Beppu (Japan part 2 of 3)

Trip Start Oct 20, 2008
Trip End Oct 20, 2009

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Flag of Japan  , Kyushu-Okinawa,
Friday, May 8, 2009

JAPAN (part 2 of 3)
Hitting the ground running we continued south to Beppu in the Kyushu region eager to see some volcanic activity.  We dropped down into this coastal town by bus watching plumes of steam rising up between low-rise buildings across the town. With a natural hot spring in almost every property (including our hostel) this strange little town, although smelling slightly of rotten eggs, had one of the highest life expectancy rates in the world with many lured by the supposed medicinal properties of getting as close to the Earth's heartbeat as possible without being liquefied by one of the 3000 or so mineral & sulphurous springs.

Over a couple of days we visited a 200 metre deep cobalt blue pool of boiling water (where a man’s job was to cook eggs in a basket to prove it’s heat), powerful geezers (not the one’s that 'retire’ to Spain), lay naked buried in a sandbath for 30 minutes looking out to sea and watched gurgling grey liquid bubble & gloop to the surface from the depths below amidst beautiful Japanese gardens. Our last vision of hell was to visit an outdoor crocodile ‘park’ where over 50 of the silent killers, attracted by the warm earth, lay around completely motionless, until something pissed them off and then thrashed violently at each other before slithering silently on to another space.

Next stop was to visit Mount Aso (again in Kyushu) but having developed the rather cocky attitude of thinking "yeah, that’s sounds cool, let’s go there" & just turning up (which worked well in mainland Asia) we were now in the ‘closed-shop’ world of westernised culture with its houses, fences & hedges and with no map, no idea of accommodation & no language skills we stepped out of the twee, countryside station of Aso & into a land where time had stood still. Where were Japan’s 128 million people??  The streets were eerily quiet, the light traffic as hushed & respectful as the breeze. In a 7/11 we asked about a cheap place to stay & were pointed in the direction of a youth hostel they weren’t even sure was still in existence.  Following a hand-drawn map we dragged our packs for 20 minutes through the village & up off the road.

The hostel was locked and the surroundings deserted when we arrived so we sat amongst the flowerpots & gossiping trees, waiting on our only option for a roof to materialise.  An hour or so later a little old lady, bent double & wearing gardening gloves came out of nowhere & ushered us in.  It seemed like we were the first visitors for 60-odd years and as we were the only ones rattling around this large hostel we were allowed to sleep in the same 8-bed dorm but even then only because we were married.

With its glory days well in the past the ruler of the hostel, despite her Neolithic age & general slowness ran a tight ship, the old rules of designated shower times, daytime closing & lights out still brought to order.

At 8 the next morning we set off on foot towards Mount Aso, one of Japan’s 840 active volcanoes.  It was springtime, the forests & immaculately manicured hills bursting with colour.  I scrambled down the slopes of a couple of dormant craters on the way, crunchy solid & grassed over. After a while the landscape became increasingly lunar and as we reached Mount Aso we noticed the concrete bunkers on the way up in case it decided to blow its top. Looking down inside the one of the largest calderas in the world the lime green waters of sulphurous poisons 50 metres below blew up wafts of stink bomb & jets of steam. It was incredible to watch the Earth’s powerful engine at work, not powered by the sun or moon like everything on the surface but by its own mysterious core.

After our journeys to the centre of the earth and a dalliance with pace of life not normally associated with Japan it was time to hit the cities & see what all the fuss was about. First Kyoto & then ultimately the largest metropolis on the planet – Tokyo.
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