Saturday, July 08, 2006

Kyushu Day One: Iwakuni

Hello all,

The first of my five day tour of Kyushu is now over, and I actually spent very little time in Kyushu itself. I finally left the lab last night (actually this morning), and got a little sleep before getting up and heading to the bus station. I missed the first bus to Saijo Station, but the second one was only 15 or 20 minutes behind so I just waited for that one. I arrived at the station just in time catch the rapid local train that was bound for Iwakuni. I wanted to try to use the ATM at the Marine Air Station here, but I also wanted to see some of the sights that the guys in the lab had suggested in Iwakuni, which is a way down the road on the other side of Hiroshima.

The rapid local was much better than the regular local and we made it to Iwakuni in less time than it would have taken me to get to Hiroshima if I would have taken

either the regular local train, or the bus. I left the train station on a bus headed for Kintai-kyo Bridge. It was built in the 1900s, and it is one of the most unique bridges I have ever seen. It is considered one of Japan’s three great bridges. As I was getting my money out for the entrance fee, a Japanese girl came up and asked if I needed my help. It turned out that she was getting married to an American guy this weekend. They (the couple and his parents) were all touring the bridge, and we had a short conversation as we crossed the bridge.


I walked the short distance to the White Snake Park. Next was a short ride on a tram to the top of the hill above the bridge. This was the location of Iwakuni Castle. It was very nice, but much smaller than Hiroshima castle which I saw just a few weeks ago. There were still many interesting artifacts about the culture of the time, and there was a great view of the valley till the fog came in and I couldn't even see the lower tram station. After taking the tour and getting my picture taken a very nice lady I went back down the mountain. I told the people at one of the little shops at the base of the mountain that I would buy some ice cream on the way back down and I wanted to keep my word. They had more flavors of soft serve than I have ever seen. I wanted to get strawberry vanilla swirl, but they only had vanilla/green tea, and strawberry/mango (and of course the flavors my themselves). Since they didn't have what I wanted, I decided to try something new. I asked the lady if the pumpkin was good, but she suggested the pumpkin/red bean combination. I didn't get a chance to have that every day, so I would try it. I would try to describe it, but I can't compare it to anything I have ever had before. I tried to go back over the bridge, but the man said no food, so I had took some more pictures while I finished the ice cream before heading back over the bridge and back to the train station.


I had spent much more time than I wanted at so far, but I still wanted to go to the Marine Air Station. When I got back to the main bus/train station, I ran into an American lady that said she worked on the base and told me that they probably wouldn't let me on, and the credit union would be closed anyway. I thanked her for the information and jumped on the train headed for Kyushu. I had wanted to stop at the bridge connecting the two islands, but it was already afternoon, so I decided that I would just have to take pictures from the train or on the way back. It turned out that the train went in a tunnel to get to Kyushu, so it will have to be on the way back. By the time I had made all the necessary connections, I finally got into Kyushu around 5:30. I found out that I had to go even further, to Kokura, before I could buy the Kyushu rail pass (5 days on any train for 16,000 yen, we will see if it turns out to be worth it).


The station in Kokura was huge, and every person that I asked where to get the pass sent me in a different direction. I finally found the place, and they had closed at 6:00, 20 or 30 minutes earlier. I got the attention of one of the ladies inside to see where else I could get the pass because I didn't want to stay the night in Kokura, and she was nice enough to get me the pass even though they were closed. I watched a singing group for a bit before jumping on the train headed for Hakata Station in Fukuoka. I was able to take the express trains now, so the trip was much faster and much more comfortable (there were leather seats, and tray tables, and even a snack cart that came through every once in a while). I had left my umbrella on two different busses so far today, but managed to catch the driver before left. This time, I left it on the train, and by the time that I realized it, it was too late. I know this must happen all the time because wherever I go, even if the place is empty, there will be five or six umbrellas. I looked down, and there was one leaning against the wall all by itself, and after waiting a while to make sure nobody was coming back for it, I took it to replace mine because I figured that I would need it soon.


I got the Hakata station only to find that it was even bigger than the station in Kokura. It is the main train, bus, and subway station for the largest city in Kyushu, and one of the largest cites in Japan. After finally finding an exit that lead to the outside, I was relieved to see right across the street was the Comfort Inn I found on the internet and the place I was planning to stay for the night. They had free internet, and a free breakfast, and the rates were pretty good for a nice hotel in a big city. I went in and to my disappointment, found that they only had smoking rooms left. I decided I would check a few other places and just come back if I couldn't find one. The person at the front desk gave me a map and told me the best place to start looking. The first few I tried were very expensive, but I finally found a nice one that was the same price, just without the free breakfast. It had started to rain, and I wasn't sure if it was the typhoon hitting so I decided I should just get off the street.


After getting everything settled, I looked outside and it had stopped raining so I decided I would go out and explore. I got directions to a famous street I had read about, and headed off on the subway because I couldn't tell from the map exactly how far it was. I got out of the subway station onto a street with the river running right next to it. On each of the bridges that cross the river, there were three or four musicians that were playing and singinf for tips. Between the street, and the river, there were hundreds of little restaurants. As I walked down the line, I saw that most of them were serving fresh seafood, and most of the fish were the ones that I have only seen in aquariums. There were even a few places that had tubs of eels and a grill, and you just pay 1000 yen and pick your eel and they kill it and cook if for you right there. I walk a ways further past all the restaurants till I got to a big sign that said "Canal City."


I didn't recognize the name, but I looked on the map and realized I was 3/4 of the way back to the hotel. I decided I would take a look around before I walked the rest of the way, and I soon as I got close, I could tell that it was one of the places I had seen pictures of on the internet, and had decided to skip because I couldn't tell exactly what it was from the description. On one side was a Hyatt hotel, and then there was a small canal with a fountain in the middle. I was able to catch the last of the water show and it was very impressive. Maybe not in size, but in quality was as almost as impressive as the Bellagio fountain show, and that is saying a lot. On the other side of the canal was huge shopping center that was five stories tall, with a surprising number of stores that I recognized. They had everything from GAP to Sports Authority, and restaurants from very nice places to KFC and Wendy’s. Most of the stores had already closed so I just looked around for a while before heading back to the hotel for the night. I planned tomorrow’s trip, and am now headed to bed. I hope I can get everything done, but I might have planned too many things for one day

Till next time,

Josh

Click for map

Stats
Day:
Buses – 3
Trains – 4
Trams – 2
Castle – 1
Bridge – 1

Trip:
Buses – 3
Trains – 4
Trams – 2
Castle – 1
Bridge – 1

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