I’m so lucky to have sisters who like to travel. Every year we try to go somewhere. This year, after unsuccessfully finding frequent flyer flights to Vietnam, two of my sisters decided to come visit me and see Kyushu. I was a bit worried about planning everything, because it’s a challenge booking things in Japan if you don’t know the language, so I was hoping everything I planned/reserved was going to work out and that we wouldn’t have too many surprises. Since it was also the start of Golden Week, I was also nervous about large crowds and traffic. As it turns out, everything turned out perfectly. We had another fabulous time and made some more incredible memories.
With on-time flights and an English-GPS equipped rental car, we got off to a good start. Our first dinner was a special treat at Ippudo for ramen and gyozas. We all resisted the temptation to stay up late since they had had such a long trip, and we were planning an early morning departure. We were out the door Thursday morning by 8am after some coffee and breakfast. I immediately realized I was going to love having an ETC card thus avoiding having to stop and pay at all the toll gates. The expressway was mostly uncrowded, and we had no problem finding our way to Mt. Aso. The drive was beautiful once we got out of the suburbs of Kumamoto. Lots of hills with every shade of green on them, lots of streams and deep river valleys. It was interesting to watch the vegetation and landscape change as we approached Mt. Aso. When we got there it was very windy and quite cool. We took the ropeway up to the viewing area and we got to see down into the crater where it was glowing a florescent green. We walked around, met a nice German family, and did some shopping and snacking before heading onward.
The winding road down lead us into a beautiful valley area which seemed to have a ‘western’ theme to it and views of “hairy” oddly shaped mountains. We stopped here for a late lunch (udon and soba) and then drove through more canyons before we came upon the town of Takachiho. Having ‘walked’ the roads here on Google maps, I knew where our Japanese Inn was, so we stopped there straight away and checked in. They supplied us with some maps and information and off we went. We walked down the gorge along a steep one lane switchback road to get to the park and boat area. It was a beautiful area with very few people. We boarded our rowboat and off we went. Our fearless, never rowed before, captain managed to make this a fairly humorous boat trip not only for us but for everyone else in the area…it’s a miracle we didn’t get drenched by the waterfall. I’m sure this was retribution for the rafting trip in Belize that she still gives Jody and me a hard time about. Nevertheless, she did a great job and we got to see and experience this wonderful place. The color of the water, the waterfall, the cliffs, the varied rock formations, the vegetation…all made it beautiful and it was great to be a part of it all.
We walked back up to town and checked out Takachiho Shrine where we would watch the Kagura dance later that night. The size of the cedar trees were simply amazing and I loved the smell of the cedar and pine. The dance performance was very entertaining, especially the last dance about the ‘Creation of Japan’. I’d highly recommend this to anyone. I wish I could have understood the commentator. He obviously loved telling the story and I could almost figure out what he was saying from his expressions and the small English handout they gave us. The music was a bit repetitive (almost hypnotic), such that after an hour I was ready to leave (otherwise I might have clobbered someone with that drum).
In the morning, we weren’t in a big hurry to go back to the city, so we drove further up the road to the shrine associated with the dance performances – the place where they supposedly lured the goddess out of her cave so that it would no longer be dark in Japan. I’m so glad we went there, because it really tied the whole experience together. The actual shrine is the cave and there are literally thousands of piles of stacked rocks on the way to and in front of this place. It has a very mystical feeling to it, and we were incredibly lucky to have it all to ourselves.
Just as we were leaving masses of people were arriving. During this trip, I learned the key to really enjoying Japan’s treasures: do it early in the day, because the Japanese are not morning people.