Getting Lost, Active Volcano, Fabulous Garden

Trip Start Sep 29, 2009
Trip End Oct 29, 2009

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Flag of Japan  , Kyushu-Okinawa,
Sunday, October 18, 2009


I arrived in Kagoshima, and had a pleasant walk from the train station to the area where my hotel is located.  I had been warned by a review that the hotel has a narrow street frontage and is easy to pass by and miss.  Then my difficulties began--I realized that every map I had showed south at the top, and that I had gone two blocks in the wrong direction.  After correcting for that, my next problem was that my map of the hotel's location showed only the major streets, not the minor streets, but I didn't figure that out until an hour later.  I also got confused by which of two possible symbols on the map was the hotel's location.  The landmarks shown on the map just weren't appearing where they were supposed to be.  I got more frustrated and more disoriented, and found myself at noon in a nightclub district where I felt less than comfortable asking for directions.  Not quite in panic mode, but feeling less and less functional, I stopped in a quiet corner, drank a half-bottle of tea, and considered options.  I could start all over from the English street signs I was sure about.  I could try to use the Japanese names on my map (which had both English and Japanese words) to look for matches with street signs on the alleys, which did not have English signs.  I could ask somebody for directions.  I would try to notice more landmarks.  I would not panic.  I decided to start again with the streets that had English street signs, and to assume that the hotel location was signified by the big black box on the map, and not the circle with the letter T inside it.   I was a half-block past where the hotel should have been if the alleys had been shown on my map.  Then I saw a guy restocking a Coca-Cola vending machine on the street, and figured he'd know the neighborhood and he'd be safe to ask since he has a steady job which is not at a sleazy nightclub.  I showed him the map.  His assistant said "Praza Hotel" and pointed the way to one block ahead and then a block to the left.   Which was exactly right.  I was so happy to arrive at the Kagoshima Plaza Hotel!  After I checked in, you can be sure that I noted nearby landmarks (the ones with English signs) on the map. 


My hotel is an older business hotel, not fancy but very clean, and the staff are so helpful.  I arrived in pretty bad shape after getting lost, and I had just planned on asking the front desk staff to store my luggage until check-in time.  My experience in Japan is that all hotels will store guests' luggage until check-in time or after check-out time, but nobody will let you check in early, just as a matter of principle because people are expected to follow the rules. 

(In the USA, I have noticed that Marriott Hotels keep track of which rooms have been cleaned and they will let you check in early if a room is ready, but less-well-managed hotels won't allow early check-ins because they don't keep track of which rooms are ready, or because the staff doesn't care enough to bother, or because the cleaning staff don't communicate with the front desk staff.  But in Japan, I think it really is about a culture where it's just expected that people will follow the rules, and allowing early check-ins could be the first step towards total social breakdown.)  

To my surprise and delight, the front desk staff said that my room would be ready at 2 p.m.  I asked if I heard right, since their posted check-in time isn't until 3 p.m. The staff assured me  that 2 p.m. would be fine.  So I sat in the lobby, figuring out what sightseeing I could fit into my truncated afternoon (having lost time getting lost!), and sure enough, at the stroke of 2, the staff handed me the key to my room.  My Frommer's Japan guidebook says people in Kagoshima are more easygoing than in the northern areas, and Frommer's is always reliable!

The room is small and furnished simply.  Most Americans would probably say it's years past due for a makeover.  But everything was functional and clean.  My desk chair is a fabulous example of bentwood plywood furniture.  The prefabricated unit bathroom is literally a step above the norm--there is one steep step down from the bathroom to the rest of the room.  Instead of drapes, my window has sliding wood shutters, which are totally effective at blocking light, a brilliant idea for a sunny southern city.  The price of the room (only 4,900 yen, or roughly $50 US, booked through the Rakuten Travel website) includes a free breakfast. The breakfast buffet shows a lot of pride and care--they serve little citrus fruits and something like a sweet potato which I think are both local specialties, plus the usual rice, soup, yogurt, rolls, and salad.   Unlike the Toyoko Inn and Comfort Hotel breakfast buffets, which are pretty much uniform within each hotel chain, this one has personality, local color, and little handwritten signs everywhere (they're in Japanese, so I can't read them).  In the buffet line, they have exactly one little kid's bowl with a cute animal design, so the next kid to arrive will feel special, and you know that the staff is keeping track and will bring out another kid's set as soon as it's taken.    

On my first day in Kagoshima, I took the ferry to the Sakurajima volcano, which used to be an island, but the last eruption turned it into a peninsula connected to the other side of Kyushu.  The ferry runs 24 hours a day!  After reaching Sakurajima, I took a walk along the Nagisa Lava Trail.  The first thing I saw was smoke billowing out of the top of the volcano!  Oddly, there was none of the sulfur smell I remember from the volcano in Hawaii (see my yet-to-be written blog entry, "We've come all the way to Hawaii, but it still smells like Carlstadt!")  Ah, this is Japan, and the odor would probably be a breach of etiquette.  The next thing I noticed was a sign for a Public Foot Spa.  Intrigued, I investigated, and there it was--a row of seats along a pool of hot dark water from the volcano!  I tried it, and it was very relaxing!  As far as I could tell, since this is an open-air spa, and since I saw no way for it to be locked up at night, this public amenity is available all day and night!  As someone old enough to remember when Pathmark pioneered the 24-hour supermarket, I was impressed to find that both the ferry and foot spa are both available all night!  
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Carol on

Roy, You are the bravest person I know!

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