Asia | Japan | Kyushu | Kumamoto – Searching for some Action
Friday evening closed with a beautiful sunset on the shores of the Amakusa Islands. With each step, the ground shuttered and moved with hundreds of tiny crabs. You were fully aware of how every motion you take, no matter how tiny it seems to you, ripples out and reacts in the rest of the world.
Saturday morning I set out on another day, another train. I am heading for Kumamoto and then Aso. With an earthquake and a typhoon under my belt so far on this trip, I am sent out seeking some volcanic action to finish my tri-fectia.
It is an hours ride from Misumi to Kumamoto. The train ride here is like an amusement park ride with the way it wanders through the forests and bamboo groves, through tunnels and then next to sea shores. When it stops at a point, there is a shack with people in it, in the middle of the jungle. No station master, no ticket vending machines, no parking lot, not even a road within view. All that is there is the shack, and a path winding into the jungle. This is a different world from riding a train in Tokyo!
In Kumamoto, Skip urged that I go see the Suizenji Jojuen Garden. This 300 year old garden was originally created in 1632 by the Hosokawa clan as part of the grounds of their villa. Part of the garden recreated the 53 stations of the Tokaido, the old road between Tokyo and Kyoto. The garden was full of beautiful structure in the planning in the landscape, including a miniature Mt. Fuji. Unfortulently, the upkeep had something to be desired. There were lakes and waterfalls, but also stagnant water. The mosquitoes were having a feast on me, and I was turning into a collection of large red whelps. Skip had suggested that I engage in a tea ceremony here, but with the building with open sides, leading onto a beautiful view, was beckoning the mosquitoes forth, not something I wanted to continue to suffer through.
That morning I had purchased a loaf of bread for the koi pictured on the brochure of the garden. I think these koi could devour a small child! Some of them were up to a meter long. There were many black ones, and some red and white flecked ones, and even a shimmering gold koi or two to be seen in the shallows of the water.
Next, on to Aso. An hour on a train to a new town. Outside of town is the active volcano, Nakadake. I have hopes of glimpsing it, but not today it seems, it is cloudy and I have already missed the last train up. At the train station, there is an information desk. Almost every train station that receives a fair amount of tourists has an information desk with English speaking staff. I strike up a conversation with the woman working the desk to find out in the late 1960s she had lived in Silsbee, Texas for three months. I asked her how she ended up in Silsbee. The answer was through he Rotary club program and she got sent to Silsbee because she was from a rural town, so they sent her to another small rural town. We talked about Texas, and then she gave me directions to the local post office and youth hostel.
The youth hostel didnt look too far away. The deception with the map was that it didnt clearly show how much of the distance was to be gained in altitude. After probably forty minutes, uphill, with my luggage on a windy, shoulder-less, mountain road, I found the hostel. The charge here is 2450 Yen for the evening. This is a much larger hostel than the one I stayed in in Kyoto. Here each room holds eight bunks, each hall has five rooms, with one hall downstairs for the men and one hall upstairs for the women. One WC is on each floor with five toilets, six sinks, and in the bathroom two showers, three faucets for bucket style washing, and a large bath for soaking. All the rooms are on one side of the hall, the other side being large windows facing the volcano. I can see the base of the volcano, but the clouds are shielding the top. Tonight, there is a total of four guests staying here. My roommate is a traveler from Canada, from north of Toronto. Downstairs is her boyfriend, and a Japanese traveler from Chiba named Cui.
This is the off season, so there is no food service in the hostel. There is a big dining hall downstairs with a TV and room for socializing. This being the off season, Cui and I decide to walk down to Aso for dinner, and to buy some breakfast to bring back with us. I learn that he is currently living in the Chiba region. He is a systems administrator for a bank. He has traveled to over twenty countries for work, and almost another twenty for vacation. We speak of the similarities and differences between our countries. I tell him of how forward I find Japan to be with computers. In restaurants, I have often been waited on by servers who have a computerized device in the palm of their hand with which to take my order. As soon as the staff closes the order, it prints in the kitchen for the chefs to see. No simple pen and paper here! But what I do not understand is why I have had such bad luck with ATMs. He laughs. Evidently, he has heard this inquiry often before. It seems that the systems the stores and hotels use to run credit cards on, are not the same systems used by banks. The bank systems are not yet updated to the point of recognizing international cards, and the banks have not put the money into the investment to do so for the most part. The exceptions are banks frequented by international travelers, like in Roppongi, where it is worth the banks investment to gather the fees from the international travelers.
For dinner, I had Japanese curry and rice. I had seen adds for this stuff on TV, so I was interested to try it. It had a similar curry taste to what I was used to, but no texture. It simply seemed to be a dark brown gravy, with curry seasonings. I think I prefer sushi. Bread for breakfast, and back up the hill to the hostel for the evening, which will hopefully open into a beautiful volcanic viewing tomorrow.