And we have finally come to the last part of the Solo Traveler's Journal #10 about Japan. It has been a long ride since the first part where I climbed Mt Fuji!
In this part, I decided to change the pace a little and met up with a friend who I hadn't seen for 10 years since school. We decided to meet at the Kumamoto arcade area after I arrived in the city. It was definitely a good change of pace after traveling alone in this country for so long. Since my friend has been an English teacher in the JET program for a year now, a little "local" touch to the trip was more than welcome.
Now the time has come to go on a good old road trip with me and my friends around the Kumamoto prefecture. Enjoy.
Japan Travel Video
Getting from Kyoto to Kumamoto
From Kyoto, I took a Shinkansen ride to Shin-Osaka and transited to the one going toward Nagasaki. In only 3 hours, I was in the Kumamoto city area by 4 PM. I went and walked around the city for a couple of hours and attempted to visit the famous Kumamoto castle but by the time I got there (5:30 PM), it was already closed.
Looking for a guide to Kyoto? 8 Fun Things to Do in Kyoto during Gion Matsuri.
Where to Stay in Kumamoto and Aso
Kumamoto - Guesthouse TIGA - 27 USD/Night
Aso - Dyeing and Hostel Nakashimaya - 24 USD/Night
Day 1: Explore Kumamoto and Visiting Kumamoto Castle
My first impression of Kumamoto is that it is one quiet city, especially when you compare to Tokyo or Kyoto. It doesn't seem like there is much to do in Kumamoto except the castle and a few zen gardens. Most people would just go straight to Mt Aso and the different gorges that surrounded the area. It would be difficult to travel outside the city without a rented car but I was lucky since my friend who I would be meeting the next day had already rented a car for the trip.
To make amends, I decided to give the Kumamoto castle another chance in the morning. I was not disappointed.
Even though, everything is rebuilt to match what it looked like in its glorious days, it is still one impressive castle. Definitely one of the best in Japan in my opinion.
Even the barrack nearby is beautifully rebuilt. Although, I wish there would have kept a few original parts and renovate instead of rebuilding all of it.
There were actors hired to dress as samurais and ninjas for you to take selfies with. Everything seems fake and unauthentic at this point.
That said, I still really enjoyed it. The inside of the castle is a 4 - 5 stories high museum that shows the history of the place and displays the original parts of the castle.
The view of the barrack from the top of the castle. There were photos of different castles around Japan and after looking at all of them, I think Kumamoto castle is the most impressive one.
Nearby, there was another museum that shows the interior of the castle. The detail of these rooms are mind-blowing.
After traveling around Japan for more than 10 days, I have come to a conclusion that the Japanese never do half ass jobs. If they will do something, they will dedicate their lives to making it perfect.
The room with nothing in it, and yet I'm still fascinated by it. Weird huh?
And we finally met each other after 10 years! Say hello to Andrea, Rhi, and Taylor. We drove from Kumamoto city to the Aso town near the foot of the volcano, checked in to our hostel and started preparing for dinner. It was a home away from home. :)
Day 2: Visiting Mt Aso and Kikuchi Gorge
It was getting cloudy outside and I feared that it might repeat my experience on Mt Fuji so we decided to set off for Mt Aso in the early morning.
The scenery around Mt Aso does not resemble the landscape I saw from other parts of Japan. It felt more like we were driving in Switzerland or New Zealand.
We were in luck. The sky was open as we approach Mt Aso. Here was the volcano spewing sulphur gas into the atmosphere.
And we arrived at the base in no time. You can either choose to take a cable car for a fee or simply just walk up to the crater for free. We walked and it only took us a couple of minutes. I don't know who would go for the cable car, cramped into a box with several people instead of walking up, breathing fresh air and enjoying the scenery. Well, maybe the elderly but I would recommend you to walk.
Spotted a beautiful Tuscan style house on our way up.
It was refreshing to have companions traveling together in this strange land. I am grateful!
And here it was, the mighty crater of Mt Aso.
Here is a landscape that (I assume) was shaped by volcanic activities ages ago.
Our little expedition!
There weren't many things to do up there except stare in wonder at earth doing its work or maybe buy a huge ass block of sulfur of your loved ones (who on earth would do that?)
And so we walked down, tried the best black sesame ice cream ever and drove back down.
We stopped at this weird looking mountain before we headed to our next destination, the Kikuchi Gorge.
Kikuchi gorge is not far from Mt Aso. We drove for a few hours to the Kikuchi town, got lost a couple of times and luckily found a parking spot in a very limited parking lot.
The gorge consists of 2 walking trails, the short and the long ones both going in the same direction. You will stumble upon several beautiful waterfalls and rock formations along the way.
Beautiful emerald colored lake.
One of the most impressive waterfall in this gorge hands down.
Not a bad place to picnic eh?
Selfies time! I had no idea I would enjoy myself so much traveling with like-minded companions.
As with all nature in Japan, it was very well preserved.
Let's follow Rhi. She was the spearhead for this trip, finding great restaurants and locations and I couldn't be more grateful for her help.
Kawaii pose, the Japanese traditional pose for when you are being photographed. :)
Little pixies in the woods
Normally, you would see a lot of people in such an open area such as this but luck was on our side. It rained pretty heavily which dwindled the number of tourists down to nonexistent.
Gorgeous Andrea and a dreamy backdrop of the gorge. Definitely one of the best photo I took at the Kikuchi gorge.
Rhi went in barefoot, climbing trees and all. A true explorer. :)
The fact that it was after the rain made this place one of my favorite.
Nothing was between us and nature.
We left the gorge right when the sun was about to set and went off to this very nice cafe in the middle of the rice field. We ended the day with a little celebration and a tummy full of organic food.
Day 3: Roll a Boat in the Takachiho Gorge
At the hostel on the previous day, we were talking about the Takachiho gorge and how the queue for the boat is ridiculously long (4 hours), so we decided to leave for the gorge in the early morning. We arrive right about 9 AM and the queue was already an hour long.
But It was worth the wait. The cliff lining of the gorge is breathtaking! The emerald colored lake made the place even more stunning.
Since the river is very narrow, only a number of boats are allowed at a time, which is why if you come late in the afternoon, you might have to wait for 4 hours for a 6 minutes boat ride.
The rock formation around this area look somewhat like a miniature version of formations you see in Iceland.
People were struggling to paddle the boat in a straight line but in their defense, it wasn't easy. I know this because I, myself also struggled. :)
You can walk around the gorge while you wait in the queue. The river is beautiful from all angles.
And now it was time for me to paddle the boat! Since I had to paddle backward, it was impossible to know when you would hit the cliff or other boats. I constantly had to look back and watched out for the waterfall.
The sun was raging that day so it was nice to stay under the shadow for a change. The collision between waterfalls and the lake cooled down the place significantly.
Still trying to go straight, but I just couldn't!
A raft of ducks paddling with us.
Say hi to Simone. She is another JET member living in Miyazaki prefecture. We met up before we got on the boat. She is a travel blogger too so check her stuff out at SimoneArmer.com
The view from the river up the cliff was pure magic!
Takachiho gorge is definitely a good place for a date to test out your relationship. The struggle for paddlers was real.
We were actually planning to go the Misato, a 3333 Stone Steps after the gorge but since my JR Pass ended on that day, I had to make a run for the last train that leaves Kumamoto for Tokyo. Deep down I knew I won't make it so instead I decided to continue whatever plan my friends had for me and I would figure out my way back to Tokyo later.
We went to an outdoor Onsen near Mt Aso for an hour, drove back to the city, said goodbye to each other and I ran to the train station hoping to catch a Sunrise Seto overnight train to Tokyo. Unfortunately, that was full so I decided to go as far as I could with my JR Pass to minimize the cost of going to Tokyo tomorrow. I ended up in Osaka, stayed in one of the hotels near the train station and crashed for the day.
Getting back to Tokyo from Kumamoto
At first I was planning to see a little bit of Osaka but since my JR Pass had already expired, I would need to shell out 13,620+ Yens for the Shinkansen ride back to Tokyo which took almost all the cash I had in hand. I decided to leave Osaka right away and headed straight to Haneda International Airport and went into hibernation until my flight time at 11 PM.
And that was the end of my trip in Japan. From almost getting killed on Mt Fuji to running out of cash TWICE in Japan, it was a wild ride that I would never trade it for anything else. It was all part of the experience of traveling alone which continue to shape who I am. I really do believe that the more trouble you ran into while traveling, the more humble you will become.
Now for my next adventure, we will head back to Indonesia once again and attempt to conquer the second highest active volcano in Indonesia, Mt Rinjani.
Stay tuned for some crazy travel stories from me, and I can guarantee you, there will be some crazy stories!
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by BucketListly where we will follow our founder, Pete Rojwongsuriya around the world as he singlehandedly travel alone and experience different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
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