Sunday, June 15, 2008 Japan Japan

Rainfall and ashfall in Satsuma

It rains a lot in Kagoshima [Enlarge]

On Wednesday we travelled from the middle of Honshu, Japan's biggest island, all the way to the bottom tip of Kyushu, the southernmost of the four main islands. Our destination was Kagoshima in the ancient province of Satsuma, from where the Citrus unshiu (a.k.a. the satsuma mandarin) was first exported to the West in 1879 by a US embassy employee's wife.

A plan has crystallised over the last few days: we will take an overnight ferry from Kagoshima to the remote island of Okinawa, hopefully stopping off on an even more remote island on the way, and then another overnight ferry to Taiwan. Options for leaving Taiwan without flying are currently looking limited, but we'll worry about that later.

The Shinkansen line across Kyushu is not finished yet, so from Hakata we had to take an 'ordinary' Japanese train to Shin Yatsushiro, before connecting with a Shinkansen to take us the last little bit into Kagoshima. The ordinary train was slower than the Shinkansen, but still infinitely more luxurious and reliable than anything on offer in Britain. The inside was like a hotel, right down to the mood lighting. As we headed south from Hakata, the landscape took on a jungly appearance. We passed through narrow valleys between lush, steeply sloping hillsides where tiny villages nestled. Rain poured from a low, slate grey sky and the landscape dripped and steamed.

Again we had not made a reservation in advance. From the train we went straight to the tourist information desk. We got the impression that we were the first foreigners the woman had ever met. After an initial look of panic had flashed across her face, she rallied and suggested the Toyoko Inn, centrally located and modern, with free internet access and breakfast. Surprisingly, considering we were away from the tourist hotspots, it was the most expensive hotel so far! Still, at 8,190 yen (GBP 38.96 / USD 75.80) per night for a double room it would be considered cheap in the UK. We booked four nights to give us plenty of time to look around and arrange a ferry to Okinawa.

Kagoshima is a laid back, rather sleepy place. There are wide streets and a convenient tram system—the only one we've ever seen whose tracks run on a grass lawn. They call the place the 'Naples of the East', because of its climate, its bayside location, and its proximity to a huge great active volcano.

Volcanic ash [Enlarge]

Our first priority was to walk down to the ferry port, where we sorted our tickets to Okinawa very easily. With sign language and simple English we managed to convey that we wanted the "Get on, get off, get on, get off" tickets that will allow us to stop at any of the islands on the way, as long as we get to Okinawa within seven days. With that done, we took a short boat trip across the bay to Sakurajima to visit our first active volcano. We took a walk through a lava field made in the last major eruption in 1914. The volcano still constantly spews out ash—everything on the island is covered in a blanket of the stuff.

There's a famous garden just around the coast that we wanted to see, but it has been raining non-stop pretty much since we arrived. At the moment we're camped out in the hotel lobby taking maximum advantage of the free wifi and two available power points. In an hour or so we'll up sticks to the ferry terminal to wait for our 18:00 ferry to the Okinawan Islands. Let's hope it stops raining soon!

Map of Day 565

Day 565
Kyoto to Kagoshima

This map shows the route we took in this post. Click it to see larger maps of our whole route at flickr.

Maps are taken from the CIA World Factbook.