Saturday, May 14, 2011

Mia in Japan: Yakushima and Osaka

Yet again, I apologize for being so remiss with writing. It's hard to write about daily life, but I will try better!

One of my best friends, Mia, came to visit me in Japan last week. She will shortly be leaving for two years in Swaziland as part of Peace Corp, so she wasn't able to stay too long. Despite the time crunch we packed a lot in.

The day after she arrived, we packed up and head to an island off of Kagoshima called Yakushima, with two of my friends. This island is known for it's 3000 year old cedar trees and otherwise beautiful scenery. It was the inspiration for the scenery in a Miyazaki film called Princess Mononoke. Indeed it was beautiful.

Our biggest hike that weekend was to the oldest tree, Jumon Sugi. However, we took a different path for the first half and avoided big groups and saw nicer scenery. Despite Jumon Sugi being the most popular attraction, the path to it is not necessarily the most scenic. Also, it follows an old train track for the first half or so, so it's not quite as fun. The trek up took us about six hours (still an hour and half faster than most maps anticipate) and boy were we exhausted. Along most of the trails on the mountain there are huts where you can stay the night. So upon reaching a hut near Jumon Sugi we ate dinner and hit the hay around sundown. It started raining at night didn't stop for the next 16 or so hours. Yakushima is said to be the rainiest place in Japan, where it rains 300 days a year. While this may be an exaggeration, it sure does come down. So our four hour hike home in the morning was not dry. It quickly got the to the point that I didn't bother avoiding puddles and just trudged through streams (which were much deeper with all the rain).
My rain coat did pretty much nothing for me and by the end I was completely soaked through. Luckily, I had dry clothes in a plastic bag (phew!)

The next two days we spent going around the island, eating the local specialty (flying fish) and camping near the water. Before coming people told me that you never have enough time on Yakushima and will inevitably want to go back. They were very right. There's so much more to see!

Mia and my next outing was around Omura and to Nagasaki where I finally visited the touristy spots of the Peace Park and the bomb museum. We also went to Glover Garden, a home of a foreigner, Thomas Glover, who lived in Nagasaki when it was the only port open to the outside world. He was a major influence in trade as well as politics, as he had a hand in the Meiji revolution. Glover Garden has his house, the houses of some other foreigners and a nice view of the harbor. (I wasn't too impressed, but why would I be impressed by a foreign house? I joked that the furniture looks like stuff from Grandma Sprague's house, but it really did.

Next we headed out to Osaka. Mia's flight was early in the morning, so we flew out the day before and spent the day going to the main attractions- Osaka castle, Shitennoji (temple), the Floating Garden and Dotombori. Osaka castle was pretty nice, it has two moats surrounding it and is in a very nice park. The park was one of my favorite spots in Osaka. The Floating Garden is an observatory in a really cool building. We got there around dusk and waited for it to get dark. Well, worth the wait, the view was cool. Osaka has a lot of bridges and many of them were lit up at night. Dotombori is the main spot for Osaka nightlife. It has all the restaurants, izakaya (dining bar) and stores you could ask for. It is where the the famous Glico man sign is. There is a shrine in an alley in the area where we saw many people drunkenly praying, which was amusing.

After Mia left, I spent the rest of the day in Osaka. I took a boat ride through the city, riding under many of the bridges I saw. The river is low and the bridges are very low, and there were also a few canal locks (like in the Panama canal- but less extensive). It was a pretty fun ride, the flat-bottomed boat had windows that would go up or down, depending on how low in the water we had to sink in order to get under the bridges.

I visited a friend in Kyoto for the night and was back to norther Osaka in the morning to go to a waterfall and spent the afternoon in Kobe just strolling though the streets. I made it up to a very nice look out point that had a nice, curlicue bridge.

In a nutshell, that was my Golden Week of 2011 (Golden Week is a week in May that has 3 national holidays in a row, so many people take vacations). I also uploaded some pictures to Flickr.

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