Riding the Yufuin No Mori

For Scott’s birthday we took the day off and traveled to a nearby hotspring town, Yufuin, in Oita Prefecture. While Yufuin was lovely, full of quaint shops, natural hot springs baths, and delicious food, the highlight of the day for us was taking the train.

Yufuin no Mori, meaning Yufuin’s forest, is a luxury train that travels from Fukuoka to Yufuin and back 4 times a day. At the time we had no idea it was a special train, but knew that it took about half the time as the local, and cost only $10 more.

It quickly became apparent that this was no ordinary limited express. The interior of the train was covered in wood, and the area in between the carriages were large open spaces, and the seats were wide and comfy. After departing, an attendant came around with props to take pictures of tourists, on their own camera. Whenever we passed a scenic area, announcements were made in English and Japanese and the train slowed down as we passed.

This week is Tanabata – or festivals of the stars. Legend has it that there are two star lovers who are separated by the milky way and can only meet once a year, on the 7th day of the 7th month. People all over Japan make wishes for clear weather so the stars can meet, and also wishes for themselves. They write these down and hang them on trees. The train ladies were happy to explain this tradition and help us to fill out our own wish and hang it at the station.

Because it was Scott’s birthday, they gave him a free drink and a little card, and on the way back, the girls counted 27 candies into a cup and presented it to us as we left the train.

Being extremely visible minorities here, along with Japan’s tradition of amazing customer service, has meant that we received special treatment a lot. It’s a strange feeling, to be so easily picked out as different.  A little unnerving, but people have been nothing but extraordinarily kind to us here, and I am going to miss interacting with Japanese people a lot.

 

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Elegance

This couple at Nagasaki’s Sofukuji temple was so fashionable. I love her green skirt!

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Japan’s Weird Food: Basashi

Every culture usually has one food that we would not consider eating in Canada, and in this part of Japan, it’s horse.
Raw horse to be precise.

Basashi, as they call it, is raw or slightly grilled horse and is a specialty of the prefecture beneath Fukuoka, Kumamoto. I’ve seen it served at fancy restaurants, not so fancy restaurants and even people’s houses, and it weirds me out a little every time.  What weirded me out even more though, was how much I liked it.

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A Weekend in Miyazaki Prefecture

It’s a busy week here at school and at home. I got back from a whirlwind weekend in Miyazaki and am heading to Shikoku on Thursday.  Miyazaki was amazing. Here are the highlights!

Udo Shrine – a beautiful shrine built into a cliff. The shrine is dedicated to fertility and has rabbits everywhere. There is a rock a little out to sea with a dimple in the top. The shrine sells clay balls for you to throw into the dip, and if you get it in, you’ll have good luck!

Fake Easter Island. Sometimes its better not to question why.

Pizza Hut – After nine months of Japanese Pizza, all of us were looking forward to the Hut. It was a decision I later came to regret – too much Cheese! We couldn’t find the actually restaurant, but the GPS brought us to a delivery center, so we ordered some to the parking lot.

Takachiho Gorge – an unbelievably beautiful place. We went boating and on a hike that turned out too be much l0nger than we expected. Ugh.

Chicken Nanban – the famous dish from Miyazaki prefecture. Chicken with a vinegar sauce. Delicious!

I am so glad I got the chance to camp in Japan, even if it was on the most beautifully manicured lawn. Miyazaki was wonderful, and given the chance I would go back!

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Hiking in Yakushima – Japanese Paradise

On our second day in Yakushima we woke up early to begin our hiking adventure. And by early I mean 9:30. By which time most of the serious hikers have been on the trail for 3 hours. We were headed to the slightly easier and shorter  Shiratani Unsuikyo trail, also known as the Princess Mononoke forest hike. We did two different hikes here, the first a 5 km trek through yakusugi trees, or yakushima cedar trees. These trees are thousands of years old. Some Japanese people believe them to have magical properties. They were amazing, the largest trees I have ever seen!

Then we took a 4km hike through the moss covered forest said to be the inspiration for the settings of Princess Mononoke, a famous Japanese animation film. Everything was covered in moss and astonishingly beautiful. It was like stepping into another world. I’ve never seen anything so green. At the end of the hike there is a look out point which involves a 1/4 km practically vertical climb to the top. As I struggled up, I saw a blind man with a seeing eye dog on his way down, so there was no backing out. At the top is a rock that looks over the mountains and valleys, it was extremely windy!

After our hiking adventure, which took over 7 hours due to our slow pace and copious photo breaks, we headed to our favourite diner, stax cafe for a pick me up of french toast and taco wraps.

You can’t hike in Japan without visiting hot springs afterward, so we went to a spectacular seaside onsen to relax.

Things were going too well, so on our way out we dropped the key to the hostel down the sewer. Luckily, we were able to mcguiver it up using branches and grass and got out of there seconds before the rain came. Perfection.

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Nagasaki Peace Park

On our trip to Nagasaki, one place we all wanted to go was to see the A-bomb memorial museum and peace park.

The museum itself was an extremely sad and moving place. Immediately after entering, you see a reconstructed area of town immediately after the bombing. Artifacts such as clocks stopped at 11:02 and buildings with shadows of people burned on to them line the walls.  After an exhibit of the many horrible effects of the atomic bomb, there is a hall dedicated to information on the decelopment of the atomic and hydrogen bombs and nuclear testing around the world..

Standing at the hypocentre was a surreal experience. The city and land have changed so much in the last 65 years that it’s hard to imagine it being the same devastated place shown in the museum.

It’s difficult to put into words what it looks and feels like there, so here are some photos:

 

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