Sunday, 29 May 2016.
It is a rainy Sunday morning, in Nagasaki, and I am on a bus, warm and dry, heading to Fukuoka, my final stopover on the island of Kyushu. In three days time, I will once again be back in Honshu, the biggest of the four main islands of Japan, where another infamous city, Hiroshima, awaits me.
But I am getting ahead of myself. It has been a while since I last wrote about my travels through Japan. As you can imagine, I have been busy travelling, of course, which takes up a lot of time. But as I travel, I make notes about my experiences and observations, with the hope of compiling them into a letter format, when the journey affords me a moment’s pause, and which you are witnessing the creation of as we speak.
My cycling trip from Onomichi, in Honshu, to Shikoku, the smallest of the four main islands, was a wonderful experience, taking me about 6 hours to cover the 75kms from one end to the other. The bridges across each of the small islands along the way are a unique and magnificent sight to behold. The cycling is not at all strenuous, with the only difficult parts being the steeper climbs up to the bridges.
Arriving in Matsuyama, in the Ehime prefecture of Shikoku, I stayed at a well-run guesthouse, called Sen Guesthouse, in the famous Dogo Spa area. Exploring the castle and surrounding area, and a music festival later, I departed Shikoku again, taking a ferry to the bigger island of Kyushu, and to the city of Beppu.
In Beppu, I met a girl. She was the first person I saw at the guesthouse and, being too early for me to check-in, I settled down in the lounge area and had my lunch. We had a brief chat, as she too was busy in the kitchen making something to eat. She mentioned that she worked there. Later we would talk some more, and even later, the following day, we ended up cycling together in search of a beach nearby, it was at sunset, followed by dinner, a visit to an onsen, and a midnight stroll along the empty arcades and streets of Beppu.
Beppu is an onsen paradise and is well known for this across Japan. It is possibly the place with the cheapest onsen that you can get, with some staying open 24 hours a day. Back at the guesthouse, I listened to an account by two Frenchmen who had hiked up a nearby mountain and found a “wild” onsen. It is literally a hot water pool that you can enjoy for free, and by yourself if you are lucky enough to be the only person who ventured out into the mountains that day.
As is the nature of travelling, I had to leave again. I left Beppu wondering what there may have been for me and the girl I had met if I had stayed for just a bit longer. But some questions, most of them, only find their answer later on in the story.
The less touristy, lesser travelled, prefecture of Miyazaki was my next waypoint. The accommodation I had booked was in the small town of Aoshima and, to my serendipitous surprise, I discovered it to be surf town. I really enjoyed, and was grateful for, being back in the ocean and riding some waves again, even if it was only on a flimsy bodyboard made for children with no flippers to help me on. After two days I moved further south, to Kagoshima.
Kagoshima, in southern Kyushu, is the popular gateway to Okinawa and the famed island of Yakushima, with its towering ancient forests and serene beauty, which was the inspiration behind the forests in Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke. Unfortunately, my plans, and the time I had set out for each leg of my journey, did not allow me to visit either of these islands, but I did get a chance to explore the much closer island of Sakurajima, one of the most active volcanos in the world.
I then took a ferry north to Amakusa island, which forms part of the Kumamoto prefecture. Amakusa is a laid-back city and not that much frequented by tourists, but has a fascinating history of Western influence, a famed and tragic Edo-period rebellion and the survival of Christians, under extreme persecution, who were later to be known as the Hidden Christians.
Nagasaki then came into my sight, by way of another ferry ride. My time spent there was both joyous and sad. Joyous because of the beauty of the city, nestled in-between the green mountains and large bay, ending in a port, which I did not expect of this city at all. I had actually no idea what to expect from Nagasaki but enjoyed my stay there. Sad because of what the people of the city had gone through during World War 2. Reading first-hand accounts of that wretched day, feeling their confusion and fear, seeing the photos and videos of the mass destructions of life, and standing at the hypocentre of where the bomb was dropped, left me feeling acutely empathic to the people of Nagasaki as they walked on by. To say the least, it was an emotional day.
And so my tour of Japan continues. What lays ahead only time, and the road tread, will reveal. And surely God in His infinite grace, mercy, and love is with me wherever the road may take me.
p.s. In case you were wondering, as I am sure you have, I have been keeping in contact with the girl I met in Beppu and will be seeing her later today in Fukuoka. 🙂