Wrapping Up my Golden Week!

When I last left you, I had just finished two theme parks in two days. From there, it was on to some real sightseeing in Kyushu.

Thursday: Nagasaki. Funny, three days ago I was at the location where the first atomic bomb was dropped, and the next part of my adventure would find me where the second bomb was sent. The time between the two bombs being dropped: three days. I did not plan things that way. I started at Glover Garden, a collection of historic western-style homes and beautiful gardens on a hill overlooking the Nagasaki metro area and waterfront. One of the relocated buildings has rental costumes, and I saw these two lovely ladies ready for a stroll in Victorian Japan:
 Oh, and I took pictures of the houses too.
From there it was on to see the destruction America did to Nagasaki, by visiting the memorial sites for the August ninth bombing. Maybe it was because I had only recently had time to reflect, or maybe it was because the effects on Hiroshima's life was better-documented, but I felt less moved by the Nagasaki exhibits. That's not to say they weren't moving, or that they were bad. Perhaps Hiroshima has had more interest in preservation education, because it certainly seems like it's more infamous - it was the first, for sure.


Thursday night, I bused across the island to a city named Oita, about 20 minutes from Beppu by train. I hopped over to the resort town early in the morning, and started with a misty, cold morning in the mountains at an amusement park. From there, I bused back into town and visited the Hells, a collection of hot springs so named because they are so hot and foul-smelling (due to sulfur) that they must resemble hell itself. The area is really a tourist trap similar to cities like Orlando and Pigeon Forge in America, and the real reason to visit is to take in actual, usable hot springs.
 The hells may sound horrible (and if one fell into the water they certainly would experience hell - some of the water comes out at the boiling point and burns skin instantly), but they look beautiful in their touristy landscaped environment. The light blue color seen above is natural, and the others have their own colors and themes.
 Above is the hot spring/onsen I visited to take my first (planned) public bath. I started with a hot sand bath (very relaxing!) and then moved into a hot water bath. By hot water, I mean about 40+ degrees Celsius, which is very hot - about 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher! Somewhat relaxing, but I wished I had had more time to enjoy it. I had to bus back to Fukuoka that night to take full advantage of my discount pass!
Speaking of buses, I bought this beer right before I hopped on a bus in Beppu. It claims to be Beppu's only local beer, and while it's an ale, it was very smooth and sweet. I quite liked it, but it was around 700 yen, so I won't be buying much more of it (if I could even find it outside of Beppu).

As I mentioned, Saturday was spent in Fukuoka. I slept in a little bit, but still went out in the morning to visit Japan's largest National Museum, located up a hill in the small formerly-important town of Dazaifu. The museum had a great collection of old stuff of national importance - historical and religious items that told to story of how Japan existed centuries ago. But from there it was back into Fukuoka proper, for my second Japanese baseball game.
The balloon release during the seventh-inning stretch is an amazing sight to behold. I didn't realize this at the Hiroshima game, but the visitors do a similar thing at the end of the sixth inning with their own balloons. As far as Japanese games go, the home teams are 2-0 when I'm there.

Sunday was my last day on the trip, and I spent it back in Hiroshima - actually, I spent it on Miyajima, a small nearby island long considered sacred. It is home to one of Japan's most famous landmarks, the floating torii (shrine gate). It doesn't really float, and unfortunately, despite perfect weather, it was covered in scaffolding when I was there. However, there's more to do on Miyajima than look at wooden pillars. The majority of my day was spent hiking up the 530+ meter (1700+ foot)-high Mount Misen, the tallest mountain on the island. Despite large crowds on the island, not so many people were working their way up the path, so I had plenty of time to enjoy the mostly-stairs trip. It took me almost 90 minutes to reach the very top, which wasn't empty thanks to the convenient (and expensive) ropeway carrying less energetic (and perhaps smarter) visitors most of the way. By the time I was done, my legs were rubber (and it was pretty warm that day) so I paid the toll for the return trip down on the ropeway. I also spent considerable time exploring Daisho-in, the main Buddhist temple on the island. There are many buildings to visit, and it is a bit overwhelming for someone (like me) who is unfamiliar with the Buddhist religion. Regardless, it's a beautiful and not-too-crowded stop on the island.
Miyajima is also famous for momiji-manju. Manju are bean paste-filled treats, and momiji is the Japanese term for maple, so momiji manju are in the shape of maple leaves. They are pretty good, and made fresh on the island daily. My first one was still warm from the oven (mmm!), and the custard and fruit (peach?) filled ones I had the next day were still great. However, I think I liked the age manju better, which are fried. They're harder to find (only a couple shops sell them) but if you've ever had a fried twinkie or fried oreo, you know how awesome fried sweets with fillings can get!
Here is what my fresh manju looked like right before I devoured it in front of a hungry deer. The deer are very friendly in Miyajima, and love handouts. They'll even steal your food and papers:
That sucker is eating a map. I saw him as I walked by. He seemed pretty happy getting his daily fiber. Here's a warning: you're not supposed to feed the deer or other wildlife, and be careful that they don't steal your food. They can smell manju a long way away, not to mention being able to see and hear it pretty well (the sounds I made opening the little wrapper was enough to get one deer's interest).

I finished up on Miyajima (though another visit is in order to visit the torii gate and its shrine under more photogenic conditions) and headed back to Hiroshima to relax for a couple hours before catching my overnight bus home. This time I slept most of the ride home!

I have plans to go into each location in more detail in the future, but to summarize, the trip was awesome! I saw nearly everything I wanted to see, and did almost everything I wanted to do! I only had a few problems: sleeping, concern about buses, and the scaffolding at Miyajima being the standouts. My coaster count is up to 379 (400 is coming quick!) and I found a few oddball local baseball cards for my collection in Fukuoka. Plus, I finally saw Japanese baseball games, spent the night in an internet cafe (several times), and had my first onsen experience. It's a trip I'll certainly never forget!

What's next for me, travel-wise? Well, I won't have any more days off (other than the usual Sunday-Monday weekend) until the big week-long vacation in August. The plan then is to go to Taiwan! I might try to squeeze in a couple weekend trips to Osaka as well, though that means more overnight bus trips or expensive train rides.

Until my next post, thanks for reading!

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