Monday, October 7, 2013

Is that polar bear eating shaved ice?

Foot spa + volcano
Those fifteen minutes were faultless. As I lay back on my elbows watching this enormous mountain effortlessly churn out tons of ash and smoke while Roland and I looked on from a peak further away, I could feel the memory cement its way into my heart. This was however merely the cherry on top of the sweet bowl of shaved ice, as our little adventure started a few days earlier, just as the sun was slowly starting to rise over a glittering Beppu bay.      

With Darth Vader directing us via GPS we hit the scenic route hard as we made our way to Kagoshima via Kumamoto. Growing up with a speed demon for a mother who tolerated only the direst of bathroom breaks has obviously left some scar tissue that manifests itself in compelling me to stop and look at damn near everything I spy with my little eye. We checked out some cute/creepy topiary, walked over the five beautiful bridges of Amakusa and spent the rest of the day giggling at some unfortunate felines at a place called Cuddly Dominion. 

Just look at that face!
A stamp showing some of the bridges.
After brushing off some cat café fur we headed to our on route accommodation that was situated in a town called Minamata. I am always fascinated when history takes a little time off from chilling in the past to pop up in my immediate eye line. This time around it was my ecology textbooks that turned corporeal in front of my face as I looked out at the real versions of pictures I had studied so many years ago. You see our stop over for the evening is known for experiencing one of the world’s most devastating environmental disasters. The town is best known for the time when a local chemical plant dumped untreated wastewater into Minamata bay, causing its citizens to contract a deadly neurological disease (now known as Minamata disease) caused by mercury poisoning. The extremely sad story does have a somewhat happy ending for the people now living in the town as it is one of the frontrunners in environmental living.    

So once we had a good nights sleep and finished a very Japanese breakfast of rice, salad (I am still not on board with this Japan) and two types of fish we made our way to one of the most beautiful parks I have seen to date. The park dedicated to those who died from Minamata disease was beyond words. We saw huge open lawns where some senior citizens were playing with a traditional Japanese top that you maneuver around your head with the help of some string, there were kids playing with pretty music making installations or splashing in the free pool, a bamboo forest showcasing varieties found all over the world and a duck / koi pond that begged for a picnic by its shore. 

Heavy top spinning about your person, not dangerous at all.
 After appreciating the subtleties nature had to offer we were now more in the mood for some fire and brimstone and as such hopped onto a ferry heading for Sakurajima. As we drove all around the island we spent some time soaking our weary metatarsal bones in the free foot onsen and lazily watched a freaking volcano erupt!

Once we had showered away some of the ash that had collected in our eyes and hair (making use of the hotel`s shampoo bar to choose our favorite hair care products), we went hunting for some black pig. Kagoshima, like most other prefectures has a signature dish and I had no beef with the delicious, gamey pork spareribs that we managed to track down. We also turned a corner, while exploring the town, only to find a polar bear eating some shaved ice. The huge stuffed mascot of Shirokuma (white bear) Kakigori (shaved ice with condensed milk and in this case fruit) tempted us to try a treat that has been enjoyed in Kagoshima since the Edo period.

Shampoo bar :D
With our three day weekend running out of steam, Roland and I jumped in our little car, turned onto the express way and started planning our next trip as Sakurajima sent up one last plume of smoke to reflect in our rear view mirror.

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