Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Few Days Away or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying that Everyone in Kyushu has Seen my Bag

Week before last my wife was struck by an idea. How about we get out of town for a few days, she suggested. It may have been to recover from the visit by the family, or that could just be how I interpreted it.  It would appear that having the little ones around can be truly draining. Her suggestion was to visit Kyushu, specifically the towns of Yufuin and Kurokawa Onsen. We also intended to climb to the top of Mt Aso, but more on that in a second.

We took the shinkansen to Hakata and a local commuter train to Yufuin. I love the shinkansen. By the way, it's not a translation of bullet train; that's just the English concept. It's best translated as New (Shin) Trunk (kan) Line (sen), intended to be the rail transport backbone across Japan. The shinkansen is wonderfully comfortable, generous with leg room and may be the best form of transport on the planet. The on-board coffee leaves something to be desired, flavour mostly.

At Hakata, we got on a relatively comfortable train that was similar enough to a tired version of a Southwest Trains. Although clean and well kept, it was obvious that the train was picked for the team well after the kid with the tape on his glasses. A sight seeing train in Japan has an obstacle to overcome though, the shear industrial quality of anything that's visible from a train car. It takes over an hour before I can truly be swayed by the scenery.

We went to Yufuin to start. Yufuin has a nice setting with mountains all around; in that way it reminded me of Banff, Alberta. The main street around the station is relatively picturesque but slightly artificial feeling. In this way as well it reminded me of Banff. There's also a rather heavily concrete-lined river running though the middle, heightening the artificiality, beautified by rows of cherry trees along the banks.


Yufuin is also rather small so walking from one end to the other doesn't take nearly as long as you guess when looking at the sightseeing map. Walking from the station, through the old quarter of town with it's assortment of artisan and handicraft shops to Kinrinko Lake probably takes no more than 35 minutes with an ice-cream stop.

We took the bus to Kurokawa Onsen the next day. Where Yufuin gives the impression of recent renovation, Kurokawa Onsen is traditional in look and feel.

Most of Kurokawa Onsen is nestled into a small river gorge. The craggy terrain with moss covered rocks and ample trees was a perfect setting for the traditional buildings and various rotemburo, or outdoor hot spring baths. There was one problem with the rotemburo at the ryokan we were staying at.


They were all kon`yoku. That`s mixed bathing to you and I. Gronk.

It appears that I have to start jogging again, if my bag is going to be well displayed for all genders and ages in Kyushu.

The return trip brought us to Mt Aso. It appears that the volcanic gas leaking out was enough to keep people from taking the cable car to the top to look around. Which was a narrow save for my wife, who loves cable cars the way cats love bath time. And reacts with the same amount hissing and scratching.

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