Mazda Museum and travel to Beppu

Trip Start Jan 30, 2010
Trip End Feb 22, 2010

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Where I stayed
Happy Neko

Flag of Japan  , Kyushu-Okinawa,
Monday, February 15, 2010

Although I thought the bed was hard at Ks House, I had popped a sleeping-tablet last night and had a nice long deep sleep.

Andrew had gone downstairs to the kitchen and came back excited as he had found a dryer. So he grabbed our wet washing and went to shove it in the dryer whilst I got ready.

We were on a tight schedule as we were booked into a tour of the Mazda Museum. Andrew had been looking forward to the Museum from day 1 and it really was like a kid on Xmas morning.

I felt bad as I was not feeling well, and as such I was on half speed. He however was pumped and made up for the both of us

The Mazda Museum was great. I had booked an English tour (which was free!) which went for 90 mins. We met at the main reception and taken on a bus to the museum and factory. The museum had heaps of immaculate cars, including the very first produced vehicle - actually a motorcyle. Most of the cars were quite old and had hardly any ks on them. They also had really new cars and even a concept car which looked pretty space age that no-one in their right mind would actually buy.

Andrew was in heaven in the rotary section. He is doing up an RX4 at home and got very excited about going home to finish his beloved beast. There were heaps of engines and things that didn't really interest me, but to see him enjoying it so much was great.

The thing that was really interesting to me was the production line. We were allowed inside the warehouses and watch them put cars together (although no photos were allowed). It was fascinating to see how it all worked and how quickly the workers and robots put the new cars together. The 90mins was up pretty quickly and we were taken back to the main reception area. Along the way we were told about the precinct, how they ship domestically and interntionally, the holding yards and about the benefits to workers (like on-site accommodation and their very own hospital!)  A really worthwhile visit and all for free!.  

We thought we'd grab some lunch before heading off on the Shinkansen. We had been told the local speciality was a teppanyaki type of pancake, noodles, meat and sauce called Okonomiyake. We headed to the train station food court where we found a great little place to try it out. It was delicious! 

We were heading to Beppu which is a thermal town. The Kannawa area is known for its many onsens (hot spring spas) and that is really about it... oh and the sex museum, which we didn't end up getting to.

We needed to take the Shinkansen to Kokura and then transfer to a local train to Beppu. I had called our host Bibo from Kokura to tell him that we were on the 2:08pm train. He said it would be about 75mins and he would meet us at Beppu Station.

I had found Happy Neko on the web and it sounded terrific... well it was! It was perfectly situated within the hot spring area, close to the supermarket and restaurants, was fabulous accommodation, and you ocouldn't meet a nicer host thatn Bibo! We met Bibo at Beppu Station and he drove us to his place. Glad we did arrange that as we had no idea where we were going and it is a little distance from the station.

Bibo is Czech who speaks great English (and Czech of course) and very little Japanese (although is learning). His wife is Japanese, whom he met at English school in South Africa! Unfortunately we did not get to meet Mrs Bibo, who is busy running music and English lessons in the downstairs part of the apartment. Bibo has lived in Beppu for about 2 years and loves it. He enjoys running the accommodation and enjoys meeting new people and showing them around his adopted town.

We arrived at his house and he showed us the apartment. Oh my goodness were we spoiled! The whole top floor was for our use only. It was so lovely and traditional. We were shown the sitting room and the sleeping room which was separated by rice paper screens. The screens separated the living area (which had kerosene heater) from the outside wall and corridor which led to the bathroom, fridge and hot water. There is no shower (as the area is full of onsens), but we both think it would be better if there was one, as the sulfur is quite stinky. And there was no toaster or anywhere to really prepare anything except on the sitting room coffee table (a traditional low one). Although when we asked Bibo for some bowls and spoons (we had bought Weetbix with us) he was more than happy to oblige.

Bibo had pre-prepared some pamphlets and maps on the area and gave us a little run-down on what was close to us. It was very helpful as we needed to go to the supermarket and we were both quite hungry. So after he gave us the spiel we chilled out for a while and thought about where we would go for dinner.

We decided on dinner at Nanbankan and it was excellent! It cost 5500Y (about $70) but boy was it worth it. We had soup to start which was so delicious, then I had two of the biggest tempura prawns I had even seen. In Australia they would have easily cost $30 on their own. Andrew ordered the beef burger, which to our surprise was a meat patty cooked in a sauce in foil on a sizzling plate. Served with rice and a salad, Andrew said it was really good.

Then my steak came out. If there is one thing that surprised me about Japan, it was definately how well they can cook a steak. If you ask for medium rare, that is the way it comes to perfection! And the tenderness.... unbelievable! I am glad I only ordered a small one as this also came with a salad and rice. Although we were stuffed we both had a little more room for dessert which was a scoop of yummy ice cream. It was dressed very simply, with a vanilla wafer - which was really good too.

We were the only ones in the restaurant so had excellent service. The waiter could speak English and did his best to help us at all times. Another good thing is in Japan, tips are not expected. We asked for the bill and I paid it, whilst Andrew in his usual form jokingly asked "Makete onegaishimasu" (meaning "discount please") to which our friendly waiter responded, "I don't speak Japanese". He has us rolling with laughter - it was really the comment of the trip!

After dinner we went for a walk to the local supermarket, which was a good experience as we had only been to convenience stores. It was funny though, as even though there was much more variety we already had our favourites, and pretty much stuck to those.

We had arranged to take advantage of Bibo's offer to go for a walk at night. This was a great introduction to Beppu as we walked to the Castle on the top of a hill where we could see the whole city under lights. Throughout the lights were steam chimneys everywhere. It was an amazing sight - especially those that had lit up the steam with coloured lights of purple and green. We were now really excited to try out what the city was famous for. Bibo recommended an onsen just near his house and showed us to it on the way back from the castle.

Bibo pointed out the way home, and we ventured into the onsen. With simple Japanese and very little English, we booked a private onsen (I wasn't ready for the public one just yet!) for an hour, but it would not be available for 45mins. So we figured out the way back (only a couple of minutes walk) to the Happy Neko and hung out until it was time to head back for our onsen.

It was called the Hyotan Hot Springs, and had a number of private baths, public baths, sand baths, waterfall baths and steam baths. It was very large and clean and very nicely decorated. We paid the 2000Y (about $25) for one hour in the private bath. We were shown to the bath and it was filled for us. It was very traditional and had a lovely relaxing atmosphere. It was so relaxing that we hardly spoke to each other for most of the time. Andrew was very keen to see how hot he could make it (one of the reasons we also chose a private bath as you can control the temperature). He flicked on the tap and you could feel the heat instantly!

Bibo had explained the process of pumping the water from the thermal streams under the earth, and said that the water was boiling hot, and was cooled naturally on structures similar to little straw huts, which drained quickly into the hot water system at a temperature more suitable for the onsens (still bloody hot though!).

I was surprised how much heat I could actually take, as Andrew and I always joked about how I would not be able to do it for long as he enjoyed a much hotter shower than I. It was very refreshing and soothed my sore muscles (my neck has been killing me!). After I got out I washed at the washing are with fairly cool water which was also very refreshing! Such an experience, but was a good taste of what was to come tomorrow.... wild onsens and mud bathing!
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