Friday, August 07, 2009

Kamiura / 上浦

(Better Know a City)

Monday, July 13, 2009
It was a hot July day when I drove into Kamiura.
The city was directly south from Tsukumi along the coast. And to the best of my recollection, it was the only first time I had set foot in the city.

Not knowing what to do, my first stop was the rest area along the road. (Sato no eki in Japanese--and in the case of Kamiura apparently named shiosai no eki).

I asked for some maps of Kamiura.
"We don't have any recent brochures of Kamiura," the woman behind the counter said. "Since the town was merged into Saiki, they stopped printing new brochures for Kamiura. Are old ones okay?"

"Yeah, old ones are fine," I answered.

I walked around the grounds for a while and admired the mountains and the ocean. Then I got back in my car and drove down to the beach resort: Zeai Park.
There was a large parking area, and the park had cabins and other camping facilities. But on a Monday afternoon there were very few people there.

Actually, the only other people there were, oddly enough, a group of other Caucasian looking foreigners playing in the water.
I tried not to stare at them, but in the Japanese countryside foreigners are rare enough that we have a hard time not staring at each other. And of course, asking ourselves the question, "Now who do you suppose they are? And what are they doing out here in the Japanese countryside?"
I caught them looking back at me occasionally, so no doubt they were asking themselves the same question.

I also ran into a Japanese swimmer as I was walking along the beach. He had just come out of the water, and he struck up a conversation with me. "Excuse me, but are you a foreigner?" he asked.

I don't usually like to comment on my own appearance, but in this case I think I can safely say that it is very obvious that I'm not Japanese. His question must have been out of politeness only.

I answered in the affirmative. Yes, I was a foreigner. When he asked where I was from, I answered America.
"And is everyone from America," he asked, indicating the Caucasian girls swimming.

"Oh, I'm not with them," I explained.
He had a hard time believing that I wasn't connected with them at all. And indeed, it did seem like a big coincidence that there were two groups of foreigners at the same beach at the same time out in this little countryside town.

"Are you from Kamiura?" I asked him.
"Originally, yes."
"What's interesting to see here?" I asked.

He thought for a moment. "Here? There's absolutely nothing interesting to see in this town. Where are you staying now?"
"In Nakatsu."
"Same as Nakatsu," he replied. "Absolutely nothing interesting."

He was right in the sense that there was little to no shopping or restaurants in Kamiura. But the coast was absolutely beautiful.
After the beach there was a path that lead around the rocks and to some natural tide pools. The water was crystal clear and beautiful to look at.

There was a path up the mountain which led to the Tenkai observatory, which offered a great view of the town.

Shortly down the road from Zeai park was another parking lot by another beach area. I stopped the car here to take a quick look, but I didn't see anything interesting.

What fascinated me more was the mountainside along the ocean. Because the mountains in Japan often go right up to the ocean, the houses are built onto the mountainside, and it's very beautiful to see these little mountain neighborhoods. There is lots of green on the mountains this time of year, and it makes everything look interesting. Even the graveyard built on the mountainside looked very beautiful.

There was a temple built on the mountainside. (Sengenin, I think, was the name of it.) And I followed the steps up the mountain to get a better look at not only it, but of the rest of the houses as well.

Back in the car for another beautiful drive along the coast road. (Unfortunately I have neither video nor pictures of this drive because I was driving at the time. But you'll just have to take my word for it that it was beautiful.)
I stopped the car by a small fishing port, and a shrine on a hill.

Then I and walked over to view Odano beach (I hope I'm getting that name right) which was not very scenic at all.

The beach appeared to be undergoing some sort of construction, so I just kept on walking.

A bit further up the road was Kamidozaki Natural park and look out point. I stopped my car in the parking lot and looked at my map as I tried to figure out where I was.

There was an older Japanese man who was also fiddling with his map. He had a map of Tsukumi and was going sightseeing in Tsukumi for the day (much as I had done myself a month previous). For a moment I thought I might have accidentally crossed the boarder back into Tsukumi, but we both checked our maps and it turned out he was the one who had made the mistake.
Kamidozaki was very close to the boarder line though, and hiking up the trail I could see Mamoto peninsula and Hotojima Island in Tsukumi.

Since it was mid-July, and because the Kyushu summers can be blisteringly hot, I am a lot more cautious about embarking on even short hikes now than I would be earlier in the year. But I had been guzzling down water all day, and I brought with me another water bottle, so I figured I would stay well hydrated.

I reached the top of the hill without any major problems, but by the time I finished I was completely drenched in sweat. And I mean drenched. I might as well have just jumped in the ocean.

The hike up was fairly scenic. The cicadas were chirping very loud this time of year, but the insects were not a nuisance. There were benches along the way in which I could stop and rest and get different views of the ocean as I hiked up.

And at the top was a 3 story little wooden pavilion from which I got a great view of the coast line. The pictures barely do it justice, but this view was totally worth the hike up.

Having reached the northern point of Kamiura, I got back in my car and now retraced my path south. I retread the same coastal road I had already driven on the way here.

On the way back, I did stop at another small beach I had missed on the way up. Although once I stopped the car and looked around, I didn't really see the point of it. The three rocks you can see in the video tape, however, (mistu ishi, I think, in Japanese) were indicated as some sort of tourist attraction in the brochure.

After returning to where I had started the day, I continued slightly down the road to bungo-futamigaura.
This was, as far as I could tell from the signs and the brochures, the pride of the town. Although it was hard for me to tell why.
It was just two rocks jutting out of the ocean near the shore that someone had tied a straw rope around. Maybe I would appreciate this more if I knew the history of it.

The local junior high school was built right on the ocean coast next to these rocks. Which must give the students a beautiful view everyday when they look out of the windows.
As a tourist, though, it did give me the sense that I was invading the school ground and that I was disturbing the school day by walking around here. And as far as I could tell, the only parking lot for bungo-furamigaura was the same one used by the junior high school, so I even had to park my car right next to the school.

There were some other Japanese sight seers there, who were content to take pictures of the rocks from the coast.
Since I had gone through all the trouble of stopping my car and getting out, however, I felt impelled to make the most of it, and I walked out and climbed around on the rocks for a while. The near one it was easy to get to from the coast. The far one I never got out to. There were a number of smaller rocks in between the two, and I thought I probably had a good chance of staying dry if I jumped just right, but in the end I decided it wasn't worth it to me.

After that, I decided I wanted to check out the Gyoran waterfall.
In retrospect, the Gyoran Waterfall shouldn't have been too hard to find. But the signs confused me.

I followed signs up to Gyoran park. I was expecting some sort of park like field, but the signs just seemed to lead me up a hill, and then stop in the middle of the road. There wasn't even a parking lot, so I just pulled over on the shoulder of the road.
There wasn't a park, but there were two trails, one going up the hill, and one going down. I decided to follow the one going up the hill.
As I went up, I got a very good view of the town below. And at the top of the hill was an official look out point, where you could climb up to the second floor of the pavilion to see everything down below.

It was a great view, but I was still looking for the waterfall.
I followed the trail and the trail signs around for a long time. I came up to a couple more pavilions and scenic look out spots. I backtracked a bit, and went over what was apparently some sort of famous foot bridge (although I wasn't all that impressed).
All of this was okay, I guess, but it wasn't a waterfall.

Eventually I emerged back onto the main road, where there was an old man loading up wood into his white truck. "Excuse me," I asked. "But isn't there supposed to be a waterfall around here somewhere."

"Where did you come from?" he asked me.

"America," I answered stupidly.

"No, no, I mean where did you come from just now."

"Oh, just off that trail."

"Well," he said, "that's where the waterfall is, back there. You must have missed it somehow."

He told me it was at the bottom of the hill. I walked back through a tunnel to where I had parked my car, and then went down to the bottom of the hill instead of to the top. Pretty obvious in retrospect I guess, but somehow I had missed it.

The waterfall was beautiful. Absolutely worth the trouble it took to find it.

In my experience, most of the waterfalls in Japan make for great little swimming holes. Given how hot it was today, I had hoped to go swimming in it, and had even brought along my swimsuit and towel with me. But once I got there, I realized the water at the base was much to shallow. And besides it looked muddy and not very inviting.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed walking around the grounds. There was a temple next to the river. The temple and the river were both shaded over by the mountain cliffs, giving them a dark mysterious look.

And there was a statue of some kappa (w) as well, although I didn't understand the significance of it.

After the waterfall, I went and visited the Marinpolis Memorial park. I didn't really understand the significance of this either. It was commemorating some event, and was also connected I think to solar energy. But that's about all I could figure out.

I wandered around the town area a bit after that. I went to the main train station (Azaimui), and around the smaller shops. I was pretty hungry, so I was looking for something to eat. And I did find an alcohol and tobacco shop, at which I was able to buy some peanuts and donuts, but that was about it.

I got back in the car and drove south. Before I knew it, I had accidently crossed the boarder into the next town, Saiki.
Before returning to Kamimura, I took advantage of the fact that I was in Saiki to get something to eat. Saiki had a supermarket, something I hadn't seen in Kamiura, so I bought a couple of sandwiches and ate them in the car.

I returned into Kamiura, but I was having trouble finding things to do. There were signs advertising a hike up a mountain, but in this weather I thought it was too hot to do any serious hiking.
There was a place advertising salt baths (Shioyu). I stopped in the parking lot and looked around, but in the end decided I didn't want to go in anyway. Who knows, maybe it would have been an experience, but it appeared to be just a series of small rooms where you soaked in the salt or the salt water or whatever it was. Looked pretty boring to me.

Instead I opted to drive up and down the coast again, stopping at various places to admire the view.

When evening came, I called it a day and headed home.
I was exhausted. I had drank several liters of water, and sweated them all out again. I had a stomach ache, perhaps from drinking too much water. And I felt slightly light headed. Still, it had been a beautiful day.

Kamiura Links
Changing of straw rope at Bungo-Futamigarua,
Gyouran-no-taki The Gyoran Waterfall,
Tsukumi-bound: A "Jollytime" is had by all (includes a bit on Kamiura)

Link of the Day
Unaccountable Private Tyrannies - Noam Chomsky in Oldenburg--Start at 6:29 for the English

and Countdown: Jeremy Scahill on the Latest Revelations About Blackwater

And Rachel Maddow: Big Money Pulling the Strings of Protests

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