Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Beppu / 別府

(Better Know a City)

This was one of my last days off before I start going to school full time and working full time and won't have any days off until summer vacation. So I decided that, my usual laziness aside, I should get out there and get in one more "Better Know a City".

I decided that since I would be commuting into Beppu everyday for school, it would be a neat idea to do some exploring around Beppu, get to know it a bit better, do my usual write up, and knock it off my list before I start classes there.
Shoko, who's never really understood the point of this whole project, took a somewhat opposite view. "If you're going to be driving in there everyday from now on, wouldn't you rather go somewhere else on your last day off?" she asked. But as she had the day off of work as well, she agreed to go with me. Partly because it would be one of our last days off together, and partly because, when I asked her what she wanted to do, she couldn't think of any alternatives.

Beppu is of course a city that I've been to many times in the past. It shares a boarder with Ajimu (where I lived as a JET for 3 years), although there is a set of mountains dividing the two towns so that it is not quite as quick and easy to get from one to the other as it may look on the map. Nevertheless back in the day I used to commute into Beppu city at least once a week for Japanese lessons, which I took with a couple other JETs on Tuesday nights near Beppu University).

Beppu is the second largest city in Oita prefecture after Oita city. And it's a tourist town famous for its hotsprings. According to wikipedia, it is the hot spring capital of Japan, and has the largest volume of hot water in the world aside from Yellowstone in the USA and the largest number of hot spring sources in Japan.

However the past few years most of the tourists have been heading into the quaint little mountain village in Yufuin instead, and Beppu has been on the decline. A few years ago a friend who lived in Beppu told me that it was a dying tourist town, and as such was a very depressing place to live. I've never felt particularly depressed in Beppu, but I guess living there you might get a different feel for the place than just driving through.

Beppu also has a very large foreign population. In fact it's rumored to have either the largest foreign population in Japan outside of Tokyo, or the most foreigners per capita outside of Tokyo. (Statistics seem to vary depending on who you talk to. I'm having a hard time nailing down hard facts). At any rate, it's pretty surprising given that Beppu is way out in the boondocks in the unremarkable place of Oita prefecture, but it is largely because of the international universities here like Asian Pacific University and Beppu school of languages (where I'll be attending from next week).

Last, but not least, Beppu was the site of the JET orientation. We would have some workshops in the day, everyone would retire to the hotel, and then at night we would go out to hot sand baths and the infamous "Hit Parade" a Japanese club that features a rather bizarre, but fun 1950s cover group.
[Or at least that was the case back in my day. A couple years later the JET organization was banned from the hotels in Beppu because of loud drunken behavior late into the night. This is a depressingly common occurrence. In my first couple months on the JET program back in 2001 we were banned as an organization from two different camping grounds in Oita prefecture after raucous parties. The JET program participants, mostly young people fresh out of college, don't always mesh well with the conservative aging Japanese population in the countryside prefectures. (I was, by the way, present at both of these parties, but I like to think that my personal behavior wasn't excessively wild. I was just barely getting to know these people at the time, and I have a reserved personality among people I don't know well).]

Anyway, back to my Beppu tour...
I originally wanted to take the train into downtown Beppu, and do Beppu entirely as a walking tour, thus:
A) giving me some much needed exercise and
B) saving me the headache of trying to find parking in Beppu.

Unfortunately the day's forecast called for rain, so in the end I decided it would be nice to keep a car near me if I got caught in a downpour.
I considered postponing the whole outing because of the bad weather forecast, but this was one of my last free days to go out and do this. And plus I thought about all the times in the past I had stayed in because my cell phone weather forecast predicted bad weather, only to be mocked by a gloriously sunny day.

It was supposed to rain from about noon, so I wanted to get an early start on the day. I've been trying to get in the habit lately of waking up at 6:30 in the morning to prepare for the start of school so that it doesn't come as too much of a shock to my system when classes start. It's a bit difficult for me given that up until now I slept till noon most days, but I dragged myself out of bed bright and early anyway.

Shoko wanted to sleep a bit longer, so I agreed to delay our departure until 8. At 7:15, I woke her up so she could start getting ready, but she begged for another half hour of sleep. But at 7:45, she was still reluctant to get up.

"Come on, lets wake up now," I said gently. "It's always tough waking up at first, but once you get out of bed and walk around a little bit the worst part is over."

"I'm going to sleep for one more hour," Shoko said.

"An hour!" My voice immediately changed from a soft gentle whisper to a loud exclamation. "An hour? You're kidding."

"Actually, let's only go in the afternoon," Shoko said. "We don't really need to go for the whole day, and it will just tire me out."

Add to my list of reasons #53 why I've been making such poor progress on this "Better know a city" project. Trying to coordinate outings with Shoko, and then losing first the morning, and then the rest of the day, as our combined laziness pushes things further and further back.
Not today though, I decided. "Okay, I'm going by myself. Can I use your car?" (Her car is much nicer and faster than mine, you see.) She rolled over and let out a sigh, which I chose to interpret as a yes. I jumped in her car and sped off.

On the normal roads it's about an hour from Nakatsu to Beppu. So as soon as I crossed over the city line, I pulled my car over to the first parking zone along the ocean and got out to stretch my legs and walk around a bit.

As someone born and raised in the Midwest, I share every Midwesterner's fascination with the Ocean, and even after all these years in Japan still view it as something exotic. I walked along the ocean shore a bit and up and down the streets of the neighborhoods nearby.

Unfortunately in Japan, the ocean view is not always as scenic as you might hope for...

It's almost impossible to find an access to the ocean that's not concreted over. Which is why, despite being surrounded by ocean, people around here have to drive down 6 hours south to Miyazaki just to get a decent beach.

In some places these concrete tetrapods are necessary to act as wave breakers. In other parts its rumored they are just an unfortunate result of Japan's addiction to pork barrel public works projects, the concrete lobby, and government corruption. As a layman I don't claim to know which ones are necessary and which ones aren't, but I can say with complete confidence that it makes for absolutely terrible scenery.

A little ways further down there was a nice ocean front park. The concrete was still there, but at least there was some green grass here, plus palm trees and a nice little brick path that you could follow up along the coast for half a kilometer or so.

Shortly after I took this picture a group of pre-school children on a field trip arrived, and the park became a whole lot livelier with small children running all over and chasing the pigeons.

Around this time I was starting to get pretty hungry. (In my impatience to leave the house I had neglected breakfast). Fortunately in Beppu there are plenty of eating options open to me, and I decided to dine at one of the many Joyfulls.

Joyfull [sic] is an interesting place. It's a Japanese restaurant which serves Japanese food as if an American was making it (lots of deep fried vegetables, and grilled pork served over rice) and American fast food in a Japanese style (hamburger patties served up like steaks, and omelets filled with rice). These restaurants are all over Oita prefecture. In Ajimu it was one of the only restaurants in the whole town, and absolutely the only restaurant that served food that was in anyway recognizable to me, so I practically lived out of the Joyfull for the 3 years I was there. (I shudder to think what the long term health effects of that will be).

I thought Joyfull would be an especially appropriate choice in Beppu, because rumor has it the restaurant chain originated in Beppu. There's no doubt it's based somewhere in Kyushu. There everywhere down here, and when you get up to mainland Japan like say in Gifu there's nary a Joyfull to be seen. But I was never sure if it had started specifically in Beppu, or if that was just one of these urban legends that gets passed around among JETs.

And then it occurred to me I could just ask the waitress and find out. "This company Joyfull," I asked once I had sat down, "where did it begin?"

"Right here in Oita," she said.

"Do you mean Oita prefecture, or Oita city?"

"Oita city."

"Some people say it was Beppu,"

"No, it was Oita."

And so with that question definitively answered, I set about ordering some food. I got the rice omelet with hamburger steak, plus a side of fried mashed potatoes. And I ordered the all you can drink coffee and soda bar.

It's an odd thing. I know from years of repeated experience that the Joyfull coffee is absolute crap, and will often do weird things to my insides, and yet I can't seem to resist ordering it every time I come in. Something about the concept of "all you can drink" is just very hard for me to resist.

Anyway, I had the meal, and it was delicious (and the coffee was even acceptable). One the way up for a coffee refill, I accidentally made eye contact with another foreigner in the restaurant. And instinctively I gave her the old awkward foreign nod. The old, "I don't know you, and you don't know me, but we're both foreigners here in Japan, so, hey."

And in return I got the ever popular foreign glare. The old, "We have absolutely no relationship to each other so don't waste my time."

It's always awkward running into another foreigner in Japan. Some people think it is only common courtesy to give a friendly nod to your other ex-patriots. Other people think it is the height of arrogance to assume a relationship where there is none just because you might share a common country of origin. I've talked to people with strong feelings on both side of the divide, and as a result I'm never quite sure what to do when I pass another foreigner on the street.

After brunch I got back in the car and headed up the road. I stopped at the first big parking lot tourist attraction I saw, which was one of Beppu's 9 hells. In Beppu city there are several steaming hot bubbling springs called hell along which different themed tourist attractions have been built. There is, for example, the blood hell, in which the hot spring water naturally assumes a deep red color. Or the crocodile hell, in which the hot spring water is used to keep imported crocodiles, even though they are not native to the area.
I had been to these hells before. I went once when my family came up to visit me, and another time when Brett came over to visit. They may be tourist traps, but they are after all part of the Beppu experience.

The hot springs also contain a very strong sulfur smell, which is very noticeable driving through many parts of Beppu. It's not always a pleasant smell either. It's the kind of smell where you think to yourself "Whoa, maybe I shouldn't have had that egg and steak breakfast after all. Oh wait, that's not me, it's just Beppu."

I went up to the ticket booth to ask about admission. There were several hells adjoining the same parking lot, but unfortunately they all had separate admission prices, at 400 yen each ($4, roughly). Or, I could get a ticket for all the hells at 2000 yen.

I looked in my wallet and noticed I was a bit low on funds so I thought I'd walk along the street a bit and see if I could find an ATM machine. I got about halfway through the block, and then thought, "What am I doing?" These Beppu hells were tourist traps, and I knew they were tourist traps because I've been there before. Sure, they may be part of the Beppu experience, but that doesn't mean I need to go to all of them. A couple will be more than fine.

I returned and bought a ticket to the "sea hell". It was a bubbling hot spring naturally colored blue, with a garden, a temple, and a pond built around it. I wandered around and took some pictures. There was a small green house included in the price of admission, so I wandered through there as well.

Although there was not a full hot spring bath, there was a small pool where you could stick your feet in. I did this just for the hell of it, although it is somewhat of a limited excitement just swishing your feet around in hot water. There were towels you could buy for 200 yen afterwards to dry your feet, but being cheap I chose to walk around a bit to let most of the water drip off, and then put my socks back on over still semi damp feet.
(The foot pool was labelled in English, "Hot Spring of a leg", which I thought was cute. But having said that, I'm going to have to stop there. If I get started on all the Japanese English I found in Beppu, I'll be writing here all day.)

After that I went across the parking lot where I paid yet another 400 yen to enter the "mountain hell" which was kind of like a miniature zoo. Lots of exotic animals from warm places were being kept here, with the justification that the hot spring keeps the air around them warm enough to keep them comfortable.

I'm not sure if this comes through on the video tape or not, but what really struck me was how huge the hippopotamus was. When you see them on nature shows in TV, I guess you don't always realize how big they actually are. It wasn't quite as big as the elephant, but it wasn't that far off.

After that, I decided to take advantage of the fact that I was already parked (and reasonably sure I wouldn't get a ticket) to do some walking around the streets of Beppu.
Beppu is one of those Japanese cities where the mountain goes right up to the ocean, and so all the whole city is built on the side of the mountain slope. It's so crowded and covered with tourist tack that it can be pretty cluttered when you're driving through the middle of it, but when ever you get to any sort of an overlook point it's really beautiful to see the big picture of the city running down the mountain towards the sea.

Many of the buildings in Beppu seem like they were built in the 1950s, which is another reason why it's fun to walk through the city. It kind of makes you feel like you're in a time warp. (Plain white washed walls, with the paint flaking away. block style apartment buildings and hospitals. Windows that have a plain rectangle shape, and then a small arch at the top. And other various things that are hard for me to put my finger on, but all give the impression of architecture that went out of style a long time ago).

There was a huge white castle on top of a hill off in the distance, so I headed vaguely in that direction, taking time to go down any side streets that looked interesting. I figured the castle was as good a destination as any.

When I finally reached the castle, I wanted to look around first. I had been in enough Japanese castles to know that they are pretty much all the same, and that almost none of them are authentic (they were all burned down during the saturation bombing in the war, and then later rebuilt in the 1950s and 60s). So I fully intended to scout out the place before deciding if I wanted to spend money on an entrance ticket.

This plan was foiled when the told lady behind the ticket counter flagged me down energetically, shouting, "Over here, over here, you need to come over here to buy your ticket first."

Somewhat annoyed at being accosted before I had a chance to check the place out, I went over to the ticket booth to ask a few questions "What is this place?" I asked.

"A castle," she answered, as if I were stupid.

"But what castle? Is this very famous?"

"It gathers artifacts from all over Japan."

"Do you have any pamphlets or explanations in English?"


"When was it built?"

"Showa 30" (1955).

I was fully expecting her to say that it had been rebuilt around this time, but built for the first time in 1955?
"That recently?" I asked.

"It was over 50 years ago," she added sniffily.
There was an air of impatience from the old woman and her colleagues in the ticket booth. I got the impression they were not used to having people ask a lot of questions. In fact I even thought I overheard someone in the back of the ticket booth say, "He should either pay the money, or go away." But it could have just been my bad Japanese.

"Why was it built?"

"For the tourists," she answered. And then, perhaps sensing my reluctance to buy a ticket, perhaps eager to get ride of me, she added, "But if you want to just walk around the outside of the castle, you're welcome to do that for free."

And so I did. At 350 yen, the ticket to the castle was reasonably priced, but I didn't feel like spending the money or the time. Besides it was starting to rain now, so I thought I should start heading back to the car before I got caught in a downpour.

I don't usually mind getting a bit wet. (In fact, under the right circumstances, I've been known to quite enjoy the feeling of the spring rain on my face.) However just then I had with me all the electronic equipment that comes with modern day sight seeing (video camera, digital camera, and cell phone) and I wasn't sure how well they would hold up to being out in the rain, and I didn't particularly want to find out.

Fortunately, having seen the weather forecast, I had come prepared for this possibility. I had all my electronic equipment wrapped in plastic bags, inside another plastic bag. And now, as an added precaution, I took off my coat and wrapped that around the bag as well. (I had worked up a sweat walking up to the castle anyway.)

I headed back for the car. This time I took a direct route back instead of doing all the wandering down side streets I had done on the way here. But it still took me about 40 minutes to get back.

And as soon as I got back, got in the car, and shut the door, wouldn't you know it--the rain stopped.
Actually being a firm believer in Murphy's law, I had imagined the whole time that this would be how it would happen. So at least I saved myself the shock and the cursing at the sky that usually accompanies these moments. I just got in my car and calmly drove off.

I wanted to turn right out of the parking lot, but there didn't appear to be a right turn. (Japan drives on the other side of the road, so here right turns are where you are turning against traffic). So instead I went left, and then turned around in the first opposite parking lot I could find.

This turned out to be the botanical research center. They had some gardens open to the public, so as I was already in their parking lot anyway, and as there didn't appear to be any sort of charge, I got out of the car and walked around and took a few pictures.

Next I got back in the car and head over to Beppu park (largely because I knew there was cheap parking nearby.
Usually you have to drive in by the little ticket booth and get a receipt for the time you come in. Today, however, when one of the other closer entrances was open, I just drove in there without thinking. I noticed all the police cars around, and wondered if they were having a meeting.

The ticket booth man ran out to flag me down. "You can't go in over there," he said. "That's the police man's entrance."

"What?" I said.

"There out there flagging down drivers that don't have seat belts or are using cell phones and giving them traffic tickets."

I was briefly worried about whether driving in the ticketing entrance would be a ticketable offence, but the old man told me it was no problem and next time just use the main entrance.
Once I had been assured of this, I began to enjoy watching the cops in action. They had one man down the road with a pen, clipboard, and walky-talky. He would give the information about the offending cars, and down the road his colleagues would jump out into the street with a red stop sign and a whistle, and then direct the car into the parking lot where they could be ticketed and processed. I had a little bit of a chuckle to myself as I watched all those poor saps get flagged down by the police and ticketed.

(Shoko always gets caught by these things. Just last week she got another ticket. She initially tried to keep it from me, but she got found out when I recieved a letter from the police department telling me it was time to renew my license. I asked her what it was about, and she blurted out her whole confession before realizing the letter was addressed to me.)

Beppu park was closer to the station, so I thought I would tour some of central Beppu. But before I did that, I got out my cell phone and decided to make a few phone calls.
I have several friends in Beppu (what with the high foreign population and all) and I had been trying to get ahold of a couple of them all day without success. Before setting out again I decided now would be a good time to call some of them again and see if they awake now.

I got a hold of Justin. He and Steph were eating Sushi at a sushi bar, and preparing to go in a hot spring. They were all the way back in the part of town I had just left, but I got into my car and set off to meet up with them.
Justin and Steph are both former JETs. They're both great guys who I know a little, but don't know as well as I'd like to because they were starting the JET program when I was already heading off to Gifu, so I would only see them briefly when I was back in the area for Summer break or something.

And now they've both moved on. Justin has a new job in Beppu, and Steph has gone back home to England, and is only back to visit this week for Spring break. (You know you've been in Japan too long when not only your colleagues from the JET program have finished and gone on, but all the people who came after you are now finished and gone.)

Justin, as a former Ajimu JET, has a post comparing Ajimu and Beppu, if anyone is interested.

The boys were just finishing up their sushi lunch as I arrived, and they wanted to go to a special hot spring. I didn't know where the place was, so they gave me basic directions and then I just followed their car as we drove up.

Once we got there, I realized I actually had been to this particular hot spring once several years ago.
It was I think the winter of 2003. Me and a bunch of other guys and girls had spent the afternoon skiing at a Ski resort in the mountains of Oita. (Which was an unbelievably crappy ski resort, but that's another story). On the way back, we stopped at this hot spring. It was highly anticipated by many in our group because it was one of the few hot springs in the area that featured mixed naked bathing.

I've written a couple times on this blog before about the Japanese phenomon of onsen (public baths) and the big culture shock it was to me at first. But that was just among other men. Mixed bathing is a whole different can of worms all together.

Tourist guide books will occassionally mention mixed bathing, and usually say something like this: "Although we in the West have grown up with a puritanical tradition and are ashamed of nakedness, the hot spring bathing is an important part of Japanese culture. Even though men and woman occassionally bath together in co-ed baths, it is for them a cleanliness ritual, and they do not see anything sexual about it."

LIES lies and more lies. The mixed bath, it turned out, was cholked full of horny Japanese men.

There were two different changing rooms for men and women. Then there was a seperate bathing area on each side, and a common bathing area outside. On the women's side, there was a tunnel made of bamboo and straw that led out into the common bathing area, where they were greeted by a whole bunch of naked men standing right next to the end of the tunnel and eagerly awaiting any women who dared to come out.

Not surprisingly, no women were coming out. Almost all of them took one look at the welcoming committee, and rushed back to the safety of the women's side. The only women who were brave enough to come out into the common area were a couple octogenarians who were clearly passed the point where being ogled by men was a worry to them.

Really, putting aside for the moment how disgusting this whole spectacle was, you've got to wonder just how stupid these guys are! Doesn't it occur to anyone of them that they are scaring all the girls off? Does the idea to play it cool ever pass through their head?

Anyway, once I realized where we were, I began to tell my stories to the others. Steph had also been to this particular hot spring before, and had a similar experience. Justin and Ollie (Steph's friend) were coming here for the first time, although once I mentioned that it was filled with male perverts, Ollie commented, "I've never been to a mixed bath that wasn't." (Tour guide books be damned!)

We paid 1050 yen at the front desk. (Since I had come into Beppu without a hot spring kit, I paid another 200 yen for a small modesty towel. The big drying off towels didn't seem to be available, so I had to drip dry again). We walked through a long hallway to another room, and right before we entered the hotspring an old man behind the desk yelled at us in broken English. "heyheyheyhey hey HEY HEY. Watch, wallet, put in locker. Now!" It appeared you weren't supposed to take your valuables into the changing room, but rent out a coin locker in the lobby. Added to my experience at the castle earlier though it was interesting though how the traditional Japanese customer service politeness seemed to disappear around the tourist areas in Beppu.

The facilities at the hot spring were very spartan. None of the usual soaps and shampoos were laid out. In fact there weren't even any showers to wash off with before hand, just a spiget in the wall that let out a dribble of cold water. These primitive facilities were probably more in line with the traditional old fashioned Japanese hot spring, although given how much we had paid for admission I did comment that never have I paid so much for a hot spring and gotten so little in return.

When we got to the outside pool there were, surprisingly, some women already there. In fact the number of women outnumbered the number of men. This was probably due to the fact that it was a week day, and all the Japanese business men were at the office. But there were also some changes made to the pool since Steph or I had last been here. After the women emerged out of their tunnel into the main pool, there was a small women's area corodoned off where they could be in the main pool, but still keep their breathing space from all the guys.

The hot spring itself was known as a mud hot spring. Not to say the whole thing was thick mud but there was a layer of very squishy mud at the bottom. (As a result all of the water was a murky grey color, which is no doubt one of the reasons it was a co-ed facility, as this obscured the view of anything underwater).

The mud was so soft and squishy your whole foot practically sank into it. The water was shallow enough to sit down, in which case all of your legs became covered in it. After a while we all started spreading the mud around on our arms and chest. We weren't sure if we were supposed to do this or not, but after sitting in the mud for a while it's one of those things you just naturally start to do out of boredom.

We were reasonably sure however that we weren't supposed to put mud on our head, because there was a sign reading, "Don't put mud on the head." This seemed to me to be an odd prohibition. I had no intention of putting mud on my head you understand, but wouldn't this ultimately be a matter of personal choice? We idly wondered what the punishment would be for putting mud on the head. Would someone blow a whistle, a guard run out, and you would be asked to leave the hot spring?

The other thing we thought was funny was all the signs informing us to make sure and wash all the mud off before we left the hot spring. As if we were idiots. We toyed with the idea of trying to walk casually out of the lobby and back to our cars still covered in mud to see what the reaction of the staff would be. But needless to say we never put this into action.

Since I hadn't seen Justin for a couple months, hadn't seen Steph for a couple years, and didn't know Ollie at all, the conversation had the usual disjointed flow when you're trying to catch up with people on large segments of their life in a short time, mixed in with other inane facts and observations. (Among the interesting facts I gleaned, Justin told me that most of Beppu's tourism boom was in the 1950s, which explains the architecture).

It began raining when we were in the hot spring as well, causing us to shiver and feel cold on our upper body, while at the same time feeling too warm from the water in our body. We continued to cover our upper body with mud to stay warm.

On leaving, there was once again no soap to wash off with, but there was a shower that at least got the mud off. The smell of sulfer stuck with us though. The shower water smelled as much of sulfer as the hot spring did. I spent the rest of the day smelling strongly of sulfer, which I guess was okay because I was by myself for the rest of the afternoon.

(What irritated me somewhat more was that the rest of the week, despite several showers and vigirous scrubbing, I still smelled faintly of sulfer. And then my clothes began to take on the smell. Shoko told me that the Japanese people don't consider hot springs to be a bad smell, but her confidence in this assertion waned as the week progressed and I continued to sleep next to her smelling like a rotten egg).

Justin wrote his own description of the outing on his blog here. If you read his account, you'll note he was also plagued by a lingering smell for many days after.

I said good-bye to Steph, Justin, and Ollie, and continued onto my original plan, which was Beppu park. I returned to the parking lot (the police and their sting operation had moved on by this time, which was slightly disappointing).

I thought I remembered someone saying that if you use the parking lot for Beppu Park, you're supposed to go to the park. Otherwise there's some sort of a fine or something. Or maybe I was just imagining that and had dreamed up the whole conversation. At any rate, once I parked my car I faked going to the park just in case, and then once I was out of view of the parking attendant I moved on.

Beppu park is nice enough, but I had spent more than enough time there in the past. The fall of 2003 I had joined the DreamBall dance competition with the Earthmen group from Oita City. (Just for the social experience and not because of my dancing skills). The competition was held at Beppu park, and we used to practice there for weeks ahead of time. (All those weeks of practice paid off because we didn't do too badly that year. We even got some prize money out of the whole thing).

Once out of Beppu park (through a side entrance) I saw signs for Beppu central sports park a few blocks North East. I couldn't remember ever having gone there before, but it seemed as good a destination as any, so I set off.

In the end I never made it to the park, but I had a lovely walk through the streets of Beppu.
To start with, as I was walking down the road I came across a large cemetary off to my left. It's a bit morbid to spend a lot of time in a cemetary, but this one had a real lovely lay out. The flowers and cherry trees were beginning to blossom. And besides, I wasn't the only one walking through. It was shortly before 5 now, so lots of people were cutting through here on their way back from work. Although they all walked with a purposeful stride that was a lot different than my slow wandering.

Getting out of the cemetery, I ended up in a small canal following a little river. It was a city river, and so completely encased in concrete, but when you're in a Japanese city you can't be purist about nature and expect to have a good time. You just take what you get, and it was nice enough to follow the river along. Every meters there would be a small wooden bridge to cross form one part of the river to another.

This small canal ending up feeding into a much larger river that cut right through Beppu city. And this really was very beautiful. And also had a path that went alongside it.

Before coming across this river, I had vague plans of exploring down town Beppu and looking in at shops or getting a cup of coffee at Starbucks or something. But once I realized I could follow the river all the way along the path, I was hooked.
I'm a complete sucker for a walk along a river. Really. Give me a river, and a nice path alongside it, and that's all I ask out of life. I'm happy for the rest of the day.

And it was absolutely gorgeous. Sure it was a Japanese river, and the banks on both sides had been cruelly concreted over. But there was plenty of green alongside the path. And the spring wild flowers were in bloom, so yellow and purple flowers were every direction you looked.

And best of all was the fact that all of Beppu is on the mountainside, so as you look up the river you see the mountain top, and as you look down the river you see the ocean.
I followed the river up for a couple hours until it became dark, and then I reluctantly turned and went back down. (I wonder how long the path would have gone on for?) Every time I turned the bend I would see a view that I thought I absolutely had to get a picture of, only to find (like you always do) that what looked so magnificent in person looked so tiny and cramped on the viewscreen.

Take for example this video clip. I had a hard time even being able to get the mountain and the ocean into focus, but you'll have to take my word for it that in person it was perfectly in focus and very easy to see clearly.

The path along the river took many different forms. At sometimes it was asphalt, at times it was concrete, at times tile, and sometimes only a dirt trail. But it was always there and always clearly marked. At times it would end on one side, and I would have to cross the river on concrete steps.

The surrounding city also went through phases, sometimes keeping a respectful distance from the river, sometimes closing right in next to it. Once, when a drug store parking lot was visible from the river, I decided to break off and get something to eat. It had been several hours since my brunch at Joyfull and I was beginning to get peckish again.

Given my atrocious nutrition habits, I started for the drug store firmly telling myself I was only going to get healthy food. And then I thought, "Who am I kidding?" It was a drug store. Did I expect to find a salad and freshly squeezed orange juice?
And so, predictably, I loaded up on candy bars and quick energy drinks for my 5 o'clock meal. But I promised myself this was absolutely the last time I would do this.

Once it got dark, and I went back to my car, I realized I still had a couple of hours before the Beppu Park parking lot closed, so I decided I might as well walk on down to Beppu train station. Just to say I did. I got a cup of coffee at a restaurant by the station, and then headed back to my car.

And then I headed out of Beppu city. But the day wasn't over quite yet. On the way back, on the road through the mountains, there was still a scenic view parking lot where you can get a good view of the city lights of Beppu.

And it was a great view. Unfortunately this was yet another view I had difficulty capturing on film though. This picture turned out terrible and the video not much better. I guess you'll just have to trust me.

Bonus video from when Brett visited Japan

This is a video of our drive to Takasakiyama Monkey Park.  The actually park itself is inside of Oita City's borders, but just barely outside of Beppu, so it is often considered part of Beppu's tourist attractions.  The drive takes place mostly going through the city of Beppu

Link of the Day
From the Washington Post
When the Bush administration decided recently to terminate federal protection for wolves throughout the northern Rocky Mountains by the end of this month, one Interior Department official said it was because the animals have become so numerous that they no longer need Uncle Sam to watch over them. In fact, the decision had nothing to do with numbers and everything to do with politics. Transferring the responsibility for managing wolves to Idaho, Montana and Wyoming now is a farewell gift from the outgoing president to his staunch supporters in a part of the country where hating wolves is the code of the hills.

Together, the three states are determined to whack back the 1,500 wolves currently occupying the Rocky Mountain region by as much as 80 percent, to a barely sustainable minimum of 300, even though dozens of distinguished scientists believe that assuring the future of this still-recovering species would require a population of somewhere between 2,000 and 5,000.

Sigh. If I wasn't convinced before that George Bush was pure evil, I am now. Is there anything the man won't screw up?


paul bowman said...

Curious about how your typical occasional conversation with a Japanese speaker goes — say, w/ the waitress in the Joyfull. Mostly in Japanese, mostly in English, all one or the other, or a more random/even mix? In a city like Beppu with a high foreign population, do Japanese try speaking to you first in English or first in Japanese, on average?

ジョエル said...

It's a common complaint of foreigners in Japan that Japanese people never speak Japanese to them. That said, when I think over the day in Beppu, with the exception of the old man at the hot spring all of these conversations occured in Japanese.

Beppu has a large foreign population, but they're mostly exchange students so they can speak Japanese pretty well. So the assumption is usually that you can speak Japanese.