Southern Japan

Trip Start Oct 20, 2010
Trip End Dec 16, 2010

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Flag of Japan  , Kyushu-Okinawa,
Thursday, November 4, 2010

After spending the weekend with my friends in Kanazawa (west coast in the middle of Honshu Island), I took the train south. My three week Japan Rail Pass, which is only available to foreigners, was $700 Canadian but I can travel anywhere in Japan on it.

It took four and a half hours to get to Hiroshima. This city is well known as being the first city on which a nuclear bomb was dropped in 1945. They have built a peace park in the area of the bomb`s epicentre with an excellent Peace Memorial museum. The clock indicates that there has only been 48 days since the latest nuclear test, something which the city is trying to hold countries` accountable for. There are some great walks around Hiroshima as there are many canals, and it seems quite wealthy. I could have easily spent another night here.

There is a terrific day trip from Hiroshima that I would have missed were it not for my cousin Sally telling me about it and encouraging me to go. Miyajima is a beautiful small island nestled between mountains and ocean. It is famous for the shrine gate in the water of the Itsukushima-jinja (everyone has seen the photos). This is a UNESCO heritage site and I happened to see a former colleague of mine from the Ministry of Health who was also visiting that day with his wife, who I have also met before. Small world!
I took the gondola up the island`s Misen mountain. Because it was a clear day I could see across to Shikoku, one of Japan`s four main islands that I haven`t been to before. The hike to the top of the mountain was great and there were several deer and a lot of backpackers here. It felt quite like home.

I spent the next two days in Kagoshima, the southernmost city of Japan`s four main islands. It is semi-tropical and is fittingly called `Naples of the Orient`. I happened to be in Kagoshima during the Ohara festival where there is a day of folk dancing in the streets. There were literally thousands of performers, young and old, and it seemed like there were various competitions amongst groups. This was hard to tell though without speaking Japanese. In the evening there was a concert by the city`s castle with string quartets, vocalists etc. It was great to experience this very fine music in such an inspiring setting with lanterns and fires everywhere.

Across the bay there is a live volcano called Sakurajima which has a continuous stream of smoke and ash. I took a Japanese speaking tour with a very organized tour guide who would flash English index cards to me every so often. My tour walked on ash that had fallen that morning! The last big eruption was in 1914, but it seems like it could blow at any time. I have a photo of rising smoke and ash taken from the city with buildings in the front that reminds me of 911 - it i hard to know what is really going on. It is quite `trippy` hanging out in a city with a live volcano!
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