West Japan Explorer
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
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
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
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
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
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