Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Monkey Time - Winter Travel - Day Four - 2nd Day in Beppu

I was so caught up on posting before my trip and then got all kinds of behind again, but here I am, catching up. Anyway, I left off with a bunch of kinds of hell, in a rush to see monkeys. So, monkey time it was.

Mt. Takasaki (or Takasakiyama, you pick) is a mountain just a 10 minute bus ride from Beppu Station where wild monkeys live and hang out and do monkey stuff. It's also where camera toting, monkey loving visitors visit.
Monkey Time
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Takasakiyama, Beppu
Beppu

Monkey Time, Japan Time
Beppu

Monkey Time, with Leaves
Beppu

Monkey Time, Now with Extra Cuteness
Beppu

Monkey Time on a Fence with a View of Beppu Bay
Beppu

Onsen Time
Bathing naked with strangers just never got old. This is one of the most famous onsens in Beppu. I did the hot sand bath, and the warmth and the weight felt great. Another picture I did not get to take, but it was nice.
Takegawara Onsen
Beppu

Go Go Nights, Super Loose Time
Onsen areas tend to have a bit of this kind of stuff. Bonus for fun signs.
Beppu

Bus Time. Again. Still.
As I mentioned, I feel like I was on a bus or waiting for a bus half the time I was in Beppu. It makes me appreciate cities with trains and trams and streetcars or at least frequent buses so much. Since I spent the other half of the time in Beppu relaxing in hot water, I suppose it's wash. No pun intended. I hate puns.
Beppu

One more onsen in the Kannawa Hotspring/Onsen area of Beppu (where I was staying) to undo the whole bus annoyance thing, and I was set. I went to Yumetamatebako Onsen, and it's another where I didn't get to take any pictures, but they have some on their site if you wonder. I got to sit in a steam chamber thing that looks like it could be something else (not sure what, though), and that was kind of cool. The place is on my good list for being only 500 yen but being a generally nice place for one last soak in Beppu.

Beppu at Night Time
The wonderful host at Happy Neko (the awesome place I stayed) took me on a night tour way up a big ass hill to Beppu Castle. The view was stunning. You could see steam coming up here and there, even in the night.
Beppu

After a good sleep, morning would be a ferry to the island of Shikoku and then making my way up to Matsuyama. This trip was only my second time to the island of Kyushu (the other time was for the Sumo trip) and my first to Shikoku. Doing my best to be places I've always wanted to go.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Many Kinds of Hell - Winter Travel - Days Three and Four - Beppu (Part One)

After walking and walking and walking all over beautiful and fascinating and awesome Nagasaki, it was nice to be headed next to Beppu and it's famous onsens (hot springs). Narrowing down the gazillion pictures I took to a reasonable number for a couple of blog posts was nearly impossible, and that's even after most of the shots I really, really, really wanted to take, I couldn't take because bringing a camera into the onsen is risky. First, there is the whole issue of being in the water, and then there is the issue that everyone is naked. People get kinda touchy, and not in a touchy feely way. Here are the shots I did get.

Middle of Nowhere
Monday, December 28, 2009
I took a bus (Ken-ei bus) from Nagasaki to Beppu because it turned out to be cheaper than the train by about half, just a bit faster (3.5 hours) and less hassle since there were no transfers, which means no lugging my bags up and down stairs at trains stations. The highway buses here are surprisingly nice. I've become a fan. When I wasn't sleeping, I was admiring scenery like this.
Beppu

Hihokan - Sex Museum
Um. Yah. It's not really worth even the discounted price of 600 yen (roughly US $6, there was a coupon that came with my day pass for the bus), but it's one of those things you can't help but go in and see once just because it's there. You can take pictures. I did. They are all pretty much way too graphic to post here, but trust me when I tell you that there are seven kinds of bizzare going on in there. This is as much of the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs scene as I can show you. Yes, there is a reason she is smiling. No, I'm not kidding. Pictures are out there on the interwebz if you are into that kind of thing.
Beppu

Suginoi Hotel's Tanayu Onsen
If there was any picture I wish I could have taken and couldn't, it was here. The onsen is on the roof, and the view of Beppu and the bay is amazing since there are no fences. Since I couldn't take a picture but couldn't not mention my favorite onsen of all I've been to (which is lot after this trip), I implore you to go take a look at their pictures. Really, you have to see it to believe how one of the hugenormous baths is terraced so that the water looks like it's falling off the building.

Hyotan Onsen
I went here my first night since it was near the awesome place where I stayed (more on that in a minute). Hyotan Onsen (Japanese link) was really nice and had both sand baths and indoor and outdoor baths. If you are curious in general about how the whole onsen thing works (nutshell: get naked, shower, soak naked with strangers, walk outside wet and naked even though it's winter because hot water and relaxation makes you like it), they have a pdf in English that pretty much covers it.
Beppu

Happy Neko
I stayed at the most awesome place in Beppu. It's called Happy Neko (neko=cat in Japanese), so right off the bat, just by the name, I knew it had to be good. You can stay in the main house or in one of the little apartments for only 2000 yen, which is small and sparse but way bigger than a hotel room. The hosts speak English (also Japanese and Czech, since one of the hosts is Czech) and are super helpful. Right when I got there, Bibo spent about 20 minutes giving me bus info, detailed maps of the best restaurants, onsens, etc. and answering any question I could possibly have about my stay in Beppu. The place is right next to one bus stop and close to another, and since Beppu is a take the bus kind of place, that matters. The only catch is that there is no bath/shower, but considering how many onsens are nearby (which is the main reason most folks even go to Beppu) and how awesome they are, it's actually not a bad thing since it kind of forced me to explore some of the local onsens a little more than I might have otherwise.

Steamy
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Steam is everywhere in Beppu, even rising from grates in the street.
Beppu

9 or 10 Kinds of Hell
Hell can be a good thing. In Beppu, it's a good thing. See, they have these 10 kinds of hells (jigoku), the main 8 (in Japanese, but the .pdf in English of the exact pamphlet I got is here), plus a couple others, are all kinds of crazy beautiful hot springs that are way too hot to even dilute into the bathing kind. These are for looking in awe, not soaking in bliss. This is where the narrowing down of pictures got really tough, but these are some of my favorite shots.

So Hot You Could Boil an Egg
And so they do. Or steam them, really. I subscribe to the idea that it's true you should never actually boil a boiled egg. Whatever you call what happens to these eggs cooked in hell, they are awesome.
Kamado Jigoku / Cooking Pot Hell
Beppu

Breakfast in Hell
Kamado Jigoku / Cooking Pot Hell
Beppu

Kamado Jigoku / Cooking Pot Hell was probably my favorite of the seven I saw (more on what happened to the 8th one way down below). Not just because of the yummy eggs, but because there were so many different looking pools of hotness and little things to do, like take off your shoes and sit with your feet on tiles heated by the geothermic magic going on underneath them.

And there were all kinds of colors. Like this color.
Kamado Jigoku / Cooking Pot Hell
Beppu

And This Color
Kamado Jigoku / Cooking Pot Hell
Beppu

Or Muddy Colors
Kamado Jigoku / Cooking Pot Hell
Beppu

If I only had time to do one hell, I'd pick Kamado Jigoku / Cooking Pot Hell because other than the odd little zoos (you'll see), this one really had a variety that included a lot of what the others had. Of course, I'd bought the discount pass to see all 8 (minus the "other" two), so I kept going.

Hello Hungry Hippo Potato Muncher
Yes, there are hippos in hell. They eat potatoes.
There was a small zoo kind of oddly incorporated into this hell (though the aligators and crocodiles were in a different hell, Oniyama Jigoku / Demon Mountain Hell, and that also just seemed kinda odd).
Yama Jigoku / Mountain Hell
Beppu

Hot Spring of a Leg
They meant footbath. It's all good. It's more fun their way.
Umi Jigoku / Sea Hell
Beppu

So Hot You Could Boil Even More Eggs
Different hell, same concept. Nature is crazy.
Umi Jigoku / Sea Hell
Beppu

Torii
Umi Jigoku / Sea Hell
Beppu

Mixed Sex Outdoor Mud Bathing
Another picture I didn't get to take. Sigh.
After seeing all 6 of the hells within walking distance of each other, I decided to take a little break and go soak in mud before taking the bus to the other two that are next to each other in a different area. Hoyoland is apparently fairly popluar, but it was my least favorite onsen. Sure, the novelty is interesting - mud, mixed sex - but the place really isn't all that nice in appearence or amenity, it's more expensive (1000 yen, rougly US $10) than most other places, and they don't provide the soap/shampoo/conditioner like most places that charge around that price or a little less. If you wonder, for the open air mixed sex mud bath part, nobody see your niblets since the mud makes the water opaque. After the mud and the shower and a short soak in not mud, I was ready to head out and grab the bus to see the remaining 2 hells on my list and in my package deal ticket book.

Greetings and Hellutations
Lots of demons in hell, wherever you look, this one greeting you at my pick for the hell with the best alternate name (next pic). Evar.
Chinoike Jigoku / Blood Pond Hell
Beppu

Well, Bloody *&@%# Hell
I think Bloody Hell Pond has a funnier ring to it than just plain old Blood Pond Hell. While the pamphlets and other info disagree, the guy who made the map totally gets it.
Chinoike Jigoku / Blood Pond Hell / Bloody Hell
Beppu

There was one last hell to see, the one with the geyser (Tatsumaki Jigoku), and it was right next to Bloody Hell, and it was the last stamp I wanted to get on my little sheet (rubber stamps at major tourist attractions are popular here), and it was the last ticket in my book, and it was the last thing standing in the way of the joy I get from a sense of completion... But the bus was leaving in 4 minutes. And the next one wouldn't be for another hour. An hour is a long time to look at water spouting up.

Of all the things I liked about Beppu, waiting for the bus all the damn time was not one of them. You'd think that if the bus is the main way to get around, annoying but understandable since Beppu is pretty spread out, that they'd have them run a little more frequently. I feel like I spent half my time in Beppu waiting for a bus, a different kind of hell, and not the good kind with pretty colors and egg cooking abilities.

Anyway, I didn't see that last hell because I was in a hurry to get on the bus that took me to the station where I could wait another forever for the bus that would take me to where I was *so* excited to go, the mountain where the cageless monkeys live! Stay tuned.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Winter Travel - Day Two - Nagasaki (Part Two)

After the penguin cuteness overload, I made my way around Nagasaki trying to see everything else in a day. I missed some things, but I saw a lot. I walked and walked and walked, but the weather was really decent, as in sun shining and no need for that winter coat decent, and the cheapo new shoes were like magic. Just wandering around was awesome. Nagasaki is absolutely beautiful. It's surrounded by mountains, and the trams are super convenient and easy to understand. I stayed at the Comfort Hotel, and it was nice for the price, had a comfy bed, free coffee drinks in the lobby and wifi. Plus it's right by the Ohato (大波止) tram stop, which I found to be more convenient for my purposes than somewhere near the station.

Kokufuji Temple (興福寺), Main Hall, Nagasaki
December 27, 2009
Old Chinese temple in Japan built in 1620 by Chinese residents, in part to show that they were, in fact, Buddhist when the prohibition against Christianity was pretty stringent. See, Nagasaki, in general, was a major port city bringing people and goods from Europe, China and other places, and Christianity (specifically Catholicism) was one of the imports. When it was banned, repercussions were brutal.
Again, this link does a better job explaining the history.
Nagasaki

Kofukuji Temple, Courtyard
Nagasaki

Kokufuji Temple Ema
My love of the ema continues. These are even heart shaped. Love, love.
Nagasaki

Meganebashi (眼鏡橋), Nagasaki
Spectacles (the glasses kind, not what I make of myself) Bridge because it looks like, yep, spectacles. It was built by a monk from the temple above. Strolling along this street on a perfectly perfect day made me love Nagasaki. Just such a pretty city. There are a couple tram stops nearby (map), too. Again with the convenience.
Nagasaki

Talktive
Hair salon sign seen strolling along the river.
Nagasaki

Signs
Nagasaki is great with signs. They are everywhere. Considering how likely I am to get lost, these were simply awesome for a tourist. I heart Nagasaki.
Nagasaki

Sofukuji (崇福寺) Temple
Another shrine built by the Chinese residents of Nagasaki, this one in 1629. Definitely Chinese flavored.
Nagasaki

Intricate Details, Sofukuji Temple
Nagasaki

Colorful Dragon, Sofukuji Temple
Nagasaki

More Sofukuji
I could take pictures of this place all day long. I kinda did.
Nagasaki

Pretty Door, Sofukuji Temple
Nagasaki

Sunflower Door, Sofukuji Temple
Nagasaki

Chinatown, Nagasaki
Just walking through made me hungry. It was also lunch time. Perfect time to try sara-udon, another Nagasaki specialty. It was nothing short of amazing. It ranks pretty close to bacon on my list of foods to love wholeheartedly.
Nagasaki

Chinese Quarter, Nagasaki
As the sign explained, "In order to limit interaction between Japanese and foreigners, the Tokugawa Shogunate decided that the Dutch (initially the Portuguese) live on Dejima and that the Chinese live in a Chinese quarter. The Chinese quarter, completed in 1689, was in the area that now corresponds with Kannai-machi in Nagasaki City. After that, the Chinese were prohibited from living within the city."
Nagasaki

Dutch/Hollander Slope, Nagasaki
While the Dutch had been living on the artificial island of Dejima from 1641 until 1853, a place built specifically to keep them separate from Japanese people during Japan's isolation period, they had an incredible influence on Japan, bringing things like badminton and coffee and a gazillion other good things. After the Meiji Restoration when Japan's isolationist policy ended and opened to foreigners again (and allowing Christianity again, huge in Nagasaki), people in Nagasaki still thought of all Europeans as Dutch. Hence the name of this beautiful slope that leads up to huge and beautiful Western style homes where they lived after that point.
Nagasaki

There are a million things I did not get to see in Nagasaki, but I feel like I made a pretty good scratch on the surface. After all that walking, the next morning I'd be on a bus to Beppu, an area of geothermic wonder with eleventy million hotsprings, but not nearly the convenience.