Archive for the ‘Kyushu’ Category

Day 3 of Kyushu

Day 3

Today, as with yesterday, we woke up to a wet morning. And after an early buffet breakfast (with students and Japanese tour groups, and yes, they are usually very early too), we checked out, paid 500Yen to the hotel for using their carpark, and then drove to Shimbara port to catch a ferry across to Kumamoto. Before arriving at the port, we drove past Unzen, but could barely see the Unzen Volcano. We did discussed making a detour to go visit it before heading for Shimabara Port but since it was raining and the entire volcano shrouded by clouds, we drove directly to the port (took us less than the GPS projected 2 hours).

Once we turned into the driveway of Shimbara Port, we were looking out for a carpark so that we can get the ferry tickets. Hm…  But that’s not how it works. Straight after turning into the port driveway, look out for 2 lanes with a signboard each (indicating the next ferry to leave) directly in front and choose the ferry that you want, drive into the lane, obtain a card indicating the size (or rather, the length) of your car from the gentleman at the entry point, then drive to the lane he indicates to you, park there, and then go into the building to obtain tickets. Take note that the 2 lanes are for 2 different ferry companies. Kumamoro Ferry takes about half an hour, Kyusho Ferry takes one hour, but at a cheaper rate. So, if you want more time for sightseeing, you might want to go for the faster ferry, which we did. So, we went to find the right ticket counter (2 different ones for 2 different ferry companies), give them the card that indicates the length of our car, tell them we have 1 more passenger, and paid up. This is the only time we lament the advantage of having a smaller car because it means cheaper ferry tickets. But the comfort of a bigger car outweighs this one disadvantage and so, we shan’t complain too much. And for every car ticket, it includes the ticket for the driver. So, we need only pay for one more passenger. Together, we paid 3530Yen for the car with a driver (4m to 5m in length) and 800Yen for 1 passenger.

Shimabara Port houses a couple of shops with food, local produce, souvenirs etc and toilet facilities. So, we spent the next 20minutes here before heading back to our car 15minutes before the ferry departure time. I forgot to mention we wanted to book the ferry tickets in advance for a guaranteed place on the ferry but were advised there is no need to do so. We just need to be at the port 20minutes before the departure time. There is enough time to hope into the building for tickets and head back to the car.

The ferry is a comfortable one. It offers sheltered seats as well as an open deck. On a fine day, people can offer bread to the numerous seagulls on the open deck. But since it was raining, not a bird was in sight. Within the sheltered area, one can buy simple snacks and beverages and souvenirs. All in all, it offers a comfortable half hour ride.

Kumamoto Ferry

When we reach Kumamoto Port, it was an easy drive to downtown Kumamoto. We wanted to visit Kumamoto Castle, the only castle visit for the whole of this trip. So, once again, our reliable GPS led us near the castle and we need to look out for signboards to lead us to the carpark. But, we parked about 800m away (near the museum) and walked in the rain to find the entrance of the castle. A wrong choice  but we probably paid a little less carpark fees.

After obtaining tickets into the castle, the staff manning the entrance offered us map cum pamphlet in different languages and were visibly happy that we took the English one (they were happy they can be of help to us, they are such kind souls), and walked into the grounds of the castle. A warrior, carrying a traditional umbrella, was standing on the grounds, waiting for people to take photos with him. The castle is behind the massive wall.

Posing with a warrior holding a more traditional umbrella

We walked on, found the entrance and walked slowly up the 7 storeys. Do not be alarmed by that because as you walk, you will be viewing historical exhibits (like a museum) and so it is a slow walk up. If someone as unfit as I am, coupled with knee injury, can do it, enyone can do it too! This is the view of the castle. It was a ‘black’ exterior as most part of the walls are painted black. Other famous castles in Japan tends to be painted white. But this is a special and majestic-looking castle worth visiting. It comes with a moat too! In spring, the short walkway into the castle will welcome you with wonderful view of sakura!


View of the ‘black’ Kumamoto Castle

This is the view from the top:

View from the top of the castle

It offers a panoramic view of Kumamoto, a busy city.

There are other parts of the castle worth visiting too if you have time. One can easily spend half to one day here. On the gounds is also a souvenir shop selling a huge range of souvenirs and local specialty (yummy biscuits and candy). We also found a Kumamoto specialty, the steamed balls of Kumamoto to eat for lunch. And they were still nice and warm – the perfect snack lunch for a wet day. How do they taste? We chose 4 favours – yam, sakura, sesame and soya sauce. The basic filling inside is sweet potato. So, they are very filling. In fact, the 2 of us managed to finish only 3 steamed balls.

A Kumamoto Specialty

 After lunch, we drove on towards Mount Aso, the Aso Farm Village being our accomodations for the next 2 nights. Our journey was delayed by a jam. We were moving at crawling speed. But nobody was impatient. If you need to change lane, it is still relatively easy to do so. Would be more stressful driving in a jam at home than over there. Enroute, I think we drove past buildings saying ‘Daiso’ etc. But it was probably the wet weather that caused us to be a bit slugging and did not feel like stopping.
  Finally, we turned off the main road onto a road bound for Mount Aso. No more jams. And we were surrounded by greenery! Nice! But the clouds probably shrouded the edge of the crater from our view as we have entered the huge caldera that envelops the Mount Aso region. But never mind, if we don’t see it, we won’t miss it. We don’t even know it is supposed to be there. We reached the carpark meant for people putting up at Aso Farm Village. We had to walked through a tunnel to get to the hotel reception area. Do note that check-in is 4pm. So,since we arrived at about 4pm, we checked in, got our keys, and went to check out our domed house for 2 nights.
  Our house was like 25m away from the main hotel reception area and since it was not far, we decided to walk in the rain. At the door of our dome, we had trouble opening the door (the key was wrong) and out of the blue, came our saviour – a middle-aged man, holding an umbrella for us, surfaced with the right key and got us into the room. Before quitting us, he said to wait a short while, and went away without his umbrella (he passed the umbrella for me to hold while waiting for him so I won’t get wet) for 30 seconds and came back with 2 clean towels for us to dry ourselves. And that was not all. Afraid that the towels he was about to pass to us will get wet (remember his umbrella is in my hand?), he had another towel covering the 2 clean towels he wanted to pass to us. Wow! Such high service standards. I was really touched. I even thought to myself if my dad will do that for me. I felt so blessed all of a sudden, to be spoilt by such high service standards. And he does remind me of my own dad, not the looks though. Just the feel of being protected from discomfort.
  Ok, now to the room. We discovered a neat little western styled dome. The inside looks like this:

The inside of the dome


Another view:


It is a lovely room, isn’t it? All the usual toiletries and yukata are supplied. This is how the outside looks like:

The outside of our dome

And this is how many domes look like:

Aso Farm Village

 After getting out of wet things and putting on some dry things, get some rest, get our luggage organised, we then went out to explore the Farm Village. By now, it is already after5pm. The farm produce market is closed. Most of the shops are closed. But we still managed to visit the convenience store (which opens till later into the night), a  Hello Kitty specialty shop, one or two other shops selling local candy and beauty products and health products (tomato pasta or noodles anyone?) and paper shop with a small exhibition of origami works. This is one of the exhibits.

Origami exhibit

 Anyone into origami paper will go crazy here.
By now, it is about 7pm and we decided to head for dinner. For dinner, we have a few choices – buffet, western, bbq or steamboat teppanyaki. Since it is a wet and cold day, we decided to go for the teamboat teppanyaki. Talking about dinner, I pity the waiter who had to serve us. He had to explain how things work and take our order for the sauce we want. But he does not speak much English. But that does not stop him from trying to explain things to us. And we soon got our wonderful dinner going. Yummy!

Steamboat Teppanyaki dinner

 The sauces we ordered were simply delicious. The sweet and fresh veggies are wonderful. And of course the meat is also yummy! All in all, it was a great dinner, the kind anyone would say ‘o-ishi’!
  After dinner, it was already dark. But the walk from the restaurant block to the accomodations area is hardly dark. Lights everywhere! It was so well-lit it is comparable to a Christmas light-up. So, we could hardly resist shooting away, even in the rain.

Light up

This is another view:

More lights

Even santa clause can be found amongst the many lights. And the most popular had to be the pink heart. Lots of people were posing in front of that. So so Christmas!

After roaming amidst the beautiful lights, we thought of visiting the hot spring bath. But as there were many walking in and out, we decided not to since it would be very crowded. But not to worry, we will have other chances. So, we walked back to our dome. Along the way, we could not resist taking photos of the ‘Narnia’ lamp. I forced my sister to pose for this photo.

Narnia lamp

And so, this is the end of day 3, where we rested the night in our sweet little dome.

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Day 2 of Kyushu

Day 2

We woke early, having slept early the night before, to a wet morning. It was still overcast and drizzling. So, we decided to move on to our next destination – Nagasaki City. So, we got ready and went downstairs for our buffet breakfast.

For those who are not familiar with Japanese-styled buffet, here’s some information. Take a tray, and place a plate and chopsticks on it, and then go round collecting the food you want. Do not take heaps of them. The food they offer are typical Japanese, combined with western food – Rice (yes, rice for breakfast too), porridge, miso soup, lots of condiments/preserved radish etc to go with porridge of rice, some small dishes like grilled fish, seaweed and tofu are also offered, as well as hotdog, scrambled eggs, bread rolls, yoghurt, cereals etc. Water is always available, with juices and coffee/tea (western and Japanese). So, pick what you need and tuck in. After eating, place all plates, cups and bowls on the tray and look around for shelves to return them. In the case of Hotel Amsterdam, there is no need to return the crockery.

Back to the trip. We checked out and were told we can catch the bus to the exit for free, which we did happily. So, by 10am, we were ready to drive towards Nagasaki.

A little on Nagasaki. Everyone might have heard of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima towards the end of World War II. Nagasaki had the second atomic bomb dropped on it. As such, the Nagasaki Peace Museum and the Peace Park are 2 must-sees. Even for non History buff, these 2 places have the potential to convert you. Although it is a small museum, it is more do-able and manageable without having info-overload. We did it in 1.5 hours, and managed to look through most exhibits and watched 2/3 video clips out of the many available. Most exhibits have English explanation and videos have English subtitles.

After a short 1 hour drive from Huis Ten Bosch, we drove into Nagasaki City. The GPS proved reliable in getting us near to where we want to go, but we needed to depend on road signs to lead us to the museum itself. Parking is available but at a fee. As it was raining, we decided to do the museum first. At the entrance, we were welcomed by huge bundles of paper cranes, folded by students and advocates of the peace. Don’t they look lovely?

Bundles of 1000 cranes for peace

The entrance fee is 200Yen per person and we quickly plunged into the exhibits. Right at the beginning was a wall clock that stopped working at the time the atomic bomb hit and hence it records the exact time of hit.

The clock recording the time of hit

There are lots of exhibits about the impact of the atomic bomb on metal and glass and of course humans. I was deeply touched by this story of a mother – despite being burnt by the radiation, used her shoulder to lift the pillar that pinned her child so that she won’t be burnt by the fire that has started. She managed to lift the pillar, but the flesh on her shoulder fell off.

Story of poor mother saving her daughter

There are many other similar stories of how the bomb affected people. Some truly heart-wrenching.

 The second part of the museum tells us about nuclear testing around the world and the controversy behind using nuclear weapons.

A timeline recording the use of nuclear weapons

 After a quick lunch at the museum cafe and a quick look at the museum shop, we headed out to the Peace Park because it has stopped drizzling. The park holds many interesting monuments, and some of them convey very strong messages about the importance of peace. This is one of my favourites:

Mother with dead child and blossoming flowers of peace

 This is another meaningful one:

One of his hand is pointing to the atomic bomb (upwards) and the other to the peace (sideways)

 This is another beautiful one I absolutely love:

The white statue of a lady and her peace dove

After the lovely stroll in the peace park, it was about 3pm and so, we decided to drive towards our accomodations – Hotel Nagasaki. It was situated on a hill and we had to drive up a narrow and winding road. And when we got to the hotel, the staff seemed to be ready for 2 Singaporean girls and this lady cleaning the class doors showed us into the reception area enthusiastically, announcing to her colleagues we are the Singaporeans. Check in was easy and we were briefed where to find our rooms, breakfast room and the hot spring bath (reception was on 4th floor and our room was on the highest floor) and arrangements was made to have our dinner in our room, this being a Japanese-styled accomodations. One of the staff, a gentleman, spoke very good English and so there was no problem at all.

When the door to our room opened, what struck us first was the wonderful smell of tatami. And when we opened the paper doors on one side of the room, we were welcomed by a fabulous view over Nagasaki, since this hotel is perched on a hill.

This is our Japanese-styled room

This is the room and the table at which we were to have our dinner. After dinner, they will then push the table to one side and lay 2 bed spread for us to sleep. This is the view from the window:

The view of Nagasaki city from our room perched on a hill

 And the welcome sweet:

Welcome candy, specialty of Nagasaki

 The hotel offers hot spring bath but we did not want to dip in. Instead, we opted to walk down the numerous steps towards the Nagasaki JR train station to check it out.

The many steps to downtown Nagasaki, just 10mins away

 The shopping centre attached to the train station is very happening. Many things to look it and if you have the stomach, many food to try.

Nagasaki train station

 After looking at the shops there, we had to make our way back to the hotel for dinner. The walk up took us 20 minutes but that was good exercise in anticipation of a huge full course Japanese dinner in our room, the type we watch on Japan Hour.

So, we freshened up, changed into the yukata provided, and dinner was sent in promptly by one of the most adorable middle aged lady.

Full course Japanese dinner

There was just too much food to finish and I feel so sorry for wasting the food. But it really was fit for 3 or 4 persons. After dinner, the same lady came to bring away the plates and arranged our futon for us to sleep. She does not speak much English but she made us feel welcomed through simple sign language and simple English words. Of course the Japanese language phrase book we brought along helped too.

We had planned to take the ropeway up Mount Inasayama for the famed night view of Nagasaki. But the top of the hill is shrouded in clouds, which means that we won’t be able to see a thing. But, we were not disappointed, as the night scene right from our room was already spectacular.

View of Nagasaki City by night, right from our room

End of Day 2

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Customised self-drive itinerary:
SIN -> FUK -> Huis Ten Bosch (1 night) -> Nagasaki City (1 night) -> Shimabara -> Kumamoto -> Mount Aso (2 nights) -> Takachiho -> Kagoshima City (2 nights) -> Ibusuki -> Cape Toi -> Miyazaki (1 night) -> Beppu (2 nights) -> Yufuin -> Dazaifu -> Fukuoka City


We boarded SQ656 bound for Fukuoka airport for a 6-hour ride through the night. The plane left at 0100hrs and arrived in Fukuoka International Airport at 0810hrs. We cleared customs and immigration without much event or delay (complete an immigration and customs declaration card and be ready to have fingerprints and mugshot taken).

Awaiting for us was Ms Mamiko, representing the Japan counterpart of Singapore’s CTC. She gently welcomed us and asked if we require any money-changer or handphone services or washroom facilities, as these can be found at the arrival hall of the airport. Having no need for any, she walked us out to the pick up area and waiting for us was a driver with his van, waiting to drive us to Budget Car Rental office, situated opposite the domestic terminal of Fukuoka Airport (Note that the international and domestic terminals are separate and a free shuttle bus ferries passengers between the 2 terminals. Note also that the subway into downtown Fukuoka is situated at the domestic terminal). When we walked out of the airport, it was drizzling. Ah – the rainy season. But it was a nice and cool temperature, a respite from the heat of Singapore.

 With Mamiko-san there to help us with the paperwork, there was not much for us to do except surrender our passports, say hello to the car assigned to us, get a couple of bottles of drinking water from the vending machines found at Budget Car Rental, check the car for scratches, sign an agreement form, ask questions on how to use the English-speaking GPS, key in the mapcode for our first destination, borrow a street directory, checked that our luggage is in the boot, get ourselves mentally ready to face the roads,adjust the mirrors, say our goodbyes to Ms Mamiko as we won’t be meeting her again throughout the trip, and be impressed by the services of the Japanese (the man from Budget Car Rental took an umbrella, walked out to the streets, stop a couple of cars and gestured for us to drive out onto the road. Wow! This is what I call professionalism. Singaporeans have lots to learn about service levels.

We had a huge car, just for the 2 of us, although the agreement with CTC was for the smallest class of cars. But, we are not complaining.  🙂

With the GPS guiding us, we drove through downtown Fukuoka, towards our first destination for the night – Huis Ten Bosch. The GPS allowed us to programme our route such that we avoided the toll roads. This means, we travel the local roads (aka roads with speed limit of 50km/hour and in the cities, we meet traffic lights every 10m to 20m or so). We also need a while to get used to the instructions of the GPS. It even advised on which lanes to take for roads with more than one. With a couple of wrong turns (turning too early or too late), we were actually cruising along rather well. There was some degree of stress as there was a slight traffic jam in Fukuoka. But, if you ever need to change lanes, signal, and the drivers just behind you will give way to you. The Japanese are gracious drivers. Or at least, most of them are.

Once we were out of the city, the drive got easier. As there was only one lane most times, and it being a toll-free road, we shared the roads with many heavy vehicles, we could actually sit back and enjoy the surroundings. We drove past mini-sized farmlands, roadworks with cute road barricades in the shape of bunnies, monkeys, a tunnel or two etc, at times we caught a glimpse of the sea, and at one point in time, we drove along a patch of road that does not look much utilised (ie weeds were overgrowing onto the roads with no markings). But all in all, as long as you are a moderately good driver back home, driving there will not pose a problem.

Along the way, we got a little hungry and stopped at a Family Mart to fill our stomach. It was about 12noon. Family Mart usually comes with some carpark lots and customers can buy what they need and head back to the comfort and warmth of the car to devour their meals. Now, a little about what can be found in a Family Mart. Drinks of all sort (including made in Japan coke which I think is less sweet and hence more palatable), food ranging from rice balls, bentos that can easily be heated in a microwave found there, cakes and bread of many variety, many types of cup noodles/soup, lots of titbits, magazines to while some time away, and  very importantly, the toilets (all the Family Mart we stopped at, apart from those from downtown cities, has clean toilet facilities to offer). And it is a good place to stop for rather affordable food, especially useful when buffet breakfasts and heavy dinners are offered by most accomodations. So, we each chose a riceball each, and a coke, and dived back to our car to fill our stomachs.

Our rice balls from Family Mart

We drove on and passed by Imari, where a huge Road Station attracted us to stop. Our first Road Station of the trip that offers food and a rest from the drive.

Sign showing Imari Road Station

There was a cluster of buildings here, each offering something different.

Signs of the shops and their opening hours found in Imari Road Station

Map of Imari Road Station as it has a cluster of buildings here

 There was a shop selling fresh vegetables grown by farmers nearby, one selling bentos and local cakes/sweets/biscuits (in other words, the boxed kueh kueh perfect for gifts or own consumption), one selling huge variety of nuts (we bought a pack of black pepper nuts and a pack of miso nuts), and one that offers ‘experiencing through your hands’ in making a craft (pottery in this case).

Want to experience making a pot/plate/cup with your own hands

This is quite an interesting Road Station to stop. The lady at the nut shop was so warm in beckoning us into her shop and offering us samples to try. Although she does not speak much English, she manages to ask where we hailed from and upon knowing we are from Singapore (say Singaporu for Singapore and Singaporu-jin for Singaporeans) and she got all excited as she was booked to travel to Singapore in July, pointing to her calendar to inform us of her intention. 🙂  Cute. And she is exhibiting the general warmth from the people of Kyushu. We may not be able to communicate with them in terms of language, but that does not stop them from offering information and help. I just love them!

After a bit more of driving (by a bit, I mean 1 to 2 hours of driving because although the distant is not great, the speed at which we were travelling means we needed to drive much longer than if we have chosen to drive on the tolled roads), we arrived at Huis Ten Bosch at about 2:40pm. However, the GPS directed us to the staff entrance with the mapcode we entered. So, a lesson learnt – once we are near the destination, look out for road signs to the carparks rather than depend solely on the GPS. Parking is free here for those with accomodations booked in Huis Ten Bosch. So, we took a day pack each (leaving the rest of the luggage in the car), and went to this building that says ‘Check-in’. So, we checked in, handed our luggage to them which they will send to our hotel (Hotel Amsterdam) within Huis Ten Bosch by 4pm and advised that we can check in at the hotel at 3pm. We then went to the ticketing office, bought a day pass (it was still raining and we opted for the basic day pass costing 2,500Yen per pax, and it does not include any rides or entrance to any shows or special parks). The staff there may not speak much English but if you apologise politely (Gomenasai), say that you do not understand Japanese (Wakarimasen Nihon-go) and understand English (Eigo for English) instead, they will whip out a data sheet in English and you just need to point according to what ticket you need.

At the park entrance, we were welcomed by a Tully (a tulip mascot) and the man checking tickets at the entrance offered to take our photos with the mascot with simple hand signals, and showed us how to enter the theme park by scanning our tickets (just like our MRT).

Posing with Tully the Mascot

 Once in, we wanted to look out for the bus that will take us to our hotel along its road for 200Yen. But we decided to walk instead, walking past a couple of shops, a small mall and a garden. It was a nice walk offering some nice views, although it would have been much better without the drizzle.

Many flowers in HTB

Another view of HTB:

Windmills in HTB

Yet another view:

Strolling in HTB

We got to Hotel Amsterdam without much trouble since we were given a map to refer to with the tickets, checked in rather easily at the rather grand looking reception lobby (complete with chandeliers), and had a young lady showed us to our room and explained a few things in the room. We later came to realise this will be the norm from then owards.

Reception of Hotel Amsterdam

The courtyard:

The lovely courtyard of Hotel Amsterdam

In the room:

This is the sofa in our room

 Everything we needed was supplied by the hotel and even though we were without our luggage, we were fine.

All that we need was supplied, and in such lovely packaging too

Shower things:

Such generous supply of shower 'things' one can shower many times over

As we were tired, after missing sleep on the overnight flight and the long 4-hour drive, we took a shower, freshened up, had coffee/tea, dicussed what we wanna see in Huis Ten Bosch (our choice was limited – shopping, but there were quite a number of shops found there that looks interesting). Before 4pm, our luggage got delivered promptly.

Tea Set - Dutch China

Once ready, we headed out with our umbrellas. Lots of interesting shops – Miffy shop, teddy bear shop, cake shop, cheese shop, chocolate shop, many shops selling souvenirs and cake/candies/biscuits of Huis Ten Bosch and the specialty of the Nagasaki Prefecture we were in. The shops selling food items offer samples for tasting and some other shops offer the ‘experience by hand’ to paint famous Dutch wooden clogs or make your own bear etc. Shopaholics will be happy here. But as this is only the first day in Kyushu, we could not buy any food items apart from some we may want to eat during our entire driving trip.  The foodstuff may expire before we reach home. But we were happy walking around taking photographs.

A walk around also gave us some ideas what we can have for dinner. We opted for one of the cheapest option – Curry Rice.  It is a no-frill option but certainly one of the cheapest around. We merely ordered the curry rice and they offer free cold water. But lots of other options are available and so pick what you like.

Where we ordered our Curry Rice

Our dinner:

The Katsu curry rice costs 900Yen and the one with only curry sauce costs 600Yen but we shared the katsu, it being so huge

 An example of other food options:

Such adorable food from Miffy Cafe - can anyone bear to eat them?

Yet, other possibilities:

Another one of those cute food

We then went back to the hotel as we were both exhausted. By 8pm, we were ready for bed. It was still raining so no chance of fireworks. Looking out of the window from our room, we got to see a bit of Huis Ten Bosch lighted up for the night.

HTB by night from our window

 And what is necessary whenever we visit countries out of the tropics – we needed to know the weather forecast and so, the tv got our attention for while. It was bad news as rain was forecast for the next 5 days! Ouch. We decided to go to bed and see if it is raining tomorow to decide if we wanna do more of Huis Ten Bosch or check out and drive to our next destination. Sleep came very quickly. zzzzzzzzz

Check out the website for more on HTB: http://english.huistenbosch.co.jp/

End of Day 1

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