Japan: Day 4 — Sakurajima to Kagoshima

Thursday, March 10th 2016, Sakurajima, Japan.

I woke up early, still jet-lagged, and went down to try to find the shower room, before our breakfast, booked for 7:00am. The secret entrance found, I turned the sign on the “men only” side and entered the room. You could fit 20 people easy in there. The room is separated in two by an bay window. The first part, the change room, has a raised floor, meaning you have to leave your slippers before stepping on it. On its walls, two big shelves with as series of plastique baskets, the laundry kind, blue, pink and green pastel. A wooden bench, a sink with mirror and air dryer, and bathroom carpets finish the decoration. You enter the second part by using a foggy sliding door that keeps the steam and humidity out of the first part. At that point you should be completely stripped of your clothes, that you left in a basket, with only your soap and a little towel that, for now, you use to hide your nudity. The room is completely paved. Two third of it is the shower space: two walls are lined with faucets, knee high. You have to clean yourself thoroughly before entering the hot bath that occupy the last third of the room. In our current case, it’s an onsen, as its water comes hot directly out of the spring. The water is full of yellow particles of sulfur and smell like the yolk of a cooked egg. About the cleaning part, you have to grab a plastic stool and bowl, and seat in front of a faucet (hence the knee high). You can fill the bowl and use its content to shower or, if available, use the flexible. The old school way is to seat on the stool or directly on the floor, near the hot bath and fill your bowl with its water to shower yourself. It’s time to clean yourself like you spent a day working at the french fries station of a greasy fast-food join. To do so, you use the small towel, saturate it with soap and rub yourself with it. Once done, you use the bowl to rinse any soap from your seating spot and stool, then, either leave the towel in the bowl in front of the faucet if the place is not crowded or put the bench and bowl back in place and bring the towel with you. Time for the bath. Sadly, it was closed this morning, this ritual usually happening in the evening. I still dipped a foot in the water and I was glade not to have to use it: it was very, very warm. Later on the day, I could still feel the burn on my right foot. As I was drying myself, G came in. So while he was busying himself, I went back to the room the reorganize my stuff and pack the — now dry— tent.

Breakfast came. On the menu, pickled vegetables, grilled fish and sausage, rice, cold noddles and japanese herbal tea. Everything neatly organized in small plates and bowls.

While discovering our breakfast, we planned what would be the program of the day. We wanted to hike around the volcano, enjoy an other onsen and take the ferry for Kagoshima to catch the ferry to Yakushima the next day.

After cleaning the room, we packed our bikes and rolled down to the visitor center. On the way, we found an artificial river spitting steaming hot spring water. We did like the other people, removed our shoes and socks and dipped our feet into it while enjoying a beautiful view of the volcano. While doing so, we were visited by young cats, one of them felt in love with G, asking for more cuddles. So much that he followed us to the visitor center where we had to take extra care to no let him in the building. He complained of the treatment, loudly and for a while.

The receptionist told us there was a 2km interdiction zone around the active crater and that our hiking options were limited. We opted to walk a loop along the road that would lead us to the highest point accessible, the observation deck. On our way, we were caught up by the cat. We had to be extra careful not to step on him as he would run around us looking cuddles and probably food. Amused by his stubbornness, we named him “Neko” — cat in japanese. This game went on for at least 4km and G had to take him to cross the main road. Along that path, we run into one of the wildest monument I ever seen. To celebrate what seemed to have been a crazy night of concern until sunrise, the city build a monument composed of the end part of guitars and a stylistic head of a yelling singer, all carved in stone. The kind of thing coming straight out of a Simpsons cartoon.

Our second stopped was the first observatory, a see level. That where we lost Neko to a group of tourist. On the way up, G and I discussed of all and nothing. We had a lot to catch up with, and it was good to feel like last time we met was yesterday. Our conversations would be 50% BS, 50% curses and the last 10% might have been serious. An hour later, we where at the observatory, enjoying the view on Kagoshima and the volcano.

Down, we went to get our bikes and go straight to the onsen.

Ticket dispenser.

It had been a long time since I had seen butt naked old japanese people, but you quickly get used to it and to your own nakedness. It was good tho soak in a hot bath, feel your joins and muscles relax. The locals didn’t seemed to be too bothered by us. Everybody seemed to be alone though. So with G, talking to each other seemed weird. We learned later that women can come in group and are way more chatty. Cleaned and relaxed, we took the ferry to Kagoshima, checked-in a cheap but very clean and comfortable guest house.

We went exploring the city. I was looking for an outdoor shop to get a proper raining jacket, as I was expected heavy rain on Yakushima. We discovered a Mont Bell shop which, like its name implies and its patrons believe, is a 100% japanese company. Inside, it was the Mecca of the outdoor. I bought an active gore-tex jacket. I could have bought the whole stock. Then, we went for a bite. We found a little shop with a counter and two littles tables. The waitress passed our order on the radio and shortly after, an other one left and came back with a tray of Yakitori. Beers on top of that, and we where good to go to sleep.