Kyushu: Nagasaki + Fukuoka

The first few days of our trip had been so hectic that when we arrived in Nagasaki to stay with my friend for two nights, it was nice to slow the pace down. The weather was perfect when we got to Nagasaki on the Friday for our boat/island tour (which I’ll devote my next post to), and after that we met Siobhán who showed us around some of the local sights. We saw the famous Meganebashi (Eyeglass Bridge), Dejima where the Dutch used to live, and we walked around the Chinatown, one of three in Japan along with Yokohama and Kobe. The historic centre of Nagasaki is small because it’s hemmed in by the mountains, but the city of Nagasaki is quite spread out, so we got a bus out to Siobhán’s house to make takoyaki for dinner.

Megane bashi 1

Megane bashi 2I’m sure no one has ever taken that picture before.

Chinatown 3

Chinatown 2

Chinatown 1

Chinatown 4

I’m not normally a huge fan of takoyaki (octopus balls), because the dough is very mushy and the octopus is rubbery, but it was really fun to make them and they tasted better homemade. Takoyaki is an ubiquitous festival food in Japan, but people also have takoyaki parties at home where they cook them in their own pan. We mixed up a batter of flour, dashi stock, eggs, octopus, green onions and ginger and poured the unappetizing mess into the molds.

Takoyaki 1

But once the bottom was cooked, the fun started! Using wooden sticks you gathered the spill-over on top of the ball and then flipped it to cook the top side. There was a technique to the motion so that you wouldn’t break the round crust. A few more flips turned them into beautiful spheres, which we covered with takoyaki sauce (like Worcestershire sauce), mayonnaise and bonito fish flakes and then waited hungrily for them to cool slightly to eat. Delish.

Takoyaki 2

Takoyaki 3

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Saturday and Sunday were rainy and/or cloudy, and on Saturday morning Christabel and I went to the Atomic Bomb Museum. We didn’t see the Peace Park because we wanted to stay in out of the rain, but the museum was definitely worth a visit. The most touching section was about the stories of the survivors, because it can be hard to imagine what you would do in a situation like that. Like the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, there was a section about the dangers of nuclear proliferation, and there were video interviews with people from areas with high radiation due to nuclear testing, such as Kazakhstan and Nevada.

Afterwards we met up with Siobhán for lunch in Chinatown. I had the sara udon (plate noodles), crispy thin noodles topped with a thick sauce of vegetables and sea food. It is one of the famous foods of Nagasaki, and though I wasn’t wild about it, it was good to try it once.

Saraudon

The sweet food Nagasaki is most famous for is Castella, a sponge cake that was first brought to Japan by the Portuguese in the 16th century. I ate it in an ice cream sandwich form.

Castella ice-cream

The Sunday was my birthday so after a leisurely morning with a delicious birthday breakfast made by Siobhán, we went to Mt Inasa which has one of the top three night views in Japan (though we were going up on a cloudy afternoon). We took the cable car up, and because the view was so bad we were the only ones up there. We spent some time messing around taking pictures, and after a while, the clouds lifted so that we had a slightly better view down on the city.

Mt Inasa rope-way

Nagasaki view 1

Nagasaki view 2

Before we left, Siobhán took us to a cafe that’s famous for its meter tall ice creams, which I had no idea how to picture until I got there. It seems they’ve gone even farther recently and created a 120cm one.

100cm ice-cream

We didn’t get ourselves a meter tall ice cream (I had bibimbap and then a 30cm parfait), but we did get to see a table of Junior High School boys order one after a Sunday morning playing tennis, or whatever club practice they had. It was very impressive.

1m ice-cream

We took the train to Fukuoka where we stayed at a hotel on Nakasu Island in the centre of town. Even on a Sunday it was a lively area and we ate at one of the famous Yatai stalls by the river and had Hakata ramen, made with pork-bone broth, rather than miso- or soy-sauce-based broth. The walk along the river was beautiful with the buildings lit up and we spotted Canal City where we were going to explore the next morning. We finished up the night with karaoke.

Hakata ramen

Fukuoka night river

Canal City Fukuoka

The next morning we had breakfast in a Moomin Café. Of course.

Canal City Fountains

Moomin Cafe

Moomin

Kyushu: Yufuin + Sasebo

When we took the train out of Aso station, we left Kumamoto prefecture and entered Oita. Oita is famous for its hot springs, especially the town of Beppu, which is an onsen (hot spring) resort town that also has ‘hells’ of boiling hot springs that are meant for viewing, not bathing. Instead of going to Beppu, however, we went to Yufuin, also an onsen town, but inland by Mt Yufu. I had read good things about this quaint little town, and we were able to stay in a lovely ryokan (traditional Japanese hotel) for a reasonable price.

The rain had just stopped when we arrived at Yufuin that night and walked through the dark quiet streets to our ryokan. The streets were lined with cafes and shops that we made a note to check out the next day. The shops were dark, but the hotels were bright, where people were probably taking their evening bath. We stayed at the Enokiya Ryokan that had a beautiful reception and restaurant of dark wood and a stained glass window above the entrance. The rooms were in a building to the side, and Christabel and I had a huge tatami (straw mat) room to ourselves. After our bath in the hotel onsen, we wore the yukata (light kimono) that were provided for us and lolled about in our Japanese luxury.

Yufuin window

The next morning dawned as a beautiful day and from our window we could see the river. We were sad to leave the ryokan, but we were only going to explore Yufuin for the day before getting the train onward. The weather was just gorgeous, and we wandered around looking in souvenir shops, taking frequent café breaks and enjoying the scenery and wildlife. There were a lot of tourists, but there were enough winding streets and paths to prevent it being too crowded. Christabel had a moment when she felt like she was in Korea as a troop of ajummas (Korean middle-aged women) passed by in their loud floral leggings, sun visors and perms (sorry, I’ve no pictures).

Yufuin ryokan

Yufuin water wheel

Wooden coffee

Stream

Yufu mountain

Ladders

Fishing

Geese

Crane

As the sun started to go down, we got the Yufuin no Mori sightseeing train to Tosu and then on to Sasebo where we stayed the night. We didn’t really see or do anything in Sasebo because we left early the next day, but I did like the view of the harbour from the train station.

Sasebo

On that day we had planned to visit Huis ten Bosch, a Dutch theme park based on the original Huis ten Bosch royal palace in The Hague. It was completed in 1992, just as Japan’s Lost Decade was starting. I wanted to see it just for the sheer craziness of a Dutch town in the south of Japan (and to see the blooming tulips), however, there was an island tour in Nagaski that was only available on that day, so we chose the island over Huis ten Bosch. The park was quite expensive too at ¥6,100 for a day pass, and its rides aren’t really comparable to Disneyland. We did get to see the Huis ten Bosch palace from the train though! So that was enough surrealism for me.

Huis ten Bosch 2

Huis ten Bosch 1