Kyushu here we come!
Day 5 – 24/03/16
We started the day off with the 2500-year-old tree on Omishima island.
Oyamzumi Jinja, was the first port of call which is famous for its tree in the centre of the shrine and also its roots in samurai culture.
The temple was really interesting and also had a samurai museum right next door to it. We parked the car just down from the temple itself and there was a store full of local produce. Shikoku is really famous for its sea salt, so we got ours from there!
Driving along the islands in between Shikoku and Honshu was by far the most stunning length of road on the trip.
Everywhere you looked in any direction it was just breathtaking… I don’t know how many times we stopped just to get out, wander around and just take some photos. So beautiful!
After our morning stroll through the temple we were headed for Matsuyama and the famous Dōgo onsen!
This onsen one of the most famous in whole Japan, it has been being used for over 1000 years. The building that you see here started its construction in 1894 and has remained virtually unchanged. It is famous for its stone and wooden baths that are both really very pleasant to the eye and of course feel great!
Are you a fan of Studio Ghibli? Well if you are this is the onsen you want to visit as it inspired the only oscar award-winning Japanese animation – Spirited Away!
So after are delightful bath for the day in Dogo onsen we went across the road to Dogo Beer Bakushukan – (https://www.tripadvisor.com/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g298230-d1173955-i90179307-Dogo_Bakushukan-Matsuyama_Ehime_Prefecture_Shikoku.html)
I always go into Japanese restaurants feeling doubtful that I won’t be able to eat as I am vegetarian, but the staff here were extremely helpful and made me up some udon with tempura which actually turned out to be the nicest tempura I have eaten since being in Japan (that’s over 7 months now). I would highly recommend it after your hot bath at Dōgo Onsen!
After a bite to eat we did a little sightseeing around Matsuyama. We first went to a temple nearby Dōgo onsen called Isaniwa Jinja.
This was a nice walk up to the top with a great view over the town, it was also had some very interesting artwork. There were pieces of art that had been carved and painted on top of wood, really interesting stuff actually!
We made our way down through the city markets towards the castle and some of the gardens in Matatusyama. Philip made some friends on the way.
After adventuring around the town for a little longer we made our way to Yawatahama and the ferry to Beppu! When we drove down we were going to stop and stay in Yawatahama for the night but we discovered that we could get a ferry earlier on in the day. We liked this idea better as it saved getting the 6am ferry that we had originally booked. The process of changing the ferry times was pretty simple, I sat in the car and Philip went in… the perks of driving eh?
It was also great timing as we caught the sunset as we were sailing over! It was a well needed break for me too it was nice just to sit back not think and still be covering miles!
Just seeing the number plate on the front of Kin Niku reminded me of something funny, indulge me while we are sailing across to Beppu.
We had now gotten to the point in the journey where we had covered a fair bit of distance and a running joke was reoccurring. If you know or have met any Japanese people you will soon learn when they think something is cool or amazing they tend not to say cool or amazing they just make loud noises. Like OHHHHHHHH or WOOOOOOOO or CHOOOOOOOOO or HUUUUUUUUU or HOOOOOOO or HEEEeeeeeEEE, I could go on. These noises vary as well depending on the individual and of course can change (just to give you an idea). So as I was saying just seeing the number plate reminded me, every time we would go to eat somewhere, fill up the car or stop somewhere to ask for directions we would get a puzzled look followed by “WAHHHHHHH?!?!?!, YAMANASHI????” this happened at least 2 or 3 times a day.
Anyway we had now pulled into port in Beppu, it was time for dinner and a place to stay. おやすみ (or oyasumi) – good night!!
Day 6 – 25/03/16
Beppu, Beppu, Beppu
If only every day could start like this, Hyotan Onsen Beppu.
Beppu is famous for having multiple hot springs in one area. I have a Japanese friend in Beppu and she recommended we visit Hyotan Onsen, of course, she was defiantly on to something. For 1000 yen we were able to try 10 different types of baths water from 3 different onsens and also the famous sandbaths! It was situated right in the centre of Beppu and very easy to find, access and it had free parking!
Beppu you were awsome but Sakurajima here we come!!
Driving, driving, driving, toliet break, driving, driving, dinner, driving….
Day 7 – 26/03/16
What a view to wake up to…
Not to shabby eh?
Sakurajima, Kagoshima prefecture we spent the morning on a few of the walks around the active volcano. We first ventured up and around the volcano a little. This is the most active volcano in Japan it usually erupts on a weekly bases and can even happen daily.
We started the day with a walk around the base of the volcano.
Here we can see Kin Niku posing in front of Sakurajima! Looking as handsome as ever!
After this, we went down the coast for are daily bath and this time it was a very special onsen! Magma Onsen, yes, I said magma!!!! This was one of the most interesting onsens for Phil and myself, but that’s obvious right?? Its an active volcano onsen, it’s AWESOME!!
The magma bath was really unique and noting like we had tried on are trip so far. For a start it was colder than most onsen that we had visited before, but not only that the water itself was thicker with a mud-like slim consistency. It was copper in colour and felt kind of weird on your skin, but its natural, so it has to be good right???
After are bath we headed for the lava trail and a walk alone the coast!
We saw a lot of interesting rocks, had a great view of the ocean, Sakurajima and most improtantly made a new four legged friend!!!
Meet our little ginger buddy
He walked with us around the trail and we had a great little adventure together!
This was actually a really nice way to end our time at Sakurajima, we saw lots of interesting things and of course made a new furry mate! As we were leaving Sakurajima we were engulfed by a plume of black smoke started to rain down suit and ash all around us, there was a small eruption just as we were leaving! Everything started to turn black, must be a real pain in the ass if you had just washed the car? Luckily we didn’t have that problem!
Fukuoka here we come!
On the road, passing by parks you always gotta call in!
Another destination that wasn’t planned out, Kumamoto and its black castle! We were going through Kumamoto around 4 or 5 o’clock just before sunset and the traffic was crazy! I suggested to Philip stopping in at Kumamoto castle to look and see what if it was nice or not. We hadn’t actually planned to come to the castle or stay very long in Kumamoto but now we are so glad that we did! It was perfect timing we could see the castle in the daytime and also the night!
As I’m sure you are aware by now of the devastations earthquake that struck Kumamoto on 16th of April 2016. The castle has been left in ruins along with most of the city. Throughout our trip, we saw many so beautiful things while stopping off at some amazing places but for me Kumamoto had to be one of the most stunning and historical places! The people of this still great city need all the help they can get, there are many ways that you can support. If you feel like helping out there are lots of fundraising schemes that will do just that. This is one that I have been following – https://www.generosity.com/volunteer-fundraising/2016-kumamoto-earthquake-relief-fund
The castle was our first port of call in Kumamoto
This is by far one of the most beautiful castles in Japan that I have ever seen and its gardens surrounding are an escape from the hustle and bustle of the big city! As I mentioned before we had timed it well coming in being able to see the castle then going inside to view the museum and come out to the castle at night!
Of course we took a stupid photo, it’s a must, right?
Pip and his samurai mate!
It was surrounded by a massive moat and a large park to the rear of the castle that was full of sakura and other plants! One of the most impressive parts of the castle had to be the long winding roads leading to the castle that lined with cherry blossom trees!
After checking out the castle we came outside to find a festival that was happening in the caslte grounds. Lots of different groups from all over Japan dancing in a competition!
Oh, and the castle was just gorgeous at night!!
Then it was back on the road to Fukuoka. Thanks, Kumamoto it was fun!
Day 8 – 27/03/16
We had some breakfast in Fukuoka then headed to Kitakyushu, Kokura Castle.
After we went to the castle we realised that we passed quite a nice area so we went back on ourselves to Hiraodai, Kokuraminami. This is known for its limestone caves and unique landscapes. This had to be the most distinctively different areas of Japan I have visited. We were driving up the side of a mountain to come into the valley that the limestone caves were situated when we turned the penultimate corner and everything changed. Most places in Japan are a green lush with trees and bushes this was so foreign and really took us both by surprise. So we desided to stay a while!
We, first of all, went to the limestone caves and went underground, this was somewhat impressive but it was very short and not really worth the 500 yen that we paid as we only spent about 5/10 minutes in the caves. If you are really into caves go for it, if not there are nice hikes to do around this area!
Then we thought, why not climb a mountain?
After seeing the caves and hiking we decided that we should get a move on as we had a lot more ground to cover, so we headed for Hiroshima!
Driving, Driving, oh and driving!!!
We arrive late in Hiroshima around 9pm and it was time for dinner!! We found a good spot to park the car and we headed into the town. Of course, we headed for the nearest okonomiyaki place, and damn it was so good!! (and veggie of course)
The other great thing is you watch them make it infront of you!
After dinner and a cheeky beer we headed for bed!
Day 9 – 28/03/16
Hiroshima, Hiroshima, Hiroshima!
Probably one of the most famous cities in Japan for a variety of reason like food, the interesting people and its history in the second world war. Okonomiyaki is up there with Houtou for me but it probably steals first place in being my favorite food (also the fact that they can make it vegetarian easily is nice too!!)
In the morning we started the day with our daily castle fix at Hiroshima Castle!
It was quite unipe in the colour as it was the first naturally brown castle that we had seen in Japan! Like Kumamoto Castle still has its moat and surrouding wall.
A really beautiful castle and lovely gardens surrounding there is also a zoo if you are into that kind of thing!
When in Hiroshima you are constantly reminded of the atrocities of the Atomic bomb that was detonated on the 6th of August 1945. When the US Air Force dropped “Little Boy” (the nuclear bomb) in the centre of Hiroshima the city was reduced to rubble, while people were turned to dust in seconds. To give you an idea of here is an image of just before and a few days after the explosion.
With this in mind, there are a lot of really beautiful memorials, gardens, buildings and The Atomic Bomb museum which really do open your eyes as to what happened when the bomb was dropped and the devastating after effects it imposed. If you are in Hiroshima I feel that it is such an important part of Japans recent history you should really take your time and let it sink in. I found myself becoming very emotional when in The Atomic Bomb Museum, some of the stories that are used throughout make everything very personal. It is important that we learn from the mistakes in history to never let them happen again while remaining mindful of this history. We mustn’t repeat the mistakes of the past!
Hiroshima’s Atomic Bomb Dome, one of the only buildings to survive closest to the hypocenter, or ground zero. Which was added to UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, in memory of those who died and also a clear reminder that nuclear war fair should never be used.
After a bit of a heavy morning, we decided to head out of Hiroshima and have some late lunch! We drove down the coast heading south to Kure where we discovered (thanks to trip advisor) an Okonomiyaki that turned out to be amazing!!!
お好み焼き＆たこ焼き ヴィヴィor Okonomiyaki Takoyaki Vivi is the place, (if you want to find it sreach for it in Japanese) and it is a small local favorite!
We went inside to no seats, but two ladies quickly stood up and moved around the counter to fit us in! The ladies behind the griddle were extremely friendly as were the locals in the restaurant. It turned out that one of the other customers spoke really good English, so we got talking. This is apparently the best in town for Tako’s (squid balls) and Okonomiyaki. This was definitely the cause as the place was full and when people left there were others waiting to get in. As I said before the two ladies that were cooking were an absolute delight and the food was even better!! We stayed for two portions, fat life… I had both the okonomiyaki with soba and udon, they are both amazing. Try all the sauces the spicey one is the best!
There is also something really amazing about watching your food be cooked and prepared right in front of you. They also had an English menu which is really rare in Japan, they didn’t speak any English but they have gone the extra mile by preparing the menu!
Overall it was delicious also, a great experience watching the food be prepared and the atomiser. There is something really nice about a room full of women as they are not shy to talk or as we say in Northern Ireland have good ‘Banter’. I feel like this would have been a completely different experience if it were all men.
Great place, great food and even better people check it out!!!
After eating way too much food we hit the road again! It was starting to get late and we wanted to cover as much ground as we could. Himeji Castle was the next port of call! When on the road we called into a few different places, first off was Zenkō-ji temples, Onomichi.
A beautiful temple on the top of a mountain that has been there for over 1000 years!
We packed the car and walked up the path but there is a cable car for those that can’t walk as well! The park that the temple was a part of, Zenkō-ji park was really nice and full of cherry blossom trees, really beautiful and what a view!
After the spending some time walking around the park the sun was starting to set and it was time to leave! Fukayama was are next stop for a quick castle viewing and also some dinner, mind you I’m not sure were we got the room from after all the okonomiyaki..
The parks have a different dynamic all together at night, posing their own beauty. You may not be able to see all the flowers but this only heightens the other senses. This was in the middle of the cherry blossom season. The smell of sake is in the air the laughter of people sitting under the Sakura. During the day, we have Hanami which translates to flower watching that involves drinking (not always alcohol, but usually alcohol) and eating under the sakura. But of course the Japanese have a word for just about everything nature related, so, Yosakura is basically night time Hanami!
Oh, and of course, the castle was beautiful! Unfortuntly my Ipad dosen’t really do it any justice at night.
What a way to end a great day!
Day 10 – 29/03/16
Himeji Castle and Nara
The biggest castle in Japan, of course its on are list! We got there bright and early and rightly so. There was just a flood of people come 9am, it was crazy.
We went inside the castle but there wasn’t actually very much to see most of the other castles that we had visited at some sort of museum or exhibition inside Himeji was just empty rooms. A little bit disappointing really but the castle itself was stunning for me seeing it from the outside would have been enough. The gardens, on the other hand, were totally worth the money, Philip and I both really loved the gardens and I’m sure you can see why!
All of these walled gardens were unique and so beautiful in there own ways!!
So much wow for the gardens, if you are going to the castle you must go and see the gardens!
Off to Nara next and its (in)famous deer!
I mannaged to meet a nice one, these guys are actually super poliet and are famous for bowing to people if you feed them! Unless you have food though they don’t really bother with you.
Nara of course is not only famous for its wild lif, but its temples also! Some of biggest and more famous temples are here in Nara.
Nara Park is すばらしい (Subarashii) as the Japanese say or in English glorious or superb! The connections of history, culture and wildlife is like no were else!
Oh, the sakura there was pretty damn awsome too!
Getting hairier by the day…
After Nara we headed a little closer to Yamanashi and the end of the trip.
Day 11 – 30/03/16
Shizuoka and home!
We started the day as all days should start with an onsen and a castle (have you noticed this reoccurring theme?)
Breakfast at Yoshida Castle, Toyohashi was the start to our day. Situated right biside the Toyokawa river it has a small but beautiful garden with a great view of the city!
So fun fact, this is the morning that our dear Philip got Instagram, so if you want to follow him please do so! @philipmewes
Shizuoka next, first stop was Kunōzan Tōshō-gū.
This temple was also situated on top of a mountain (or cliff if you like) which had amazing views of the pacific ocean and the strawberry farms along the coastline! Talk of strawberries there was so many strawberry farms in this area all you could smell was the sweet, sweet smell of fresh strawberries.
Oh and lots of steps, I mean about 40 staircases worth! Good luck
After the temple, we went back to numazu to meet a friend and have some lunch! Then in the evening time decided that we were close enough to home to go back and sleep there. The student option, you know cheaper and comfyer! Before going back to Kofu we decided to revist the first park that we went to on our travels Iwamotoyama Park in Fuji to see if the sakura had started to blossom 10 days later!
We were in luck!
Even the tea fields around the park seemed more alive!
What a way to end the trip, back where we first started! I really hope you enjoyed reading about Pip/Pip’n/Philips and my adventure around the south of Japan. If you’ve gotten this far you have probably read a little bit of my ranting or just enjoyed the pictures, that’s great too! We covered a lot of miles and I think I have captured most if not all of the trip in these two posts. I tried to keep this one as short as I could!
Hope you enjoyed it as much as we did! Thanks again for taking the time out to have a look! See you again soon there are lots of new exciting trips that I will be posting over the next few weeks that have already happened in the time it has taken me to write this. Keep your eyes peeled!
Thanks for reading/looking,