Since I have been back at school and have handed out the customary souvenirs (おみやげ) from my holiday, most of the teachers have been a little bemused as to why I chose 九州 of all the places in Japan to go. The simple reason behind the choice was ‘I want to get off the main island, and I am already planning to go to Hokkaido (北海道) soon. So the next biggest island is…..’
So when El said that she had booked a trip over to visit that coincided with my winter break, I thought it would be the perfect time to explore Japan’s third largest island. It was a lot of travel in a short time, but it felt like a nice taster of what part of九州 has to offer.
Our first stop was 九州’s largest city Fukuoka 福岡. We had an early flight so El and I left my apartment before the sun was up and made our way to the airport (she on the Narita Express and me on the bus).
My luck with the weather was following me and it started raining as soon as we got to Fukuoka. After being led on a wild goose chase by Google Maps to find the hotel we were staying (it is so useful, yet so frustrating when it goes wrong!) we headed to the information counter at the station to get some information about what to see in the city. These information counters at the major JR stations would prove to be very useful as the staff could speak English and direct us to the most popular and worthy sights in the city while also informing us of the best travel options.
Our first stop after lunch was Fukuoka Castle (or rather, its ruins 福岡所跡). It was really humbling to think that a few hundreds of years earlier stood an amazing castle and throughout time and events that have occurred it no longer exists. It is nice that the history of the area is being preserved in a beautiful park. Despite the rain we had a look around the ruins and the park.
We stumbled upon a lovely shrine with no one around and then made our way over to the bus stop to go to Fukuoka Tower (福岡タワー). The tower advertised itself as the ‘tallest seaside tower in Japan!’. They certainly love their towers and structures in this country and we would soon come to know that most cities have their own version of a tower.
It was lovely view of the city surprisingly despite the rain.
It had been a long day, especially since it was a very early start so we headed back to the main station area for dinner and a little window shopping.
The next day we headed to Beppu (別府) on the train. It was a little difficult to work out the best way to travel in between all the cities, especially seeing as El had the JR pass and I did not. But also, booking tickets and figuring out the times and best prices, making it reserved or unreserved was also a little tricky in Japanese. I can safely say that my Japanese did improve at least slightly having been forced to communicate solely in Japanese in certain situations.
Unfortunately the rain followed us to 別府 and it was damp most of the day. However, the beauty of 別府 is that it is a hot spring onsen (温泉) town. The vibe of the city was relaxed and at a much slower pace which was refreshing.
We stayed at a quaint little traditional inn (旅館) and it’s selling point was that it had it’s own in house 温泉 (both indoor and outdoor). It had the whole shabang – green tea as we arrived, futons (布団), tatami mats (畳), yukatas (浴衣) to wear.
We headed out to have a look at Beppu’s most popular attractions the ‘地獄のめぐり’ or the ‘Hells’ of Beppu’ or outdoor hot-springs. These are something seen to be believed – we ended up visiting 4 or so and each one was so different from the next.
Then it was our turn to actually go to an 温泉. By this time it was getting quite cold and the rain had noｔ let up so we were definitely looking forward to it. And it didn’t disappoint. It was so relaxing and calming just sitting and soaking in the minerals from the 温泉 water. It puts you in a kind of mellow trance for a few hours after, which is definitely addictive.
Feeling super relaxed after a soak
After dinner we decided to use the 旅館’s facilities and have a dip in the indoor and outdoor hot-springs. It was a great end to the day and put us straight to sleep, which was what we needed as we had another early (and long!) train ride to Miyazaki (宮崎) the next day.