How to: Japanese Monies

Before I came to Japan, I realised that most people didn’t actually know how to deal with a lot of aspects of Japan, or didn’t really know the best ways of handling things that are somewhat essential when you travel.

Like… how to get money once you get to Japan.

And once I got here, I found out why.  The banking and ATM systems here are terrible.  TERRIBLE.

For example, ATMs are usually timed, and anything outside of operational hours incurs a charge, provided that the ATM is still usable at the time you need money.  And since the most desperate times you need to take money out is usually in the wee hours of the morning, this is a massive problem.  How are you supposed to get home when you don’t even have money to pay the taxi driver?

But… how do you actually go about getting enough money to make it rain in Japan?

First, Japan is still very much cash-based.  Chains and department stores will have EFTPOS machines, but if you take out your card to use in a cafe to buy a coffee, heads will turn.  The easiest way is to exchange enough cash to last the duration of your trip before leaving for Japan.  A good base amount is ¥10000 a day (roughly AUD$112.37 or USD$81.29), which should be more than enough to cover for three meals, souvenirs, and transport costs.

If you are travelling for more than a week, or if you run out money halfway because you’re actually making it rain, you obviously should not be travelling around with almost AUD$1000 of cash on your person.  So how do you get more money out?

As I mentioned, ATMs have set hours of operation in Japan.  For foreign banks, 7/11 ATMs or the post office ATMs (ゆうちょ) accept foreign cards, and will only charge you the rate that your own bank charges you for foreign withdrawals during their hours of operation.  7/11 ATMs are open 24hrs, so they will not charge you on top of the original fee (thank goodness).  However, depending on where you’re travelling, they could be on every street corner or totally absent, so make sure you know how the ATM situation is before you land.  Post office ATMs usually have opening hours (9:00AM – 5:00PM), and outside of these hours, you will be charged an additional fee.  Keep in mind that there are also closing times for these ATMs, so you might not even be able to access the machine.

When I travel around, I usually withdraw a whole lot of money and slowly burn through that until I’m down to my last ¥20000, and then I start searching for ATMs.  Sometimes… you don’t find the ATM, and that is when you start to panic.

For banks, Citibank is the bank that I will always recommend anyone who is planning on travelling a lot, or is moving overseas for an extended period of time.  They are affiliated with several corporations, so depending on the country, you can find appropriate ATMs to withdraw money without fees.   Their multi-national nature also makes it easy to transfer money in and out of your home account and your Citibank account, and there’s a special account that has no rates or anything, and Citibank has the best exchange rate out of all the banks that I looked into.

In Japan, Citibank is affiliated with 7/11.  As long as you see 7/11, you are safe.

I think the most important thing is to be smart, and to remember that it is not easy to use your credit card in Japan.  As long as you keep an eye on your cash amount, and remember that you need cash, you should be okay.

Note: this was not sponsored by Citibank.  Although I wish it was.


Hyakunin Isshu No. 11: Tell the people

By: Ono no Takamura (802-852)                           参議篁

Rowing out                                                                    わたの原
Past Eighty Islands                                                     八十島かけて
And the plain of sea –                                                こぎ出でぬと
Tell the people                                                            人にわ告げよ
Of this heaven-tempting boat!                              あまのつり船

Ono no Takamura was known as a noted poet and a state counselor in the early Heian period.  After a quarrel with the envoy he was supposed to join to go to China, he feigned illness to avoid the mission, and thus received two years’ worth of banishment to an island in then-Oki province (now Oki district in Shimane prefecture).  His departure for his banishment inspired him to write this tanka as he set to depart to his temporary home.


Katsushika Hokusai’s impression of the banishment of Ono no Takamura  | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

For this tanka, the Eighty Islands is representative of the islands of Japan.  And since the emperor is believed to have descended from the gods in Japanese mythology, the ‘heaven’ in the last line of the translation, I believe, is a symbol for the emperor, who Takamura had ‘tempted’ by defying his orders regarding the mission to China.  Furthermore, I think the ‘people’ in the second last line literally means more the ‘people of the sea’, or fishermen, since he would have seen many as his boat sailed away from the Japanese mainland.  However, the ‘people’ could also denote the Japanese population in general, which would make the last two lines mean for the ‘people of the water’ to tell the ‘people’ of his transgressions and his punishment of exile.


A typical Heian Japanese boat | Japan Times

This directive to spread the word of Takamura’s exile as he sails onto the ‘plains of the sea’ could be a call for the people not to forget his name, since he would have had no idea of how long his banishment was to last.  It could also be to serve a warning to others of the result of disobeying the emperor, or it could be a call of regret for his actions.  Personally, the tone of this tanka seemed more hopeful and assertive when I first read it, and so I think that it is a call for people to not forget him because he’ll be back.

Compared to the previous few poems, there are not very many deeper meanings to ‘Tell the People’, but that is good too.  I mean, it’s not like people only went around lamenting their fates and their feelings in thirty-one syllables (although it seems like it, with the amount of deep and meaningful tanka present in this representative anthology of a hundred such poems…).

Also, tangent.  But I really don’t like the new format for writing posts.  When I have to add pictures or add links, I have to keep scrolling back up to the top, and ain’t nobody got time for that.


Golden Week: Kyushu~! Day Three: Catching ferries and climbing bridges

City: Kagoshima

Last day! On the sample itinerary, they had suggested catching the Aso Boy train to the Mt. Aso area in Kumamoto to explore the area for the day.  However, when we were going through the different types of trains on the JR Kyushu lines, we had spotted the beautiful A-Train express, a Jazz-aged inspired train that runs three to four times a day to Misumi, a small town between Kumamoto and Amakusa on the shore of Ariake Sea and famous for oranges.


Just look how beautiful the train is!

And so, after grabbing a quick breakfast at Seattle’s Best Coffee (the coffee is neither from Seattle nor the best… but good enough for when you are hungry and have not-quite enough sleep), we started our day.

Kagoshima-chuo Station ~ Kumamoto Station
Train: Sakura Shinkansen

Our break between trains at Kumamoto gave us nearly an hour to explore, so we decided to head into town properly and see a little of Kumamoto before heading off to Misumi.  We should have guessed by what we saw last time we were in Kumamoto… but the station is located on the outskirts of the city, and to see the things that make the place famous would need either a bus or a tram ride into the city centre.  We had time, but not enough to hop onto somewhat infrequent public transports (due to the public holiday) and make it back for our train.

So we decided to take a stroll down the main street and see how far we could go before heading back to the station.  However, I sincerely suggest you don’t do this, because estimating return times and stuff is really hard, and we nearly missed the train as a result.

Kumamoto Station ~ Misumi Station
Train: A-Train

Oh, beautiful beautiful Jazz train.  They took the theme to the extreme, as all Japanese themed-places do, and had stained glass windows, specially patterned seat covers and carpet and a retro on-board bar with formally dressed bartenders.  Although the drinks were expensive, we all decided to get a celebratory drink, and that added to the whole atmosphere of the train.


The fancy on-board bar

The ride is short, but very enjoyable, with beautiful farmscapes turning into inland seascapes to accompany the soothing, train-ride appropriate Jazz mix playing during the trip.  There is also a train card to be collected on the A-Train, which makes it all the more special.  JR Kyushu is doing something right, with all these specialty trains and accompanying stamp cards.

Town: Misumi

When we step off the train, the first thing I noticed was how charming Misumi was.  The station faces the shore, and when you turn back, the small town stretches outwards from the station into the distance.  There were clearly a lot of tourists who came by Misumi, because when we approached the tourist centre, not only did they have most of the pamphlets available in both Japanese and English, but the people working there could speak English quite a lot better than a lot of workers in similar tourist centres in Fukuoka.  The woman we spoke to told us of a boat that would take us out to a few of the outer islands, and recommended for us to go to the closest island due to our short-ish time frame.  The ferry runs semi-frequently (every hour or so, from memory), and being almost time for the ferry to depart, we rushed out from the centre and straight onto the ferry.


One of the tourist sights of the town: Misumi Station

The ferry itself is quite small, but it travels fast, and soon we were whooshing past smaller islands until we got to our stop.  I can’t remember the name of the island we stopped at all… But it’s the first stop on the ferry service, and a lot of families got off with us, so if you’re travelling on a holiday, follow the families!

On this island, we had heard about dolphin watching, but alas! ‘Twas not the season for dolphin watching, and the prices were beyond us.  So we decided to take a walk instead, heading towards a building complex that we spotted on our way in.

This building complex is evidently the main tourist attraction, because it housed a few cafeteria style restaurants and quite a large souvenir shop.  It also serves as the entrance to a path that leads past an abandoned army airplane to a small local aquarium.  People are allowed to climb into the airplane, and so that was what we promptly went to do.  I have never been inside a small aircraft, let alone an army plane, and I found it fascinating.  Things had been allowed to decay naturally around a well-maintained central walkway, and the glass covering the cockpit was grimy and seemingly warped from age and sun-exposure.


The cockpit

Further explorations led us to small inlets and bays, and as we approached the aquarium, we saw people wearing wetsuits wading into the sea to pet the aquarium dolphins.  The actual aquarium is housed in a small building built into the sea and connected to shore by a wide metal walkway.  Entrance was free when we arrived, and the actual entry into the aquarium reminded me of a primary school.  The aquarium feels and looks very amateurish, almost as if it had been a private collection that developed into a local sight-seeing sight and decorated by the collector’s primary aged children, but it has enough exhibits and information to entertain guests for a solid amount of time.


The steps leading into the aquarium

After a quick food break, we set off walking around the area, following the shoreline and the rocks until we spotted a red bridge.  This is one of five bridges spanning from Misumi to Amakusa (I presume).  To see the bridges, you can either make your way across all five, or join a boat tour that will take you alongside or under the bridges.

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The bridge we found

However, since we were under the bridge, we just took pictures of how cool it looked before making our way back onto land.


And then we walked down the road, and found the start of the very same bridge.  We even found a small, slightly overgrown path that led to the maintenance underside of the bridge, without any sort of barriers and chains and signs warning us away… so I climbed it.  The first section of it, anyway.


Hiding from the tourists! | Sam Schultz

And then it was time to go.

Misumi Station ~ Kumamoto Station
Train: the local line

When we got to Kumamoto, even though it was still relatively early and we could get some dinner or whatever before heading back, we were so tired that we ended up just making it to the station souvenir shop to stock up on Kumamon items before heading back to Fukuoka.  Probably a waste of a night, but when you want to go home…you go home.

Kumamoto Station ~ Hakata Station
Train: Tsubame Shinkansen

Home time! Three days is enough to explore a few key places properly, and it was definitely worth it, training it around Kyushu to see everything.  For sure, most of the places that we had ended up going to would not have been part of any sort of tour or normal tourist plan, so to see Kyushu properly, I definitely think that this pass is worth it.

Also, since there are so many different trains on the JR Kyushu system, it is fun to skip over the faster shinkansen lines to catch all the different trains they have.  I mean, we could have probably fit a stop or two more into our itinerary on the first day in lieu of catching the trains that we did down to Kagoshima, but it was for sure more fun to see the countryside that we did than to go and see a few more towns.

I can’t wait to do this again and explore other areas of Kyushu!

Golden Week: Kyushu~! The JR Kyushu International Student Pass
Golden Week: Kyushu~! Day One: Train-hopping from Fukuoka to Miyazaki
Golden Week: Kyushu~! Day Two: Absorbing the ashes of a volcano

Golden Week: Kyushu~! Day Two: Absorbing the ashes of a volcano

City: Miyazaki

We emerged, blinking, into sunlight that was far too bright and cheerful for the time from which we exited the net cafe (7:30 AM).  Six hours was not enough to get a full nights sleep, and I (somewhat willingly) didn’t get any sleep because of uhhh… reasons…

The other girls had gotten a double booth, so they had a bit more room to stretch out on the sofa they shared, but they still had trouble sleeping well because of the couch, and I guess also because it was all of our first times staying overnight at a net cafe.  So all of us, sleep deprived, glaring at the slightly-too-bright sun, went to walk around a bit more before we could get breakfast.  Most places in Japan don’t open until at least 9:00 AM, with the exception of fast food chains like Macca’s or Mosburger, but we had seen last night that Tully’s opened at 8:00 AM.  More importantly, they had signs saying they had French toast, so hallelujah we didn’t need to eat greasy burgers for breakfast.

And that French toast was so good.  Ugh.

Just look at it!

Just look at it!

Unfortunately, we didn’t have more time to explore Miyazaki prefecture because all their scenic spots are at least an hour or two away from Miyazaki city, so we used the bit of extra time we had before heading to Kagoshima to go to Starbucks and absorb the Japanese vibes. #touriststothecore

Miyazaki Station ~ Kagoshima-chuo Station
Train: Kirishima

Heading back to Kagoshima, this time on a less crowded train and with the sun blazing strongly, we could see a lot more than the night before.  For instance, the seaside landscapes as you get closer to Kagoshima is beautiful, and when you approach Kagoshima city, you can definitely spot Sakurajima, the resident volcano, blotting out a significant section of the horizon.  When you catch this train back, make sure you don’t get Kagoshima Station and Kagoshima-chuo Station mixed up!  The latter is the one that is located in the city centre; Kagoshima Station is quite far away from everything!

When we arrived, there was a fair happening outside the station for locally produced shochu and fingerfoods, so we hung around for a bit before trying to find the tourist information centre.  It was a hot day, and we were all kind of struggling a little, but thank goodness again! Kagoshima planners planned everything in straight lines as well, and abundant signs pointing you in the right direction will make sure you get to where you need to go.

Once we got there, we were told about a Day Pass that includes all Kagoshima city public transport, including the ferry to Sakurajima.  This costs ¥1000 for adults, and if you’re planning on exploring the city thoroughly, this is definitely worth the price!

Calling me cute? Why, thank you!

Calling me cute? Why, thank you!

For travelling around Kagoshima, there is a bus that runs in loops around Kagoshima CBD, out to the port and back, and it comes fairly regularly, so that should prevent any tourists from needing to figure out how to operate the city bus systems.  There are no subway systems in Kagoshima; there is only a tram connecting Kagoshima-chuo Station and Kagoshima station, and the buses that I mentioned before.  They’re not hard to navigate, but for sure, especially if you don’t really know much Japanese, it will make life a lot easier if you can catch the city loop bus.

Mainly for us, we wanted to see Sakurajima because live volcano, so we hopped onto the bus and headed out for the port.  The port is closer to Kagoshima Station, so that could also be a travel option instead of travelling to Kagoshima-chuo Station.  There are a few things to see around the port area, including an aquarium and a geo-park, so just exploring that area can definitely take up to a day.  But we were here for Sakurajima, and so we jumped straight onto the next ferry and in ten minutes, we were setting foot upon the black ashy grounds of Sakurajima.



And it was beyond amazing.  There’s black ash everywhere, the vegetation there is this vivid startling green, the shores are full of rocks and shapes that are just a little sharper and more angled than usual.  We walked a shorter base walk, soaked our feet in the free foot onsen near to the port, stared at the ocean and the volcano for equal amounts of time… I wish we had a bit more time to take either the bus tour that takes you halfway up Sakurajima, or hike one of the longer trails, but if you have a few spare hours, go check it out! It’s definitely worth it.

A normal Sakurajima fart

A normal Sakurajima fart

After heading back to Kagoshima, we walked around a bit more, exploring nearby Tageyama Park (commemorating someone from Finland… I still don’t know who he is), which had exception views of the harbour, before heading back to Kagoshima-chuo on the tram.  If you want to take the bus back, the last bus leaves the ferry port before 6:00 PM so make sure to put that in your calculations, because we didn’t, but the tram was definitely a very enjoyable and local experience.

The view of Kagoshima from the ferris wheel on top of the station before we went to find a bath

Nightlights of Kagoshima from the ferris wheel on top of the station before we went to find a bath

Something else that was a very local experience was us trying to find an onsen, but ended up a super local sento instead.  Sento are public bathhouses usually with ceramic tiling that don’t have medicinal waters like an onsen,, and are generally quite cheap for a basic bath, with added costs for towels, soaps, etc.  This one in particular costed us ¥310 each, with the hottest bath water that I have experienced since getting to Japan.  Even though we wanted to stay for longer, we couldn’t… we just weren’t on the level of all the obaa-san there happily stewing themselves in the water.

But a bath is still a bath, and when we finally settled in for the night at a bigger net cafe next to Kagoshima-chuo Station, we went for the nine hour package and for the flat bed option.  And despite the cheap ¥1750 price tag, those flat mattresses felt like the fluffliest futon at an expensive ryokan. #poorstudenttravels

Golden Week: Kyushu~! The JR Kyushu International Student Pass
Golden Week: Kyushu~! Day One: Train-hopping from Fukuoka to Miyazaki
Golden Week: Kyushu~! Day Three: Catching ferries and climbing bridges

Golden Week: Kyushu~! Day One: Train-hopping from Fukuoka to Miyazaki

City: Hakata Station (Fukuoka)

Our itinerary said that our first train was at 8.57, so we gave ourselves an hour from leaving our dorm to get to Hakata, buy a ticket, get breakfast and still make our train.  However… we forgot that everyone else would be travelling during Golden Week, and so when we got to the station, the line was very long and the train that we wanted to catch was full in both the reserved AND unreserved seating.

Kudos to the ticket people, because that line moved super fast and we managed to catch the next train out to Kumamoto.  The trains were also very frequent, so we only really lost maybe half an hour of travel time.  Besides, because there was a two and a half hour gap between catching this train and the next, we weren’t screwing up our plans anyway.  If you are on a tight schedule, make sure that you check all your train timetables and account for any sort of missed trains if you do miss out on a seat!

Hakata Station (Fukuoka) ~ Kumamoto Station
Train: Sakura No. 451

The Sakura No. 451 is the fastest shinkansen on the Kyushu JR rail system (I think), and one of two types of regular shinkansen services on the Kagoshima line.  It was so comfortable.  The seats were wide and there was so much leg room that you could probably squeeze your luggage in front of your legs and still have room left over.  It only took us forty minutes to get to Kumamsoto, so we didn’t really get to enjoy the luxuries of the train much.

Once we got to Kumamoto, we spent a bit of time shopping for souvenirs (because Kumamon), and then we headed out of the station to walk around the city a bit.  Except… we walked out of the back of the station, so we went exploring the mountainous outskirts of Kumamoto instead, which was set on the mountain and beautiful, and gave us serious house envy.

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Climbing through the back of Kumamoto

Kumamoto Station ~ Hitoyoshi Station
Train: SL Hitoyoshi

The SL Hitoyoshi was less modern and more old-school, with fabric plush seating and panelled wooden interiors.  The views along this ride were amazing.  Because it went through the mountains, we could see all these little towns and villages and villages so small they were more a collection of houses than anything.  And one section followed a river, so you could see looping roads on the far bank that led to mini bridges and rocky river banks and lonely picturesque houses.

Just one of the many beautiful views you get as you ride through the Japanese countryside

Just one of the many beautiful views you get as you ride through the Japanese countryside

Once we got to Hitoyoshi, a small town that was surprisingly busy and with a clock tower outside the station that sang and danced as it hit the hour, we only had twenty minutes before moving on.  However, the town seemed to be an onsen town, so maybe, someday I will be able to go back.

Hitoyoshi Station ~ Yoshimatsu Station
Station: Isaburo No. 3

This train is a quaint old-school wooden train with sliding windows and a dark red exterior that takes you on a looping mountain tour from Hitoyoshi station to Yoshimatsu station for an hour and a half.  It stops at little stations that would not get much traffic at all if it weren’t for the tourists that arrived with this train, and the entire train ride was one guided tour so you could get a little bit of the history behind the area and have Kodak moments when they stopped.  This was also one of the trains that gave out special collectors’ cards to stamp as a free memento for riding the train.

Yatake Station, with beautiful views and not much else...

Yatake Station, with beautiful views and not much else…

Truthfully, I don’t remember much of this ride except that it was quaint, there were cute little stations in the middle of no where, and that there was a little boy of maybe three or four who was sitting with his family across from us, and who fell asleep two three minutes into the train ride with his cheek smushed against the seat until he eventually curled up into a little ball, which then allowed his two older brothers to crawl over him as the train started and stopped, and allowed his parents to laugh and take pictures of his sleeping state until they decided to stretch him out over their laps.

Yoshimatsu Station ~ Kagoshima-chuo Station
Train: Hayato no Kaze No. 3

When we got to Yoshimatsu Station, we had a ten minute to grab a snack before we hopped onto the Hayato no Kaze No. 3, which is another old-school wooden train, but this was far smaller than the Isaburo. Because it was not a tour train, it ran along the tracks very fast for its rickety state, jolting all of us as it sped through the mountains.  However, there was another collector’s stamp/card on the Hayato, and it led to one of Kagoshima’s famous onsen towns, Kirishima, so it emptied out halfway and allowed us to space out a bit more on its wooden benches.  I remember nothing except hard wooden seats and falling asleep listening to a steady beat of chakchakchakchak as the train wound its way down to Kagoshima.

The cards collected today!

The cards collected today!

Stopover! Kagoshima-chuo Station

When we finally got to Kagoshima-chuo Station, all working out cricks in our necks and backs from naps on hard wooden benches, we had almost an hour before the next train.  Because we had not really eaten anything for the whole day, we went to get food at one of the restaurants in the station.  I don’t remember where we went, I don’t remember the name of the place, but that soba was. On. Point.

Kagoshima-chuo Station ~ Miyazaki Station
Train: Kirishima

Finally, it hit 16.30, and we got on our last train of the day to Miyazaki on the Kirishima.  And because it was a regular train, without any sort of wood in sight, running along its tracks so smoothly it was gliding, it felt so luxurious that I fell asleep almost immediately until we reached the outskirts of the city.  Arriving late afternoon/early evening to Miyazaki was an amazing idea, because my first sight of the city was the end of the sunset reflected off the river, the sun staining the horizon with golden orange light, framed by a still-unlit bridge, fading gradually into deep dark night.

City: Miyazaki

Once we stepped off the train and onto the streets of Miyazaki, despite having no clue whatsoever about the layout of the city, or where we were going, or what we wanted to do, by some stroke of genius city-planning, the main street that leads into the city centre is the one that leads straight from the station when you walk out of the exits that face department stores, which meant that we walked in the right direction without needing any sort of help from Mr. Google Maps.

Thank you, city planning engineer people.

When you see a Japanese city's covered shopping street, you know you're in the city centre

When you see a Japanese city’s covered shopping street, you know you’re in the city centre

When we finally got to the main strip, we had just eaten food at Kagoshima station… but we were still hungry.  And then we found a pub which was still in Happy Hour for another five minutes.  And of those five minutes, four were spent trying to order our beers and our foods and ‘oh is there no more wedges… then chips is fine’ in our kind-of-not-really-getting-there Japanese. But we got our snacks, and then just… kept ordering more food.

Finally, after feeling satisfied again, we wandered around the streets of Miyazaki CBD for a while before heading to a large onsen complex called Tanamura no Yu located between the station and the main Miyazaki city centre.  This onsen is quite large and very easy to find if you keep an eye out for the ゆ sign placed in unobtrusive places on the streets.  Entry costed us around ¥850 each to enter, which covered soap, shampoo and unlimited access to all the baths available until closing at 1:00 AM.

We stayed until closing before heading back towards the station to spend the night at a internet cafe called e-PLANET Internet and Comic Cafe (ph. 0985-60-7306), located directly across from the station, on the same side as the onsen and the city centre, and costed less than ¥1400 for a six-hour pack.  This was our first foray into the whole staying-at-internet-cafes-while-travelling-to-save-money situation, but as seedy as it may seem overseas, staying at internet cafes in Japan is safe, cheap and definitely the way to go for budget travelling.

The other two girls settled down and fell asleep quickly, but since I hadn’t had decent internet connection since getting to Japan… I stayed up to catch up on all the manga updates I had missed, and before I knew it, sunlight was spilling through the high windows…

Golden Week: Kyushu~! The JR Kyushu International Student Pass
Golden Week: Kyushu~! Day Two: Absorbing the ashes of a volcano
Golden Week: Kyushu~! Day Three: Catching ferries and climbing bridges

Golden Week: Kyushu~! The JR Kyushu International Student Pass

WHAT TIME IS IT? ADVENTURE TIMEEEEEEEE! Albeit adventure times that occurred six months ago.

Courtesy of the JR Kyushu International Student Pass.

Look at all the stamps you get when you go in/out of the JR stations!

Look at all the stamps you get when you go in/out of the JR stations!

Usually, in the other islands/regions/prefectures, any person that is not classified as a ‘Temporary Visitor’ to Japan is unable to buy any sort of JR Rail Pass.  However, for some weird, special, magnificent reason, Kyushu exempts foreign students for this rule.  As long as you show your student card and/or a valid ID (passport or residence card is fine), they will give it to you.  SO MAGICAL! This is why everyone should not neglect this little island in preference for Tokyo and Kyoto and all them famous cities.

And because we’re travel hungry cash-strapped exchange students, a couple of friends and I decided to take advantage of this Rail Pass and travel all around Kyushu on an epic train-ride adventure.  There are a few itinerary plans that are provided on the JR Kyushu site, and we picked one that focused on experiencing the different specialty trains available on the train system as a guide to our own trip (the ‘Enjoy the Great Outdoors’ plan on the website).

How much was it?

  • ¥7200 for a Northern Kyushu only pass
  • ¥14400 for a Whole of Kyushu pass

Where do you get it?

Any JR ticket office! Don’t be fooled like we were and go to the JR Pass window.  Because you are buying the ticket, you need to queue up like errbody else.  The JR Pass window is only for when you are redeeming your pre-purchased, tourist-only ticket.

Any small print?

The only one really worth noting is that the international student’s JR Pass is only for unreserved seating.  If you want to reserve a seat, you will have to pay extra.  However, this is only a problem on the main Kagoshima line during peak hour, or very small trains that run maybe three times a day and everyone is trying to catch this one train.  Some trains are marked ‘Reserved Seating Only’, but this is a lie because there will always be some sort of unreserved seating.  I mean, they have to put us peasant shoestring-budget exchange students somewhere, right?

Here is more information on the Kyushu Rail Pass (in English!):

Golden Week: Kyushu~! Day One: Train-hopping from Fukuoka to Miyazaki
Golden Week: Kyushu~! Day Two: Absorbing the ashes of a volcano
Golden Week: Kyushu~! Day Three: Catching ferries and climbing bridges

Hyakunin Isshu No. 10: Osaka’s Rendezvous Gate

By: Semimaru                                                               蝉丸

This is the place –                                                       これやこの
Of comings and goings                                            行くも帰るも
And partings of ways;                                               別れては
Of knowing and not knowing too:                       知るも知らぬも
Osaka’s rendezvous gate                                        逢坂の関

Semimaru | Wikipedia

Semimaru | Wikipedia

Semimaru is only known as a Japanese poet and musician from the early Heian period, with almost nothing concrete known of his life.  At some point, he became a hermit in a cave at Osaka’s gate, which inspired him to write the tanka above and consequently caused him to be known as the Seki no Akagami (lit. light god of the gate).  This particular tanka also appears in the Gosen Wakashu, and some of his other works appear in Shin Kokin Wakashu and Zoku Kokin Wakashu.

Also, a note before we get into the interpretation of the tanka: the Osaka (逢坂) that is stated here is not the quite the Osaka (大阪) that is in present day Japan.  This Osaka is always mentioned in conjunction with the ‘gate’, and can be read as both ‘oosaka’ or ‘ausaka’ (alt. kanji: 相坂関, 合坂関, 会坂関).  I presume that this is the name of a gate that existed in Heian Japan, on the borders of present day Kyoto and Shiga prefecture.

In comparison to the HI #9, the meaning for this tanka is very straightforward.  It seems to be a direct observation of the activities around the gate throughout the day, and probably a sight that Semimaru saw every day. From looking up ‘Ausaka no Seki’ though,
I found that ‘to cross the Osaka Gate’ is also a way of expressing a secret meeting between lovers.  If you take this meaning into account, then something that seemed to be an observation of daily life becomes an observation of the nature of romantic relationships.

Osaka no Seki | Asian Haiku Travelogue

Osaka no Seki | Asian Haiku Travelogue

People meet and people part, emotions surge and emotions ebb, some relationships continue, and some stall and go no where at all.  In addition, the emotional layer that this second interpretation gives fits more into the themes that have been running through the last ten tanka that I’ve looked at.  They all deal with something to do with deeper, more abstract topics than just simple observations, and so personally, I agree with this second interpretation more than the widely given, straightforward one.

Also, something that I noticed when I was thinking about this tanka was how much more I understood from reading the original Japanese text.  It’s been months since I’ve read the last one, and I guess my Japanese has improved enough for me to read more into the actual text without needing the translations.  Having said that, this particular tanka is very simple, so maybe that’s why I’m getting it so easy… Let’s see how it goes as I start reading these again.