Saturday, May 13, 2006

Part One

This is a story of a trip to Kyushu taken by five Canadians from Tokushima, Two of the Canadians were married. One Canadian tried to pretend he was actually Japanese. Another wasn't actually from Tokushima. And one of the Canucks was actually a Yankee, but Hawaii is barely a State anyway.

Two weeks before departure, the waffling began. The most lily-livered of the five began to panic about trivialities like money and whether he would be granted leave from school to go. But remembering the words of his father, he ultimately decided to spend the money, and try to eat nothing more than peanut butter and bread for the duration of the trip. Perhaps it need not be added that sissy-boy was also naïve.

Sissy-boy cemented his decision by purchasing travel guides in Japanese which enabled him to switch into his alternate identity of Geek-boy. This novelty alone would indeed be enough to commit him.

After a week of travel planning, judo-throws, confusing grammar points, logo design conferences, missing out on cute girls from the mountains visiting his town, our lily-livered protagonist also managed to pack a bag and transport himself to the fashionable concrete earthquake shelter known as B&C's apartment.

There three of the crew were assembled and psyching themselves up by watching the latest episode of The Amazing Race, freshly obtained from out of the air itself (which happened to be filled with wireless internet signals). Jet lag clubbed Lolé unconscious at precisely eight o'clock. Two hours later B&C drew the secret sliding doors out around their plateau-room, leaving Mashuu to fruitlessly scour the interweb for some kind of TV torrent which might intrest him.

Pre-trip morning showers occurred in order of ascending awkwardness and probable length. Breakfast consumed much of time-sensative food in the cool-box, especially the milk was ingested with Muslix.

Picking up the fifth Canadian who wasn't as Canadian as many Japanese were to believe; driving to the port on the other side of the island took three hours. This was enough time for some to get more sleep and for everyone to line up in the least advantageous place for getting on the ferry.

The day was sunny and bright, which meant that the ferry could be a beautiful and wonderful one-hour ride, if it wasn't also three hours long. Some sunburn was had.

Hell turned out to be pretty disappointing. But the hilly green town which contained it was pretty. There were white pillars of billowy steam rising out from random holes and pipes everywhere, as though the town were a green built upon some great engine. It had a feeling of a place from fiction. The town was Beppu.

+= About Beppu =+
Beppu is a tourist trap, and though everyone knows it, they still go. It's an effective trap. It has many onsens (hot spring spas) and it also has a tour of several hells. Hells are not the Christian place of eternal punishment, nor the Greek Hades; they are simply places where water springs and pools from the ground and maintains near-boiling temperatures. Because the island of Kyushu is quite volcanic all around, the hells are hardly unique to Beppu, but Beppu is lucky enough to have a variety of types (regular, white, blue like the sea, red like blood, geyser, mud, etc) in a small enough area to be a minor attraction. Take eight minor attractions, carefully surround each with gaudy concrete, liberally sprinkle zoo animals around one or two of them, make some stamps, and then boil with eggs and cook pudding in the water, decorate with real flowers and fake wood, and voila! Tourist trap. You can now charge exorbitant prices and set up souvenir stores bigger than the attractions themselves.
+= ------------------ =+

Innocently spending their money the five travelers were able to enjoy walking through moderately crowded areas to see the various boiling hells, smell the stench of sulfur, pity the crocodiles and alligators, have their pictures taken with demons, feed the sickly elephant some nutritionless crackers and get snot on their hands, watch the male peacocks try to get some action, eat boiled eggs and sulfury-smoky-custard pudding, and even try the prefectural specialty, "dango" soup. The best hell was the "Pond of Blood Hell," where there was a place to soak their feet in ferrous water, and the worst was the meager geyser, which seemed like a bad joke.

Left to right, top to bottom: Hell to Cook in; Priest Hell, (muddy hell, just what is that man thinking!); boiling Demon Hell where the crocs were near; Sea Hell; disappointing geyser Tornado Hell; White Hell, Mountain Hell where the feeble zoo was, Pool of Blood Hell.

Hellish pudding; hell-boiled eggs, sweet potatoes, and corn; dangojiru soup.

They decided to postpone their bathing in sulfuric mud until the end of the trip, and instead used the daylight to take in the scenic Yamanami Highway on their way to the volcanic Mount Aso. The very hills were different from their "native" Tokushima. More grassland, more volcanically hurled boulders lying in those grasslands, and many of the mountains showed evidence that lava had once flowed down their slopes. Though much had yet to turn properly green, the drive was indeed scenic enough to justify the slight detour. They even had the pleasure of seeing an active volcano belching ash up into the atmosphere.

Their course led them up to area around Kurokawa, another famous onsen town, and to their first campsite. Arriving too late to actually pay for the site they camped anyways, with intentions to pay in the morning. The venerable Mr. Ohnishi, a social studies teacher from Brian's high school, had kindly lent us his in-car navigation system, two expensive tents, a butane lamp (which got stepped on!), mats to lay down inside the tents, and a variety of other things for which there just wasn't room in that over-packed trunk. The joy of a quality tent is the ease with which it is set up. The flaw of these tents turned out to be their zippers.

Examining the standing two-man and four-man tents for the first time, Brian looked at Matthew and said, "There's no way the two of us are going to fit in that two-man tent. If it rains, we'll get soaked. What do you want to do?"
"Well, I'd rather not be in a tent by myself," Matthew replied.
"Okay then, so it's the big tent either with me and Christine or with the girls."
Weighing the awkwardness of being in the tent with two girls against being in the tent with a married couple, and then considering the pros of each option, Matthew responded, "Well, if it's okay with the girls, I'm happy to let the two of you have the small tent." Besides, Matthew thought, if anyone is going to be happy to be squeezed together it will be the two of them.
"Anything is fine with us," Lorraine called out.
"Well, that's that then." Brian said, leaving the slightest impression that he had just gotten precisely what he wanted.

Knowing he may desire to at times hide in the corner, Matthew took the right side of the tent. Julie hid on the other side and Lorraine was left the middle. Now set up, they set out for the onsen (hot spring spa) town of Kurokawa. Though the town's name sounds ominous, translating as Blackriver, it was a lovely town to walk through at night. The roads were tight and somewhat random in layout, such that what lay thirty meters ahead was generally around a bend and out of sight. Yukata-clad (think Japanese bathrobe-clad) patrons sporadically weaved this way and that along the pathways, en route various hot springs.

So it was that they found themselves walking along a river at night, and walking into respective guys and girls caves in the mountainside underneath a large traditional old hotel. Much to Brian and Mat's surprise and confusion, there was no soap or showers unnaturally imposed upon the caves. Japan is really particular on you being clean before you bathe, but since there were nothing more than stone, water, and baskets, they simply shrugged their shoulders and shrugged off their clothes.

The water was quite hot, and the caves dimly lit. The steam gently rising and the sounds of nighttime gently wafting in made for a truly relaxing soak.

Later they encountered signs which explained the lack of showers was to better experience the effects of the unprocessed water, and the lack, nay; ban on soaps was to keep the river and environment clean and healthy. But it meant that the boys and girls weren't as clean at the end of their day of traveling as they had hoped. Nonetheless, late dinners of tempura and pork "katsu" more than made up for it. Soon enough they were back to their tents for what would prove to be their coldest night camping.


Post a Comment

<< Home