Japan 2015 Day 4


Really? Only day 4? I’m already slowing down. I should’ve slept better last night because the hotel was about as quiet as you can get but I’m still having stomachaches at night. It’s odd being that close to the train station and hearing almost nothing.

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I went walking around the train station trying to kill an hour and a half and I ended up just hopping on a shinkansen’s non-reserved seating car just to get the heck out of dodge. I wasn’t expecting that much from Kokura but it’s a hopping little town.

I got to the hotel early to drop off my bags and the place was a little creepy and dark. I guess it’s just a business hotel and there’s no one there during the middle of the day. It was much better later. I left and went walking to the one thing they told me to go see – Kokura castle. I took a picture but my phone deleted it somehow. Oh well. It wasn’t as impressive as Kumamoto castle. Here’s a picture of the shrine next to the castle.

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I also went to the market street, Tanga market, but it wasn’t that different than things I’ve seen in other towns. I guess the market streets are dying out.

The shotengai was hopping though.

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I didn’t know what to eat and was almost about to go to Mos Burger when I saw a bakery that looked good. I bought a ham roll, a ham roll with egg, and a kare pan (curry bread). I was craving a katsu sando but I’ll have to wait for that.

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The wind was chilly today so I went looking for a Uniqlo. It was a fifteen minute walk on the opposite side of the station. I almost bought a down vest but I couldn’t find one I liked. I settled on a sweater and then headed back towards the station and realized I should probably just have a hat. It wasn’t even 3PM (check-in time) and I was already tired and I went back to the hotel to use the bathroom. Fortunately, my room was ready and I took it easy and read a book on my Kindle. I only really headed out to try the green tea snacks close by.

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I wasn’t completely useless – I did my laundry like I’d been planning to do. That’s the best part about business hotels. Coin laundry facilities.

I did get bundled up and headed out for dinner.

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I was going to go to Bikkuri Donkey, a Japanese chain of “hamburg steak” restaurants, but I asked the guy at the front desk what traditional Kita-Kyushu food I should try. He said yakiudon, something fish, and something else fish. So I went to the place he suggested, Yamato-ya (the kanji for the place is crazy) and no, it’s not the place upstairs. It’s no place I could’ve gone with my sister because people were smorking inside. But the fish was spectacular (way better than my $99 steak).

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Something raw fish (buri?)

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Nukadaki on the left.

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And of course, yakiudon.

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And that’s it for the evening. I was going to go into Fukuoka tomorrow but I think I’m going to head to Mojiko instead. It’s a “Romantic Retro Town” and the place I think my mom was talking about when she originally told me to check out Kokura. Andiamo.

Japan 2015 Day 3

You know there’s something odd when the tourist guide says, “eat the famous Higa beef!” and you can’t find a restaurant with any Higa beef. I just spent $99 eating dinner. But first things first.

There’s good news and bad news about last night. The good news is that I finally powered through my 4AM wakefulness and didn’t get up until my 6AM alarm! The bad news is that I had a stomachache during the night (maybe I shouldn’t have had that saké at dinner) and I woke up with a headache. I’m guessing the headache was from my allergies and all the smorkiness from the wood fire they had to heat up the cooling room (what a contradiction). There’s usually a spot in an onsen where you can rest and rehydrate and Yamashinobu had theirs outside with a traditional Japanese wood fire. A smoldering wood fire at that. But it didn’t stop me from eating breakfast.

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Advil took care of the headache and I headed back down the mountain to Kumamoto. The bus service didn’t have my reservation (which I looked at online and had printed out) and the bus was packed.

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By the time we got to Aso I figured I had no reason to stay on the bus and decided to take the train the rest of the way. It was a quaint two car train and one of the most interesting things was that there was a switchback where the driver stopped the train and had to walk to the other end to reverse direction, and did the same again at Tateno station.

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When I got to Kumamoto I got to the JR Kyushu Hotel Kumamoto, a brand new clean hotel with FAST INTARWEBS. I had to call home and then the credit card company to see why it kept getting declined and was on the phone FOREVER without much resolution. They’re sending a new card to the hotel in Osaka.

In any case, I went to see Kumamoto Castle which is one of the most impressive I’ve seen. Lots of levels and turrets and stairs. Lots and lots of stairs which made for a great view from the top.

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I got back after walking through the shopping arcade and wanted to try the Higa beef since that’s one of the things highlighted in the tourist guide. The front desk had suggestions but further research didn’t seem to recommend those places. The only thing I could find is a restaurant nearby, in the New Otani Hotel which was expensive. But what the heck, if the steak was as good as the Matsuzaka beef I’ve had in the past, it would be worth it.

Dinner started out promising (the flattened shrimp head is hiding the tail meat).

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The chef was fun to watch and did a great job.

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But in the end the meat was great but it wasn’t life-changing like the matsuzaka beef tends to be. I was also promised the best garlic rice in Japan, and it needed salt.

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In the end it was an excellent, though slightly disappointing, dinner with a surprise end. One of the wait staff knew a lot about Nikka whiskey and I had a drink of the Single Malt Yoichi (which is no longer being produced) at the adjoining bar and it was quite tasty.

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Japan 2015 Day 2

Today was another day of sitting. Sitting on the shinkansen, sitting on a bus, and finally getting to Kurosawa Onsen.

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I made it to Kurosawa Onsen and the place I’m staying didn’t send a van to pick up my baggage. Everyone else was wandering around until the “set Japanese onsen opening time” of 3PM and I was the only clown wheeling around his suitcase. That didn’t stop me from eating some nice Japanese treats.

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I also had a cream puff because the place was so highly rated on tripadvisor.

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Turns out the place I’m staying isn’t even in Kurosawa Onsen, but somewhere nearby in Oguni. They have two men’s baths (one exposed to the outside), one women’s bath, and three separate “family baths” where you lock the door and you don’t have to expose yourself to the masses. It’s quite different than any other onsen I’ve been to in the past, and the dinner, while quite tasty, wasn’t the festival of gluttony I usually experience. The portions were small and that’s probably for the best.

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In any case, my jet lag is getting to me again. I wasn’t able to sleep much past 4AM (started reading a book at 4:30AM) and now I’m trying to keep my eyes open. And now I see I forgot to take a picture of the raw horse meat, the specialty of the area!

Japan 2015 Day 1

I have a couple of crazy travel days (not counting the ones where I travel between countries) and this is one of them. Look at how I started the day off. I had to cross this THREE TIMES, once to get to the shinkansen way too early and twice to go and return from the Starbucks.


I’m visiting my cousin to see the new grandkid (my third cousin twice removed?) and to see my aunt.

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My aunt has lost her sight but fortunately she hears just fine. My mom can see OK but she can’t hear much. Weird how that works.

My cousin’s place is not that far from a shinkansen stop but it’s one of the little-used stops. Since the rail pass I got limits the kind of shinkansen I can ride, the scheduled stops are less than ideal. I had an OK trip from Shinagawa to Shin-Osaka, but from there I was on a train that stops at every station. Not only that but I only had six minutes to change trains.

I got to the second train (without much spare time) but I was counting on getting a passable bento from someone selling them on the train. As soon as we left Shin-Osaka, they announced no “wagon” service (nobody selling food from a cart going up and down the aisles.) Looking carefully at the train diagram, I also found out that there were no vending machines on the train! I asked the conductor if there was a good stop to buy a bento. Nishi-Akashi had a six-minute stop but no bento stand. The only chance I had was a three minute stop in Himeji. I made it!

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I got to my cousin’s without much more trouble but I found that I’m using 300MB of data per day on my phone. That’s going to cost me.

Japan 2015 Day 0

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It’s about 5:35AM in Portland right now, which isn’t too terribly early but I’ve been up since 7AM yesterday. It’s only about 9:35PM in Shinagawa and I’m about to fall over. I’m here alone this year and I had a bunch of “errands” to run when I got to Tokyo. Some I always go – pick up my rail pass, get SIM card for my phone, etc. But I also had to pick up a SIM card that I had delivered to a convenience store (something you can do in Japan), get all my train tickets since I was traveling a lot on the front end of the trip, and mail some gift packages so I didn’t have to lug them around the whole trip.

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The trip started out weird too. A Nike guy I know was on my flight and so was my old high school classmate Jim Skinner. And I gave up my aisle seat so a girl could sit with her mom – they were on their way back to Guam and of course they knew Ric Blas the judoka!

So I better call this quits before I stay up way too late. I have to get up early and get the heck out of Dodge (to see my cousin and her new granddaughter!)