Wednesday, 11 March 2015

violent nature

It's a familiar bento box I'm having for lunch - the problem of eating take-away dinners at convenience stores is that they have a limited repertoire.  One thing I do like is that the food is labelled with a kcal value.  This is, after all, the land with the highest rate of anorexia in the world.  But I'm always looking for the biggest number I can find, not the smallest.  Gayle chooses what looks best.  And here we are, meals freshly microwaved and radiating on our knees as we sit in one of the small parks in downtown Kagoshima.  I've nearly finished my lunch while Gayle is talking about something, not noticing that two pigeons have slowly been inching their way closer to her lunch box, left casually on the bench beside her.  But I've clocked them as they mince closer and closer to those plump pieces of pork.  "Gayle, " I interrupt her, "you better watch......" Too late, the pigeons have both jumped up into the air, wings pumping, about to pounce when BAM! out of left field a hawk flies over my left shoulder, momentarily bouncing on my plastic tray just long enough to grasp the fried fish waiting for me to consume, and off away into a nearby tree.  The pigeons saw him coming.  I, on the other hand, didn't.  I'd been saving my giant fish finger, for that is my best description of it, for last.  Gayle casually picks up her box and munches a piece of pork.  "What were you about to say?" she asks.

Sakurajima from Kagoshima waterfront
The ferry to Kagoshima was a quiet affair - not many punters making the journey from Okinawa in low season.  The restaurant on board was not serving but there was a microwave and hot water dispenser if you'd brought something plastic to eat on the overnight journey.  Failing that, there was even a vending machine serving food.  We roll off the ship at about 9am and set about looking for a hostel.  We immediately get lost. There's nothing for it but to ask for directions: "Sumimasen, Miami-dori doko des ka?" The phrase is straight out of the phrasebook and at least we can recognise one of the main road names in the city centre.  The man has a think and points us back the way we have come. "Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah" I look blankly in my phrasebook for the corresponding answer.  Never mind.  Back we go.  After a couple of these interactions Gayle asks "What did he say?"  I give her a stony look. 
foot soak in public hot spring on the waterfront

Happily, we find the hostel.  It's full.  But there's a guesthouse just around the corner.  We take a room for £25 - it's about the going rate in Japan. Won't be doing this too often. The mattresses are nearly as thin as the walls - and they're paper thin.  The family who run the place are very friendly and sort us out.  They speak enough English to answer our questions.  From the rooftop we can look out across the harbour to the volcanic island opposite and watch spectacular plumes of ash hurled upwards from Sakurajima.  It's no longer an island, following an eruption when lava flowed to join it with the mainland.  Welcome to Kyushu, the southernmost island of Japan proper.

Down at the seafront park Gayle meets Romain, a French cyclist snoozing in the sunshine.  He tells her it's the first warm day he's had since he arrived from Korea.  We've timed the weather right then.  At the hostel we meet some of the other guests.  There's Sosumi, a student studying psychiatry.  He speaks thoughtfully and his English is quite good, though he doesn't get my joke about having malpractice insurance.  His hair is a bit fuzzy and cut like a English Guardsman's bearskin hat.  There's also a young man whose name I didn't catch, who is working here as an intern.  He gets excited and asks questions such as "Are English people unique like Japanese people?" "Do you dislike soy sauce?" and one for the budding English teacher, "What's the difference between 'I don't know' and 'I don't understand'?"

We take an old-fashioned ferry across the water to get a close-up of Sakurajima.  The volcano seems quiet today as we skirt it's southern edge on our way towards the southern cape of Kyushu.  Shortly after taking a break and taking photos Gayle looks back and sees fresh smoke/ash erupting from the crater.  The roadside is deep in ash from another day and the wind seems to be blowing it our way.  We start pedalling and ease up when we see the flume heading in a safer direction.  The road down the coast is easy and pleasant, and the sun is out.  We find road stations where local farm produce is being sold and lunch can be had.  Stopping at one the next day we are approached by a man who has just been cycling.  He comes with a gift of snacks and asks us where we are from.  His English is not great but we understand he is training for a tour of Japan later this year.  He looks like he has retired.
"My name's John", I say.  "What's yours?"
"Kurasaki Takimotoshi" I think he says, I'm not sure.  There seemed to be about nine syllables.  I'm about to ask him to repeat it when he says
"What is your name again?"
you wouldn't know it but I'm actually bending my knees to be shorter
"Ahh so. John Lennon" He smiles.  He is the first Japanese we have heard say "ahh so".  After a bit more of this broken dialogue and a surreal moment when Kurasaki begins to strum an imaginary guitar singing "Manchester and Liverpool...." after he asks where we are from in England, he then invites us to stay at his home.  Unfortunately he lives 20km back in the direction we have come from so we politely decline.  He looks a bit disappointed and so are we.  If only he lived 20km in the other direction.  
the tori is the gateway to a shrine

As it is, the road finally turns in from the coast and climbs a steep headland leaving us a camp by a rest stop high above the sea and where no-one seems to stop and rest.  There's a great sunset and we pitch the tent at the back of the site, near the woods where I spy signs of wild boar.  That morning we had passed hunters out with their beagles - one dog with a radio-device attached to his collar.  Gun shots from high up in the forest had echoed around.  They must be good hunters - we sleep soundly and undisturbed by any rooting or tooting in the bushes. 

pest control?

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