As with my ski trip to Hokkaido a couple years ago, I was grateful for Keiichi’s help in planning this bicycle tour in Kyushu. He lives in Kagoshima now, and I was looking forward to visiting him there. However, with our detour to Usuki and the days spent there at the bamboo lantern festival, Ferda and I ran out of time. Being a fair bit out of our way we ended up skipping Kagoshima. Thank you, Keiichi, for all the help and sorry that we weren’t able to get together.
Our crossing from Kumamoto to Miyazaki Prefecture was through the scariest tunnel of the trip. As I mentioned in my last post, we hadn’t planned on crossing those mountains on such a busy highway, but the little road we wanted didn’t go through. The 1800m long tunnel was pretty narrow. We started the tunnel on the very narrow sidewalk with quite a high curb. I keep hitting the periodic reflectors with my right front bag (we were riding on the left as always in Japan), scared that I’d lose balance and crash into the highway. I had to stop part way through to calm my nerves. It was good timing as a fast truck zoomed by followed by the typical swirling wind. When the road started obviously going downhill, I got off the sidewalk and sped the rest of the way through the tunnel with no vehicles passing me. We rested in the sun on the other end, again needing to calm down.
The rest of our days in Japan were characterized by the wonderful people we met. We coasted down to Yoshimatsu, and an outgoing woman on a bicycle with two kids and good English gave us a short tour of the sites in her neighborhood: a spring and a shrine.
At first her son was a bit shy, but he warmed up to Ferda by the end.
We rode along the flanks of the Kirishima volcanoes, up and down, through corn and tea plantations, to get to Kirishima Shrine.
As the days went by, the fall colors got better and better.
Check this out! One wet afternoon Ferda found an awning where we could wait out the rain for a bit. There were vending machines, and one even had beer!
The sun came out the next day.
In Miyakonojo we stopped for a sento (public path) and lunch, and friendly Tuyuko invited us to spend the night at her house.
Communication was a little difficult, but she is warm-hearted and put together a great breakfast for us in the morning.
The road from Miyakonojo to Nichinan is so beautiful that a number of potters have been inspired to set up their workshops in this area. Ferda bought a couple cups, and the potter filled up a bag of mushrooms for us from where he grows them behind his shop.
Miyazaki Prefecture is famous throughout Japan for its surfing. When we got to the coast, not only did we start seeing surfers but we also saw more sportive cyclists than during the entire rest of our time in Kyushu.
Most people who visit Udo Jingu (Shrine) will want to buy five clay balls and throw them over the cliff with the goal of landing in the circle below, defined by rope. If you succeed, well, you’ll get good luck. Men must throw the balls with their left hand while woman throw with the right hand. Since most people are right-handed, women have an advantage here. However, both Ferda and I throw with our left hands so I had the advantage. Ferda had the skill though ’cause she stuck one of hers!
At the campground that night, we were cooking dinner at a picnic table next to a fire pit. Ferda said, “I wish we had a camp fire here.” Less two minutes later Take showed up and, worried about smoke, asked if it’d be alright to light a campfire.
Wow, those clay balls work fast!
Take and his friends, Shoji and Takashi, are all local long-time surfers. That evening they were celebrating the kick-off of their new venture together, Aloha Garden. They all spoke good English and were happy to share their soup, kimchi nabe, noodles, and perfectly cooked Australian beef with salt and raw garlic. For drink they shared their beer, French wine, and shochu with us. It sounds like Shoji is a fantastic windsurfer, and Takashi goes to Kauai every year to go surfing. What a fun way to spend our last evening camping in Japan.
The next day in Aoshima we left our bicycles in front of a shop to visit the botanical garden and shrine. When we came back to the bikes, the shopkeeper waved us over and showed us photos from his trip to Turkey 20 years ago. He had visited Efes, Kapadokya, Istanbul, Troy.
It was a short ride from there north to Miyazaki where we had a couple days to pack our bicycles and say goodbye to Japan. Our celebratory dinner was at an izakaya where we were lucky to sit at the counter next to Yumi and Sanji.
The ice breaker at the beginning of the evening was that first thing Ferda and I ordered was Miyazaki’s unusual specialty, tori sashi (raw chicken).
The white pieces were soft and almost melted in your mouth, our favorite. The thin red slices were chewy, almost crunchy, our least favorite. The orange-yellow cubes (in front of the lemon slice) were organ parts, I think — amazingly custard-like, not at all what you’d expect.
Sanji then recommended we try this raw egg dish.
By the end of the evening we were buddies.
So long, Japan, and thanks for all the fish.