Japan self travel – Hiroshima to Kagoshima in 10 days
I’ve written about Japan travel in general (this one is with the latest information dated early 2017 including radiation, getting online, car rental or passes, tolls, etc), you may also like to refer to this one on our self travel around Osaka. For this one, I’d like to share our carefree travel experience in our self tour using rental car from Hiroshima to Kagoshima in early Spring 2017….
Main attractions – very leisure tour, famous sights (historical and nature) in southern Honshu and Kyushu, focusing on onsens andJapanese cuisine.
Flights – making use of the direct flights now available, we flew Hong Kong to Hiroshima, then back from Kagoshima (around HK$2000 per pax incl tax)
Land transport – one way car rental from and drop back to the airports. (11 days for a Toyota Corolla around HK$4500 with full insurance cover), this compact car was surprising good for its boot capacity where we fitted 2 large and 2 small suitcases. As recommended in my previous blog posts, driving small cars has definite advantages travelling in rural Japan.
Accommodations – self book online direct or via Hotels.com, Agoda, etc. – local ryokans (many with private outdoor onsen) as well as international hotel chains
Hiroshima to Shimonoseki (3 days)
based in Hiroshima and staying at the Hotel Granvia (near rail station), we visited the atomic bomb site (half day) and the famous nearby Itsukushima Shrine 嚴島神社, the red shrine on the sea shore with the reflections was certainly unique and very photogenic. While landing from the short ferry trip from the mainland, you would sure be greeted by the local deers. And while there, donot forget to taste the fresh local Hiroshima oysters, our preferred style is BBQ! We also had a nice Okonomiyaki dinner at 八誠 near the city.
Then on route to the east near Nagato where we stay at the Otanisanso Onsen 山口県 長門市 湯本温泉, we visited Kintai Bridge 錦帯橋, the dramatic shrine with 123 bright red frames along the seashore – Motonosumi Inari Shrine (元乃隅稲成神社) and the adjacent Dragon blowhole along the (most) eastern seashore of Japan Honshu. We had a not so good experience with the overly rigid Police there when our car tyre scrapped a kerb and needed repair – the 7 Policemen and woman insisted to record it as an accident and kept us for an hour while they called around and made all types of measurements! Luckily, we still managed to catch the nearby tyre company before they closed and have the tyre replaced (a straight-forward solution). One of the hassles of language barrier, I guess?
We then visited Rurikō-ji Temple (瑠璃光寺五重塔), a very nice serene place to have a stroll, praying with the unique chain of huge wooden beads needed a calm mind to roll exactly the number recommended, the wood clapping sound was so soothing too. The pagoda and the nearby temples were photogenic too.
We then drove to Shimonoseki (山口縣下關市- 馬關 in the old days) (we’re happy with our stay in the Dormy Inn which has a nice public roof onsen, and free supper ramen each night) – the Fugu (blowfish) capital where every Japanese restaurant serve Fugu in every form you can imagine (sashimi, steam, deep fry, cakes, soup, …), so if you don’t eat fugu (concerned about its potentially fatal poison), then you must be careful to read the menu and ask! But I understand (I was told) that many of the farmed fugu are less poisonous even if the chef accidentally slit the fish guts (?). Well, apart from fugu, you can spend a day visiting the old town with several historical buildings like the old British embassy, and Shunpanrō hall (春帆楼) – the meeting venue (March 20 to April 17, 1895) for the unfair China/Japan Shimonoseki Treaty (馬關條約) in Qing Dynasty (the Qing China delegate led by Li Hongzhang ), the seaside fish market and promenade where we watched a funny busker money show, and went to the highest point in Shimonoseki (the Observation tower near Dormy Inn) to have a glimpse the various nearby area including the very close Korean city of Busan (only 218 km away) across the sea; there is also an aquarium if you are interested. One night, while we’re having dinner in a local restaurant in Shimonoseki, we met a Japanese udon maker who spent much time surfing in Surfer’s Paradise, Australia. Being the only one there who understood English, he helped us with all the food orders and also recommended a restaurant which we must not miss while in Fukuoka.
Fukuoka and Daizaifu (2 days)
Driving across the bridge across the 750 m wide strait between Shimonoseki and Kyushu took us much longer than expected, but otherwise the roads were good and the traffic OK. The same could not be said when we visited Daizaifu tenmangu (太宰府天満宮) on the next day when we’re caught up in heavy traffic while approaching the temple. Apparently, it’s a Sunday closed to school examination time when many went there to pray for their or their children’s success. The queue there to pray in front of the main hall was very long. Notwithstanding the traffic, the visit to Dazaifu tenmangu was worthwhile mainly for the colorful plum trees which were in full bloom, lots of locals went there also to enjoy the freshly made sweet plum cakes and matcha (green tea) under the flowers. It’s our second time to Fukuoka, and we focused mainly on eating and shopping in the Hakata Canal City near to our Grand Hyatt Hotel. We’re recommended (see above, the udon maker!) to have dinner at Echigoya Hakataekimae (越後屋 今泉II号館) not far from our hotel, and it was superb! It serves offal hotpot – delicious authentic beef dishes – full house, all locals except us! Luckily, we booked ahead, but could only get a table at 9pm, worth the wait though, the beef intestine was heavenly.
Kurokawa and Takachiho (2 days)
We had such a nice time in Kurokawa onsen village 黑川 in 2015 that we just could not pass by this area without revisiting (and showing our good friends this time). The quaint hotspring village is not as famous as many of the others we visited in Japan – e.g. the Kunatsu in Honshu (top for the hotspring water quality) or Beppu in eastern Kyushu, but we love the atmosphere of this small village and the nearby onsen royokans. We booked the same onsen we stayed in 2015, Hozantei where there’s a private outdoor onsen in our room, but was disappointed when a month before we travelled, I received a call from them saying that they could not accommodate us as the whole place would be occupied for filming that week (we later found out that it’s a film by Jacky Chan). As compensation, they offered us a similar ryokan nearby for free, a duplex room with a private outdoor onsen (we didn’t complaint in the end as we saved some 100,000 yen :-)). Taking a walk along the single narrow street in Kurokawa village visiting the little art shops, etc is always a joy. You can of course go for the 3 onsens day pass where you can visit 3 ryokans and try out their public onsens. We also visited Takachiho (高千穂) in 2015, again this is such a nice place that we revisited it this time with our friends – such lovely scenery despite the rainy weather, where little water falls cascading down to the gorge.
Kirishima, Kagoshima, Ibusuki and Yakushima (3 days)
Kirishima is another hotspring area near Kagoshima towards southern Kyushu, we stayed at Ryokojin Sanso – 旅行人山荘 where we booked a nice first floor room with a balcony overlooking a garden with a blooming plum tree and the famous Sakurajima in the distant background. The private outdoor onsen on the balcony was so nice that we found little need to go for the public ones. There are only 3 or 4 rooms with such set up and early specific booking direct to the Ryokojin is recommended. The royokan also boasts several outdoor medium size onsens which you can pre-book for your private party (45 min each session), which are very nice given the privacy and secluded and lovely scenery around (best we found is the Akamatsu – 赤松汤), again book early to avoid disappointment. The hotel grounds is large and there’s a nice walk to the nearby waterfall (about 35 min each way).
Kagoshima is famous for its views to Sakurajima, the best views of which are from a distant opposite, such as from the nice 仙巌園 (Sengan-en) where we spent more than half a day strolling the garden grounds, museums and shops. On way to Sengan-en, we bumped into the nicest ramen shop in this trip –Ten Ten Yuu Ramen (天天有らーめん) (I’d say top in whole of Kyushu!)- this little shop can only seats about 15 people. When we arrived at around 1PM to join about 8 people waiting outside, we were told that they’ve sold out for the day! My friend was very persistent and with her superb negotiation skills was able to persuade the lady owner to serve us half a bowl each (which later turned out to be a full bowl each!), what a meal for about HK$55 each!
Ibusuki is a little seaside town famous for the hot black sand bath which was quite an experience we very much enjoyed, it’s easy too with the meticulously worked out arrangements. We went to the public one – Ibusuki Onsen (@1500 yen) and each was given a Japanese bath robe, towel and flippers, then we walked to the beach where you’d be ‘served’ – you laid down as directed, and then the workers there would shovel hot sand all around you leaving only your head. They were so proficient that they would help you to lay on a professionally profiled spot (or make one for you) where you’d be comfortable (imagine it’s on a rather hard sand bed and later on you got weighted down by the sand!) before they shovel sand all over you. They even took photos for us in our own cameras! After the sand bath, we took a dip and enjoyed the indoor hotspring pools next to the changing room. The public hot sand bath is within walking distance from our hotel – Hotel Ginsyo (花の温泉ホテル 吟松), a rather dated hotel but strategically located by the seaside where we watched sunrise from our room window and enjoyed very elaborated and full Japanese breakfast served by a ‘butler’ each morning. BTW, I also managed to find a SUNTORY HAKUSHU 12 YEAR OLD single malt whiskey from a local wine ‘supermarket’ for just over 9000 yen including tax – again language barrier, and for this hard to find item- what the hack! – as Haruki Murakami in Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World said “Whisky, like a beautiful woman, demands appreciation. You gaze first, then it’s time to drink.”
Online writeups about Yakushima 屋久島 (e.g. Shiratani Unsuikyo Valley) were so enticing that we decided to give it a go for a day trip (but staying for a night is must, we found). It’s said to be one of the last places in Japan with pristine forests like those in Ghibli’s animated cartoon Princess Monooke with animals in the wild. We went on a rainy day (well, it’s said that it rains more than 365 days in a year here! – but we got sunny spells in between) and the sea was not smooth, but still worthwhile for a glimpse where we saw all the above. We should stay for 2 days at least to enjoy the various hiking trails and really experience the little island without rush. The hydrofoil journey across from the nearest mainland port – Ibusuki took about 1 hr 15 minute direct and there were only 2 sailings that suited a day trip (8:30AM outward and 3:45PM inward), and it’s not cheap @12,600 yen return. If you are not joining tours, you need a car which you can rent on the island, but driving along the often narrow two-way traffic roads is not easy, often demanding skill, patience, and utmost care both for the oncoming cars and the wild animals around.
Credits and Sources : Tripadvisor, Wikipedia, Facebook, Goodreads, Google (map), Ryokojin Sanso, Haruki Murakami, Ghibli Studio