Sunday, August 23, 2009

Kamae / 蒲江

(Better Know a City)

Monday, August 17, 2009
Shortly after I first arrived in Japan, there was a welcome party for the new JETs in Kamae town, at the Kamae Marine Cultural Center.
I had been in Japan for less than 2 months at that point. Because I tend to make friends slowly, I was still uncomfortable around everyone.
Also I wasn't drinking that night, but it was a wild night of binge drinking for just about everyone else.
So I remember it as an awkward night of being dead sober around a bunch of drunken people I wasn't comfortable with.
(I also remember one of the Canadian JETs got drunk and threw up on himself, and then as me and another fellow tried to help him, he was so far gone he spoke to us only in Japanese, despite us repeatedly telling him there were no Japanese people around.)

After that night the JET community was, as a group, henceforth banned from the Kamae Marine Cultural Center. Apparently the skinny dipping in the middle of the night was the straw that had broken the camels back. It was the first of many places we ended up getting banned from that year.

Despite all this, I had great memories of that weekend. The drive down there through places like Saiki and Yonozu (see previous post) had been absolutely beautiful. And Kamae town itself was breathtakingly gorgeous.

The next day we went swimming at one of the beaches in Kamae, and my mind could barely take in all the scenery. The green mountains that went right up to the coast line against the blue ocean, the black dirt on the beach, the palm trees, the waves, the Japanese houses built onto the hillside next to the words aren't doing it justice, but I thought it was the most beautiful place I had ever been to.

Because of this, I've always been wanting to get back down to Southern Oita and re-visit places like Kamae, but never really found an excuse to do so. One of the big reasons I started this whole project is so that I would have an excuse to thoroughly explore Southern Oita. It's taken me a while, but now I'm back in Kamae town, the southernmost coastal town in Oita prefecture.

From Saiki city I was able to take a tunnel up near the top of the mountain that led me across the boarder into Kamae town.
Almost immediately after the tunnel was a small road side shrine with a great view of the town below.

Because this was so soon after exiting the tunnel, the first time I accidentally drove past it, and went through all the trouble of turning the car around and coming back.
Funny enough, from the actual shrine you don't get a view at all because the plants are in the way. But if you want to risk your life standing on a mountain road with no shoulder as big trucks go by, you can get a great view from the roadside.

I decided to risk it and took a couple pictures.

Next stop was the local road stop (michi no eki) for Kamae, where I picked up some information and tourist brochures.
Kamae itself is a small town, but the michi no eki was very busy that day. Perhaps because it was still Obon holidays.

Looking at the map, I could see that Kamae was like most of the coastal towns in southern Oita. The coast line was anything but a straight line or a smooth curve, but instead a mess of jutting peninsulas, bays and coves. It looked like there were plenty of beautiful beaches to be seen, but I would once again have to put up with a long and winding coastal road.

There was also a waterfall indicated on the map: takeiuchi keikoku. It looked like it was slightly up in the mountains, but since I love waterfalls, I decided I should see it. And I decided I might as well get it out of the way first thing so I could spend the rest of the day along the coast.

Because roads usually aren't named in Japan, it was difficult figuring out where exactly this waterfall was. According to the map I was to follow the coast road for a while, then go through a tunnel, and then shortly afterwards a small side road on the left would branch out, and I would follow this to the waterfall.

I was hoping the roadsigns would help me find the waterfall where the map was less than specific, but there was nothing.
This was the first indication that the waterfall might not be worth seeing.

So, after driving back and forth along the coast for a while, I decided to just try and find it on my own. I turned off one of the first roads after the tunnel, and wandered around that neighborhood.

Almost everything was under construction that day. I drove around several construction sites before the road was flat out blocked, and I could get no further.

At this point I almost gave up, but the picture of the waterfall on the map looked so inviting I really wanted to see it in person. (The picture, by the way, was drawn on. The waterfall was one of the few things in the tourist map in which an actual photo was not included, and instead just a painted picture of the waterfall was on the map. But the picture still looked pretty cool: water cascading down two different ledges to collect in a pool at the bottom).

I back tracked, and decided to see if there was another way through.
After some more wandering, I stopped at the local police branch to ask for directions.
There were two people standing outside talking. They seemed slightly annoyed when I approached them for directions, but they obliged me.
One of them didn't even know where it was, and had never heard of it before. (Yet another sign this waterfall wouldn't be worth seeing.)
The other one was a bit more help. "Yeah, it's just right down there. Just follow this road. Or take that one," he said, pointing to the other road I had just been down. "Actually that one might be better."

"I just came from that way and there was construction, so I couldn't get through."

"No, you can still get through," he said decisively.
You couldn't, but I didn't feel like arguing, so I just thanked them, and drove on.

I drove around more construction sites, and eventually the road turned into a gravel and dirt trail. I stopped the car and started walking for a bit at this point, but I soon gave up. At this point, I really was done.

In the distance, I saw a river flowing down the mountain, and wondered if this might be the waterfall. It's possible that a trail didn't even lead up to it, and you were just supposed to admire it from a distance. That would explain why there were no signs anywhere.

I drove back and got back on the coastal road.
Then I returned to a long drive following the winding coast.

At different points I would stop the car to get out and take pictures of various things, but for the most part I didn't capture the drive on film very well, and you'll just have to take my word for the fact that it was incredibly scenic.

I stopped at a small park by the seaside called Maruitibi for a couple pictures.

And I stopped by Kazurahara beach. There was almost no one at this beach, but it looked beautiful so I took some pictures.

Shortly after this, the coast line became entirely mountainous, and the road had to go up into the mountains for a while.

There was a look out point. The sign identified the place as "Yasuragi no michi"--or Yasuragi road. (I'm not quite sure what Yasuragi road is. There was a place called Yasuragi no michi in Tsurumi town as well. At the time I thought it was a scenic point, but after seeing two of these road signs I'm starting to believe it's some sort of path).

From here the road lead down to Hatozu beach, and it was an absolutely beautiful drive.
Although the road didn't have any shoulder for pedestrians, I couldn't resist getting some photos, so I left the car parked and walked down for a ways.

The signs along the road warned me that this was the path that the trucks took to the dump. And indeed there were several dump trucks going back and forth. It was a bit tricky driving down this road because often it was only wide enough for one car, and when I met a dump truck coming the other way I had to put the car in reverse for a while until I found a spot where they could pass me.
On foot, you were also constantly on the lookout for dump trucks driving past.

The knowledge that there was a garbage dump nearby somewhat took the shine off the romance of this area, although to be fair I never actually did see the dump. It must have been hidden out of view behind the mountains.

Once I had my pictures, I got back in the car and drove down to the Hatozu Beach park.

It was an absolutely beautiful beach, with crystal clear water.
After wandering around the beach and getting some photos, I changed into my swimsuit and went for a swim.
Unlike my swim in Yonozu (see previous post) the ocean water here was really warm. I felt like I was entering a heated pool.

The scenery was so beautiful, and the water was so clean that I didn't want to leave. But eventually I got bored just swimming back and forth, and got back in my car in search of more things to see.

I retraced my steps and drove back to the road rest station where I had started my touring.

I followed signs to the "center of Kamae town." There didn't appear to be much there. I had already picked up my maps, so I didn't bother to stop in the town hall. There were a couple banks and supermarkets, but I didn't see any coffee houses to hang out in.
Nevertheless, the whole town center appeared to be located on a small peninsula jutting out into the ocean, which gave it a bit of atmosphere. I parked my car on the side of the road, and wandered around a little bit.

I didn't stay long, largely because I realized what a terrible job I had done of parking my car. When I observed how much trouble everyone else had getting by me, I decided it was time to move my car, and go on to the next place.

I proceeded on to the Marine Culture Center.
The memory does get slightly blurry after 8 years, but I am 95% sure this is the same place we stayed at the 2001 JET welcome party.

I only vagually remembered it now, and went through the lobby not sure what to expect.

There were a couple restaurants, a souvenir shot, and an exhibit about the sea (which I didn't go into because it was paid admission).
Other than that there didn't seem to be much to the place, but I guess all the upper floors were rooms people could rent out. Perhaps this place acted like a municipally subsidized hotel for people who wanted to enjoy the ocean.

I don't remember other guests being there the night we stayed. But if there had been, I'm sure they must have been disturbed by all the commotion we caused. No wonder we were banned.

There was an outdoor swimming pool next to the Marine Culture Center. And it looked like they were charging admission to it. And it was completely full with kids, which was strange because it was right next to the ocean. I mean it looked like a nice pool and everything, but with beaches this nice right next to you, who would want to jump in the pool?

Next to the Marine Culture Center was the Motozaru Takayama beach, and it also looked beautiful. I had already been swimming once today, but I figure in this heat you can't do too much swimming.

But I decided to make a deal with myself. I wanted to see a couple more scenic points before it started getting dark, and then I would come back for a swim.

First off I went west to Seibira Mountain look out point.

This was a long drive up the mountain, but when I finally got to the top, it offered a very nice scenic view.

Next I went down this mountain, drove east, and went up another mountain to Takahira park look out point.

This was also a campground at the top of the mountain, and there were a lot of families out barbecuing.

If you hiked up the hill, there was a look out looking down at the Marine Culture Center, where I had just come from.

There was also a trail leading through the woods, which I followed for a while, but it didn't seem to be going anywhere, so I came back.

Having thus gotten in a couple more sights, I decided to reward myself by returning to Motozaru Takayama beach and going for my second swim of the day.

After getting a few photos of the beach, I changed back into my swimsuit and jumped in.

I had a good swim, although I ended up getting stung by jellyfish twice.
The first time it was just a prick on my finger. I wasn't even sure what it was until I saw a small jellyfish swimming nearby.

The second time it was a sharp stinging feeling on my arm. Like a bee sting, it felt like a small needle had jabed me. The surprise was what really made it feel painful, but the pain almost immediately faded away. (I'm from the Midwest, and don't often go swimming in the ocean, so these are new sensations to me.)

When I got the second sting, I figured that was my cue to exit the water.

It was after 5 now, and the sun sets fast in Japan, but I still had another couple hours of daylight.

I had seen everything that was really important for me to see, so I decided to check out some of the other parks on the map. I went towards Ebuto Park, for no other reason than it was close.

I never found it. Ebuto Park was one of those frustrating destinations that appears on the map, but is doesn't appear to exist in real life.
At one point the road sign said Ebuto Park was just 1 kilometer away. I drove for 2 kilometers without seeing it, figured I must have missed it, and then drove back and forth without any luck.

Eventually I decided that just walking along the coast would probably be as interesting as any park, so I did that. And took a few pictures.

For whatever reason, the fish were really jumping that day.

I often see a lot of fish jumping when I'm near the ocean in Japan. I don't know why they do it, but they like to jump.
Needless to say, it's not something that's easy to capture on camera. They're only in the air for a fraction of a second, and I'm not that quick on the draw.

I tried to capture some of it on video camera by just leaving the video on for a while and hoping they would start jumping while I was filming. It was an effort doomed to failure, but for what it's worth here is the result.

After wandering around for a while, I got back in my car and headed home.

Kamae Links
Kamae Style Blue Tourism,
Gifts from the Ocean in Kamae,
Hatozu beach Panaramic Photo

Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky at the Riverside Church

Friday, August 14, 2009

Yonozu / 米水津村

(Better Know a City)

August 13, 2009, Thursday
Yonozu (also sometimes spelled Yonouzu) is a very small town (technically a village according to the Japanese classifications). It doesn't take very long to drive through it at all, and there's not much to do there. But wow, what a beautiful place.

I actually remember driving through part of Yonozu my first year in Japan. I didn't know it was Yonozu at the time. We were just going down to a JET welcome party in Kamae, and it was one of the towns we drove through to get there. I remember being astonished by the beauty of the area, and it has always been on my mind to return someday. In fact, that memory is probably one of the biggest reasons I started this whole project--so I could be sure I thoroughly explored every scenic area Oita prefecture has to offer.

Yonozu is along the coast, just south of Saiki and Tsurumi (for Tsurumi see previous post).

I drove in and stopped at the town hall to pick up what little information I could about Yonozu.
The town hall, like most of the village, is located right on the ocean, so I walked along the edge a bit.

I got back and my car and did some driving. I tried to go north along the Tsurusaki peninsula, but the rain road petered out fairly quickly, forcing me to turn around and go back.

I made a brief stop at Awashima Jinja, one of the sights indicated on map.

Next I drove south along the coast road.
I saw signs pointing towards "Sora no Koen" (sky park), and I followed the road up into the mountains to see it.

Before I got to the actual Sky Park, there was a scenic overlook halfway up the mountain, which I turned off the road to see.

I was absolutely blown away by this. The bright blue ocean was laid out before me against the green mountains and various islands. The sun was just right to bring out all the colors.

I took picture after picture trying to capture the beauty of the scene. Each time I looked at what I had photographed, I thought, "no, that isn't right," and I would take another picture.
This is one of those views that just has to be experienced in person. Seeing this all laid out before you in all directions simply can not be captured on a little square picture frame.
It was, if not the best view I have ever seen in my whole life, at least the best view I have seen in quite some time. And I'm sorry I wasn't able capture it better on film.

I didn't want to leave this spot, and spent a lot of time here just looking out, and then reading my book under the pavillion they had set up. But eventually the thought that there might be other views like this caused me to move on.

I drove up to the rest of sky park, and parked my car in the main parking lot.

Sky park was a little park built on the top of the mountain, consisting of a main picnic area and then several small trails leading to other look out points.

All of these different look outs showed the ocean from a slightly different angle, but none of them blew me away the same way as the first view had. (Perhaps that first view had blown some sort of fuse in my brain, and nothing else could compete with it).

I started out hiking up a small hill, which lead to the first look out point. It was actually a big antenna, but they had a small platform at the base.
Again, this wasn't as good a view as the first stop, but it was actually a broader view. I could see more of the ocean and much more of the port.

From here a trail led down the mountain a ways to Zizoson shrine (which I was later told is used to pray for safety at sea.) There was another raised platform here from which I could see the ocean.

Back up the way I had come. There was another little parking lot here from which I got another view at a slightly different angle.

And, I returned to the main sky park.

I crossed the road to look at some more of the park and a map.

There was a teenage girl there who was looking at me very intently. "Konnichiwa" she called out.
"Konnichiwa," I answered. And, because she was looking at me so intently, I felt obliged to add, "Ogenki desu ka?" (How are you?).
She responded that she was fine, and then she added (also in Japanese), "It sure is hot out today, isn't it?"

"It certainly is," I responded.

I turned to study the map, and ended our conversation. But she ran up the hill to where her family was, and I could hear her eagerly reporting every word of our encounter. "I ran into a foreigner, and I said hello, and he said hello back, and then he asked me how I was, and I said it was hot out..."

"Well where is he?" I heard the grandfather respond. "Invite him over here."
I then heard indistinct yelling, which I assumed was an invitation, so I approached. "Come over, come over," the old man was saying. "Have some food with us. Have you eaten lunch yet?"

"Just a calorie mate" (Japanese energy bar) "I got at the convenience store," I said.

"Sit down, have some rice balls."

So I sat, and they gave me rice, and tea, and plenty of Japanese vegetables, and encouraged me to eat up.
There was rice wrapped in squid, and some sort of fried fish. I did my best to eat everything they served me while I made conversation with them.

The old man and woman had spent their whole lives in Yonozu. The mother and her two teenage kids had moved to Osaka, but they had returned to Yonozu for the Obon Holidays.
"Which is better, Yonozu or Osaka?" I asked, half as a joke.

"Oh, Yonozu is much better," the mother said. "It's so beautiful and peaceful, and the people are so friendly here."

"She's very fond of Yonozu because it's her hometown," the grandmother explained. "Japanese people are like that. Where ever they go, they always love their hometown the best."

"I only moved to Osaka because I got married," the mother explained.

There was one other child with them, a cousin perhaps, who was currently living in Yonozu. Given that this town was so remote and out in the mountains, I was curious if they had a foreign ALT (W) who made it out here. I asked her about it, and she said there was an ALT who came out about twice a week.

I asked some other questions about Yonozu, and the family indicated the grandmother. "She was on TV recently," they said. "Do you know the TV program, "Inaka ni tomarou?"

"I've heard about it," I answered. Although I've never actually sat through an episode, it's a well-known program in Japan and I've heard many descriptions of it. Apparently the premise is that famous television celebrites from the big cities go out to the countryside to explore and try and find a place to spend the night. Most of the time the old people in the countryside don't even know who these famous celebrities are. Everyone then has a good laugh at how backwards and out of touch the old country bumbkins are.

"Recently they did a program on Yonozu," the mother said. She mentioned the name of the celebrity who came down there, but I neglected to write it down at the time and now I can't remember who it was. It was someone I had never heard of, and the grandmother had never heard of him either. But he had come down with the TV cameras, and the grandmother had been shown on TV playing gateball (W)."

"Then there was another program they did about Yonozu on 'Darts Tour'. Do you know 'Darts Tour'?"
I did not.
"They have a big map of Japan, and they throw darts at it. And where ever the darts land they have to travel to. One of the times they came to Yonozu."

We talked some more. They gave me a lot more food, which I gratefully ate. I talked to the kids and asked them questions about their school, what they liked to study, and what they wanted to be in the future. (In other words, all the usual questions adults always ask kids. I always hated these questions when I was a teen-ager, but it certainly is the most obvious course of conversation whenever you can't think of anything else to say.)

At one point I got out my map of Yonozu, and thought I would ask them some questions about it. I thought this would be a nice little conversation that would allow them to tell me more about their town, but it turned out to be a mistake.

First of all, I pointed to various things on the map that I couldn't read, and asked them to teach me the reading of the Kanji. They didn't know, and so they argued with eachother over some of these.
(Especially when it comes to proper names, Japanese people themselves often don't know who to read the Kanji. It's one of the most frustrating things about the langauge.)

Then, I asked them where would be a good place to go swimmming. And this simple question also led to a lot of debate.

"You can't go swimming anywhere," the grandmother advised me. "It's dangerous. There are a lot of jellyfish and dolphins in the water."

The grandchildren and I both had the same question. "Dolphins are a problem?"

"Well, no dolphins don't do anything bad. I'm just saying that they're out there. And you have to watch out for the jellyfish. So you need to go swimming at a designated area."

"There's a Hazako swimming beach up near the Tsurizaki peninsula," said the grandfather.
"Yes, but you can't get there from here," the mother said. "You'd have to go around all these mountains. It would take too long. It's better to go down here to Kamae town if you want to go swimming."

They went back and forth on this for quite some time until I was sorry I had asked. Eventually I told them I would go up and check out Hazako beach. (I'm planning on saving Kamae town for another day).

We said good-bye to eachother, and I got in my car and headed towards Hazako beach.

Hazako beach was advertised on my little town map as a very scenic place to go swimming. It was up on the Tsuruzaki penninsula, but because the southern coast of the Tsuruzaki penninsula was entirely made up of cliffs and mountains there was no road going there through Yonozu. Instead I had to drive up into back up into Tsurumi, and retrace the coastal road there that I had done a couple days ago (see previous post). Then eventually there was an overpass through the mountains that led me back to the southern side of the peninsula, and back into Yonozu village.

I thought this was a very odd way to draw town boundaries. Technically Yonozu may look like one continous area when drawn on a map, but to get to the northern edge of it you have to go leave the town and go through Tsurumi.
I imagine the people up in Hazako must feel like they're more a part of Tsurumi town than Yonozu. And yet in the old days they probably had to do all their paperwork through the Yonozu town hall.
(Since the town mergers, it probably doesn't matter much anymore. All of these smaller towns and villages have now merged together with Saiki city).

Driving over the mountains, there was a scenic look out spot where I got a great view of Hazoko beach down below.

Just behind the beach was a small shrine in front of a pond. I parked my car and wandered around here for a while.

After I had explored the pond, I went to Hazako beach.
Half of this beach was very scenic, the other half was an old beat up port.
(The tourist map had been very clever in cropping its shot. They only showed the scenic half of the beach--3 beautiful woman frolicking in the waves with the green cliffs in the background. The rusted boats and big concrete tetrapods were no where to be seen).

Nevertheless, if you concentrated on the scenic half of the beach, it was absolutely gorgeous.

I drove down, parked my car, and walked around to take some pictures and video.

While I was taking this video, 3 girls called out to me. "Hello! Hello!"

I walked down, and there were 3 very beautiful (if a little overly made up) young women. The pamphlet had promised there would be beautiful girls at this beach, but I didn't believe it.
And in fact their fashionable looks and heavy make up seemed very out of place in this small fishing town.

"Hello," I said to them. "Where are you from?"
We talked for a while. All 3 of them were living in Osaka now. One of them had a grandmother in Yonozu, and so they were visiting her for the week.
During Obon season, all the young people return home to the countryside for the week.
Since most JETs first arrive in Japan during Obon season, it's easy to get fooled by this. I remember thinking myself, "I don't know what everyone is complaining about, there are lots of young people in this small country town." And then suddenly they were all gone.

And sure enough, these girls were all leaving to head back to Osaka that same afternoon.
"You must be college students," I said, guessing by their apparent age.

"Yes," they answered.

"And what are you studying?"

"Make up," one of them said.
"And also nails and manicures," another one added.

That no doubt explained why they were so heavily made up.

"Isn't this great?" one of them said to the other. "We've had a little international exchange here."
And then, feeling that their need for an international exchange had been satisfied, they said their good-byes and left. (Since they were very pleasing to the eye, I would have been content to talk to them longer, although I must admit I was already running out of conversation fast. I had very little follow-up questions about the study of make-up.)

I went back to my car and put away my camera and video, took out my swimsuit and towel, changed in the bath house, and went back out for a swim.

I don't go swimming in the ocean often, but I thought the water was surprisingly cold. Since it had been so hot outside, I just assumed that the ocean water would be quite pleasant, but it was frigid.
I had to force myself to get in, but as always happens once you're in the water and moving around you don't feel so bad.

Although when I was on the land I had thought the concrete tetrapods and the port spoiled the view a bit, when I was in the water I didn't mind it at all. While swimming I could look back at the land and see all the green mountains, or I could look out to sea and watch the ocean and the various green islands.
The weather was a bit funny that day. The sky kept clouding over, and then becoming clear again. So the sun was constantly appearing and disappearing, but when it was shinning it really made everything look beautiful. (Unfortunately most of the pictures I took of this beach where during a cloudy spell. But you'll have to take my word for it that the above pictures don't do the place justice when the sun is out.)

The ocean was beautiful. From a distance it looked bright blue, but up close it was crystal clear. Even when I was out in the deep water I could see everything below me perfectly. (If I had snorkeling equipment, I imagine this would have been a perfect place to use it).

At first, aware that I was out of shape and in need of exercise, I tried to swim vigorously from pole to pole. But after a while I just relaxed and enjoyed the view.

I was in the water for over an hour before I got sick of it.

Afterwards I went back to the bath house to change again.
Like a lot of other stuff around here, the bath house had fallen into disrepair and was dirty and rusty. But the showers still worked great so I was able to wash off most of the salt water and felt fine the rest of the day.

I consulted my map again, but it looked like I had seen all the major tourist sites Yonozu had to offer. (Excluding the hiking--which I didn't feel like doing in August.)
Yonozu is a small town, and much of it is covered by inaccessible mountains. So it doesn't take long to drive through it. But it is such a beautiful area that I decided to drive back towards the town center, park the car, and just walk around the streets for a while.

Even a simple walk feels a bit stiffling in this heat, but I drank plenty of fluids, and stopped at every shaded pavilion I could find to rest and read my book. (For example, I stopped at a place called, "Sakanasan park", near the Shiifuukan (some sort of seafood restaurant).)

I walked along the colored sidewalk, named Nakayoshi sidewalk, which was tiled with various art from the local people.
There was also some sort of shrine--Tateiwa, I think, was how you say the name.

And I took lots of pictures of the ocean.

Around 6, I decided to call it a day and headed home.

Yonozu links:
Historical Materials of the Tsunamis in Yonozu Village,
Guardian of the sea: Jizo in Hawai'i (on Google-books, mentions Yonozu briefly)

Link of the Day
Chomsky on 911 Truth and JFK cults
And The Honduras coup is a sign: the radical tide can be turned (This article is really a must read).