JR Railway and Telephone Cards from Japan

In the 1990s, we spent three years in Japan and during that time, we often used prepaid JR railway cards and prepaid telephone cards. Now, 25 years later, I’m glad I kept them.

 

Kitakyushu University

 

Kokura Castle in Kitakyushu

 

Kitakyushu International Association

 

JR Kyushu Tobata Eki

Cherry Blossoms in Japan

This is the time of year, when the cherry blossoms (sakura) are out, I truly miss Japan. This cherry blossom viewing (hanami) usually lasts for about 7 – 10 days in spring and you can follow the course of it, moving south to north, via every weather channel.

My friend Yoshiko from Kitakyushu has just sent me these photos and with her permission, I want to share a bit of this Japanese spring with you.

Before posting this, I went through my journals looking for entries made about hanami during that time. I was hoping to recall some special memories, but I only found one entry.

My husband, three-month old Thomas, and I were in a small park, where a drunk kept yacking at us while taking our photos. Unfortunately, this was the only entry I could find.

Another year, we were all stricken with the stomach flu and the third one was filled with mostly cool and rainy days. You see, memories are sometimes fonder than the actual experiences (when daily life catches ups with us).

On the two occasions, when I revisited Japan in 2008 and 2012, I got to experience hanami in all its glory.

Anyway, these photos below were taken on 20 and 21 March 2013.

Cherry blossoms in Japan

 

Kokura Castle in Kitakyushu

If you happen to read this and would like to tell your most memorable cherry blossom event in Kitakyushu to NHK, you can apply here. Deadline is 28 March and your entry needs to be in Japanese.

 

 

Mt. Aso on Kyushu

Back in 2008, we tried to get to the top of Mt. Aso, an active volcano on the southern island of Kyushu (Japan).  Due to heavy sulfur fumes, the top of the mountain was not accessible to the public.

Just this month, we were fortunate to visit Mt. Aso on a sunny morning.

On our way up, we stopped at this roadside stand selling blocks of sulfur.

Blocks of sulfur for sale on Mt. Aso

Notice the shade of green in the bubbling hot water.

Mt. Aso in Japan

This is one of my favorite pictures showing volcanic rock formations and a man-made rail.

Volcanic formations around Mt. Aso

Last, but not least. I have again become a fan of Japan’s unusual fusion food, strange concoctions, and unlikely flavorings, such as this one…. black sesame ice cream.

Black Sesame Ice Cream at Mt. Aso

Out of the unusual ice cream flavors I had sampled during this trip (Black Sesame, Wasabi and Corn), I liked the wasabi flavored one the best (more about that on my post about the Taio Gold Mine near Hita).

Nakatsue Village in the Mountains near Hita on Kyushu

One might wonder how we ended up in a small village high up in the mountains (600 m above sea level). Well, as a volunteer at the Kokusai Center in Kitakyushu, I came to know one of the city employees.

She is retired now and lives with her husband in a log cabin in Nakatsue. With her help, we secured a fairly inexpensive overnight deal in a Minpaku. Our charge was 3000 Yen per person (about 30 euro per person).

What is a Minpaku you might ask. Definition of Minpaku taken from Kyushu Educational Travel Net:

This Minpaku experience, which allows visitors to experience rural culture as typified by local cuisine, beautiful scenery and abundant nature, has been becoming popular. In Kagoshima Prefecture, a NPO organization coordinates more than 700 individual homes.

Staying in a minpaku is the cheapest form of accommodation, next is the Minshuku, topped by a Ryokan in convenience and comfort.

With our Minpaku arrangement, we had a whole log cabin to ourselves, it came without breakfast (instant coffee and tea were available), and it was just great!

Minpaku log cabin

For some reason, I did not take any photos on the inside. Our minpaku was fully equipped with heaters, flat screen TV, and all the amenities one could ask for.

Come warmly dressed though as these arrangements high up in the mountains can be rather cold even in April. The thermometer read – 1°C at 10 p.m.

Mountains of Hita, Oita-ken

On my next trip to Kyushu, I will book a Minpaku again.

Northern Kyushu

We have been here on Kyushu for two days and we have done more socializing in two days than what I usually get done in two months.

Just today, we had a good bye get-together for a friend who is returning to Yokohama this evening. Then a former student took us to a famous lantern museum (Edo period) with lunch following at a popular Japanese restaurant.

After that I was taken to the patchwork shop in Tobata where I used to take patchwork lessons. Even my former teacher and another student came for this little reunion. This was again followed by cake and coffee. By then, my companions were too tired to join me on another trip down the road to visit a traditional home fully furnished in Japanese antiques.

Now at 8:50 p.m., we are soon off to our last visit, a friend’s mom right here in Wakamatsu. All the other little stops along the way and making arrangements for tomorrow’s plan go unmentioned.

We have already had many good laughs such as earlier when we got picked up once more. Another engagement, another car to hop into. There have been so many pick-ups that we don’t even pay much attention what car we get into when it is waiting out front. My daughter hopped into the first car in front of the gate, I hopped in right after. The driver turned around and cupped her hand over her mouth. It was not who we had expected, but a complete stranger. I managed a couple of  sumimasen and another gomen nasai for good measure. My brother, who had observed everything was doubling over from laughter.

Tomorrow, we are off backpacking and our first stop will be Beppu in northern Kyushu.