South Kyushu

Kagoshima

The cheap hotel (Cent Inn Nibankan) I was staying in Kagoshima was in the city centre, but as they had nowhere I could park my bike I had to take it 10 minutes down the road to a purpose-built ‘motorcycle park’.  It was an interesting experience riding up to the building, pulling a ticket and being let inside a lift-type door which led inside a secure bike park with 24 hour guard.  It seemed overkill for Japan, but perhaps Kagashima is the motorcycle theft capital of Kyushu?  Somehow I doubt it – I’m sure I could have left it outside on the street with the keys in the ignition and it would still be there in the morning.

Kagashima was another nice, balmy southern city, with plenty of things to do, shops to spend your money, and bars & restaurants to refresh.  I ended up down a street with a variety of bars and restaurants catering for nationalities all over the world.  Somehow I ended up in the British Pub drinking a pint of Newcastle Brown Ale; ah, the taste of home sweet home.

There was only one other table occupied in the smallish pub, and in true Japanese fashion, I was soon invited over to join the group of mixed locals and expats.  Two of the expats were from Scotland, and I suddenly realised they were the first Brits I had met and spoken to in quite some time.  It was actually the leaving party for one of the local girls, and I ended up with an invite to the subtropical Amami Islands, almost as far as Okinawa, should I ever get that far.  Once again – what great hospitality shown to a stranger from Norwich!

Sakurajima

In the morning I found I’d reduced to another notch down on my belt.  My stomach has definitely shrunk during my travels, and now it seems it’s shrinking further.  At least it cuts down on my food bill (note – must try and eat more junk food).

I collected my bike from Fort Knox motorcycle park, loaded up and set sail for Sakurajima, which was a very short and efficient ferry crossing away.

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The short ferry crossing to Sakurajima, with the volcano looming majestically in the background

Sakurajima volcano dominated the whole sky from the ferry port, and I could see it smoking majestically as we approached.  She looms over the whole city of Kagoshima like some kind of divine watchkeeper, and it seemed strange to see a large city sitting on the doorstep of potential disaster.

The first thing I did after riding off the ferry was pop into the local supermarket to buy a delicious picnic for lunch later.  Then I rode around the base of the volcano, clockwise, stopping briefly at a lovely park with a free public hot-spring foot spar in the middle.

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A free public hot-spring foot spar in the park, naturally heated by the friendly neighbourhood volcano

Sakurajima, which means ‘Cherry Blossom Island’, used to be a volcanic island in the middle of Kagoshima Bay until a massive lava flow from a powerful eruption in 1914 bridged the gap to the mainland to the east.  I found the name quite interesting, considering I had seen no cherry blossom in the area; one story tells that when the island was first created in a fury of fire, cherry blossoms were seen floating all over the ocean around the island.

Sakurajima is presently one of the most active volcanoes in the world, and last year Japan marked its 500th eruption of the year with an impressive pyrotechnic display in August.  A perfect volcano for enthusiasts and scientists, she has been erupting daily almost constantly since 1955.

In the 2 hours I took to ride around it, I must have seen half a dozen large ejections of ash and gas, and she rumbled constantly, sounding like an enormous jet engine.  Having studied Physical Geography at University, I found it especially fascinating, and one would go so far as to say awesome.

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Ash and gas being ejected from the crater at up to 200mph, sounding like an enormous jet engine

It is not uncommon for the volcano to throw a superheated mix of volcanic gas, ash and debris down her slopes at more than 200 mph (320 km/h), and toss large volcanic cinders more than 5,900 feet (1,800 meters) from its crater (it actually has two active craters).  Because of this, school children on the island are made to walk to and from school wearing hard-hats, which is quite a funny sight, as they look like miniature workmen.

As I rode round to the east side of the volcano, the crater became clearer and the eruptions louder.

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A view of the crater from the east coast

I met another expat biker who worked in Japan teaching English (like almost all the expats I’ve met here do), making best use of his holidays by touring and camping around Kyushu.

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Another biker fellow

One thing I learned while riding around the volcano, was that in 1863 there was a short Anglo-Satsuma War in the bay, when a British Royal Naval ship was fired upon from coastal batteries on the island, and in retaliation bombarded Kagoshima.

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Kagoshima Bay, setting for the short Anglo-Satsuma War in 1863

Random thought of the day that popped into my head while riding:  If I cannot understand someone from Japan, and vice versa, can a Japanese dolphin communicate with a British dolphin?  And can dogs, cats and goldfish understand each other when they travel to different countries on their holidays?

A common theme everywhere I have travelled to in Japan has been the constant, beautiful singing of birds in the otherwise quiet countryside.  It’s very relaxing.  I wish all birds would learn to sing like them, as I remember some untunely noisy ones from my childhood.

It was a beautiful day, and the sun was out in full force as it reached a very warm 20C (68F).  I do love this southern weather, and it was the first day I opened the top air vent on my helmet since arriving in Japan.  What a change from camping on the snowline a few days ago!

I rejoined the mainland over the ‘lava bridge’ and headed for the east coast of Hyushu, working my way up to Miyazaki where I had found another cheap hotel to pamper myself in.  I do love camping, but I wanted to have a look around the city, a magnet for Japanese tourists, and it’s often hard to find good camping spots close to city centres.

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Riding round to the east coast of Kyushu

When I rejoined the coast I was once again met by scenes of outstanding natural beauty, and a horse.

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Wonderful scenic views of Kyushu’s lonely east coast

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The climate was almost semi-tropical

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How long have you been waiting for me?

Miyazaki

I rolled into Miyazaki late afternoon and after weaving through a little bit of traffic, arrived safely at ‘Hotel Area One’.  The staff were great, as usual in Japan, and showed me where I could park my bike round the back.

I fancied a drink, and it seemed Miyazaki was a good place to sample some local brews.  Wasting no time, I jumped in the shower, jumped out again, and rushed out to explore.

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Miyazaki

I sampled a couple of bars before I found a real gem called the ‘One Coin Bar’, where one coin could buy you a lovely cold beer, so long as that coin was a 500 yen one.  Luckily, I had plenty of them.

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The One Coin Bar, Miyazaki

The bar was tiny, like many in Japan, and could only seat around 12 people.  That wasn’t a problem though, as there were only 2 of us plus the barman/owner who spoke very good English and was a fun guy to chat to.  My fellow drinking companion was in town for work and climbed up towers hundreds of meters high to fix all kinds of things.  I imagined a beer or two would often help to steady his nerves.

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My high-rise climber new best friend

With good music on the jukebox, the night passed quickly, and we were joined by a couple more regulars later on.  Then I got the munchies and the owner magically produced pizza.  All in all, a perfect night at a perfect bar!

When I got back to the hotel, an earthquake shook the whole building around midnight – something residents of the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’ have to live with frequently.  It was the second sizeable earthquake I’ve experienced, the first one being in Turkey several years ago, which my brother, Mr Edward Bowen, slept soundly through with the aid of several colourful cocktails and the like.

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