Golden Week- Part 3, the grand finale

Next on our grand adventure was supposed to be Mount Aso, a volcano. Unfortunately it was closed due to being a volcano that recently erupted. I was planning on taking a lift up to the crater and hiking around it, which was supposed to be a several hour adventure. It turned out we couldn’t drive anywhere near it. So are day was totally up in the air.

So it was Suizen-ji in Kumamoto. It’s a well known garden for representing the landscape of Japan. There is a large mound that is the shape of Fuji. It was a little strange.

Then there was the Kumamoto Castle. It wasn’t in the best shape. An earthquake hit Kumamoto on April 14, 2016 and knocked down a bunch of the castle wall and destroyed several buildings.

20170505_08595520170505_090158If you look closely at the photo below, you can see the light shinning under the guard house. The foundation fell out from under it, yet the corner stayed in place and the building is still upright. It’s amazing.20170505_09023720170505_092246Next door was a small and rather sad garden. The high light was the tiny train.20170505_090901Next door to the castle was a temple that was fairly unremarkable, except for the tiny shrine in a tree.20170505_092349

There were also people taking photos from the temple to frame the castle (it was as close as we could get). And then they started putting their dogs on the podium, and then more people lined up with their dogs. It was amazing.20170505_092422

And then we drove a lot on the coast and it was beautiful!

We drove up a hill and found a tiny shrine. I also made friends with a Japanese man who may have been deaf and mute, yet carried on a lively conversation with mime and pointing to pictures and maps.

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Then there was more gorgeous Ueshima Island coast line.

Apparently they have a problem with crabs littering with cans.20170505_160411

Then we found a swimming beach. Swimming beaches are a little odd by American standards. They have stairs like amphitheater seating all along the edge and then a tiny patch of sand. Really strange. At least this one had beautiful tile.

I don’t think I’ve ever posted a picture of a rice field. They are super pretty and everywhere.

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Then we went to Oniike where we could catch a ferry to Kuchinotsu, which is located on the same peninsula as Nagasaki, where we were visiting the next day. We arrived at the ferry and discovered a two hour line to get on the boat for the cars. There was something like 300 cars in front of us. It wasn’t entirely surprising because it was one of the super busy days of the holiday.  So we were wandering around the pier and two Japanese guys came up to us and wanted to know if we would join their BBQ next door to the pier. We skeptically said ok. They started out with Isaki sashimi which someone’s friend had caught that morning. Apparently it is a real delacacy and best in May and June because they are laying eggs. We were told to dip it in soy sauce and wasabi. The next food served was Kibinago fish that is grilled hole. I was freaked out but it wasn’t so bad. Lastly, they cooked up Yakisoba which was was the easiest to fill up on. There were two other guests, including an adorable little boy who couldn’t get enough of the sashimi.

These were the friends we made. The two on the right spoke pretty good English. The guy next to me told us he was a fisherman. It turned out he was the village postman. We never figured out why he lied but he thought it was the funniest thing. All evening he called himself a fisherman.

20170505_182940Later on the boat we sat near the boy and his parents. His mom was singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in Japanese. I joined in in English and the little boy totally had his mind blown. He couldn’t figure out how I knew the same song in a different language. It was adorable.

Next day the first thing up was the volcano museum. First there was a funny “movie” where things were projected onto moving set pieces to explain a volcano a bunch of years ago. They also had a section of the floor that was covered in glass that showed trees that had been knocked over in a recent explosion. In the very last section there were these cut outs that had mannequin hands sticking out. If you reached out to touch their hands they recounted their stories of the more recent eruption.

Then there was a park that had several houses that had been covered in ash. For some reason three of the houses had a large building around them, while several were still out in the open.

Nearby there was a park which had trees with the fruit in paper bags. This is a common occurance and we can’t figure out why.20170506_111512

Next up was Mount Unzen, yet another volcano! It was delightfully foggy and walking around the “Hell” was spooky with the mist and the hissing of vents. Apparently this peninsula was known for being one of the first to trade with the “outside” world. Therefore it was a hub for christianity. When outsiders were banned from Japan a while later, the Christian missionaries refused to leave and were thrown into the volcano. There are memorials around the Hell to remember these people. At the end of the trail there was a public foot bath where I enjoyed soaking my tired feet.

We then drove up to Nagasaki and saw Sofukuji Temple, which is known for being built in China and then disassembled and reassembled by Chinese builders in Japan. There are specific features of it, the only one I remember off the top of my head was the roof line that curved up.

We then headed to Peace Park. I was impressed before we even got there by the escalator that turned into a moving walkway before turning into an escalator again.

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The first glance of the park is a beautiful fountain that frames the enormous statue.

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The park is on the grounds of a former Chinese and Korean prisoner labor camp. It was the epicenter of the atomic bombing and all the prisoners died. This is an important part of World War II that I was unaware of. Japan was already fighting (and had prisoners) with China and Korea. They were worried about their scares resources and were invading other nearby countries that had more.

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There is a large statue that was dedicated in 1955. There is so much symbolism. The hand pointing up is pointing at the threat of nuclear weapons, the hand stretched to the side represents tranquility and world peace. His six pack displays his omnipotence and love. His eyes are closed which offers a prayer for the souls of all war victims. His folded right leg shows meditation, and his left leg is poised for action to assist humanity.

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Then there is another half of the park. There is a pillar that was moved from a nearby Catholic church. It was all that remained. Or maybe it was a replica?

Then we went to the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb museum. It was incredible. I had low hopes after the museum in Hiroshima which repeated itself several times. Although there were some famous artifacts in Hiroshima, the pieces shown in Nagasaki moved me even more. There were pieces of buildings, clothing, and they were laid out in a way that really told the story of the sleepy port town. One part of it that really broke my heart was finding out that Nagasaki was not the intended location for the bombing. The bomb was going to be dropped on Kokura which is further south on Kyushu island. Today Nagasaki is surrounded by lush beautiful green hills. It looks like paradise. It turns out those beautiful hills saved many people by trapping the blast.

That being said, one of the most horrifying places in the park was this beautiful river. After the bomb, people flocked to the river to try to sooth their burns. The river was damed by dead bodies. Awful.

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I think the statue at the parks exit sums up my feels pretty well.

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On a lighter note, they had many beautiful sewer covers. They were floral themed, especially hydrangea.

Our last day of vacation was mostly driving but we made a few stops. First was Kintai Bridge in Iwakuni.

Then we went to Okayama Kurakoen, which was a beautiful huge garden. It had many different areas that represented traditional Japanese gardens. It was lovely. It even included some rare storks! They were huge!

Our last stop was Okayama castle which was connected to the park by a bridge. Like most castles, it is not original, but a concrete reconstruction. There was some promotion going on, so they put up weird siding that had colored stripes. It was a pretty cool museum inside.

Of course I try all the interactive exhibits. I am disappointed that I decided not to try on the kimono…. Alas.

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One of the many things I love about Japan, but I find totally confusing are the highway junction signs. Since we had a long ride home, we passed a few great ones.

And that was the end of Golden Week.

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