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


Hyakunin Isshu No. 6: On the Bridge that Magpies Cross

By: Counselor Otomo no Yakamochi (718 – 785)

On the bridge                                                      かささぎの
That magpies cross                                          渡せる橋に
The frosty white                                                 置く霜の
Is laid across                                                       白きのみれば
As night grows old                                            夜ぞふけにける

Finally! After two tanka without translation notes, this one does, and with two relatively lengthy paragraphs too wheeeeeeeeeeeeeee but first, introduction of the poet!

Counselor Otomo was active during the Nara period as a Japanese statesman and prominent waka poet.  Although he never quite made it to the level of becoming a god of poetry, his skills did qualify him as a member of the Thirty-six Poetry Immortals (三十六歌仙), being proficient at not only writing poetry, but also transcribing, rewriting and refashioning ancient poems and folklore.  Otomo was the most prolific and prominent writer of his time, and as a result was one of the compilers of the Man’yōshū, the first Japanese poetry anthology created, and had a great influence on the Shika Wakashū, an imperial waka anthology.

Magpies | Warren Photographic

Magpies | Warren Photographic

So.  Moving on to the actual tanka

According to the notes, the bridge that the magpie crosses could be symbolic of the night sky, as the black-and-white colours of a magpie is reminiscent of the streamers of stars trailing across the night sky.  Another reference to the night sky could be the white frost, which could symbolise the swirls of star dust between the clusters of the stars.

Supposedly, another layer of meaning to the tanka is to view the magpies as representations for Japanese people secretly meeting their lovers on a lonely bridge during the night, white frost building up as the night grows old.  Since this mode of communication was apparently very very common in the Japanese aristocracy, Otomo probably wrote it with both meanings in mind.

And it could be true, since the legend for the tanabata festival is based on the meeting of two separated lovers, who can only meet once a year from their exile on opposite sides of the world, with the road between them a bridge of flying magpies.  That explains both the magpies as an arc in the sky and looking like the stars of the Milky Way, and as a symbol of the secret meetings between lovers during the deep hours of the night.  However, since tanabata is traditionally celebrated in July, which is summer in Japan, I wonder what inspired Otomo to reference this legend in the depths of winter, as snow heaped along the shores and across bridges…

Tanabata | overdoor | zerochan

Tanabata | overdoor | zerochan