After two weeks getting dirty in the rice fields, it was time for a good clean-up. Easy, considering that Kyushu has thousands of thermal springs. We headed south to the onsen village of Kurokawa that offers very diverse types of onsens. You can choose, for example, more acidic onsens that are relieving fatigue or opt for sulfur ones that help moisturize the skin, or you pick some refreshing hydrogen carbonate ones that soothe burns, etc. We went to an onsen with mixed bath so that we could go in together. It was a beautiful open-air bath next to the gushing river. Unfortunately, pictures are not allowed…
After our relaxing dip, we took the bus further south through the lush green countryside of Kyushu and ended up in Aso, famous for its extremely active volcano. You can visit the crater if you are lucky, meaning if mother nature hasn’t decided to send toxic gases up when you’re there… We tried our luck and decided to hike up from the base of the volcano. We didn’t see any living (human) soul during the entire ascent, making us wonder whether we were the only crazy ones wanting to see the inside of the earth that day. The hike was actually beautiful and we made friends with some Akagyu (“red cow”, famous in the region) as we zig-zagged between small hills and mini-canyons on the way up. The higher we went the foggier it got, sometimes making us wonder whether we were inhaling gases or clouds… We made it to the last station before the crater (there’s a ropeway going up the last bit) but were told that access was not permitted at the moment due to bad weather. It was starting to rain and no bus would come before an hour, so we tried the impossible: hitchhiking in Japan. Thumb up on the side of the road, but people didn’t understand what we were doing and happily waved at us without stopping. We took it to the next level and asked a couple on the parking. They probably first thought we wanted to rob them (especially with Quentin’s beard) but then eventually took us down all the way. The most touching thing was that they got off the car with us and gave us a hug (!) before saying goodbye.
The next morning the weather wasn’t any better so we directly headed to Kagoshima, all the way south of Kyushu. We had an amazing sukiyaki for dinner, with the famous black pork meat from the region. Sukiyaki can be described as a kind of hot pot with a sweet soy-base broth. You cook extremely thin slices of meat and dip them in raw egg before slurping them. It was sensational!
The next morning we got onto the ferry to Yakushima, a small island 5 hours south. Upon boarding, the attendant told us that due to the agitated sea, the ferry might not be able to enter the harbour on the island and return to Kagoshima without disembarking us on the island… Alright… The ride was actually comfy as we had am enormous space where we could lay down (Rebekka could even do some yoga when other passengers were not watching). We saw some flying fish that were literally “flying” for over 10 meters, beating the air with wings as long at their entire body! Later that day we had one for lunch, for scientific purposes only, of course.
As we approached the island, we could see the thick green forests covering the little surface not masked by clouds and mist. The ferry made it to the docks and we were greeted by a wall of heavy rain. We explored the island during the 3 following days, unfortunately very limited by the infrequent buses and the downpouring rain that almost never stopped. Our first excursion was the Ohko-no-taki waterfall, 129th and last stop for the bus going around the island. We rode 3 hours for this but it was well worth it (and we couldn’t do much else in the rain)!
The next morning, the bus took us up the serpentine road to the Shiratani Unsuikyo Valley, famous for its moss forests that inspired the famous animation Princess Mononoke. The rain was slamming the buses windows but we could still see the mountains around covered in extremely dense vegetation, wearing their fluffy coat of mist and clouds, giving it a surreal appearance. When we reached the national park, the guy at the entrance told us that due to the heavy rains river levels had dangerously risen and several paths were thus blocked. We still went in and enjoyed the forest as much as possible (thank God we had umbrellas), meeting Tommy, a friendly Hungarian guy, on the way.
After filling-up our shoes with liters of waters and hugging a few yaku-cedars (have to say, they were incredibly big!), we decided to escape and head to the other side of the island, where it was rumoured some onsens were hidden by the sea… And they literally were! First of all, this was the best decision of all times because it appears this little portion of the island was sunny while the rest was under a rainstorm. Our soaked clothes dried within a few minutes (and we got sunburnt within a few minutes as well) but most importantly, we had found paradise. As we arrived by the sea, the water started withdrawing, uncovering small stone pools that were hidden by the high tide just a few minutes before.
We stripped naked (onsen regulations) and jumped in. The water was first cold, as waves kept coming in, but as the tide lowered, the pools started getting warmer, fed by the thermal waters ingeniously redirected there by some hidden pipes. It was truly incredible, bathing in hot water with the raging sea on one side and a rainstorm on the other side; sharp black rocks one one side and lush green forests on the other. This made our entire stay in Yakushima worth it!
We left the island the next day after saying goodbye to our weird hostel (some side stories could be written about this 80 year-old grandpa that did push-ups on his fingers, the cauldron used as a bathtub or the 5m-deep hole used as a toilet) and a last little hike in the hills (another side story could be written about how we lost each other in the forest and were chased by monkeys and deers).
We headed straight to Fukuoka for our last day in Japan. There, we had 5 meals in a day, trying to have a last taste of the things we loved before taking the ferry to Korea. The city of Fukuoka surprised us by the amount of interesting buildings we found there but also by it’s friendly atmosphere. The place is famous for Yatai, aka Streetfood stalls that you find all over the city, which is very uncommon for Japan.
After almost two months of Japanese adventures, it is time for some change! Sayonara, Nippon! Ce n’est qu’un au-revoir!