better than Singapore's Underwaterworld. It's called Umitamago. Unusual marine creatures dominate the area which has gigantic tanks where hundreds of fish reside. An intriguing eel in the picture embeds its tail in the sand and pokes its long neck out to look around for food. Many eels get tired in the process and occasionally bend down for a rest.