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Miyanouradake Yakushima

Kagoshima harbour

Strolling around Minami Aso

Tom our local guide

Climbing Aso

Hiking on rim of Mount Aso

Usuki Buddha rock carvings  Kyushu

Top quality Oita Prefecture soya sauce

Fugu blowfish

Hot sand baths

Noh stage at Itsukushima shrine

Adachi Art Museum garden

Autumn maple leaves

Autumn beech leaves

Respect for Jizo on Mount Daisen

Hiroshima Peace Park memorial.

West Japan Explorer

November 2005

In terms of the distance travelled and variety of activities, the first West Japan Explorer proved to be one of the most challenging and rewarding tours Hike Japan has introduced. Our journey, by plane, train, bus, ferry, tram, and foot, took us to the islands of Yakushima and Kyushu , the city of Hiroshima , and some remoter areas along the Japan Sea Coast en route to Kyoto and Osaka .

Soon after he returned to England , one member wrote

‘It was a very intense and thrilling experience.  I was thinking afterwards that what we did was pretty well the equivalent of a fortnight's tour of the UK including a couple of Munros, the Lakes and cultural highlights of Cornwall , Manchester , Edinburgh and Middlesborough.  This might be regarded as a little ambitious (even if the trains ran on time!).
Nevertheless, hugely enjoyable - and has whetted our appetites for a return.'

Inspired by a delicious dinner of seasonally caught matsubagani crab, but clearly experiencing some discomfort at sitting on the floor on tatami mats, he also composed the following haiku poem

Sitting cross-legged
Eating crab. Fortunate crab
Such flexible legs

Sitting on tatami mats for dinner can be quite a challenge. A few cups of saké or the local shochu helped.

One of the first places we visited on the morning after flying into Kagoshima was the old Shimazu family residence Senganen and the Isoteien garden. Constructed in 1658 as the villa for Mitsuhisa Shimazu, 19 th lord of the Shimazu clan, it is a classic garden in that it ‘borrows' the scenery of Kagoshima Bay and Sakurajima volcano as a background. The day we visited, locals wearing Edo period costumes were giving historical re-enactments of processions to Edo and an explanation of how firearms and canons were introduced and first used in the field Japan .

They say it rains for 30 days a month on the island of Yakushima . Annual rainfall is very high - about 10000mm. It is a warm, wet environment in which huge cedar forests thrive. The venerable Jomon sugi Yaku cedar tree is believed to be more than 7,000 years old. There are windows during the year when one is more likely to get drier weather, however, and taking advantage of this we were in fact fortunate in having three lovely days. We even got great views from above the clouds, from Miyanoura peak, of the island and surrounding Pacific Ocean after our night in a mountain hut. The peaceful, full moon night had only been disturbed by the Yaku monkeys who came to play with some pots and pans we had left outside to dry after a fine curry made for us by Tom, our local guide. A dip in the sea at Inakahama beach, a well-known site for sea turtles, was delightfully refreshing. There can be fewer better antidotes to travel fatigue than a swim in the sea. Low tide was at the wrong time of day for us to have a dip in the hot springs on the beach, but we enjoyed hot tubs before a delicious meal at our comfortable lodgings after the two-day hike.

We travelled on to South Aso after our flight back from Yakushima, where Bill, one of Bob's British friends in Japan , has recently built a house with fine views of the volcano. Akio, Bill's wife, proudly showed us round the new home, and invited us to a tea ceremony ( chanoyu ) given by a sado teacher. After lunch, and before the tea ceremony, we had all enjoyed a stroll around the local countryside with Bill and his Pyrenean shepherd dog Amy. It was wonderful to be so warmly entertained and given a glimpse of what ex-pat life is like in Kyushu . The next day we climbed to the rim of Aso, the volcano with the biggest caldera in the world. The extent of how big the eruption must have been can be clearly imagined from the summit.

The next two days we were looked after in Tom's (our local Kyushu guide) home town of Usuki . Having strong connections with early Portugese and Dutch settlers, the town is also famous for its natural rock carvings of Buddhas and fugu ryori . Fugu are puffer fish and must be prepared by a qualified chef who must laboriously remove toxic parts of the fish before it can be eaten. Everyone survived the fugu dinner, but the hot saké with fugu fin failed to get the thumbs up.

During our stay in Usuki we travelled over to Beppu for a hot sand bath. The beachside baths had been destroyed by a typhoon this autumn so we had to book into the old indoor baths in the town.

Next stop was Hiroshima which we travelled to on the bullet train from Kokura. The autumn crimson autumn leaves at Itsukushima shrine and on Miyajima island, a short tram and ferry ride from Hiroshima , were at their best. Restoration work to the shrine following typhoon damage is more or less complete. The Christmas lights along Peace Avenue in Hiroshima were spectacular.

The highlights of the next three days included a half-day trip to the oldest, and one of the most important Shinto shrines in Japan at Izumo – November is the month when the 8,000,000 gods in Japan are said to leave home and assemble at this sacred site ( kamiaritsuki ), exploring the castle and old town of Matsue, climbing to the snowline on Mount Daisen, a visit to the Adachi Art Museum, and some excellent local seafood.

Our journey then continued by train to the hot spring town of Kinosaki . In the afternoon we walked to the nearby Tajima pottery, founded by Tsuyoshi Yamane, where we had the chance to experience making vases, plates, cups, and plates in a traditional Japanese pottery setting. Dinner was a feast of crab fresh from the Sea of Japan . If you visit Kinosaki, there is a wide choice of hot spring baths, but the newly constructed public bath we visited is particularly fine. The outdoor tubs have a superb view of a bamboo glade and tumbling waterfall.

In Kyoto , the group stayed at an excellent ryokan which served the usual exquisite seasonal dinner. This was followed by a poetry reading of haiku composed by members of the party during the journey. Haiku written on this tour included

Trees with autumn coats
Volcanoes bellowing steam
Ice on the leaves

A small silver fish
Twists and curves head left, tail right
Challenging chopsticks

In the falling rain
The train winds through autumn woods
So my life passes

Looking for the shrine
I hear the great bell sounding
The peace of Daisen

Crashes and screams outside
Monkeys play with all our pots
Inside we sleep on

All the haiku are on the tour haiku page on this site.

The next morning we joined the bustling crowds visiting the Higashiyama area before boarding the train to Osaka where we enjoyed our farewell dinner. Some stayed on in Japan for a few days, using the opportunity to see something of Tokyo .

 

Click to read haiku poems from this tour.

Yakushima sunrise from the cottages

Japanese tea with friends

On Mount Aso

Group on Aso

Group on top of Aso

Canadian Yellow Cedar soya sauce fermentation tank

Now, where shall we start

Itsukushima shrine Miyajima

Itsukushima shrine Hiroshima

Maple leaves

Walking on Mount Daisen

Group on Mount Daisen

Mount Daisen

Rabbit sushi.

Osaka buildings

Karaoke Kings

 


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