SAYONARA JAPAN – THANKS FOR ALL THE FISH!
We left Japan and all its wonderful idiosyncrasies behind today, bound for Hong Kong. Our whole Friday is basically just one very long transit day so there’s not much of interest to report. We’re currently at Incheon Airport, just outside Seoul (Korea), waiting for our connecting flight to Hong Kong. Rather than make our way back to a bigger city in Japan we decided to fly directly out of Kagoshima (the small international airport there has flights bound for Seoul that allowed us to transit through to Hong Kong). Our transit day started at 7:00 this morning when we caught the jetfoil back from Yakushima to Kagoshima (2 hours), then lugged our bags to the bus stop to catch the “airport limousine bus” to the airport (1 hour). It took just 90 minutes to get to Seoul but now we have a 6 hour wait until our connecting flight to Hong Kong leaves. Arggghhhhhh – 6 hours is such a looooong time…. At least there are heaps of facilities here at Incheon – we’re currently in the Sky Lounge making the most of their free* food, drinks, wifi, showers, and massage chairs. I guess there’s worse ways to spend 6 hours.
*”Free” once you pay to get in, that is.
This is the third big trip we’ve done to Japan and it’s still one of our favourite places in the world to visit. We’ve been sitting here eating soft serve ice cream and drinking café lattes, remembering some of our favourite moments from the past 5 weeks. From sakura to volcanoes, snow to tropical heat, serene rainforests to chaotic mega-cities, this trip to Japan has been a blast! If you’d care to take a brief trip down memory lane with us, we’ve included some of our highlights and favourite photos below….
Most memorable sights and experiences from Japan 2015 (in no particular order).
1. Yakushima’s forests, mountains and epic scenery makes on to our list of favourite places in the world, not just Japan! This magical fairytale island was every bit as mystical and beautiful as we’d imagined, and more. Definitely a highlight.
2. The Iya Valley in Shikoku was similarly spectacular. The deep gorges, dense forests, blue rivers, vine bridges, and tiny villages of this remote valley are a vision of “olde worlde” Japan that we loved.
3. While we’re on the theme of the Iya Valley, we have to mention the indulgence and sheer luxury of our private, open air onsen at the Nanoyado Iya Valley Onsen Hotel. Sitting in the warm waters of the natural hot spring, watching monkeys cavort in the trees around us and the sun set is a memory we’ll cherish forever.
4. For the sheer fun of it we have to put the Tokushima Hana Haru Festival on our list. This was also the day we were famous and got interviewed live on Japanese TV, tasting the local specialties!
5. Not be undone, Kyushu gave us a pretty good day of festival fun too when we went to Fukuoka’s Hakata Dontaku Festival. The street parade alone was worth the day trip!
6. We also had a blast at Nagasaki’s Tall Ship Festival – seeing all those ships lit up was great!
7. Definitely one of the highlights for us was seeing Mt Fuji in all its glory whilst we were up at Kawaguchiko-machi. After days of snow and cold weather, it was such a joy to awaken to the mountain revealed! Mt Fuji really is a special sight and one that is sooo iconically Japanese, you just have to see it at least once!
8. Speaking of iconic images, we can’t forget delicate, fresh pink and white sakura. Seeing the cherry blossoms in Tokyo at Ueno Park and Shinjuku Park was awesome, and then marvelling at entire hillsides covered in them at Yoshino was even better.
9. If we’re going to remember Yoshino we have to mention the chaos of the Hanakueshiki Festival we stumbled across when we went up there for the day. So many people, so many sakura-flavoured goodies, so many cherry blossoms everywhere…
10. In Yufuin, outside Beppu, we fell in love with Ogosha-ji shrine and its giant cedar tree. Set against the backdrop of lush forest, this humble little shrine was so peaceful and serene that we couldn’t help but be touched by it.
11. Of all the temples we visited, our most memorable was Kompira temple. With its 1,349 steps this temple probably just stands out in our mids because we exerted so much effort just getting there! All the temples we visited in Shikoku had something unique about them, and we would still love to do the Shikoku 88 Temples Pilgrimage one day.
12. We got to see a couple of awesome castles this time around too. We loved both of them; Matsuyama-jo for its epic hill-top location and Kumamoto-jo for its huge castle grounds filled with ancient trees and cherry blossoms.
13. On a slightly more sombre note, Nagasaki’s Peace Park and Atomic Bomb Museum were certainly memorable and a poignant reminder of what can be lost during war.
14. More poignant reminders of how human beings can impact the landscape around them were had at Gunkanjima island. Our visit to this abandoned coal mining island was interesting, but more than a little eerie and tragic.
15. For the sheer beauty of it we have to mentioned Ritsurin Gardens in Tokushima. This was definitely one of the best examples of Japanese landscaping and garden aesthetics we have ever seen. Simply stunning.
16. As perverse as it may sound, we would also put getting “ashed on” at Sakurajima on our list of favourite experiences this time around in Japan. Walking around an active volcano as it spews forth piles of ash is not something we have ever done before (or will likely do again). The sheer power of a volcano like Sakurajima certainly makes you feel small.
17. When it comes to making us feel small and vulnerable, Mt Aso wins hands down however. The sheer size of the Aso-san volcanic crater blew us away (pardon the pun), and left us awed.
18. We got to do a few hikes this trip and one of our favourites was the day we got to hike up Homanzan in Dazaifu. So much up….. The maths may not make sense, but trust us when we say Japan is 90% UP. Steep, steep UP. We couldn’t walk properly for days after our hike up Homanzan, but it was totally worth it for the views!
19. We also really enjoyed hiking through Aokighara forest up around Mt Fuji. Despite this forest’s sinister reputation as Japan’s “Suicide Forest”, it’s a beautiful, peaceful place that we really enjoyed visiting.
20. Finally, of all the parks we visited Nara Park has to rank as our favourite. With its tame deer, temples, shrines, and cherry blossoms, Nara Park is history and beauty combined in the best possible way.
Japan has a very unique culinary tradition as well so we have to pay tribute to all the food highlights and lowlights too. Memorable edibles we will remember from this trip include…
1. Vending machine coffee. Bad. Always bad. Very bad.
2. Yam flavoured ice cream. Lucky Shane!
3. Sakura flavoured ice cream. Lucky me!
4. Canned “chicken of the sea” (i.e. tuna) with corn and cheese. Not as yummy as you might think.
5. Chicken gizzards on skewers in Fukuoka. Sphincters, hearts, liver, chicken skin – all nice and crispy for your gustatory pleasure.
6. Sizzling grilled tongue in Kagoshima. Tastier than you might think.
7. Mame-ten-yaki – Takushima’s local speciality that got us on TV! That was that omelette thing made from a combination of eggs, flour, soy beans, cabbage, shrimp, and precooked chunks of tempura batter. All mixed together and cooked on a sizzling hot plate while you wait. It’s finished off with a generous serving of Japanese BBQ sauce and served with a garnish of chives. Not bad at all.
8. Gooey and delicious takoyaki (i.e. tasty, bite-sized balls of octopus cooked in an egg and flour batter).
9. Awesome, crunchy chicken karage (i.e. like the Japanese version of KFC, just good).
10. Bag-fulls of baby kasutera (i.e. the Japanese version of Portugese Pão de Castela, a sweet sponge cake made from flour, eggs, sugar and syrup).
11. Sour as hell and guaranteed to make you pucker your mouth – everyone’s favbourite lemon/mandarin thing: sudachi!
12. Shane has a predilection for weird desserts. The best/worst one he picked up during this trip would have to be mitarashi dango. These are sweet rice balls served on skewers, grilled and served warm covered with a syrup made from soy sauce, sugar and starch. They had the weirdest sweet/salty taste.
13. Countless bowls of hot, steaming ramen noodles; round or flat, skinny or fat, with chicken, pork, seafood or tofu, we ate ‘em all!
14. Nabemono (i.e. Japanese hot pot meal) in Nara. Warm and hearty and oh so tasty!
15. Shane’s favourite drink: Tapioca Swirkle. A bit of milk, a bit of ice cream, a whole lot of tapioca and just a dash of swirkle (???).
16. While we’re on drinks, Shane would like to tip his hat to his favourite Japanese beer: Yebisu.
17. No trip to Japan is complete without at least SOME sushi and sashimi. Thanks for all the fish Japan!
18. And last, but certainly not least, our most memorable meals of all: our epic multi-course degustation dinners at the Nanoyado Iya Valley Onsen Hotel. When cuisine becomes art…
We’ve been lucky enough to have had some great weather (and some not so great weather – viz: getting snowed on in Kawaguchko-machi), and to have seen some awesome things during this trip. We survived our first Japanese Golden Week experience (busy, so busy!), got to ride a few shinkansens, trudged up a few mountains, celebrated with the locals at a few festivals, and just generally had an absolutely brilliant time. Arigato gozai-masu Japan – sayonara ‘til next time!