I left Kyoto this morning to head for the biggest island in the south of Japan, Kyushu. The shinkansen terminates at Hakata, the station of Fukuoka, in the north of the island, and to get there I had to change trains at Shin-Osaka station. Because I was only scheduled to have a 12 minute stop there for the changeover I though I might be in trouble, but because of the convinient signs that help everyone at the station, I was waiting for the train longer than expected. The travel from Hakata to the small city of Tamana was only a piece of cake.
Kyushu really is something different. Of course Fukuoka is just like any other big city in Japan with big buildings dominating the skyline, but the further you go away from it you enter a completely different world. I thought I had experienced the japanese countryside at Nara, but this was even better.
A friend of mine who I got to know through a japanese internet community and her father picked me up at the station, which wasn’t very hard as I was the only foreigner to get of the train there. In fact, I guess I was the only foreigner on the train at all. After a brief stop at my friend’s workplace (a photo shop) with some coffee and a cake, her father decided we should set off for Mt. Aso west of Tamana. At first I thought it would ba small trip to some mountain, but it turned out to be a 2 hour journey through a beautiful landscape with lots of farms, smal houses, middle school baseball club kids running for training, a takoyaki shop on the roadside (where I finally tasted my first takoyaki) and a very impressive sight of a still active volcano.
Mt. Aso, r Aso-san, as the japanese call it, is located west of Kumamoto. The landscape reminded me a lot of the german mountain areas which stretch thrugh the center of the country. Not as high as the Alps, but very impressive and very green. That’Ssomething which struck me on first sight: although I was so far down south (in fact the farthest I had ever been in my life) the landscape was completely different from what you get to see in the mediterranean area in Europe. It looked a lot more like Germany, hadn’t it been so hot.
The slopes up to Mt. Aso were breathtaking as was the changing scenery and all of a sudden we ended up driving right into hell. When we arrived at the parking lot at the panorama platform the alarm for an increased amount of Co2 were ringing and people were kept from going to close to the crater. They have four different levels of alarm and we just happened to be on time for the highest level. But my friend’s father told us not to panic and just wait for a few minutes. The smell of the sulfur from the crater was slightly sickening and a lot of people were coughing because of it. There were warnings all around (you even recieved pamphlets on your way up at the checkpoints when you were going to the mountaintop) that people with asthma, bronchus disease, heart diseases or similar sicknesses should refrain from going all the way up.
The father was right in that things would clear up so after a few minutes of waiting we were able to take a look for ourselves and I have to admit that it was very impressive. A huge lake of emerald green water with smoke rising from it filled out the crater and even though we were several hundred meters above it you could still hear the boiling water down there. I read several times that looking done a crater feels like looking at the gates of hell, but I never fund it to be so true. Watching those natural powers was very humbling. The last eruption dates back about 20 years and Aso is still an active volcano so it might happen again soon. I am happy I didn’t have to experience that first hand.
On the way back down the valley was drenched in the light of the setting sun making it a wonderful sight to behold. I guess I was so happy to this because I hadn’t been out of Cologne into the nature for such a long time. On our way further down from the mountain we came across a honey producing farm in which the customers where able to taste a few ofthe products. I never imagined there were so many things you can make out of honey. And the bees they had there were just plain frightening as they almost three times as huge as the ones we know in Europe. All the way back I kept on talking to the father and although I didn’t understand everything he said I felt we had a pleasant conversation about japanese history and german movies.
We drove back to Tamana where the father dropped us off in front of his friend’s izakaya where we stayed to grab a little to eat. The place was very lively but that might as well have been because of the big arty of young people in the tatami room in the back who were shouting very loud the whole time. At around 9 pm we set off for the train station where I boarded the express line to Arao, where the friend had booked a hotel room for me. Things went very smooth as I just took a taxi from the train station, although the walk might have only been a few minutes, BUT, I would have wandered into the wqhole different drection, so the 500 yen cab ride was well spend.
Tomorrow me, the friend and her father will go to Kumamoto city to take a look at the castle and some other things. My guidebook tells me that Kumamoto has a lot of german features so I am excited to find out about them.