Saturday, November 28, 2009

Yamashita Station on the Nose Railway

Yamashita station's great green and beige paneling in Nose at the northern edge of Osaka Pref.

Suminoe Station - 住之江駅


Ticket machines at Suminoe Station in southern Osaka.

This station is next to a kyotei pool and is big enough to handle the crowds, but the night I went by to check out the local supersento there were no races--no people. The station looked as if it was in some sort of dystopian future.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Pokemon Shinkansen in Kyushu


The shinkansen, or Bullet Train, is a major part of Japan's transportation infrastructure to say the least. While the Shinkansen has been developed throughout Honshu, the central of Japan's 4 major islands, it has only just reached into Kyushu. Beginning development way back in 1991, the Kyushu Shinkansen starts at Kokura station in the north and will then travel south to Kagoshima and Nagasaki. While it has yet to connect all the way to Kokura, the route from Kagoshima to Shin-Yatsushiro, south of Kumamoto, is open.


The route between Kagoshima and Kokura is called the Relay Tsubame and involves changing to a normal express train for the middle portion. Tsubame, by the way, is sparrow in Japanese and is the name for the Kyushu Shinkansen trains. The tunnel filled route between Kagoshima and Shin-Yatsushiro takes 35 minutes at the least. Compare that to the 90 minutes it use to take using a normal express train.


I only took the Shinkansen part of the route and continued from Shin-Yatsushiro to Kokura on local trains to save money, but I was quite lucky. I was on a special Pokemon branded train. The kids who boarded with me were more than excited to ride this special train. I was also pretty excited, as were some of the adults.


The interior was free of any Pokemon stuff, but very well designed. The window shades were made of real wood slats and the seats were comfortable and very big. The branding also coincided with a stamp rally where the all of the major train stations in Kyushu had Pokemon stamps in the station. After collecting some stamps you could send in a form and receive special cards or a pen case. Information on the stamp rally, and when the Pokemon train is running is available on this site [in Japanese]. Sadly the rally ended in August.


It won't be till 2011 till the line opens all the way till Kokura, but until then if you find yourself down in Kagoshima try riding the Tsubame. It's great!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Jigenji Park 慈眼寺公園

I'm still posting things from my trip to Kyushu in August. This might be the last! Finally!

08.10 Jigenji Park - Kagoshima 2

On my last day in Kagoshima I decided to try to find an archeological museum that was written up in the tourist pamphlets. I've studied a bit of Japanese archeology and I thought it would be worth checking out. The museum was a 20 minute walk from Jigenji Station, south of downtown Kagoshima. A bit long, but not too bad I thought. Leaving the station I asked the attendant the direction to the museum. He gave me the directions, but also added something I didn't quite understand. I thanked him and got on my way.

10 minutes later I was swimming in sweat and slowly making my way up a steep slope. I saw the tallest and steepest stairway I ever had rounding a bend in the road. I hoped that my route didn't include climbing it. Deciding that cars also had to get to this museum, I continued up the road and soon came to the parking lot for the museum.

It was empty. Oh shit. No. Is that what the station attendant said to me? Was the museum closed on Mondays?


I was covered with sweat. Tired from the hike up the hill and wanting to get something out of all that work, I hoped for the best and walked across the grass field that led up to the museum.

No lights on the inside. Doors locked. ARRRGH!

Built in a tight natural amphitheater the area around the museum was quite beautiful. Stairways, much like the one I saw before, ascended up into the deep green forest that loomed above the museum. One of them paralleled a semi-natural waterfall/fountain. It was beautiful enough to make me ignore my sweat soaked shirt and aching legs to climb it. I guessed that there much be the namesake Jigenji temple somewhere up there, and at least I'd go see that. I had come this far.

At the top I saw a father and his two children playing and walking around. There was also the sound of a trumpet somewhere. I followed a trail that ended up on a road. Taking the road higher up the hill I came across a public toilet and a shrine. A shrine! There are two major religions in Japan which co-exist together, but have separate places of worship: Buddhist temples (寺) and Shinto shrines (神社). I came looking for a temple but I found a shrine. I tried to read the name and the historical marker out front but was stymied by too many kanji I didn't know.

I took a walk around the shrine grounds which were free of other people or priests. I prayed and signed the guest book. I didn't find any other signatures from Hyogo prefecture and only a few from outside of Kyushu. Pretty cool.

Leaving the shrine grounds I began to look for the temple again. Doubling back the way I came I saw the father and his children. We began to chat and I asked him if he knew where the temple was. He also wasn't sure, but he said he'd ask the trumpet player for me.

I had heard, but not seen who was playing the trumpet in the park earlier. He turned out to be a local who came here often. There had not been a temple here for hundreds of years. The temple was torn down sometime for some reason, and the shrine I had just visited was built on top of it. Even though this happened well before trains or train stations or anything else around here, the old name stuck. So if you're going to Jigenji station to see a temple there isn't one. (The last ji in Ji-gen-ji 慈眼寺 means temple.) I thanked both of them, said goodbye to the children, and walked back to the temple.

Two failures in about one hour. Great. First the museum and now the lack of a temple. Typically I wouldn't be that bummed out, but the shrine wasn't that cool. I figured I came all the way up here, I needed to see something great.

08.10 Jigenji Park - Kagoshima 5

Back at the temple entrance I found that I was at the top of that super long staircase I saw on my way up to the museum. I figured going down wouldn't be that bad. The view was great but it was a bit steep. Signs posted along the way warned me of falling and that the handrail was there for a reason. Making my way down I could see how one slip on these stairs could lead to a long fall and a few broken bones at least.

08.10 Jigenji Park - Kagoshima 4

At the bottom of the staircase I had two choices, return the way I came, or venture into the forest on a trail that lead down the mountain. I chose the latter wishing to get out of the sun. The forest turned out to be Jigenji Park. This Kagoshima city park is a sylvan playground. The kind of place Totoro would live. Everything was covered in moss or lichen or some sort. The air was wet with fresh oxygen and everything had that great green smell. The air was wet, but not sticky and humid. It was refreshing.

08.10 Jigenji Park - Kagoshima 6

At the bottom of the stone and dirt path there was a river and a nagashi somen restaurant. Nagashi somen is a unique way to eat these white soba-like noodles as they rush through running water. You take your chopsticks try to catch the noodles as they go by. Getting some you then douse them in a bowl of broth and eat away. (This site has a great write up about how to do your own nagashi somen at home, although you should wait till next summer!) I wasn't hungry, but I did get a great bottle--yes real glass bottle--of Coke from a vending machine. It was so great.

08.10 Jigenji Park - Kagoshima 3

The park I found turned out to be the something great I wanted to see in order to make this side-trip worthwhile. It was immensely beautiful. The park also had great signage with well written English descriptions of the various places. There were many Jizo statues scattered about, one from and symbolizing each of the 88 temples on the famous 88 temple pilgrimage route in Shikoku. Praying at each of these statues is equivalent to actually going to each of the temples. I saw one older lady doing this.

08.10 Jigenji Park - Kagoshima 1

The park was also filled with little bridges, shrines, and other hidden wonders. I wish I had more time to investigate, but my aching legs, sweaty shirt and pants said it was time to go. Getting back to the station and then downtown Kagoshima, I bought a new T-shirt and boarded the Kyushu shinkansen to begin my trip home.

This site (Japanese only) has a bunch of photos and information about the park.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Ojiyama Park, Sasayama

Last Sunday I drove my Mother-in-law up to Sasayama so she could meet and have lunch with some of her friends. Sasayama is the first big town outside of the Kobe-Osaka-Kyoto metropolitan area on the JR Fukuchiyama line. As my Mother-in-law had lunch at Sasayama-so, a combination hotel, onsen and restaurant, I took a quick bath (of course) and then took some photos. Here are some photos of the Ojiyama park which Sasayama-so is located in.

11.08 Ojiyama Park - Sasayama1
A picnic table.

11.08 Ojiyama Park - Sasayama2
The trees are starting to change.

11.08 Ojiyama Park - Sasayama3
Be careful with fire says the chipmunk.

11.08 Ojiyama Park - Sasayama4
Torii leading up to a jinja.

11.08 Ojiyama Park - Sasayama5
Another view of the torii.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Ibuski, Kagoshima

Some photos of Ibusuki, Kagoshima the home of the sand bath.

08.09 Ibusuki-1
The seashore in Ibusuki.

08.09 Ibusuki-2
Happy Furniture Zone!

08.09 Ibusuki-3
Lanterns around the free foot bath in front of Ibuski station.