Asia | Japan | Kyushu | Kumamoto | Oyano – The typhoons a commin, the typhoons a commin!!!
I arrived in Oyano in the night of Wednesday, June 18, and my friend Ship picked me up at the Misumi train station. Skip is a friend I knew in Houston, and now he lives in Japan teaching English on an island in the Amuska Islands just off of the Kyushu Island. So after being in Japan for ten days, living in their ways, I am now going to experience how an American lives long term in Japan.
Skip has a Japanese apartment, so I get to see one from the inside. Yayoi asked me during our travels if I thought Japanese apartments were small, and I told her I couldnt answer because I had never seen one. The answer is yes. But, Japanese people live such non-materialistic lives, that it is OK. Every train station has a booth that sells sweets, because the best gift to give is an edible gift, because it disappears and will not take up space long term. The apartment is probably 60 feet long by 15 feet wide. You enter, and you immediately take off your shoes. Here the restroom is on your right, and the kitchen is in front of you and on your left. The dining area is next on your right, with a small table for two. Past the kitchen and dining area, through a doorway, is a second room. This room is his living space with a loft bed, desk underneath it, TV, and standing closets. A small amount of space, but quite sufficient for here.
We turn on the TV to plan our day for tomorrow. Skip was not able to get Friday off work, so Thursday is the day we will play tourist. And the weather station says typhoon! Oh goodie! A typhoon is a hurricane that happens in the North West Pacific Ocean, west of the International Date Line. This would be typhoon number six, named Soudelor for Japan this year. In the Western Pacific, the names were created in a different pattern than the names used around the Eastern Pacific and Atlantic. In the Eastern Pacific and Atlantic, the names rotate, male female, down the alphabet from A to Z. Every other year begins with a female name, with the alternating years beginning with male names. There are six lists of names that are used for hurricanes. In the Western Pacific, there are five lists of names. Each list has 28 names. Each name on the list was contributed by a different country. So each year starts with the next name on the list. The name of Soudelor was contributed by Micronesia and is found on list III.
So Soudelor is due to cross our island at about 8 AM. So I suggest we set our alarm for six or seven, and then we can get up and go watch the waves pound the shore as the typhoon comes to land. I must admit, he wasnt thrilled with this idea. I was excited at the thought! Ive never been through a hurricane; I never lived close enough to the shore at the right time.
Morning comes, and I am up at five just listing to it rain. It doesnt even sound like a bad rain, just a pitter patter on the roofs. Six-Thirty comes, and there is music blaring from the local loud speaker. I dont think they believe in sirens. This is followed by an announcement of which I understood the words for Oyano typhoon school and none. When Skip finally stirs, he tells me that school is cancelled for the day due to the typhoon, and that he didnt understand the rest of the message. Huh, I got that much, and Ive only been here two weeks!
When Skip comes down from his loft, I am ready to go watch the destruction blow in, even though looking out the window there is nothing particular to see. It did knock out the digital cable, so I will give it credit for a little bit of energy. We drove off to find an onsen, to sit in the water and watch the waves. The first onsen was closed, but staffed. Every place we passed we found closed signs up, and you could see it was staffed inside. All of the staff from the schools had to report as well. They just sat at their desks and did paperwork I presume with no students there to teach.
We finally find an onsen that is open, and will let us in. I was the only person on the female side, while Skip had one fellow who was off work for the typhoon join him while he was there. I did have some women come in and look at me. I think they all thought I was crazy for being outside in an onsen in a typhoon.
An onsen is a type of public bath, with volcanic heated waters (that smell a little bit of sulphur). Almost all in Japan now have separated male and female area, but it is quite acceptable to yell over the wall to your companions. This onsen gives you a wrist band when you pay. On the band is a key that will open your locker. The first area you enter is the locker area. The next area has sinks and a toilet (behind a door). There is a sliding glass door that opens to the next area. In there are two rows of Japanese showers, buckets and stools. The stools are for sitting on. The control knobs are about two feet off the ground. The shower head is at the end of a hose like leash, so you will hold the shower head in your hand and move it where you need it. There is also a large bath for soaking in this room.
Another pair of sliding glass doors open into the outside where there is a hot pool, a cold pool, and a small building with a sauna in it. This onsen is on the top of a hill. There are trees all around the outside pool to promote the feeling of privacy. You can look between the trees and see down into a bay where large ships are docking below you.
I entered the first room and put my clothes in a locker. Next came the showers. The first rule here is Dont get any soap in the bathwater. Showers are for cleaning, baths are for soaking. You also are to keep your hair up, and not let it hang loose in the water. I chose a spot, a stool, and a bucket, and got clean. Next I went into the inside bath for a soak. I could sit in the bath and watch the trees blow around in the typhoon. But why watch when you can be in it? So I strolled outside, and had a soak in the outside hot bath all the while watching the trees whip and the winds blow. At an onsen, the goal is to relax. So you stroll to the dry sauna when you feel so inclined. If you get hot, you can take a dip in the cold (very cold!) pool to cool you down. Being at an onsen is a very sociable activity, so usually you go and converse with your friends. Skip and I tried to yell over the wall at each other, but we were not louder than the typhoon, so I strolled back to the hot bath and quit yelling. An onsen was not created for expending THAT much energy!
After about an hour of moving from inside bath, to outside bath, to sauna, to cold pool (for about 10 seconds) to outside bath, to sauna and around again, we yelled that we were done, and met each other back at the front desk to continue our day, relaxed.
Next came a drive to Kumamoto City, and a tour of the castle. Kumamoto is the capital of the Kumamoto prefecture. The prefecture has a sister city relationship with Montana, and the city of Kumamoto has a sister city relationship with the city of San Antonio, Texas. Besides text about the relationships, I didnt see any actual signs of it in the city of Kumamoto.
The Castle is big, made of stone, and probably the biggest, oldest, or first castle of its type in Japan. Every tourist attraction in Japan seems to be the first, biggest, oldest, best, one of the top three, of whatever it is. It is big, and has unique concave defensive walls, and if you want to know more about it, go see the samurai movie with Tom Cruse that is coming out this year (2003). It is all about that castle, though how they explain the presence of an Anglo as a samurai in the movie I do not know.
The inside of most of the buildings are empty and dark. The castle does not have electricity in the walls because it was built in 1607. Because of the typhoon, all the windows are closed, even though the storm has passed and not it is blue sky and sunny. So we proceed through this shuttered up empty building, with one electric light per floor, with the staff bowing and telling us not to bump our heads on the staircases and doorways because it is dark. A good example of how not to run a museum.
When we reached the top floor, their was a man who opened up all the windows so we could see the view of the city. Quite a lovely panoramic view. As we left, he shuttered them all back quickly, in case the typhoon changed its mind and came back for another strike at the city.
To finish off our afternoon, we fit in some shopping, and a stop at Starbucks. Yes, the Starbucks plague has reached Japan. Skip loves the stuff, so we had a drink. The rest of tonight is dinner with his friends and then going to school tomorrow, yea!