First I’d like to say that I have an affinity for road trips. Some of my favorite memories are road tripping around the U.S. with my mom and siblings. However, these road trips were mostly centered around getting from point A to point B in the least amount of time. Which never allowed for many stops outside of potty breaks and food hauls.
In my mind these are great but not the ideal when you think of road trips. My ideal road trip is to stop at all the famous places and see everything that is popular in an area. And this is why, in spite of all the fabulous family trips I have to cherish, this Japanese road trip will go down in my memory as the greatest road trip to date.
It started just after my return from South Korea. I literally had a single day to decompress from one trip before I set off on this road trip. I was invited by a coworker to visit her family in Kagoshima Prefecture (state). Being that I had already planned a solo trip and was mainly focused on that, I will admit that I didn’t research this road trip. When my friend told me how long of a drive it would be I was shocked. From Himeji to Ibusuki it takes about 9-10 hours. Its approximately 518 miles away. Our trip planner said that it would take us about 12 hours to get there. And do you know why? Can you guess why there is a discrepancy between the actual time it takes to drive there and the time we were given? Because we would make many stops along the way.
If the place was famous for anything, we stopped and took pictures. If the food was noteworthy, we stopped to try it. If so and so’s grandma had a good experience at that one place, that one time, we stopped there and had that same experience. And it was awesome. I spent close to a week, eating, practicing my Japanese listening and speaking skills, learning about Japanese music, dating, New Years customs, onsening, sand bathing, playing car Uno, slumber partying, eating weirdly delicious foods, claiming a Japanese hero as my own, finding my favorite Japanese mascot, eating said mascot and so on. It was epically awesome.
The following pictures are from this trip. Expect a brief summary of each. Enjoy.
Before leaving on this road trip I decided that I wanted to give gifts to everyone traveling with us and also to our host’s mom who we would stay with. So I baked gingerbread cookies. These cookies were delicious. I also decorated them. However, I put them in their bags too soon and the icing hadn’t fully dried. So what the recipients actually got looked much different than these pictures. I tried dude. I tried. We can’t all be Paula Stewart. lol Yes, I said Paula Stewart.
After a few hours of driving we stopped to buy omiyage. In Japanese culture, whenever you travel to or from a new place, you bring back treats for everyone. Along the highway, there is always one gas station and next to it is a place to buy food and omiyage. They generally sell whatever the area/prefecture is known for. At our first stop, my hosts bought gifts for all the family members that we would see/meet along the way.
Our next stop was in Hiroshima for dinner. We ate a restaurant owned by my host’s aunt. I spent quite a bit of time trying to get a good picture of the highway sign that read ‘Hiroshima’. This was the best picture that I could manage while the car was moving. Also the meal that we shared was delicious. It was the first time that I’d eaten fish from a fish head. I picked that sucker clean though.
Here you can see a random selfie. Next is a picture of us at a mini version of the Floating Torii gate at Itsukushima Shrine. The real gates are in the Hiroshima Bay. When the tide is high you can only see the gates but when the tide is low you can walk to the gate.
On this trip I learned a bit of Japanese geography. there are 6,852 islands that make up Japan. The four main islands are Honshu, where I live, Hokkaido, Shikoku and Kyushu, where we were traveling to. The bridge that connects Honshu island to Kyushu island was massive. We stopped just before crossing the bridge to take pictures.
We slept for a few hours in the car. Then we ate breakfast. Ramen is the breakfast of champions!
There were so many tolls and tunnels along the route that I was very happy to see the mountains.
The view of Sakurajima Volcano was awesome. This was the first clear picture that we could take. We did try to take pictures during the drive but they weren’t good. Later in the trip we travel by ferry to the active volcano. Very cool.
This was my first onsen experience. I added a picture that I took explaining how to onsen. For my first onsen we visited a small place near our host’s home. I learned that many of the families that live in Ibusuki don’t shower or bathe at home. Everyday they go once or twice to the onsen to bathe. This was new for me but I quickly adjusted. I boiled the first time because I stayed in the bath too long. I learned that you only need about 5 mins.
If you didn’t read the info in the pic then I will explain. First you take off all your belongings. You should take a wash towel and any soap that you will use to bathe. You bathe at little stations around the bath. In most onsen you should be clean before getting into the bath. Many ladies were washing their hair and doing all their normal ablutions. Look that word up. Its my new favorite. They were super curious about my hair and tattoos. I explained why I didn’t need to wash my hair everyday. I chatted to many young and old ladies. Prior to coming to Japan, I was told many times about how many things my tattoos would restrict me from. But this is simply not true. Yes, there are places that will not allow you to enter if you have tattoos but more and more there are foreigner friendly places that realize that my having a tattoo does not make me a part of some Japanese mafia.
For obvious reasons, there are no pictures of me inside the onsen. However, I took pictures outside of each onsen and many pictures of the sand bath which was amazing. Here you can see the entrance to the sand bath. The machine is where you can choose what you wanted. We each bought one ticket for the sand bath, one towel ticket and ticket for the onsen. Then we were given Yukatas and a towel. There is a women’s locker room and a men’s. They are separate. After using the toilet, we changed into our Yukata, took the key from our lockers and went out to the beach. The towel was used to keep sand out of our hair. They used miny umbrellas to protect our faces from the sun. The sand was heavy and warm. Everywhere you look, there is a clock visible. You only want to stay in the sand for 15 mins. If the sand gets too hot you can move. Then the workers will just come and rebury you. After the sand bath, you go to the onsen connected to the locker room. There you rinse off all the sand and sit in the bath for a bit. Then you can change back into your clothes and head out to the lobby to buy drinks. Outside the bath house there is always onsen egg or sweet potato that have been cooked using the onsen’s water/steam. These are delicious and I recommend eating the egg with the onsen salt.
After eating our onsen eggs, we walked along the beach and up some super high stairs to go to the best onsen ever. There we gave them our ticket, bathed (foreal this time) and enjoyed the giant infinity pool onsen with a view of the mountains.
On the way from the sand bath to the onsen you could see where they make salt. The view of Kagoshima Bay is beautifical! This is the onsen with the greatest view. That infinity pool was dope.
We also visited the House of Seahorse. This really cool seahorse museum located at the top of what looked like a lighthouse. Inside we were able to learn about seahorses, purchase all sorts of goods with seahorses on them and drink soup from a cup.
We visited the Chiran Peace Museum. Its a museum dedicated to all the teenage pilots that died in World War 2. Dude it was so sad. All their letters were their final requests to see their family, and most of all, their mothers. They knew they wouldn’t come back alive. I paid to have the English tour device. After leaving that place I was so sad. But then I saw a giant tea pot. This tea pot brought my spirits up. The area around the Museum is known for their green tea production. We had lunch and everything was made right in my world again.
On New Year’s Eve we stayed up to bring in the new year. Then we slept for a few hours and woke up to see the sunrise over the mountains. After this we went to three shrines so my hosts could pray and purchase charms. Then back home for the traditional new years meal called osechi.
We were able to visit Sakurajima, the active volcano. We took a ferry. This was the first time that I’ve ever been on a ferry in the car. We played car uno. The ferry is also known for their Udon noodles. So we had a 15 minute ferry ride to eat and get back to the car. There was no line for Udon the first trip across to Sakurajima. But on our second trip to the Island the line was a bit longer. So a bit of history of this volcano and island. Sakurajima used to be in Island with a volcano on it. However, because its an active volcano that erupts every once in a while, it is no longer an island. The lava has created another way onto the island. Also, on this island is the famous Black Vinegar brewery. Our second trip to the island, we were taken past the volcano to the brewery. The vinegar is delicious. I bought a bottle and was told that the best way/prescribed recipe is one part vinegar and four parts water.
On this trip I finally found a Japanese mascot that I could love. It’s called Kuro Buta or Black Pig. Listen to me. This black pig is the only Japanese mascot that you can eat. These black pigs are famous in this area and for good reason. They are really delicious! Needless to say, whenever I spotted Kuro Buta, I ate it. I also found some cute Kuro Buta trinkets. I bought a Kuro Buta Hand towel. If you didn’t know, in Japan, there are never any paper towels in restrooms. You bring your own. I also found Kuro Buta key chains that were super cute.
When I say that I ate this whole trip I’m not exaggerating. My hosts were diligent about having us try all the food that is famous everywhere that we went. I don’t have pictures of all of it. But it was good. We ate so much sweet potato or Imo that we made a song about it. “Imo, Imo, Imo, Imo, Imo, Imo”. Every time we spotted Imo we had to try it. Why? Because that area is famous for Imo and they cook it, fry it, bake it and dry it the best!