Saturday, 21 September 2013

sightseeing in kagoshima

Our little camp woke early the next day to the sun slowly cooking us in our tents. But, after coffee and an amazing breakfast spread laid out by Mugi and Satoko, we squashed  into Mugi's massive mini van and set off for a day of sightseeing. First stop was Chiran Gardens, a "miniature version of Kyoto transplanted into the heart of Satsuma." The gardens are attached to the old houses of samurais who lived in the Edo Period (1600-1868. 

We thought it only right to test out the weaponry. 

The inside of a traditional house, the walls pushed back to catch the breeze. 

Our guide gave helpful descriptions of each garden. In this one, for instance, "you may even have a vision of a mountain hermit beckoning you from on top of a rock."
This house belonged to the old lady on the verandah, who had opened it up for visitors to see. The paintings on the sliding doors were beautiful. 

We stopped for some ice cold tea before heading to lunch. 

Hello, soba hot pot. 

Food babies in tow, we drove through some beautiful cedar-covered hills to Ibusuki, famed for its hot springs and thermal sand baths. Say what?! For about seven quid, you can take a hot sand bath, followed by a sauna and soak in the onsen, or natural hot spring.  Having no idea what to expect, we changed into yukata and slippers and made our leisurely way along the promenade, passing old men and children alike. It felt like an exotic 1950s sanatorium. 

Next, these young men motioned for us to lie down, making little towel pillows for our heads, covering us in hot, gravelly sand, and propping up little umbrellas to shade our heads!  

Unfortunately the zen eluded me and we spent most of the 10 minute session giggling. The heat was extreme and made your whole body feel like it was throbbing. But, on emerging (groaning like monsters or murmuring "Sookie", of course) you felt absolutely refreshed and tingly. 

Next, we split off into girls and boys for our first onsen experience. In other words, it was time to bond with my new friends with some casual nudity. The Japanese attitude to being neked is utterly different than in the Western world (barring Scandinavia). It's really no big deal - given that in Japan it's all about the group, and not the individual, there's a complete lack of self-consciousness: it's not about you, so get over yourself. 

In the first room you discarded the yukata and cleaned yourself of excess sand with wooden saucepan-shaped receptacles from a large, deep trough. Jo and I - the only 2 girls not to have been to an onsen before - also discarded our mini towels by mistake, making it something of a baptism of fire... but hey ho. Next you proceed to a room with many little stations partitioned off from each other. You sit on a stool in front of a mirror at one and use a shower head to wash, scrub and soap yourself. Only then can you go to chill in the onsen - think a giant, non-bubbling jacuzzi that is extremely hot. Afterwards you can sauna or take a cold shower and then go change in the extremely naked changing room. Hello, women of Japan. By this time, however, it felt completely normal and we just got on with it. In some ways I think it's really healthy for young girls to grow up seeing normal women's bodies of many shapes and sizes, and to be comfortable in their own skin. 

We settled back for the roadtrip home, only to be surprised when Mugi drove us on to a pleasure ferry over to this bad boy... Sakurajima, aka an active volcano.

By this point I was feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the awesomeness of the weekend, so of course these dinosaurs were the final straw. I kind of lost my shit. 


One last snap of the sky as we made our way home, deciding on our spirit animals, who would play us in a movie, and obviously which Hogwarts house we'd be in. (Genuinely no Slytherins in the car, always nice.) It was an amazing weekend. 

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