Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Newlyweds in Nippon: Kyushu and Back

Leaving Hiroshima, we headed to Fukuoka, to meet up with Sak's parents. They live in Sasebo, which is near Nagasaki, and decided to bus up to visit with us for a day.
Sak's dad wanted to check out a nearby park (Ohori), which had a traditional Japanese garden and the fastest-swimming koi I have ever seen.

The stump of Fukuoka castle was all that remained. So sad.

That night, us Saks went on a mission - to buy Sak a suit, off the rack. His dad figured he might as well have more than one suit, and that Japan would be the only place he'd ever find one in his size. That said, he was still the smallest size in the store, and the pants need to be taken in a few inches. Sak was none-too-pleased to find that he still wasn't considered normal-sized, even in Japan.

The next day, we headed over to Dazaifu, which is famous for being an old samurai town.

Although we didn't see any samurai, we did see some more turtles.
While in the area, we also went to the (air-conditioned) Kyushu National Museum. It had a lot of artifacts from ancient life in Kyushu, and an English audio-guide to help us along.

After a delicious lunch of my very-favorite shio saba bento (salted grilled mackerel), we bid Sak's parents good-bye.

And off we went to the next stop - Okayama.
If you're familiar with the story of Momotaro, Okayama is the town which his story is believed to be from. The whole place is decked out in peaches.

There was a washing machine in our hotel room. Which blows my mind, considering we don't even have one in our apartment at home!
And while we're on the subject of hotel rooms and plumbing - I spent more time in the bathroom again, this time playing with the dual-purpose faucet. It works in the sink, and then you can swivel the nozzle over and fill up the bathtub! That way you can sit in the tub without a tub water faucet whacking you in the back or anything.

Okayama castle was gorgeous.
And it had a pretty good museum of common Japanese life during the castle's lifetime. They have someone there that will dress you in a full-fledged kimono as well, for free. If it wasn't so hot, I would have stood in line.
Sak fell in the well though.

The Koraku-en garden outside the castle was huge and fascinating with fields of rice, plum trees and even butterflies.
But the arcade we went to later that night..Well. After losing 500 yen trying to win a stuffed guinea pig from one UFO catcher, I was upset. We watched another person spend around 4,000 yen winning a bath mat shaped like a cat, but at least she actually won it in the end. No more UFO catchers for me. I can't handle the frustration!

But the lego-build-it-yourself bumper cars they had were pretty cool, I admit.
As were the ice-cream UFO catchers.

After riding the shinkansen the next day, we stashed our luggage in a handy station locker and took a side-trip to the town of Hikone. Why? Castle, of course! This one was special, since it was an original and not a reconstruction. I was obsessed with finding the "real deal" at this point. And it was completely worth it.

They had everything, from the bridge and guard tower, to reconstructions of the master's quarters outside the castle.
They even had Samurai Warriors key chains in the gift shop. Which is funny, since nearly all my knowledge of Japanese history comes from that game series. (Don't hate, I'm trying to learn the "real" way now, I promise!) I ended up buying a capybara fan because it was so hot and un-airconditioned though.
The interior of the keep was probably the most fascinating though. It was gorgeous, unlit and rustic. The stairs were ridiculously steep, and there were sliding doors leading to who-knows-where. It was like taking a step back in time, like the great Nobunaga himself could turn the corner at any moment. Completely exhilarating.
We caught the romance car train to Hakone later that day. Which wasn't so romantic, given it's rather-high-price and rather-short-ride. After a crazy bus ride up the mountain, the bus driver stopped and left the two of us, unattended, in his bus while he went to take a leak. Of course he didn't tell us this, so we had absolutely no idea what was going on. Eventually we got to our ryokan though.

Now, Sak had done a great job finding us hotels in advance (mostly through hotels.com, actually). He averaged about $80 a night, which is awesome given the location. But he splurged on the ryokan. $300 a night. Whoa.

That $300 got us a private onsen though.
And a traditional Japanese house.
Oh, the fun we had role-playing samurai warriors.

Though we did get "locked out" one night when a giant cicada decided to sit on our door. I had to get over my fear and hustle through the door crack! He sat there all night, ugh.

There were ninjas there too! In the form of staff that sneak around and bombard you with offers of tea and futon services. Maybe I'm too DIY American, or maybe I'm just against having elderly people do anything for me - but having them move our heavy luggage for us and serve us tea so subserviently - it made me very uncomfortable. But that's what they do, no matter how many times you tell them it's not necessary.

On our last day there, we paid our bill and tried to sneak out with our luggage as quietly as we could. We got about halfway down the walkway before we tripped some sort of secret alarm, sending our host squawking after us and fighting for control of our heavy bags. We won in the end though. And we got to the front, hopefully saving her back from sprains. But she did manage to find my camera in the scuffle, and she dragged us back for pictures. She was a very nice host, and if there was tipping in Japan, we would have tipped her well. I still feel terrible for her though, but again - I'm not good with being pampered.

While in Hakone, we rode the ropeway up the mountain to Owakudani.

For some reason there were Stag Beetles at all the rail stops.

Anyway, the source of the hot springs smelled strongly of sulfur, and the water was boiling!
So hot, in fact, that they boil eggs up there until their shells turn black. Then they put them in a little pulley-cart and move them down the mountain to sell.
We bought them, as well as some hyped milk from local Hakone cows. Sadly, I couldn't tell the difference. It tasted like boiled egg and milk. Boo. But at least the process was still interesting!
Finally, at the station we decided to walk to Odawara castle, since it was nearby. Our last castle was the typical remodel-turned-museum, and lacked air conditioning.
It did, however, have monkeys. Which activated Sak's trauma-switch, once again.

With one day left, we traveled to Yokohama, a town Sak had spent a lot of time in when he lived in Japan. He had not been to Chinatown though, so that's where we went.
Call me biased if you will, but San Francisco's Chinatown still reigns supreme. Though their char siu bao were bigger, they were also like five hundred yen a piece. Yikes. We had a three dollar version, and it didn't taste any fancier than home, so I don't know why they cost so much.

And lastly - as we waited for the train to take us to back to the airport, Sak took me to Tokyo hands, the DIY store. Everything from DIY plumbing to DIY photo developing. Pretty awesome. I came out with some decorative tape and a egg-cooker. Sak wouldn't let me anywhere near the wedding section though.

Well, it's time to say good-bye to Japan. I was pretty unhappy. I didn't want to leave. It was the most interesting place I've ever been, and the best starter-country for my untraveled self to have visited. But Sak's promised me a return someday - with an itineary of more castle hunting. (Though probably not until the yen rate is in our favor again!)
In closing though - if you're looking for a honeymoon that has adventure, history, romance, and plenty of random things puzzle over - Japan is your destination!


  1. I'm beginning to think Japan has the most amazing toilets! Thanks for sharing all those Japanese bathroom discoveries. :-D

  2. Was that Sak being a dutiful son and holding an umbrella for his mama?

    The Okayama castle was so beautiful! Your pics were great. And great shot of that butterfly.

    Thanks for the adventure! ;]

  3. Wow, you guys had an amazing trip! I just spent about 30 minutes reading this post word for word! My fiance hates being pampered, too - I think in India it's the same thing where people run out of the woodwork to do everything for you, and he HATES it. I'm fine with it, haha :)

  4. Your posts are too long. I want to comment on EVERYTHING and by the time I get to the next photo I forget what I want to say that was oh so important. Phew!

    Can I come with you next time? Since Sak fits into a suitcase, I'll take his seat and use him as my carryon.

    That's cool with Sak, right?

  5. @alvina - oh yes he was ;) and i took like 50 shots trying to get that silly butterfly not to be blurry! muahaha.

    @ppg - haha, i'm with your fi! and i can't wait to hear about your ny trip too! take lots of pictures!

    @gator - i know. and they take foreverrrrr to write too. promise this is the last crazy long one though! :)

    oh..and tell pete we'll have to visit him in florida someday so he doesn't think your a crazy person that talks about fictional people online :)