Today we took the Shinkansen to Kyushu and visited Kumamoto castle with the cherry blossom in full bloom. Then we explored Hakata before heading back home.
Day 23 – March 26th, 2014.
After spending yet another two days at home in our apartment trying to shake the cold, and only venturing out for food, I’m pleased to say that today Moni is feeling somewhat better and is on the mend.
“Shinkansen to Kumamoto”
I had set the alarm for five the night before in anticipation that things would be better. On waking up to rain it was not very pleasant, but with Moni more cheerful that was great news.
“First ride on the Kyushu Shinkansen”
We readied ourselves and made our way to the Sembayashi-omiya subway with two minutes to spare. We made our change at Higashi-umeada and then on to Shin-Osaka. We quickly tried to reserve seats but all were taken so it was non reserved or wait. We chanced our luck and jumped on the already there bullet train and found a two seats just for us.
The train left soon after and speed on its way. The trip was four hours and unfortunately we had no time to grab any nourishments for the ride, but we did purchase a coffee from the trolly lady as she passed by.
The train made a few stops along the way with the majority getting on and off at Hiroshima, rather a long way to go to work. The carriage was full and a few passengers were standing in-between the carriages.
About three hours in to the journey the rains eased off, soon to return though, it was to be like that all day.
“The Shinkansen spends less than two minutes waiting at the platform so you better be ready or miss your stop”
Ours was the next stop.
At each end of the carriage is a display that tells which station is next in both Japanese and English. We wrapped up warm and got ready to get off. The Shinkansen prides itself on being on time and at each station has less than two minutes waiting so you better be ready or miss your stop.
At the station we visit the information office and get directions etc. We are quiet hungry now so next we buy some food of hot rice with vegetable and pickles.
Kumamoto castle is about six tram stops away and it was a good idea to take the tram ride especially in the wet weather, 150 Yen each per trip. We alight at our stop and immediately spot cherry blossom trees. They are in full bloom this far south and just for us the rain has stopped. We take some photos while eating our warm rice. Then it’s off to view the castle.
“The cherry blossom trees are in full bloom here in Kumamoto”
Only a short walk to the entrance to pay 500 Yen each then our self guided exploration begins. The area is surrounded by cherry trees and huge stone walls. Big steps slippery under foot from the rain make going slow as we make our way to the main tower.
“Our visit to Kumamoto castle”
A very impressive main castle stands before us with turrets on corners of the castle area. One is under restoration the Iidamaru Turret but another the Uto turret is open for viewing. We take a look inside, shoes off. This is the only original part of the castle as the rest has been rebuilt after fire destroyed it back in 1877.
You get great views from the top and can imagine how it would have been all those years ago when the samurai protected the lords at places like this. After having a good look around and avoiding a passing down pour we shoe up and make our way across the wet paddock to the main tower also via the underground passage.
The area has more passages which are still in repair. This one the Kuragari-tsuro passage is built under the Honmaru Goten grand hall was rebuilt in 2008 and is very modern looking and somewhat out of character.
The main tower which was rebuilt in1960 is seven stories high and you can climb the stairs to the top. With a view like before on a clear day you would have spotted the enemy miles away.
Many artefacts are on display mostly in Japanese. From here you can also visit the samurai mansion, but with the weather bad we decide to call it quits and make our way back to the station again viewing the Sakura in full bloom.
“We catch the bullet to Hakata the main station in Fukuoka”
We take the tram back to the station and catch the bullet to Hakata the main station in Fukuoka, about fifty minuets away.
Here we get out and visit the information centre. With the weather not good we give the Fukuoka castle ruins a miss and head straight towards Canal City an area of shops with a canal that flows trough. Walking past a small eatery we stop for a bite to eat, we are both hungry for hot food, plus it was just staring to rain again.
A very tasty bowl of Hakata noodles, these are fine noodles in stock with two slices of cooked pork and spring onion. Not much to it, yet really tasty.
After that we quickly get to the canal city, which is really just a shopping area on many levels with restaurants below and water on display at ground level. A fountain show is played at regular times. We buy a back pack rain protector an then head out again, not to keen on shopping, but obviously lots are and the place is full of people. At the river which is just across the road we grab a beer and a bottle of water and sip away as the weather starts to clear.
“Tulips and cherry blossom line the river in Hakata”
“The Yatai stalls in Hakata”
We consult the map to see which side of the river the Yatai stalls will be and our choice is soon made for us as first of the small motor bikes pulling the stalls arrive. One, then another, then another… Each come and start to set up their stalls.
The bike or tri bike is unhooked and the trailer placed in position. Once in place and levelled the flaps are opened and the sides put up. The contents are then unpacked. A smaller container is then collected which has beer and food in and some other goodies.
We watch as they set up their stalls which makes for very fascinating viewing and it’s not long before the stalls take shape. All that’s required is to get cooking… A stroll around some of the streets as it’s still early and the Yatai are only open from six.
The roads are busy and people are everywhere. Some of the back streets are slightly more seedy than others as we stumble through a sort of soho area. Fire engine and ambulance are together at a restaurant as we wander by the flashing lights, all looks calm considering men in full masks and fire suits milling around.
“Absolutely disgusting, the worst skewered meats I have ever tasted”
Slowly the evening rolls in and the city lights start to take over… Big neon signs flash, yet the area is not at all noisy. Finally heading back to the river to the stalls we sit at one and order some yakitori and an Asahi beer. A 500ml bottle is shared and then our skewers are ready from the grill. We have seven different skewers, chicken, pork, chicken, pork, chicken chicken chicken … We begin… To save going into detail I’ll just comment this. Absolutely disgusting, the worst skewered meats I have ever tasted.
The Japanese lady near us with her two kids were eating a bowl of Hakata noodles and said they were yummy so still hungry we shared a big bowl. Thankfully they were tasty. She then went on to eat the same yakitori like we had with pleasure. Sharing a brief conversation with two Japanese business men and then three Thai tourists before paying and moving on, 2600 Yen all up. This is not something I’d jump at doing again, maybe we had seven crap skewers, but even so, it was expensive.
I assume that they are all very similar but without trying i’d be wrong to comment, anyway it was an experience and we were happy to have been able to see it unfold.
Off we walked back to the station to catch the Shinkansen to Shin-Osaka. This time we had reserved seats for the return journey.
We found our mark on the floor where to stand and watched the Nozomi bullet train arrive at our platform briefly then depart. The Nozomi is not valid with our JR Pass even though we could take it and pay extra. A man that is dressed like a pilot starts talking to some Japanese standing near us. We then find out we are in the wrong place as the Nozomi train is a lot longer than the normal Shinkansen by eight carriages hence we are in the wrong spot.
Lucky we have reserved seats or we could have been at the back of a queue without a seat. Our train arrives very soon after and we take our seats. The non reserved seats are very fine, and plenty of space but these reserved seats are even more comfortable… Its reserved all the time now. Moni buys a coffee and we settle in for the ride back.
After getting the wrong trains last time we got to Osaka, this time we were very careful especially as it was late and we could afford no mistakes, all went well and we arrived safely yet very tired back at our pad.