Sunday, June 07, 2009

Amagase / 天瀬

(Better Know a City)

Monday, June 1, 2009
Amagase is located right between Kusu and Hita. The main road into Hita, the 210, goes right through Amagase, and so it's one of those towns that I've driven through countless times when I visited or- stayed - in - Hita. But I never stopped to explore it before.

The main road going through Amagase is really beautiful. It follows the river though a little valley with mountains on both sides. There's a train track as well which criss crosses over the road several times. I remember many times driving back to Hita in the evening with the setting sun bathing everything in that twilight color. I would play games with myself to see if I could beat the train back. My car was just a little faster than the local train, but it would always pass me at the stoplights.

As I drove down the main road again now, I was reminded of this beauty again.
As the road went along the river, and as the green rice fields and green mountains were in the background, there were many times I would have liked to take a picture.
Unfortunately, there's no shoulder on this road, and very few places to stop. So I just drove on.

Like many places in Oita prefecture, Amagase is famous for its Onsens (W), or hot spring - public baths. In particular there's a whole little resort area built along the river called "Amagase Spa".

This is off slightly from the main road. As you drive east down the road you can see a cluster of buildings down below and to the left.
The first time I drove through this area I was a bit surprised to see all these buildings out in the countryside. I could guess from the road that most of these were just onsens and hotels, but when you're out in the middle of nowhere signs of civilization always intrigue you. You never know, there could be some really cool places mixed up in there.

A few years ago I was killing time one afternoon and I once stopped my car and had a walk up and down the streets of Amagase Spa. I suspected in advance that I wouldn't find anything interesting, and I didn't. Just onsens and hotels.

And now I return to that same area armed with a camera and video, ready to document the experience.
From the main road, I always miss the turn off. Unless you really know the road really well, the Amagase Spa turn-oo usually catches me by surprise as you come around the curve.
The entrances and exits to Amagese spa area are designed like expressway off ramps. If you miss the first turn off, you follow the main road over the bridge, and then do an awkward U-turn and go the wrong way back down the on ramp.

Parking is also very limited near the Amagase Spa area, so I just kind of pulled my car off to the edge and parked in a vacant lot before I got into the central area, and walked in.
The streets were pretty narrow, so I was glad I had left the car behind. And on a Monday morning, it was pretty quiet.

So much of Japanese domestic tourism is based around these onsens, which is why you see onsen resorts everywhere you go around the countryside. (I like a good hot bath as much as anybody, but I've never really understood onsen tourism. How many hot baths can you take on one vacation?)
I wasn't in the mood for an onsen though, so I just walked around and took pictures. There were 3 different bridges going over the river at different points, and I walked back and forth over all of them just because they were there.

The river was very beautiful, and it went through some minor rapids right around the spa district, so that the sound of rushing water was audible everywhere. Even if I wasn't in the mood for a bath myself, I could definitely understand the appeal of building an onsen resort here. You've got beautiful green mountains, a babbling river, and a blue sky.
The architecture is interesting as well. Some of the buildings are in traditional Japanese style, but others seem to be imitating 19th century European houses. There's one hotel in particular that looks like it's straight out of a Bavarian village.

Amagase station is right in the middle of all this, and they have a tourist information booth next door. I stopped in and the nice lady behind the desk gave me some pamphlets and maps for Amagase.

There were signs for Sakura Waterfall, so I decided to check that out as well. If you followed the signs, it was walking distance from the main tourist area. A little path lead you up a small hill, over a train track, through someone's garden, into a wooded area, and to Sakura waterfall. It was really beautiful.

After I walked all the way through Amagase Spa area, I walked up briefly on the main road and walked up to get a picture of what the spa area looks like when you're just driving by.

On my way back through Amagase Spa, I found a coffee shop across from the train station, and stopped there for a cup of coffee while I read my book for a while.
After that, I crossed over a bridge again and walked back to my car on the opposite side of the river.

Before returning to my car, I came across a small park. There was a trail leading up the hill, with a sign saying 1,217 steps to the top.
How much was 1,217 steps? I mean, other than the obvious answer. I had never counted my steps as I climbed up anything before. Was 1,217 a lot?

I had no idea what was at the top of all these steps, but I could never resist a trail, so I started following the steps up.

They started out by what I think was some sort of hydro-electric power plant. The power plant itself was less than scenic, and the pool od water it drew from was dark and stagnant. The scenery improved slightly as I climbed up the hill.

I can now say without any qualifications that 1,217 steps is a long way up. I was really huffing and puffing. Not to mention sweating.

I had made the unfortunate choice to start climbing up without any water. And in the month of June you can sweat out a lot, so I was feeling a bit dehydrated when I got to the top.

The stairs led up to the Kentokubo temple. And it turns out there's a road leading up to this temple for people who want to just drive up. There were a couple of cars in the parking lot, and a few other people were going sight seeing at this temple.

I took a brief look around, and then decided I wanted to get back to my car and get something to drink so I turned around and headed back.
I later discovered, by looking at a map, that had I gone just a little up the hill there was a scenic view platform a bit further up. As it was I completely missed it. Oh well.

The walk down the stairs was almost worse than going up. It was less tiring, but more stressful on the joints and shins.
I saw a Tanuki (W) on the way down. It was coming up the stairs, and it stopped and stared at me. Then, as I tried to slowly take out my camera, it darted off. It stopped slightly lower down the stairs, and starred up at me again for a long time, until I again made a move for my camera, and then it ran into the bushes.
Still, it's one of the few - times in Japan I've actually seen the fabled Tanuki.

There was a bit of commotion on the streets on my way back. One of the houses was undergoing a move, and there was a moving truck stopped. A big group of young people, boys and girls, probably about University age were engaged in loading up the truck. The roads were so narrow the truck took up most of the space, and I could just squeeze past them.
Directly behind were two cars stopped with drivers arguing with eachother, and a police officer trying to get witnesses to see what happened. I assume there had been some sort of minor fender bender (although I couldn't see any damage) and that this car accident was unrelated to the moving truck.

One of the young people smiled and said hello to me in English in a friendly gesture, and I said hello back to him as I squeezed past.
I didn't occur to me until much later in the day that I should probably have taken this opening to ask what was going on here and satisfy my curiousity. But instead I just looked around as I walked past, and then got back in the car and drove off.

I got back on the main road, and drove back to Kannon waterfall. I had seen signs from the road for this, but there had been no place to stop the car, so I kept driving.

On the way back, there was still no place to stop the car. So I drove past it and went around the next corner until I could find a bit of shoulder to park the car on. Then I went back on foot to investigate the waterfall.

I took advantage of the fact that I had parked the car to snap some footage of what Amagase looks like from the main road. Hopefully this will give you a little bit of an idea of what a drive through would look like.

The waterfall was also pretty cool.

There was a trail leading up the hill. It was blocked off, and overgrown with weeds, but I hopped over the fence and followed it up, hoping it might give me a view of the waterfall from the top down.
I eventually did get to the top of the waterfall. The view wasn't spectacular. You could see the pool of water flowing off the rock, but the view was blocked by all of the trees in the way.

After this, I walked back to the car and drove north towards Takatsuka Jizoson temple.

Before arriving there, I saw signs for Yabufudoson temple. I didn't know what that was, but there were lots of big signs for that, so I took a brief detour to follow the signs there and walk around a little bit.

Then, back onto the road towards Takatsuka temple.

Takatsuka temple was an interesting place. It was unlike any other temple I had been to before, especially out here in the countryside.
It was right on the boarder between Amagase and Kusu.
The parking lot down below was adverstised as a rest area, and there were lots of restaurants and ice cream stands.
Hmmm, I thought, this is a bit odd to have all these tourist stands up here in the mountain in the middle of nowhere.
I walked around briefly. There was a park overlooking the highway, with a couple picnic benches.

Then I crossed the road and started climbing up the stairs towards the temple.
The whole path up to the temple was filled with shops selling little toys, trinkets, vegetables, you name it. Many of them were closed down (I imagine around a festival time it's a lot busier) but many of them were open.

Again, it was a bit odd to see all of this out here in the middle of nowhere, but it was nice. After visiting lots of deserted temples up in the mountians, it was nice to visit one with some signs of life around it, even it was blatant commercialism.
And, for a weekday afternoon, there were a surprising amount of people wandering around here.

There was a big bell in front of the temple that everyone stopped to ring.
A young child, maybe 5 years old, ran up the stairs in front of his parents. "I want to ring the bell! I want to ring the bell!" he yelled. He grabbed the rope, and then his sandels slipped out from under him and he fell on his rear end. His parents and everyone around him laughed.

The top of the hill had a traditional temple, as you would expect, but it was also half a museum. A tunnel went through the mountain in which you could go through and look and many different images of a carved Buddha. And then it brought you out on the otherside of the temple courtyard.

I'm always up for a walk through a cool tunnel, although I wasn't so much interested in all the different Buddhas, and I didn't linger here long. All of the Japanese visitors were walking through very slowly and examining each Buddha, and I had to navigate my way around several slower walkers. I'm not sure what they found so interesting about it.

There was even a restaurant attatched to this temple. I hadn't eaten lunch yet, so I stopped in and ordered curry rice with a cup of coffee. I sat in the restaurant and read my book for about 20 minutes or so, and then decided to move on to the next stop.

I headed south this time. I followed signs for Amagase flower park, and I ended up at this sports ground which didn't have a lot of flowers there at all. I wandered around the grounds for a while, and then moved on.

After a few wrong turns, I made it to Amagase rose gardens, which had been indicated on all the pamphlets as a major tourist destination.
It was after 5 by the time I got there, so the actual greenhouses were closed. (No huge loss really). I just wandered around the gardens outside instead.

My last stop was Itsuma Plateau. This was located up in the mountains a bit, so I had to follow a long and winding road to get there. And once I was there, I wasn't sure what there was to do. There was a flower park, but I think they were closing down. Everybody looked at me like I wasn't supposed to be there when I drove in the entrance.
However none of them actively stopped me. So I just ignored their gazes, drove through, got out of the car, and took a few pictures.

And then on that note, I decided to call it a day and headed home.

Addendum: Jion Waterfall is right in between Kusu and Amagase. Amagase town claims it as their own on their pamphlets, but I didn't go to it this time around because I already covered in in my post on Kusu.
Below are recycled pictures and videos from that post. For description, go to the post on Kusu here.

Also part of Matsubara Dam is in Amagase as well. For that see my post on Oyama.
Amagase Links:
More online travalogues: Amagase Onsens andGood News Bike Ride: Amagase ,
Amagase photos on Flickr,

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