Mon 15 Jul – day 65 The train arrived on time in Kagoshima so I saddled up and made for the exit. One big difference between the Russian and Japanese stations was that here they had lifts and escalators so you did not have to struggle up steep sets of steps with your luggage.
This was yet another very modern (and clean) station and having passed through the ticket barrier (a quick nod from the official on duty at the manned gate) I headed for the tourist information desk which was located on the main concourse. The ladies spoke good English (plus many other languages) and were extremely helpful with maps, pamphlets (in English) and suggestions about where to go.
As my hotel, the Tokyu Inn, was just a short distance away, I exited the station into a blast of heat; the walk took less than 5 minutes and that time included having to wait for the lights to change.
Check in was quick and efficient and I was on my way to my room on the 9th floor in no time at all. This was the second hotel with little no or no storage space and here there was just hanging space for three items. But other than that it was perfectly adequate, clean, cool (once the air-con was on) and centrally located.
I unpacked and laid out what I would need during my two day stay and then put everything else back into my suitcase.
Then down in the lift to use the free computers and give everyone an update about where I was and how things were progressing.
I was feeling hungry as the last decent cooked meal I had eaten was in Vladivostok, some six days ago. So after a shower and having put clean clothes on I went back towards the railway station and then into the department store. I had a look around and after the lost suitcase incident in Ulaanbaatar; David was right when he said that I needed to buy clothes before I reached Japan. Not only was everything far too small, but all the clothes and shoes were also extremely expensive and probably two or three times the cost of similar items in the UK. The 500000 tögrög I received in UB would just about buy a pair of shoes here, so thank heavens we have M&S in the UK.
I then went up the escalators to the 5th floor where all the restaurants were situated; I chose the Japanese steak house where I sat at the counter and watched the chef’s at work; fascinating stuff. One of them spoke reasonable English and so we had a chat about the usual, how, what why etc, which he then translated for his co-workers. There were lots of gasps about travelling by train in Russia.
The steak was superb and I washed it down with a litre of the excellent local brew. Having read all the pamphlets while I was eating I now knew what I was going to during the next 1 1/2 days. When I paid the bill and thanked the staff, there was much bowing and the only downside had been the elderly women two stools away who only stopped smoking when she was eating!!
Down to the ground floor (1st in local parlance) where I asked the two ladies at the information desk whether I could take their photo as they were dressed in kimonos. They nodded and stood up while I clicked away; I thanked them and bowed and they bowed in return.
As I walked back to the hotel it was starting to get dark, but the display outside the station still indicated a temperature of 33° C.
Having got my key and returned to my room, I had to set the air-con as it had reverted to automatic when I took the key out of the starter box.
I had another soft bed so I was looking forward to a decent night’s sleep.
Tue 16 Jul – day 66 And so it proved, as a good night’s sleep is exactly what I got without a single disruption or need to go to the toilet.
When I handed my key in at reception I requested a late check out tomorrow, no problem and it cost ¥4450, just over £30 for the convenience of not having to leave my luggage at reception, but more importantly, being able to have a shower before going to the ship rather than arriving all sweaty.
My first stop today was the main post office, which like all the central offices across the country was always open. I needed to see if I could sent all my Trans-Sib guidebooks and the literature that I had collected / been given home so that it would lighten my load. The main post offices were amazing places as they also did insurance of all sorts and I discovered that the Japanese Post Office was also one of the largest banks in the world. So the first order of the day was to find the correct section and this was swiftly done; there was a display of boxes, padded envelopes and all the bits and pieces that you would need to dispatch a parcel and while I was working out which one I needed an assistant came up and I pointed to the box that I thought would be the correct size. He called across to a lady at the counter who spoke English and she came to give me a hand; once she had ascertained what I wanted she went and got the box from the store and I then had to show her what I was sending. The lady was yet another person who was fascinated about my travels and we had quite a chat while I was completing all the necessary paperwork. The box was too heavy, 2kg max, so I removed the lightest guidebook and that did the trick. The cost was not too expensive either and was certainly cheaper than DHL, but it would be interesting to see how efficient the Japanese postal system was and long it took to arrive at my Mum’s house. I also used an ATM in the post office to get more money as Japan was still predominately a cash based society.
Having finished in the post office I walked over to the information centre at the station where I bought a two day city travel pass. I had to show my passport and the passes were only available to visitors, but gave free transport on all the buses, trams and ferries run by the local authorities. Having scratched off the relevant dates in order to validate the pass, it was off to the tram stop. Everywhere I had been in Japan so far the bus and tram terminal was right outside the main train station so people could make the journey as easy as possible; something that the planners in the UK could well emulate.
All the trams modern electric vehicles which had two or sometimes three carriages and here the line had short grass growing between the tracks – novel to say the least. The trip down-town did not take long and I alighted at the seventh stop and then headed off in the direction of the ferry terminal.. It was not a long walk, but as this was yet another very hot day I tried to walk on the shaded side of the street as much as possible.
Rather than be in one of the air-conditioned rooms, I sat on the top deck of the ferry so that I could make the most of the warm breeze that was blowing. The journey across the bay took barely 15 minutes and the Sakurajima volcano which dominated skyline was by far and away the most significant feature around. The steam plume which rose from a vent on the eastern side of the massif had been in operation constantly since 1955!! The last big eruption occurred in 1914 and so much lava was spewed from the volcano that it joined what was then an island to the mainland.
I walked from the ferry terminal passedthe art work and tiles to the Sakurajima Information Centre where I was asked to sign the visitor’s book, something that I did quite happily. All the exhibits well labelled in decent English so that it was easy to read all the comments. Having bought some post cards I made my way outside and walked down passed the natural spring spa which was closed due to renovation; unfortunate as I would have like to have put my feet in the warm water to ease all the aches caused by lots of walking.
The boardwalk weaved its way through the basalt outcrops in the gardens and eventually finished at the water’s edge, where I was very disappointed to see a large amount of jetsam trapped between the rocks. I sat here from a short while watching a ferry coming across the water, but it was so hot, even in the shade, that I had to go back into the air-conditioned information centre while I waited for the tour bus.
There were not many people about probably because it was a working day, but when the bus arrived a large family group got on ahead of me and occupied all the seats except for the one next to a young man who was the size of a sumo wrestler!! This meant that I had a rather uncomfortable ride perched on the edge of the seat.
The bus made a number of stops where everyone got off to see the vista and at one location I had my photo taken. At another stop an artist had sculptured the basalt into figures and instruments from a rock band. At the Yonehite lookout point which was as close as the general public could get to the volcano and much closer than I had got to Mount St Helens in Washington State when I visited just a year after the major eruption. In the other direction there was a tremendous view over the bay to the city.
The bus dropped us back at the ferry terminal and as there wasn’t a decent restaurant or even a coffee shop nearby I decided to head back to Kagoshima, so back across the bay on the ferry. I sat in the shade on the top deck again and let the warm breeze dry out my shirt which had been wringing wet with perspiration.
As I walked back to the hotel, it was easy to see how many western customs the Japanese had adopted and some of the statues had locals in western clothes.
Back in room I switched the air-con straight away and then had a shower before a short snooze as the heat during the day had drained most of my energy away.
Having dressed I went out for dinner and had a Japanese version of an Indian curry and very good it was too, as were the two large local beers I had with the meal. However the translation in the menu left a bit to be desired!
I had an early night as I was tired.
Wed 17 Jul – day 67 These nice and soft beds have meant that my shoulder had stopped aching and I was sleeping like the proverbial baby.
Today was the day to see the sights and so I walked over to the bus terminal and got on the first city tour bus to arrive. This one was doing the waterfront tour so I climbed onboard and showed the driver my pass and he nodded. Off we went and it was not a bad trip except that every time there was an announcement in English the driver gave out the next stop in Japanese. I was not bothered about getting off at any of the stops, so just stayed on the bus as it made its way passed the beaches and the golf range. I was the only person to make the whole trip non-stop and the driver gave me a strange look when I got off, but I wanted to go shopping.
Back at the station I caught the tram down town and then walked to the Kagoshima brand shop as I wanted to buy presents for the couple who were keeping an eye of my house while I was away. Some good ‘stuff’ on display and so I got what I needed and paid by card.
It was then back to the main road and into Kagoshima’s answer to Harrods. This really was an upmarket establishment with all the top brand names from around the world and prices to match. I went down into the basement where the food hall was situated and for variety this probably beats Harrods; different types of rice by the tray full and chocolate galore as the Japanese have a sweet tooth and a present of sweets when they go visiting is normal. I was certainly the only westerner in the store and possibly the only non-Japanese. All the staff gave courteous bows as I passed, so I would smile and bow in return; I was not sure whether this was correct, but it felt so. At the pastry area I bought a lovely large apple tart which was placed in a box which was then beautifully wrapped and then placed into a store logoed carrier bag. I have learnt that you never hand over the money directly, but place into the tray on the counter from where the salesperson will pick in up with both hands.
I went up to the restaurant floor but could not find the coffee shop; I eventually located it at the far end of the gents outfitting. I had an ice-cream and fruit concoction and it was very refreshing on such a hot day.
I took a tram (old fashioned this time) back to the hotel and tried to have a snooze, but no luck so I just laid on the bed for 1/2 hour with my eyes closed. Up pack, shower and then down to reception and checked out. I asked them to get me a taxi so that I could go to the port, but they did not understand so I would have to get one at the station.
I have enjoyed my time in Kagoshima as the whole atmosphere was less frantic than I had observed during my time in the country so far. This was also well off the tourist trail and during my time in the city I had seen a total of three other western faces – great.