I will miss the trees. We visited a lot of gardens and parks to see cherry blossoms, but the blooms aren’t the only attractions. The trees, the green moss, the water features. Although Japanese cities were not all blessed with a lot of parks or green space, those that exist are so well taken care of.
I’m going to miss the small streets, with restaurants and shops that cluster together, usually near a train station. Each city has its share of large arterial roads, with plenty of car traffic and sometimes intolerably long signal phases, leaving you standing for minutes waiting for a pedestrian walk signal. But, when you find the area of small streets the entire nature of that city changes. Narrow and mostly car free or very car light, the small streets give you an opportunity to feel you’ve stepped back in time.
Within these fine grained streets, with corners hiding the next view, are the amazing small restaurants. I’ve mentioned the awkwardness of sliding open doors and facing a tiny space perhaps already packed with customers. It can be cringe inducing, but so rewarding to be able to eat at a restaurant that is run by people who focus on one thing. This type of food – we do this and we do it well. You will wait the required amount of time, you will likely be served on hand thrown ceramic plates, and the food will be exquisitely displayed.
If it’s possible to desperately miss something you only got to do twice then we will desperately miss the Yatai of Fukuoka. The Tenjin neighborhood has small food stands, Yatai, which set up each night to serve up food in a space half the size of the storage unit holding all of our possessions back in the US.
The number of Yatai was shrinking, but in the last few years they’ve enjoyed a new renaissance and there are about 150 now. In addition to dinner at one we spent a hilariously fun evening drinking at a Yatai bar. Everyone is friends at a Yatai bar which measures 10×8 feet.
What else will I miss about Japan? The safety. The ability for Japan to have nice things that people respect and take care of. Public restrooms which are clean and stocked with rolls of TP which are not stolen. And the quirky things. Things you see and go, oh yeah, that makes sense to have.
You will always feel you missed out on experiences and places when traveling. We immediately have a list for “next time”. It says a lot about a place that you want to come back, soon. Regret is a rear view mirror. So what do I regret about our time in Japan now that we’ve moved on?
This is when Rich and I say to each other “I used to do important things.” Recalling our previous professional lives where we earned money, and made multiple decisions a day that impacted people and projects. And we laugh at ourselves. Another regret? Hotels in Japan supply you with pajamas. Really. Instead of a robe you get pajamas or a button up nightgown contraption or a yakuta, a light cotton kimono. Somehow the pajama tops and bottoms fit both me and Rich, sometimes with pretty funny differences. Do I have a single photo, let alone a collection of photos? No. If you go to Japan learn from my mistake and take photos of yourself in the pajamas in your hotel rooms. And take a notebook to collect the stamps.
No regrets that we visited Japan. Such a lovely place with wonderful people. Goodbye Japan. Hello Korea.
There are things you know about a country before you arrive and are looking forward to – food, specific sights, cultural norms that are different from your own and therefore fascinating – but the things that catch you by surprise are the gifts of travel.
Plentiful water. Still a mind bending notion to someone raised in Southern California. The city of Shimabara has a castle, a lovely neighborhood of samurai houses, and so much free flowing water. Water under tea houses where koi appear to float in midair, a visual trick of the crystal clear water. Water running between houses in fern lined canals. Water fountains with ladles handy so you know the water is drinkable. So much water. And yes, some of it hot thanks to Mount Unzen, an active volcano which rises and steams and bubbles a short bus ride away.
After admiring the water in one neighborhood, we had lunch, a lovely set menu which is a wonderfully easy thing to order. Then we headed to a spot on the map marked as public foot bath. So far all the water had been cold and clear. Foot bath? That sounds interesting.
Feet refreshed and ready for more walking we headed off to see the neighborhood of samurai homes. The canal which runs through the neighborhood was a perk for these high ranking, hereditary, military nobility.
We headed back to our hotel, craving a proper onsen soak, but first we had to pass another fountain, and stop for another drink. How could we pass up this lovely landscaped fountain, which seemed to be part of the neighboring house’s garden.
One easy bus ride from our waterfront hotel took us winding up the mountain. The bubbling mud and steam clouds of Obamachounzen quickly let you know this volcano is not playing around. “An eruption in 1991 generated a pyroclastic flow that killed 43 people, including three volcanologists. “ The slopes of the mountain down to the sea will look familiar to anyone who has visited the big island of Hawaii. Lava field slopes.
Even though we hadn’t done much walking yet, just a few kilometers around the steamy and bubbly area of Obamacho Unzen, we headed right to the public foot bath.
We did a lovely hike after the foot bath and enjoyed the views of the volcano while having a picnic on an observation platform – keeping a wary eye on the plumes of steam. Then it was a bus back to the hotel, a lovely relaxing onsen and outdoor rotenburo soak at our hotel, and dinner at a local Izakaya. It was time to move on to Kagoshima, which was a ferry ride and train ride away. But first – foot bath by the ferry terminal!
The blessings of volcanos. Hot springs. There are more than 27,000 hot springs in Japan. The volume of water that flows from them is 2.6 million liters per minute. I was a volcano fan before this trip to Japan, now I’m a volcano fanatic. And we weren’t done yet! Next up, a ferry from Kagoshima to see the slopes of Mount Sakurajima and yes, another foot bath.
We’re in Korea as of today, but still catching up on all the fun we had in Japan. I was struck by the relationship the Japanese have with their volcanos. The idea of the blessings of volcanoes, and the use of the hot spring water, gives the volcanoes a different feel. Yes, potentially deadly, but also useful and part of life. Japan has the potential to harness this geothermal energy, mostly unrealized so far, but what an additional blessing that could be. But our feet were happy to take advantage of the blessings of the volcanoes.