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Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.

Journal Entry:

Sunday, August 07, 2016 00:06:14

Asia 2016: 3 - Kagoshima, Kuyshu Island, Japan

Friday, August 5, 2016

Our guide and driver, neither of whom spoke English, arrived this morning half an hour early for our 9 AM departure out of Kagashima on a tour of South Kyushu. We had bought edibles at our corner shop last night, so snacked in the room for breakfast.

The first stop was an enormous solar panel generator station that measures 1,300 X 860 meters (4,264 X 2,821 feet). It produces 70 megawatts of power, for which the electric company pays about $9 million per day to the producer. No one spoke English, but we made it through the tour of the plant with a lot of laughing and help from mobile phone translators.

We then drove along the south coast of the island, past one of three national storage areas for petroleum on Kyushu. It covers a large area along the water with giant storage tanks. The vegetation here includes many trees and plants I've not seen before. The climate is semi-tropical so there are lots of palm trees as well.

We stopped at the most southerly railway station in Japan, where there is a spectacular view of a massive, perfectly shaped volcano. There are a lot of volcanoes and hot springs on Kyushu. We later saw this same volcano from across a bay, and the sunny clear day made the photos perfect.

At beautiful Ikada Lake we had our best lunch in Japan to date, accompanied by sake. Our guide insisted on buying in spite of the fact that I'm sure we ran the bill over any limit he might have. Ikada Lake is spring fed inside the caldera of an old volcano, and is noted for a large eel population. Large eels were in tanks in the restaurant. This area is a major producer of green tea.

We stopped at a shrine built on a rocky point protruding between two bays, where the trick was to put a round of wood on your head, and without touching it walk toward the shrine, up the stairs and pull one of the ropes to ring a bell which would send a prayer. I failed miserably, Marilynn got as far as the stairs, but a few people managed it.

The last stop of the day was at the Chiran Peace Museum, built near the Japanese principal army flight training center of WWII. It had two long runways, and in March 1945 became the principal base for what are known in Japan as Tokko, which translates to "special attack", but are better known outside Japan as Kamikaze. There are photos and a shrine to the 1,036 pilots aged 16 to early 20s who flew from this base to die in the battle for Okinawa in Japan's last bid to win a battle in the Pacific during that time. There were reconstructed aircraft that had been shot down, plus some still in reasonable shape from that period, photos of each of the pilots and mementos. In reality, it was thoroughly depressing to think of the waste on both sides.

We drove back to the hotel over a road through the mountains, where lush forest lined the road and there was no sign of human habitation for many miles. At times there were spectacular views of the coast and the City of Kagoshima far below. After being dropped at the hotel I did some essentials for trip planning, and got this bit of writing done.

Across the street from the hotel there are several blocks in various directions that are covered pedestrian streets - there is a roof over the street even at intersections, and streets branching off. We walked that until my knees would take no more and had dinner in an eel specialty restaurant. We had no idea it was eel until Marilynn got out the translator on her phone, and we were telling them how good the fish was. It was the only thing the restaurant sold.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Today's city tour started before 8 AM. Many sites focus on Saigo Takamori, a teacher and samuri who was far sighted. During the Edo period much of Japan was ruled from Edo (later Tokyo) and trade or contact with westerners was prohibited. Saigo, however, believed that it was necessary to learn about western technology to avoid being conquered like other Asian countries. The point was driven home in 1863 when a British fleet visited Kagoshima. Three of the crew were attacked on shore, and one killed. In those days the British didn't take that sort of thing lightly, so the ships sailed in line, firing until they destroyed over half of Kagoshima. The British guns could fire four miles, the Japanese only one mile making the contest very unequal.

The dissent grew among Saigo's students and 1862 Saigo was exiled to a remote island. He was pardoned and returned in 1864. In spite of orders from Edo to the contrary, in 1865 the shogun of Satsuma sent a group of about 11 students to England - a film in the excellent history museum portrayed their trip and the wonders they saw as their ship stopped at various British ports. They all went on to become prominent figures in various countries after their university years. Several returned to Japan to make a fortune with their knowledge of industrial production after the end of the Edo period.

Civil was ensured when two of the most powerful clans in Japan united against the government in 1866. In 1867 the shogunate government passed rule to the emperor, who moved into Edo Castle when it was surrendered without bloodshed in 1868. In 1869 the capital name became Tokyo and their were further battles against the new government. The pro-shogunate northern clans unified against the government. In 1874 Saigo returned to Kagoshima and in 1877 the Satsuma Rebellion began. Saigo's forces were driven back to Kagoshima by the forces of the central government, where he was killed. We visited his grave site, which is among the graves of 800 of his top leaders. He is revered as a hero, but the emperor continued to rule.

We took a comfortable car ferry for the 15 minute ride to Sakujima, a volcanic island where one of the most active volcano in the country soars to a height of 1,117 meters (3,664 ft). 70 ferry trips are made each 24 hour day. There is a considerable population along the coast line of the island in spite of the last major eruption was in 1946. We drove up to an observatory at 373 meters (1,223 ft) where the views of the city and surrounding area were spectacular. There was a strong smell of sulfur.

The tour continued around the island to where a major lava flow from the 1914 eruption had filled in the channel between Sakujima and the mainland. Now only a bridge is required to connect the road to the mainland. The scenery was beautiful over a bay filled with fish farms.

A stop was made at Kakuida, a place where black vinegar has been made for 200 years. The process here is perfectly natural - brown rice and spring water are put into large, black urns and left in the sun to ferment. At 4 months it was frothy with fermentation, at 10 months the fermentation had stopped, but none is sold until after three years. At this point the vinegar is a brown colour, by 5 years it has turn dark brown and achieves the famous black at 10 years. Before being sold it is cut 10 to 1 with water. Needless to say the price goes up with age. They have 20,000 urns sitting out in the sun aging. The vinegar is sold for cooking or a small amount is taken each day to cure dry skin, lower cholesterol, help diabetics and assist in weight loss.

Kakuida has a second floor restaurant where we had a window table with a gorgeous view over the bay and volcano. Our driver had ordered a multi-course lunch for the four of us. Marilynn and I both agreed it was one of the most outstanding meals we had ever experienced. Some dishes we didn't identify, but there was not one that wasn't bursting with amazing flavours. My main plate was tender beef, Marilynn's was pork and both were superb.

After lunch was a drive for the rest of the way around the bay, stopping at the remains of the shogun of Satsuma's palace and large formal gardens. Our return to the hotel was not until after 5 PM, an day of over 9 hours, so after a fond farewell to guide and driver we bought some items at the corner store and retreated to the room for the night, both worn out and still full from lunch.

There are very, very few western tourists on Kyushu, but it is a place I would strongly recommend. Although there are some good sized heavy industrial cities on the north of the island, the island itself is super beautiful, with uninhabited forests, rivers, oceans and loads of history. It does not need to be expensive - the Green Rich Hotel we stayed in has helpful staff and although the room was small, it and the bed were comfortable and had most amenities. The location is excellent for shopping, nightlife and quick travel by public transport. A day transportation pass that includes buses, trains and ferries costs $6. They are sold at the train station and other locations. There are 3 sightseeing bus routes, a circle bus route on Sakujima that stops at hot springs overflowing into the ocean and a place where you can dig your own hot pool in the sand. Another bus route does the city at night to see the lights. A very highly recommended destination.