Category Archives: Japan

Japan 2023: Day 10

Well, there really wasn’t much else to do in Onomichi but it was a beautiful morning and I tried walking around the hotel a bit but it takes a bit for my back to loosen up. And there really wasn’t much to eat in the area besides a coffee shop next door. But I had the idea that I wanted to try finding a rolfer in Osaka so I just got going. Not the best plan. Fortunately, sitting on the train isn’t too bad for me.

Onomichi station is actually not that small and there’s even ticket area. They told me there were only three seats available on the shinkansen and all three were middle seats. I was dreading it but when I got to the train there was no one else in my row. A woman came and sat in the aisle seat but no one ended up in the window seat. That was fine. I passed out most of the way. I haven’t been sleeping through the night. I should probably quit drinking so much Pocari Sweat in the evening.

I made it to Osaka and man was it crowded. Both Shin-Osaka station and Osaka station are a special kind of hell on the weekends. I dropped off my bag at the hotel and sat down for a minute and saw lots of other people doing the same thing. It’s a fairly industrial looking lobby with some interesting touches. And it felt good to sit.

IMG 0240

Then I decided to go look for lunch at 11am before the crowds hit. I must’ve missed my chance by a lot because there were lines at the most popular places that looked like they’d take hours to clear out. And most places that were open had the kind of seating that wouldn’t let me stretch my bad leg so they were out. I walked around for almost an hour before I started feeling like I was going to throw up. A breakfast of Advil and chocolate will do that to you.

Fortunately I saw some older ladies go into a brewpub and I thought I could try the pizza. What’s the harm in getting a ham pizza? Well, even though they looked to have a wood fired pizza oven, it was underdone. And there was a fishy cream sauce and a soft-boiled egg on the pizza. It wasn’t bad, just a bit weird. At least it helped my stomach a bit.

IMG 0241

The brewpub seemed to be a big date place. Someone even had a birthday and they turned down the lights and played special music. The poor birthday girl was embarrassed and what the heck are you supposed to do with a sparkler in your dessert?

IMG 0243

Check-in time wasn’t until 3, but I got back at 2 and sat in the lobby for a bit. I got to my room and it might even be smaller than the one I had yesterday, but I like it better. Industrial concrete walls don’t bother me much and I wasn’t expecting as much from this place.

IMG 0249

My coin flip app told me to actually go to a restaurant when I considered just grabbing something from the combini. So I made it up to the food floor of the Yodobashi camera. I came in from the new, fancy side and saw that the Kobe beef restaurant was booked solid for the night. I was more thinking about two places I always seem to go to, and omurice restaurant and Baquet which has a variety of unlimited bread rolls that’s constantly being baked. Baquet was out of style for a while but today it seemed to be the go-to for families with small kids. Omurice it was. I got the seasonal set with a bolognese sauce which I’d never heard of. It was a little weird.

IMG 0245

And it was butter rice inside which could’ve used a bit more flavor.

IMG 0246

It came with a salad, a paper cup of miso soup, a drink (I had lemon squash!), and mini-marron dessert.

IMG 0244

IMG 0248

On the way out I looked at some fancy kitchen knives and then foam rollers. I figured it would be a pain to carry around but my back hurt. I also looked at a tiny massage gun and actually tried it out. It got the pain out immediately! I knew it was probably too good to be true (and it was) but I bought one. Dr. Air, the company that had a back massager I wanted a few years ago but no one would send it to the states!

Anyway, I killed some time talking to some people from the East Bay who bicycled around Yakushima. They bought some fancy knives and I showed them how to take their receipts and try to win some prizes. All we won were the booby-prize but it was umaibo and I love those things (I won two).

And that’s it for the day. I think tomorrow might be an exciting laundry day and I hope this massage gun lets me limp around better!

Japan 2023: Day 9

IMG 0238My plans for today kind of went sideways. There’s my hip pain. Then it’s raining. And I’m meeting my cousin for lunch in the middle of nowhere. It all worked out and my final plan was just to make it to the seemingly luxurious hotel and just hole up for the evening. The hotel is fine but is not nearly as nice as the photos and it’s really in the middle of nowhere. I decided to stay here when I thought I’d be more mobile and also assuming the weather would be nicer.

Anyway, calling it a travel day. I started off with a later breakfast than usual after trying to loosen up the hip. I was warned there’d be a lot of students and the restaurant would be crowded. I was lucky in the big bath last night so I wondered about the hotel restaurant. I got there around 8 and there were two other people there. I think they left and were replaced by two more people. It was quite tasty but it took a while to eat because I wanted to wait until after I ate to take any Advil.

IMG 0224

I was pretty full after all of that. To get to the meeting place with my cousin I didn’t have to get to the station until 11AM. Checkout is at 10AM. I figured it would just be easier to sit around at the shinkansen station than try to find a nice spot at a coffee shop and I was there an hour early. I watched sat on the platform by myself, watching the occasional shinkansen whiz by. (I’d add the video but I can’t figure out how to do that right now.)

Then it was a short 30 minute ride from Shimonoseki to Tokuyama, and a short local train to Kudamatsu. They took me to the same hotel that we went to last year and they recently stopped having a buffet. I got the “middle” offering of fried flounder and there was way more food than I expected. And my cousin also got me some flounder sashimi.

IMG 0230

All three of us got the same thing. On the left is some pork and rice, then “hirame sembei”, deep fried flounder bone and skin, homemade tartar sauce, and then the fried flounder with some salad. It was better than I expected and seasoned very well.

IMG 0231

We also got the special dessert. They said they only had one left, but if the table wanted it they could probably do one for each of us. There’s a pudding base, ice cream, and a small slice of pie. I think those chips are deep fried pear but they were very sweet.

IMG 0233

So there were my two meals for the day, if I’m to go by the rest of the trip.

I had no reserved seat for the next part of the trip so I took the slower train that stopped at every station. It got me from Tokuyama to Fukuyama 30 minutes later than the faster train, but the stops do get annoying. I was able to take up two seats and there were plenty left. Then at Fukuyama station I took a local train that backtracked to Onomichi. Onomichi station was much larger than I expected but there was no taxi stand! I guess there’s no need, but eventually a taxi showed up. I got a ride to the hotel because it was raining and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to walk all the way to the hotel.

The hotel isn’t as nice as the pictures. It’s tiny. There are four rooms on my floor. And the room itself is tiny. No bath, just a shower and the sink is part of the room. Here’s my desk.

IMG 0236

And here’s the beds.

IMG 0237

That think on the shelf above the beds is the “fridge”. It looks like one of those USB fridges that get advertised to you and never works very well, but it seems OK. You can see the sink on the right. But here’s a view from the beds.

IMG 0238

And the bathroom.

IMG 0239

The only other time I saw a bathroom this small was at a Dormy Inn where there was a large bath available.

It’s also quite drafty. But it’s fairly clean and good enough for a night.

Japan 2023: Day 8

As you’d expect, I didn’t get much done today, but then again, I got a lot done. My leg still hurt. A lot. And the massage therapist I see in Portland suggested I find someone who does deep tissue massage or a chiropractor. Do you know how few rolfers I found in Japan? I called 10 within 200 miles and I got no answers at all.

But first I ate some breakfast. I realized I’ve been at a Comfort Hotel before in Kochi. They’re really not my favorite, but there was a lot for breakfast. I ate more than yesterday because I think things are starting to loosen up a bit. I still didn’t eat a lot. Oh, and if you’re a fan of cereal, Comfort Hotel has it. I did not find white rice, however.

IMG 0218

I rode a bunch of short hops to Shimonoseki. One stop to the Shinkanen, two stops on the Shinkansen to Kokura, and then a couple stops on the local to Shimonoseki. I crammed myself onto the crowded Shinkansen because I was pretty sure the guy next to me was getting off way after I was.

IMG 0219

The area around the train station looks big but the restaurants aren’t open very late. There’s a Daimaru department store and some other stores there. The weird part is how many stairs you need to use to get across the streets. I dropped off my suitcase at the Via Hotel (which looked up even though there are stairs to get in) and headed out.

I went to make train reservations for my weird trip tomorrow which includes a stop to see my cousin and then backtracking and heading to another small town. But the ticket office is closed from 11am to 3pm and so I went to the tourist information bureau. They were staffed by someone who sounded possibly Korean. She basically pointed out some areas and a tower to see over the town. Instead of heading to the tower, I asked google about chiropractors and saw two not very far away.

The first one was closed. The second one looked an awful lot like someone’s house and the name made me think it was a chiropractic association and not a practitioner. I knocked and was let into a room that looked like a warehouse for kids toys (I guess like a house with small children) with an older looking exam room. The chiropractor told me he wasn’t really open but he’d see me. He told me he took himself off of Google and sure enough, I can’t find it any longer.

He was GREAT. Took two hours realigning me and while things still hurt, they were bearable. And I got some advice about tensing my lower abs before exerting myself. I guess he had a clinic in Tokyo and his late father had a clinic here and now he’s back home to look after his mother and eventually open up the clinic. He still has patients in Tokyo and he goes back and forth. Also, this is mostly guesses from what he told me, the doctors are so powerful in Japan that chiropractic is about to go away here and a lot of the people who put it on signs haven’t even studied it. Because of the medical lobby, it’s medicine or nothing here. He agreed with my assessment that acupuncture is for immediate but not long-term relief. Also, he’d taken night classes in osteopathic manipulation from a real DO. He said chiropractic manipulation is good while you’re younger, but osteopathic manipulation is better when you’re older.

Anyway, two hours of body manipulation and the guy was getting sweaty. I do feel better and while things still hurt, they feel like they’re getting better.

I found a taxi to take me to the tower and called today a success.

I saw a lot of south Asians on the way to the chiropractic clinic, and when I went to dinner it seemed like there were a lot of SE Asians working there. I had a hard time understanding some of them. I ordered one of the local specialties (I thought I ordered two things and a salad) and after that I ordered the 8 piece yakiniku set. I felt bad because I wasn’t drinking, so I got out of there after that.

IMG 0222

I still was a little hungry so I bought a rice ball and too much dessert at 7Eleven. I’m no TabiEats.

IMG 0223

After that it was time to take a bath in the big basement bath. I guess there’s a middle school trip staying here and luckily they weren’t down there. Just a weird dude who didn’t quite seem Japanese and a grandfather with his screaming preschool-aged grandson.

And that’s it for today. Lots of traveling tomorrow and lots more ibuprofen, I’m sure.

Japan 2023: Day 7

I just spent 6 hours watching videos on how to identify back pain by a PT and so far I think I have problems with my piriformis but I also have ruled out the piriformis. At least I ruled out just about everything else as well. At this point I think it’s muscular, and I sure wish I was at home so I could get a decent massage. The ones here I know about are nice but they’re more “relaxation massage” and I need deep tissue. It’s a very unlocalized (i.e. not sharp) pain in the side of my hip and it hurts so bad that I’ve considered cutting my trip short. Walking makes it worse, going up stairs makes it worse, and I think the only thing that really helps is lying down.

I haven’t been getting great sleep either. I thought I’d sleep better since it was colder but I remember looking at the clock at 4AM and then next thinking it was time to get up and it was only 4:10AM. I passed out on the train this morning and once in the afternoon and I’ve been in the hotel since checkin time at 3pm. I also had dreams during my 10 minute nap at 5pm, which isn’t right. And I even had a dream about my college girlfriend last night. Weird.

But enough complaining. Here’s MORE COMPLAINING.

I got up to get my “free” Toyoko Inn breakfast and since it takes a while for the hip/leg thing to loosen up, I didn’t have an appetite. They even had curry rice! The miso soup had clams in it and there were other things on the menu that I didn’t grab. This is all I had from the buffet.

IMG 0208

After that I took three ibuprofen and bought some back plasters for my side. That is what made me so sleepy that I was unable to stay awake on the train. I got to Saga without much trouble and I suppose there really isn’t that much here. But the little that is here was pretty interesting. At breakfast I met an elderly Australian couple who were on a two month trip visiting their kids and they mentioned the castle in Saga was only one story. Not all Japanese castles were big towers on hills. I decided to go and had to take a lot of breaks even with the aid of the Advil and back plasters. Here’s a picture of the main gate. The rest was a huge sprawling one-level house.

IMG 0213

As with most castle reproductions I’ve been to in Japan, it was a museum of the local history. Saga is a big city with an important history building some of the earliest forges to produce cannons and ships and trains. Sadly Saga doesn’t have a lot of interesting attractions so, like I said, it’s always at the bottom of the list for the most beautiful prefectures and usually in last place unless it gets beat out by Ishikawa prefecture. I don’t think it deserves to be down towards the bottom.

I then walked to a neighborhood with several old houses, walking through two very large shrines that were right next to one another. Luckily there were plenty of places to sit on the way. When I got to the “old bank” I noticed there was a cafe inside and decided to have some lunch. I probably overdid it.

IMG 0215

Here’s another picture of the salad on its own. It wasn’t tiny.

IMG 0214

I even had dessert. (That’s ginger ale in case you were thinking it was booze.)

IMG 0216

Then I decided to go to the free observation deck of the prefectural offices and it was really nice.

After that I took the bus back to the hotel and checked in at 3pm to watch videos on how to fix your back pain. Six hours later I knew nothing other than it’s probably not something awful. It still feels like it though.

I did leave at 7-ish to get some dinner. I was still pretty full from lunch and was thinking rice balls and sandwiches from the convenience store but I went to a bakery. I didn’t bother taking a good picture.

IMG 0217

The bread would’ve been better fresh but it wasn’t bad. Curry pan, cheese pan, something with beef, and that one at the bottom is an oddly shaped melon pan.

Oh and I’m staying at the Comfort Hotel. It’s quite a bit more expensive than the Toyoko Inn but most of the improvements are cosmetic. I’ve decided I’m really not a fan. It’s clean, though, and I hope I get some better sleep tonight. (I just realized the pillow is only a couple of inches thick.)

Japan 2023: Day 6

I got up this morning and my back (really my right hip) still hurt. I tried some of the psoas stretches I saw online that seemed to help yesterday morning but they did nothing today. After breakfast I took 2 ibuprofen and either it didn’t do much or it took a while to kick in. My sister later reminded me that my father had back problems when we visited Japan a long time ago as well. Stupid genes.

I’m getting ahead of myself. I had the same breakfast as I did yesterday and it was still good. Took me a while to eat it because my hip hurt.

IMG 0182

After breakfast I packed up and made my way back to the acupuncturist and when I arrived my hip hurt so bad I couldn’t sit and wait. I had to walk around outside. Luckily it was a much nicer day. And while he didn’t fix everything, it was better afterwards.

I got my train ticket to Sasebo. Usually there’s two ways there, one using the shinkansen and one taking the coastal route that takes longer. Unfortunately due to track repairs, the coastal route wasn’t running today. That’s OK, I wanted to take the new Nagasaki shinkansen anyway. I had some time to kill so I looked for a place to sit down. Short chairs make things worse for me, and the waiting area had short chairs. I ended up at the outdoor seating at Mickey D’s. The new station is scheduled to open on 11/10 (yeah, Friday) so here’s the view.

IMG 0185

At least it kept the crowds down and I could get an outdoor seat. The box is some weird triangular lava cake-sorta thing. It wasn’t bad but lava cakes are pretty much chocolate overload for me.IMG 0186

Oh, here’s the building that would’ve been nice if it was open.

IMG 0187

I took the toy shinkansen to the end of the route, a whole 30 minutes away. There’s some feuding with Saga prefecture who vies for the bottom spot as the ugliest prefecture. I suppose the real list is “the most beautiful prefecture” but I don’t know what else you’d call the bottom of that list.

IMG 0189

The seats were oddly made of wood as well.

IMG 0188

There you have to get on a relay train to Hakata where you can link up with all the other shinkansen lines in the country.

IMG 0190

I took the train to Sasebo instead. It felt quite odd, driving slowly and steadily through the countryside. It felt like it was going slower than the one car trains I’d been on earlier in the week and it was quieter and, uh, steadier, and the seats were quite nice.

IMG 0191

When we got close to Sasebo we had one of those weird stops where the train pulled into the station and then backed out again, going backwards for the last little bit to Sasebo.

I asked the tourist bureau what I should see. They told me to go visit the 99 islands. I guess there really are 208 islands but 99 was symbolic for “too many islands to count”. They said take the bus to the end, take the boat trip around the islands, take a taxi up to the viewpoint, and then take the bus back. The bus is ¥140 and the taxi would be closer to ¥4000.

I got off the bus and found out I was on the last boat of the day!

IMG 0196

Quite a few people who sounded like SE Asian Chinese, and a whole busload of middle school students from Kirishima. Yeah, from my first stop of the trip! Back when I still felt OK!

IMG 0195

The island were quite pretty but it got slightly cold and very windy today. I took the cab up to the viewpoint and it wasn’t any warmer. Also, there was nothing other than a field of flowers and a viewpoint. No buildings other than a toilet.

IMG 0199

IMG 0200

IMG 0198

I wasn’t about to sit and wait an hour and 15 minutes for the bus so I took the cab back to my hotel. I’m wondering about my love for Toyoko Inn. The rooms are clean, cheap, and fairly spacious. You get a “free” small breakfast. But the walls are very thin which can be offset by using earplugs. And it’s also the only hotel where I’ve ever seen the police. And today, the lobby was crawling with police. I think the patrons were being Japanese Karens and called the police because they thought they were being slighted because later I saw them standing outside. I also overheard one of them telling the police to do their job. I dunno. Made me kind of wary but I’ve not had any trouble. LIke I said, clean, spacious, cheap, and a bit loud.

So I ticked off a few things off my Sasebo list. The other thing was to eat Sasebo food. I wanted to get a Sasebo burger for lunch and I was told I should try the lemon steak for dinner. Fortunately there was a quaint Showa era-ish restaurant right at the station. And the food was quite tasty.

IMG 0205

IMG 0203

IMG 0204

The lemon steak was great. It comes with a yakiniku-style sauce and was completely cooked on that hot plate. They bring it out to you and you need to flip it to cook both sides. The meat was called Nagasaki wagyu and I believe it. After you finish the meat you can put the rest of the rice on the hot plate to soak up the sauce. I wasn’t completely full so I ordered a Sasebo burger as well. For ¥800 how big could it be?

IMG 0207

It’s hard to tell from the picture because all you can see is the lettuce but it had tomato, a good-sized patty, and the sauces were mustard mayo and something also close to yakiniku sauce. The beef had the weird bitter/medicinal taste that some Japanese hamburgers have but it was quite good. I’d say it tasted a little like a homemade Mos Burger but about 1.5x the size. I was quite full.

And now I’m in my room taking it easy. The acupuncturist told me the best thing is if could get more sleep. Well I’m in bed for at least 8 hours a night. I wanted to say, “More sleep? Maybe if the GD hotels didn’t stick me in a furnace and you guys legalized what I use for a sleep aid (it grows in fields in Oregon if you need a hint) I would be sleeping just fine!” Can’t have it all, I guess.

Japan 2023: Day 5

Earlier today I was thinking I haven’t done anything today and I’m pretty OK with that. Then I remembered a couple of things. I stayed two nights in an expensive hotel in Nagasaki (which turned out to have another hideously hot room) for one real reason, to see the Atomic Bomb Museum. I tell people they don’t NEED to see the bomb museums but I figured after coming here a second time, I really should. I did that today and it was, as you would expect, very sobering. I went to the Hiroshima museum years ago and it’s something I only need to do once in my life. Oddly enough there was a book at my gradeschool that showed all the pictures from the Hiroshima museum. Anyway, I’m guessing no one reads this and looks at my iffy food pictures, so here’s breakfast.

IMG 0177

The hotel appears to have a deal with a local restaurant and it’s a bit of a walk, but the breakfast was great.

I had an OK night of sleep in my hot room but I really screwed up my back yesterday and it’s kind of unbearable. Some of the shorter seats in Japan make it worse. Anyway, after breakfast I limped my way to the museum and walked around the Peace Park. Here’s the hypocenter monument (the only picture I have of the area). I just wasn’t in the happiest mood, as you’d expect.

IMG 0178

Nagasaki is in a small valley and there are lots of hills. Going up stairs is very painful right now and the only thing that really makes things better is rest, especially lying down. You really can’t do that in public. There are LOTS of stairs from the park to the museum, but luckily there are also elevators for older people (and me right now). You can see the clouds gathering and by the time I got my sad self out of the museum it was pouring.

One good thing about all the weird apps on my phone is my Japanese phone app. And my sister has a friend in Nagasaki who I called to ask about chiropractors. She says she never goes and her husband just goes to real medical clinics for his problems but she asked some coworkers who told me to try an acupuncturist. It’s a fairly quick streetcar ride there but I took a taxi. ¥2200-ish rather than ¥140, but it was raining and when I did the math it was only about $14US at the current exchange rate.

The acupuncturist was quite good but unfortunately, it didn’t completely clear up my back. I’ve had back problems in the past and there’s usually no quick fix. Plus, rain. Here’s a picture out of the front window.

IMG 0179

It took about 3 hours because I just walked in. First they had me lie on a “water bed”. It felt like a foam bed with a gadget that squeezed my feet, but I guess there’s a rubber mat underneath and water jets that gently massage your back in interesting patterns. Then I went in and he did some manipulation similar to what my Osteopath does. Then the needles were inserted and pulled out. I’m used to going to a Chinese practitioner who left the needles in and attached electric doo-hickeys that shocked me for 20 minutes or so.

I made it back to the hotel and thought about getting lunch. It was about 2pm and there were huge lines at the restaurants. I just grabbed a Nagasaki pork bun and took it back to the hotel where I rested for the afternoon. I continue to skip lunch for the most part.

IMG 0180

Then I went out to look for dinner. The restaurants in the building attached to the hotel seemed to be national chains and not especially Nagasaki-like, so I walked back to the station to get some champon. Unfortunately that’s when my back started to hurt quite a bit. The picture is bad because I was distracted and started eating before I remembered to take a picture.

IMG 0181

I was scrunched into a booth that made things more painful and after a couple more bites I stood up to see if that would make things better and it did not. It hurt enough that I had to give up. I asked if I could take it to go and they said no, as I expected. It’s not something they do in Japan. But they did let me switch to a table and that worked. I also forgot to get my 5% hotel discount on the way out, but I did schedule another appointment with the acupuncturist for tomorrow morning. I’ll be seeing less of Sasebo, but if my back keeps hurting like this there’s no way I’d enjoy myself there.

Oh, and I did finally remember that I had ibuprofen with me the whole time. I just took some but I’m in for the evening so I won’t be able to tell unless I try walking up some stairs and there’s no way I’m going to try that. Time for some Netflix, I guess. I rejoined just for this eventuality, so I might as well.

Japan 2023: Day 4

Well, today didn’t go completely well but what can you do? It was an adventure day. I took a bus to a ferry to a train to another train. On the way I tweaked my back some more and by the time I made it to Nagasaki I was beat. I was just going to grab some dinner and then hide in my room and I heard fireworks. I had to lean over the desk so I could see out the window, but I watched a bunch of fireworks that looked about half a mile away.

I’m getting ahead of myself. Like I said, Route Inn is better than I always expect. I guess the problem is it’s kind of drab and the lobby looks like some downtown office building but the rooms are fine (if not a little dark). I got up and got some breakfast at the hotel.

IMG 0163

It was pretty good besides the coffee. And there was one weird thing: the rice was dispensed out of a machine that looked like a big coffee machine. Push the button and rice came out. A dude next to me showed me how it worked and gave me a bowl. Without him I would’ve been lost.

I went back to my room and packed only to realize that the bus to the port didn’t come that often. And I was expecting more people at Kumamoto station but I guess Sunday morning is pretty quiet.

IMG 0166

The whole thing was pretty easy. Not too many people on the bus ride to the port and there are two ferries that go to the same place. The faster one takes 30 minutes and costs a little more. The slower one takes about an hour I think. I forget, since I didn’t take that one.

IMG 0168

It was a nice day and I saw what the cabbie meant about the seagulls. They were swooping in the wake of the other ferry trying to get fish.

It was hot in Shimabara and it’s a lot bigger than I expected. There’s springs that were formed after an earthquake and there’s a couple of places where they have koi in the pools by some houses. I went to see those and paid ¥400 just to sit and have some more tea.

IMG 0169

Somehow I got roped into seeing the castle. It’s a reproduction and not even original construction but it’s the third tallest castle in Japan. And that’s when I found out that going up the stairs made my back hurt even worse. But I was already on the way up the stairs to see outside. I was in so much pain that I breezed through and didn’t take any picture. Also there were lots of traditional samurai artifacts that had Christian themes. Not my cup of tea.

IMG 0171

The reason I went was to get some stamps on a card. They give you a postcard and if you make it to all of the stamps, they overlap to form a picture of the castle. Unfortunately, no one told me one of the stamps is at the top of the castle and I didn’t carry my card up there. I was almost in tears on the way up so there was no chance I was going up a second time. My back hurt so much that I got a cab to the train station which wasn’t very far away.

IMG 0172

The train only came once an hour and it was a One Man Car, run like the bus. You grabbed a ticket on the way in and that determined your fare.

IMG 0173

I pre-paid for a ticket that took me all the way to Nagasaki and transferred onto a much newer two-car train. For some reason the seats on this train were just the right height to make my back start hurting again.

IMG 0174

By the time I made it to the hotel I was beat. I figured I’d make it out to get dinner but then I’d just watch some YouTube videos in my room. I found some toruko rice (Turkish rice) which really is thought to be a shortening of “tri-color rice” and not Turkish rice. It’s a Nagasaki specialty and I pretty much missed lunch so it tasted delicious. The store in the station had hundreds of items on the menu which were basically just different versions of toruko rice. I couldn’t go through them all so just asked what the most popular ones were. I got the hayashi rice & croquette version. You can see the croquettes under the white sauce, some spaghetti, a hamburger with some white sauce on half, and the orange at the top is some salad.

IMG 0175

Ahd then it was time to watch videos. I’m way behind on the channels I subscribe to and in the middle of watching one of the videos I heard the fireworks. A window at the end of the hallway would’ve been a perfect place to watch, but I was already in my hotel sleepwear so I just leaned over my desk and looked out at the fireworks. It was too uncomfortable to watch the whole thing, but I did see a lot of it.

And that’s about it for the evening. Unfortunately, the room is now incredibly warm (it’s Japanese winter heating even though it was 77F today). I don’t sleep well unless it’s a little cold so we’ll see how I do. I guess I could leave the window open but we’re right near Nagasaki station and the noise would probably be worse for my sleep than the heat. Oh well.

Tomorrow it’s supposed to be awful with 1” of rain and thundershowers. I’m going to see the Atomic Bomb museum so it’s sure to be a great day.

Japan 2023: Day 3

There always seems to be something going on that I’m “missing”. When I was at the hotel in Ibusuki, there was a muffled announcement and I couldn’t make out the time or what it was for. I skipped the mystery event (honestly I was about to pass out). Today at the Kumamoto JR station they were selling round-trip train tickets to a fireworks show but it seemed like it would be another ordeal with crowds so I skipped that too. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I thought it would take too long to get from Kagoshima to Nagasaki so I planned a stopover in Kumamoto. I kind of like it here but I also am unclear on what there is to do. I started out with another interesting breakfast that’s the specialty of Amami-oshima, a kind of ochazuke that you assemble yourself:

IMG 0147

Basically it all goes on top of the rice and you pour tea on it.

IMG 0148

It was, as I expect from Kagoshima, great. I ended up with just about all of it in the ochazuke except for the benishoga pickled ginger. I think it overpowers the flavors so I only used half.

Then I started what I thought would be another long day of travel. I’m not much of a train otaku, but here’s a picture of the Kagoshima streetcar.

IMG 0149

I got to the train station early because I was trying out the smartEX shinkansen tickets that allows the ticket to be put onto a Suica card rather than having to carry around a bunch of slips of paper. It could’ve been a disaster. It didn’t work and I had lots of help from the stationmaster who made me prove I actually had a ticket. Logging on was a chore and first I got this next screen. It started out at 7 minutes and took longer.

IMG 0150

It all seemed to work out after a while but the stationmaster took my phone and did SOMETHING with it so he might’ve fixed things. But then I went back and asked why it didn’t tell me what my seat assignment was. Turns out the turnstile spit out a piece of paper that I missed and they had to pull it out of the gate mechanism for me. So much for avoiding fiddly bits of paper. At least getting the initial ticket was a lot quicker than standing in line at the Midori-no-madoguchi.

IMG 0151

Turns out after all that the train was an express that skipped all the intermediate stations and only took 45 minutes. I dropped my bag off at the hotel and went back to the train station to consult the tourist information booth about what there is to do now. There are lots of big new buildings by the station that went up in the four years since I visited last. I guess the castle rebuilding continues apace but they still aren’t letting you see much. I found out there’s a garden that the local lord initially created as a tea garden. It doesn’t take long to see but it was worth it.

IMG 0155

There used to be a Buddhist temple here. Now there’s a Shinto shrine and I guess it’s the season for kids to visit the temple for shichi-go-san. Basically it means lots of people in traditional dress getting their pictures taken.

IMG 0156

There were also Shinto wedding pictures being taken but I didn’t want to intrude on that. Once again here’s proof that I’m no good at food pictures. I was already into eating my sweets and matcha before I remembered to take a picture. My sister gets lots of my pictures of half-eaten meals when I meant to send her pictures before I started. It’s always fun to have some traditional sweets at the garden.

IMG 0158

Since I’m so good at doing things in the wrong order, I looked at the pamphlet describing the garden on the way out. It said the treasures of the shrine were displayed in November so I went around asking about it. I guess it’s not really that big a deal and they show them when they show them (not today). But there was a small exhibit of some yabusame mounted archery items and some artwork in a small building just off the parking lot. They had a display of rather ephemeral art – sand paintings that need to be protected from the wind.

IMG 0160

And what they use to create the sand paintings:

IMG 0159

By now you’ve probably noticed I missed lunch again. My back started to hurt so I went looking for the massage chain I frequent and there was one right at the station! My back still hurts but now my calves hurt as well. It’s getting better.

For dinner I was recommended a restaurant that serves horsemeat and I had some basashi (raw horsemeat). This cost as much as a regular dinner and was just about an appetizer.

IMG 0161

Rather than eat more at this restaurant, I went to Mos Burger. Last year it was quite disappointing which seemed odd since it’s always been a reliable hamburger chain. I can report that it’s just as good as it used to be. It’s not everyone’s favorite, but the TabiEats guys agree that it’s their favorite. It’s my favorite as well.

IMG 0162

And that’s about it for the day. I went shopping for some more cables and FamilyMart socks (whee).

The Route Inn chain where I’m staying is both underwhelming and better than a lot of hotels. The rooms are clean and larger than most and they usually have a large bath. It seems a little boring but it’s very good. I had a discussion with the front desk that made me sound like an idiot when I asked if it was summer or winter (no it’s fall they said). What I meant is whether the HVAC was set to summer or winter mode. It’s in winter mode even thought Kumamoto, to me, is the hottest place I’ve been so far and ideal summer weather for this Oregonian (in the mid 70’s Fahrenheit and humid). I have a hard time sleeping when it’s too warm so that isn’t going to help things.

Off to Nagasaki tomorrow which includes a ferry ride. More adventure!



Japan 2023: Day 2

Actually, I’m feeling better about the hotel now. It’s kind of run down and in the middle of nowhere but really I need to do more research before I show up places. It makes for more adventure, sometimes more than I need. This hotel is an old school onsen resort, one that’s kind of on its way down, but it’s fine and it wasn’t expensive. If you get the right train it’s less than an hour and a half from Kagoshima-chuo station and most of the staff were a crack-up. I got lost several times and they all said something like, “This place isn’t really that convenient.” That’s not something I’d expect to hear from Japanese people. I guess that’s why I like Kagoshima so much.

And the food was great. I’m not sure if this breakfast was better or if the APA Hotel breakfast was better, but like the guy on the trolley today told me, “The food in Kagoshima is great.”

Jet lag has really hit. After an awful night of waking up over and over, I finally was dead asleep when the alarm went off. I dragged myself up and I was going to hit the onsen in the morning but I checked my email, like a dummy, and I missed my chance. But I ate too much again which was a good thing later on because finding lunch turned out to be an ordeal.

IMG 0120

I got on the train back to Kagoshima-chuo and I was surprised at how quickly we got to the city and how crowded the train got.

IMG 0122

Kagoshima-chuo station was packed (it is a national holiday today) and the tourist information bureau had a sign that said, “Expect the tour buses to be sold out because a cruise ship arrived today.” I talked to several couples from the ship because, as my sister says, I’m one of those old guys who talks to everyone. There are also lots of foreigners in Kagoshima who look like they live here and I want to join them. It is a lot warmer than I like but I can deal with that. I bet it would be much easier than slipping on ice.

In any case, I was confused by the lack of streetcars and I was told that today is the biggest festival in Kagoshima. Several main roads were closed. I took a taxi rather than trying to figure out which re-routed bus would get me closest to the hotel. I left my bag and this is what it looked like outside the front door of the hotel:

IMG 0123

It’s a wide street and the grass-covered median is actually the trolley tracks between the two lanes. The dancers went down one side and up the other. The crowds got much worse after I crossed the street. They’d stop the dancing every few songs to let people cross.

IMG 0124

At some point I talked to a local Brit and he said there was a Tokyo Disneyland parade coming which was the big attraction. I got as close as I could and waited in the heat.

IMG 0127

There were a bunch of gradeschool marching bands playing quite well along with a couple of other marching bands and we waited. And then I saw it, Mickey and Minnie on the first bus, Donald and Daisy on the second. You can’t see them but Goofy and Pluto were on the back of the first bus and Chip & Dale were on the back of the second.

IMG 0129

At this point I realized how little I cared about Mickey and let a mom stand in the great spot I found. I still got to see everything. Everyone else seemed to be taking a video and were much more excited about this than I was.

IMG 0130

And then I wandered through the crowds to try to find some lunch. The lines were horrible and all the streets away from the festival were packed.

IMG 0133

I saw multiple ambulances called and I wonder if it wasn’t because of a section of the festival called “Shochu Street.” An older gentleman excitedly told me it was the first time they’ve held it in 4 years. Later when I was talking to a cruise couple from LA when we saw an older gentleman do a faceplant directly into a building. He finally got up and was being belligerent with his wife. They refused help from passers-by.

About 1:30 pm I headed back towards the hotel and got a greasy bag containing yakitori and grilled pork sticks. It was great and I can say I had the festival experience without standing in line. It was at the edge of the festivities and the crowds there had died down.

IMG 0134

IMG 0135

One of the most popular things today looked like a whole potato spiral cut, stuck onto a 2-foot stick, and I think fried. I didn’t get a picture, but the lines were long for those wherever they were located.

After that I checked into my hotel and sat inside for about an hour before I headed out for coffee. This shop was on the “People of Kagoshima” YouTube channel and the owner won a prize for being one of the best baristas in the world. He wasn’t there, but the coffee was very good.

IMG 0136

Then I wandered around. Come to think of it, this is when I saw the drunk guy faceplant into the building. I also saw a “Furuits Parlour”.

IMG 0142

The rest of the day didn’t get many pictures. I went to several different Daiso stores (¥100 shops) and bought some dumb things I was excited to get like a jar opener (¥100!) and a short two-prong power cord (OMG, ¥300). They didn’t take Suica but they did take my AMEX on my iPhone.

The third Daiso was back at Kagoshima-chuo station, about a mile away. On the way I went by the only gasoline station I’ve been to in Kagoshima where I refueled a rental car in 2019. The cab drove me by it earlier so I figured I was destined to take a picture of it.

IMG 0143

On the way back to the hotel I got on the streetcar and asked a guy what the next station was (the announcement was severely muffled) and he got two other people involved. Everyone is so helpful down here. He’s from Kagoshima, but lives in Osaka right now, He’s the guy who said the food down here is great and I agree! And the size of the portions is big even by US standards. I had a hard time finishing my dinner of tonkatsu.

IMG 0144

And I thought I’d get another early night but yeesh, I had a heck of a time trying to use the smartEX app to buy a bullet train ticket. I hope it worked. We’ll see tomorrow morning.


Japan 2023: Day 1

I stayed at an APA Hotel in Kirishima Kokubu near the airport and there isn’t much around there. Like most APA Hoels, it looked like it needed some repairs/updating, but it was fine. I got breakfast in the hotel because a lot of times I travel to places I’m unfamiliar with and I’m not sure I can get a small breakfast set (like coffee and pizza toast) like I usually get in Osaka or Tokyo or other large towns. I can usually find a combini and make do with the food there but if I’m unlucky that’s all there is to eat in the area.

Back to breakfast, it was a Japanese breakfast buffet and aside from the coffee, it was excellent. Even the natto was great and instead of Japanese mustard, it had a seaweed mix in.

IMG 0101

I was still a little hungry after that but I figured I’d have lunch and extra snacks. Oh boy was I wrong.

Kirishima doesn’t look that small but there isn’t a whole lot going on. The best part was probably breakfast but it’s a tie with how friendly the older people were. There was an old lady on the train with me who told me that there’s fewer than one train per hour and it takes forever to get to Kagoshima (the main town). The train stops for 15 minutes at various stations to let other trains make connections. It took a couple of hours to get to Kagoshima, and then another couple of hours to get to Ibusuki where I was headed for the day.

Oh boy was that second train a pain. There’s even less going on down that direction and there’s only one track. I started the trip with my IC card payment (my Suica card) and there was an announcement about how I’d have to talk to the train operator if I went further than three stops. I was going to the end of the line. When I got to the end of the line, the guy said I was supposed to end my trip at Kagoshima and then buy a paper ticket for the rest of the trip. Also, my Suica card is what I usually use to pay for almost everything and it’s locked in the middle of a trip.

IMG 0112

When I got off the train, I was in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately, there was a bathroom at the station and when I got out there was only a sign with the number of several taxi services. The other guy waiting told me he called for a cab but I should take it and he’d call his dad for a ride. I took the cab to the hotel and it was only about 1PM and the check-in time was 4PM. I left my bag in their care and went to find the main attraction of the area, hot sands where they bury you in a layer of sand as you lay there.

IMG 0110

My mom and aunt went a while ago and my sister said it sounded fun. It definitely is fun, but less than an hour. There was 20 minutes of waiting while they slowly checked people in. I got my yukata and towel for about ¥1500 and they told me to put my stuff in a locker and just wear nothing but the yukata and bring the small towel. Then you take a long walk down the promenade to the beach, and there’s an area they have tented where people get buried in the sand, but it says to get out after 10 minutes or you might get cooked. Then you go back, strip off your yukata, wash off the sand that you can, and then head to an onsen bath where I had to wash myself repeatedly to get all the sand off. That took another ten minutes. The whole thing took less than an hour, but it was fun.

IMG 0108

IMG 0109There were a LOT of foreigners there from France, China, Korea, Australia, and even Poland. A lot of that I got from listening to them speaking, but the Polish guy was nice. What I realized is that there are LOTS of instructions and 90% of them are in Japanese. I had to tell the Polish guy some of the stuff, and there was a Chinese guy who didn’t know which door to go to next.

After that, there’s absolutely NOTHING to do. At about 2PM I started walking towards the only other attraction in the area, a reproduction of an ancient town I think, but after seeing ZERO Cocacola vending machines I headed back towards the hotel. I found ONE convenience store, a Lawson, and I had their chicken with tartar sauce inside. I would’ve taken more pictures, but I stood outside and inhaled them. It was all I had for lunch.

IMG 0113

And then it was off to the hotel. I figured if nothing else I’d sit in the waiting area and catch up on all the junk email I get. On the way, however, I found another reason not to move to this area:

IMG 0114

I made the image smaller because it’s horrid enough at this size.

Walking up to the hotel, I noticed a lot of flaws in the exterior and some inside as well. The rooms are OK. It just seems a bit old and need of renovation. Check out the elevator doors on the fifth floor:

IMG 0115

But what I was waiting on was dinner and that was great. I suppose the only thing not great was the loud party of elderly people across the room, but what are you going to do about that?

IMG 0119

I felt like i needed something other than water to drink so I had a non-alcoholic beer. I felt a little buzzed but I think it was the jet lag kicking in. BTW, the raw meat in the box on the lower left is raw pork for shabu-shabu in the sterno-fired, metal lidded dish above it.

I didn’t even go to the onsen here because i already went to another one earlier today. And the hotel even has a sand bath in-house. I guess the trick here is to not show up until 4pm and then do all of the sand bathing and regular bathing at the hotel.

Well, I made it. I told myself I wasn’t going to bed at 8pm and it’s 9:10pm now. Time to call it a day.

Japan 2023: Day 0

Sorry for the late start. It’s been a bit hectic. My first travel day took me 24+ hours to get to my hotel and, as you’d expect, I wasn’t 100% towards the end of that. Up at 4AM, on the shuttle at 4:30AM, on the first plane from PDX to SEA at 7AM, 4H layover plus lots of walking to other terminals, 11H flight to HND, 3+H layover, and then the final flight from HND to KOJ (basically a few hours from Kagoshima).

The longest flight wasn’t that bad. New plane but it had a bunch of glitches. We were delayed because the satellite uplink for the WiFi wasn’t working and I don’t think it ever really worked. The movies paused from time to time. My air blower didn’t work. A whole column of seats (not the rows) had their entertainment systems lock up. But for the most part it was fine. I got to watch several foolish movies: Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Fast X, F9, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, and since I didn’t have time for a full fifth movie, part of Central Intelligence (again). 

I was glad to get to Haneda, but there were extra settings on my phone that were necessary to get the internet working and the WiFi there is always janky. That meant the travel forms which were supposed to be completed online to get a QR code didn’t really work at first and I had to fill out one of them on paper. They’re no longer giving the airlines the paper forms because they’re supposed to be a backup, but you know how that all works.

Being AZN, we have to take gifts when going back to the home country. That usually meant having a whole extra suitcase full of gifts we had to cart around. We finally realized we could just mail them from the airport and this time I arrived at a time the post office was open! Unfortunately, Haneda’s three terminals are widely separated buildings with shuttle buses, and I got to tour all of them. My flight arrived at Terminal 3, the post office is in Terminal 1, and my ANA domestic flight was in Terminal 2. It was much easier than last year.

My first actual hiccup was when I couldn’t find the key to the lock on the bag with the presents. Fortunately it was locked through some strings and I just cut the strings. Then I couldn’t find my “Japanese wallet” with all my Japanese money. Fortunately, I had a Suica app with money on it so I used that. (I should mention I’m carrying two phones because I need be logged into two Apple accounts since I had ¥7700 on an old account and that meant I had to have a spare iPhone just to spend it.) I have ways of getting around problems like this and later the next day I found the key and the wallet in a pocket in my bag that’s really hard to see.

IMG 0098

Anyway, onto the food. It was about 1:30AM Portland time when I was looking for dinner (4:30PM Japan time) and I wasn’t really feeling like anything heavy. All the flying was making my stomach feel a bit weird too. I found a nice cafe with a view of the runways that had Japanese coffee house fare including Napolitan spaghetti. I can’t tell you how happy spaghetti with a ketchup based sauce made me, but it’s something I like having on every trip.

IMG 0100

I got to Kagoshima airport and it was larger than I expected. told me that the prepaid cost of a taxi was ¥35,0000 (about $2,000) so I think they have their closest airport marked as Fukuoka or something. When I called the hotel, they told me to pre-book a ride and gave me some numbers but when I called they told me just to get in a cab at the airport.

And that’s about it for the first day.