Kagoshima with Sayaka and family
Trip Start Oct 17, 2007
49Trip End Feb 04, 2008
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We were incredibly excited to be meeting up with Sayaka who lived with us for 5 weeks in Australia when she did work experience at Currumbin. She knew we were coming and had written, "Don't move from Hiroshima airport, I come see you", and "You come to my home town".
Being the only foreigners on the arriving flight (at least, I think that's why), we were singled out by customs and had our bags checked
Sayaka was waiting for us outside, gorgeous as ever (and with a new hairstyle), worried she had misunderstood our emails and she was waiting for us on the wrong day! No, no, we got stuck in customs we said, and off we went to the bus. We had absolutely no idea what was happening, just that we were going to her home town and meeting her parents, which made us nervous! One bus, three trains, one which was the incredible 270km/hr bullet train, and eight hours later that day we arrived in Kagoshima at the very southern tip of Japan in Kyushu, Sayaka's home town. We had no idea we were going that far, but how exciting! Her mom, a lovely woman looking impeccable was waiting for us at the station to take us to their home, and their awaiting puppy, the sweetest, most gentle golden retriever
We had way too much fun over the next three days as we were zipped around the south of Japan by Saya and her parents. We went to a temple in Kagoshima called Nitta Jinja, surrounded by beautiful deciduous trees. We caught the tail end of the changing autumn colours! We hadn't seen leaves that red in ages, we couldn't stop staring at them. Visiting a temple in Japan is complex, as first the bell is rung, then you clap twice, then you bow twice, and that is followed with cleansing the hands in a well. We did very well with the protocol, having read what to do in Lonely Planet, and then copying Saya's mom (which we did a lot of actually so as to be sure to not be accidental cultural morons).
One of my favourite sights was Izumi the breeding grounds of thousands of cranes that migrate each year from Russia. They are beautiful! And so large, we honestly had no idea. I'm guesstimating here, but I think they were 3-4 feet high. Imagine the wingspan! They calculate this year 12,039 cranes have migrated to those grounds. In summer, the same area is a rice field, so it serves a double purpose!
Sayaka's dad drove approximately 6 hours from where he works (he's a nuclear engineer) to Kagoshima to meet us..
At night, as we waited for a table at a restaurant we had another Japanese experience. No, not karaoke, but the infamous sticker booth, used mainly by teenagers, and us. The five of us ran into a booth with flashing lights and music and proceeded to pose and pull faces for our pictures which we then got to edit (yeah!) with wording, happy faces, extra pictures, etc. It was soooo much fun, just way too funny. Being a sticker booth newbie I accidentally painted a rainbow directly over Sayaka's mom's face and not knowing how to erase it, deleted everything I 'd put on it! Aaargh! Had to start again, with the time limit counting down... oh! Just made it in time! Saya, of course, was a full professional. That, and she can read the Japanese instructions, I think that may help.
Our last day with Saya and her amazing family we began our 8 hour travel back to Hiroshima
Now I'll quickly mention the food we tried, so much of it was new and Scott was a real adventurer since he doesn't even eat fish. We had Oden which is like a hotpot with Japanese radish, fish paste cooked in bamboo, burdock and whole eggs. It looks incredible in the pot bubbling away. We also had Bukkake udon which are served cold with tempura (Scott's favourite), ramen (the real ones, not the instant package with MSG type) which were fabulous, okonomiyaki which is like a pancake with cabbage and bean sprouts (my favourite), rice balls which is essentially sushi rice in the shape of a triangle wrapped in nori (seaweed) and you pick it up and just eat it! Yummy! And healthy too! As for the sweets, the outstanding ones were the purple sweet potato chips and momijmanjuu which is like a tiny maple-shaped cake with sweet red bean paste in the middle. This is a Hiroshima specialty and it's outstanding
Before I finish off, I must mention a very important fact about Japan: the public toilets. They are NASA-engineered, AI driven super-machines catering to your every nether-region need! If from Canada, you will appreciate the heated seats, particularly coming in from the outside in the winter or waking up in the middle of the night... let me tell you, there is nothing more inviting than a warm toilet seat. In addition we have the bidet spray button and the buttock spray button to refresh necessary areas, and wait; you can even control the water pressure as necessary. Would you like a gentle spurt, or a forceful spray? Are you embarrassed when people hear you tinkle? You know who you are! Be embarrassed no more, as you can activate the flush sound button, adjusting the volume as required so that the sound of running water, not your dripping pee is heard. Have a baby? Please, feel free to place them in the secure high chair within your stall. Confused about all the options? Not to worry, instructions are posted on the wall, fear no more! And enjoy.
Seriously, after some of the toilet paperless, swarming fly squat toilets in part of SE Asia, can you imagine our absolute elation at walking into that?! Freakin' heaven.
Ibusuki onsen: 5+++ you feel great afterwards and it's so unique
Izumi crane breeding grounds: 5+++
Real Ramen: 5
Toilets: off the scale
Okonomiyaki: 5! And Saya's mom made it too
Kumamoto castle: 5
Hmm, see a pattern? Scott told me that he's heard me say one word over and over again in Japan: "perfect". But it is! The people, the landscape, the hospitality, the sights, her family... perfect! Sayaka, if you are reading this, thank you and your family again SO much, we had such a memorable time and would not have wanted to do it without all of you. xooxox