Mar 022006

Sorry for that long delay, everyone. It’s been getting more and more difficult to find the time to write these updates since returning from Japan, and with the impending job hunt I can’t imagine that it’ll get much easier. But I’ll continue to do my best.

Before starting to write about my trip to Kyushu, I’d like to mention something that I’ve been thinking about for some time now. Since my year in Japan is finally over, what will become of this blog? I’ve put so much time and energy into it that it would really be a shame to just let it go, especially with the surprisingly high hit count that has developed over the past year.

Yet I’m well aware that many of you read my posts simply due to an interest in Japan or traveling in general. At this point I don’t know if my life in America will be permanent or temporary, but in either case the frequency and content of these posts will almost certainly be changing in the near future.

That being said, I’ll try to keep the new posts interesting to all you Japanophiles out there in two ways:

First, I have an enormous stockpile of photos from this past year that I can use to populate my posts, so even if the content is about life in the US it’ll still have a somewhat Japanese touch.

Second, regardless of this year abroad ending, my obsession with traveling will not. You can rest assured that wherever I end up living in the long run my international adventures won’t end here.

So for those of you who are only interested in traveling, I’ve started a list of e-mail addresses so that I can let you know the next time I leave the country. Just post a comment if you’d like to be contacted (your e-mail address won’t be publicly visible; only I can see it).

Alright, so on to Kyushu.

Dean, the geophysicist for whom I’ve been developing a piece of 3D imaging software over the last year (the release of which has been officially set for early April) is in Japan to do a survey of 5th century burial mounds in Miyazaki Prefecture. He invited me to come experience some field work, providing me with a better idea of what this software that I’ve been writing actually does. “Look at it as week-long paid vacation,” as he puts it.

Sounds good to me 🙂

My original plan was board a Southbound bullet train right at Kansai Airport after arriving from Korea, allowing me one extra day in Kyushu to explore a bit on my own before meeting up with Dean, but unfortunately my JR Rail Pass didn’t arrive in time so I had to return to Kyoto to pick it up…and by that time it was far too late in the day to begin the eight-hour journey to the absolute Southernmost tip of Japan.

So one day behind schedule I woke up bright and early and headed South on what was to be my last Bullet Train vacation for who knows how long. I arrived in Kagoshima just after dark.

Kagoshima is described as the “Naples of Japan” for having its very own Vesuvius, called Sakurajima, dominating the skyline from just a stone’s throw across the bay. Apparently Sakurajima’s duststorms bring out the umbrellas as often as rainstorms do in other parts of the world. I was stoked to see the beast.

The closer the Sakurajima ferry brought me to the island the more my mind insisted on picturing images from the movie Ringu (American title: The Ring). The strangely shaped volcanic rocks that inhabited the seemingly deserted town didn’t help to dispel the unsettling images as I stepped off the boat and began to struggle through the unlit streets of an unfamiliar place in hopes of finding a small youth hostel to crash in.

Thankfully, I soon managed to locate my destination…which ironically reminded of the hostel I stayed at in Aso (another volcano I climbed this summer). It was huge, fairly run-down, and almost entirely empty. I felt like I had the old building all to myself.

But regardless of the eerie emptiness of the place, I decided to head out for a little bit of wardriving before going to sleep. Er, warwalking. That is to say, cruising around with my laptop scanning for wireless networks in hopes of being able to check my e-mail 🙂 I’ve become a master at finding Internet hotspots over the last year of toting my laptop to the far corners of Asia. This time I ended up on a nice little park bench with a perfect signal from a second-story apartment across the street.

Then I headed back and slept…and awoke to yet another completely overcast sky. I was grateful for the warmth of the weather – even the snowstorm in Kyoto was an improvement over the arctic cold of Korea, and this was significantly warmer than that – but I was disappointed to find yet another completely cloudy day. Particularly when I was standing in a city famous for its fantastic scenic views of a smoking volcanic caldera. After coming all this distance all I got to see was the lower half of a mountain obscured by a cloudy sky. Great.

So without rushing too much, I took an Ofuro (Japanese bath) in the hotel’s huge lava-heated tub and headed out with my backpack. Even though I could barely see the mountain itself there was absolutely no doubt that I was on a volcano. All of the dirt was pitch black and every few steps was a giant, oddly shaped volcanic rock with a small plant or tree trying to sprout out from underneath it.

I proceeded down towards the docks until I passed a sign (not the one pictured above) – I wasn’t sure how to read the kanji, but I was pretty sure it said something like “Seaside Lava Flow.” I decided it was worth a quick detour.

As you can see from the pictures, it was. A quick stroll through the other-worldy remains of the Great Taisho Eruption of 1914.

But I made sure to head back quickly, so as not to miss the morning market outside Chuo-Kagoshima Station described by my Lonely Planet Guide as “a raucous, lively event.”

If I were writing a guide book, I think I might more accurately describe it as “a couple of fruit and fish stands tended by little old Japanese ladies.”

It was at this market that I received a phone call from Dean. He told me that he was on a small island off the coast of Miyazaki where he had gone to perform some survey work prior to our meeting, but record-breaking waves had forced all of the boats to stop running until at least the following day.

Looks like I’d have that extra day to explore on my own after all. Next stop: Ibusuki, to take a nice relaxing bath in some…steaming hot volcanic sand.

  5 Responses to “Dean’s Trip, Part 1: Kagoshima”

  1. Sounds like more fun

  2. Thanks for continuing to post here. I have one question. What about Chie?

  3. Hey Justin! I had the same question when I left Japan: should I keep up my photo blog and personal journal that had centered around my experience in Japan? The way it ended up working out was a big part of my reverse culture shock was finding daily life back home to be mind numbingly boring and excruciatingly mundane in comparison to Japan, and I had NO urge to document it whatsoever. So that was that. I hope you don’t meet the same fate. I started photoblogging again once I started traveling again.

  4. David: That depends on the outcome of my job hunt…i.e. which country I end up in…

    Alanna: You are so, so right. I haven’t finished writing about Japan yet and already I’m thinking “crap, when I do get up to returning to the US what the hell am I supposed to write about??

  5. How about a few posts about the “differences” you noticed after going back to the US? There’s stuff that just gross you out after a year in Japan (like, guests not taking off their shoes at the genkan 😉 )

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