2014
06.01

SYNOPSIS:  Transit to Kagoshima.  A famous garden and my first ride on the infamous Shinkansen train.  Nakashimaya, the coolest hostel so far!

With all the sites I am trying to see, the times I can spend in transit are actually my most relaxing and most productive writing and working on photos.  Planes and trains are air conditioned and smooth.  My new Mac book is still not completely my friend, but at least we are no longer fighting at every turn.

Because I had chosen the plane over the ferry, I gained almost 12 hours.  I could squeeze in two 1/2 day city visits:  Kagoshima today and Kumamoto tomorrow, both major towns on the island of Kyosho.

Kagoshima has one of those tourist buses which took me to the famous Sengan-En or Iso-Teien Garden.  It is a garden of the “borrowing” type for which both Chinese and Japanese are famous for.  In this case, it is the spectacular backdrop of the active volcano Sakurajima which is “borrowed” to provide the extension of the garden beyond its walls.  In the olden days, Kagoshima bay also acted as a borrowed “pond”.

I learned quite a few interesting things in this garden which I will take at face value:

First, the local lord and the power behind the garden was a member of the Shimadzu family which reigned over this area for 700 years!  Now that is an accomplishment in its own right, but on top of that, the 28th lord of this family, Shimadzu Nariakira, is credited with initiating the industrial revolution from this very spot into Japan and way ahead of his Asian counterparts.   Not much is left of his industrial empire known as Shuseikan, but plaques and old photos.  Nonetheless, he had an impressive array of power and manufacturing plants, including the most advanced cast iron cannon factory, fusing British technology with Japanese inventions to make this region prosperous above and beyond others.

I also learned that a mere two stalks of Bamboo had once been brought to this town from Okinawa which then multiplied so fast and successfully, that they are credited for all the bamboo in Japan.

And finally, I encountered a martial art form which I had never seen before:  Jigen-ryo (link 2)— in which men seem to run around screaming and wielding sticks…  Quite ridiculous!  But I admit, I know nothing else but what I have seen in a short demonstration.  I will hold final judgment.

I was quite pleased with this little detour and headed back to the station to board my first Shinkansen train to Kumamoto.  The head of the train was so big that I could not even fit it fully into one picture frame.  From here on out, I will use the Japan Rail (JR) pass for all of my inter-city transits, which is good on almost all trains, except a few private lines, and the very fastest ones.  I will never have to worry about tickets anymore and can just show up.  If I want to make sure I get a seat, I can reserve one.  But so far I have not seen overcrowded trains other than during rush hour in Tokyo.  For those of you future travellers to Japan:  BEWARE!  This JR Pass has to be bought prior to departure and outside of Japan. It is only available to tourists and it will save you hundreds of dollars.  Trains here are frequent, but they are certainly not cheap.

Hail to online information.  Last minute I found the Nakashimaya hostel in Kumamoto, which turned out to be the coolest yet!  Kuji, the owner, showed me to my room and when I entered the bright, tatami covered, light filled room, I gasped.  I asked him if I could please have a bigger room.  😉  At that point, I was the only guest in a beautiful, eight bed, Japanese-style, female dorm.  Later one other woman joined me.  If filled, each person has a small area just big enough for a mattress.  You have a personal trunk with a locker on it, two hangers, one rolled up mattress and bedding.  I could choose and I got the window spot which also had a nice bench on which I arranged my belongings.  And since there was nobody on the other side of me, I rolled up two mattresses and slept heavenly.  I will find out sooner than later how it feels to sleep on just one of those…

Tatami is the old measuring unit in Japan.  Rooms to this day are measured in 4 or 6 or 8 tatami sizes, rather than square feet.  Between each of the beds there was a bamboo screen for privacy, but keep in mind that with paper-thin walls and sliding Fusuma doors, there is little privacy.  It’s all about consideration.  And the Japanese are masters in consideration.  I have yet to encounter the obnoxious person who will spoil the atmosphere of a restaurant, train car, or waiting room with a loud cell phone conversation.  The Japanese are quiet.  I could not imagine a crammed-packed rush hour subway car in Tokyo which rolls along in total silence until I had seen it.

Throughout the hostel, there was Japanese decoration tastefully set up and beautifully arranged.  Everything worked; obviously, somebody had paid attention to every detail.  I was impressed.  Put on top of that the roof-top terrace, where you can have a beer looking at the Kumamoto Castle in the distance and you know that there is little more that anyone needs to be in heaven.  It worked for me.  And for $25 per night you also get a beautiful common room with the biggest TV screen (should you need such a thing in Japan), free internet and a massage chair.  OK, if you want shampoo or a towel you have to buy those from a vending machine.  That’s why I travel with a chamois and my own shampoo.  You can’t have it all.  But give me this over a 5 star Western hotel any day!

And if you like you can meet all kinds of people here: the couple from Australia who came here for 6 months on a volunteer work-program to get to know Japan cheaply; the woman from France who travels between her work assignment in Osaka; the talkative guy from Malaysia, whose English nobody could figure out; the Belgian tourist who is traveling through Japan with a friend, or the young Korean guy who is finishing his time as an exchange student.  Or you can meet me.  But I was tired and needed to write.  Perhaps, some other day.

Good night.

2 comments so far

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  1. It’s strange to think of the industrial revolution in Japan…it seems like it has always been more “pastoral” or Buddhist or something like that, than England or France where the industrial revolution went full blast. But of course there would have been one in Japan…they had amazing technology way back during the first world war. They probably even have their version of Henry Ford or Carnegie or one of those industrial types.

    The trains…are they rivaling those famous German trains…in timeliness? In quietness? That’s what I would like about them…the peace and quiet. Americans, all of us (except me LOL), are so noisy. We talk loud, are on our phones all the time and before ear buds there were those absolutely horrid boom boxes. Remember those!!!

    Your room looks so nice and neat and clean…and you got a chance to arrange all your things and make yourself a nice nest. Cool. A sense of having a space of one’s own helps when traveling, I would imagine.

    Take care…

  2. If you go to Shodoshima, visit my son, Alex who is doing an artist’s residency!
    Have a great time!