Weirdo in a Weird Land

Only four days since my last update, and so much has happened. But in a dash of consistency, I found an “I Love You” Internet Cafe, or more correctly “Intoneto Kafe.” This is quite a long (and the others haven’t been?), which I’ve been adding to all day, as I see fit.

I have arrived in my final destination, Fukuoka. Already within the first 15 minutes of being here I saw three things that made me want to stay, or at least confirmed I will like this place. The first was for the Robot World Cup Soccer finals, but they are in June, so there’s no chance I’ll be able to see them. The second was that I saw a poster for the second series of Dark Angel on DVD. Now, this may not seem like an important thing to some (probably everyone,) but for me, it’s a good indicator of the things that a city find important, and any city that finds Dark Angel important is good enough for me. Third, and really the best, is that this weekend there’s an exhibition of art work from Studio I. G. which have produced my favourite Anime (Ghost in the Shell,) and I can attend. Score three out of three. The city has a real vibe to it that I like, and I’ve also found a coffee shop today that has a real expresso machine. What more could I want, except maybe a Large Decaf Soy Mocha.

But, what has happened since Beppu, fart capital of the world?

On my first day at Beppu I ran into a Japanese girl who spoke really good English, albeit with an American accent. Originally she asked me if there was anywhere she could check her email, and as it happens I was on my way to the “I Love You” Internet Cafe in Beppu. So I told her “I Love You,” well, actually no, I said I was going to this Internet Cafe and showed her the brochure I had. She thought it cost too much, as she’d only just arrived in Beppu and didn’t have a lot of money at the moment. We parted way, and I thought nothing more of it.

Angels come in all manor of shapes and sizes, and this was a package I didn’t expect to see.

The next day, after I somehow had just bought 18 Takoyaki balls instead of the 12 I wanted, I bumped into her again. So I gave her some of the takoyaki and we sat and had a chat. She proceeded to tell me her story, about how she’d got married at 20 (she was 22 now) and had a child. Then left her husband because of a personal tragedy she had had, that she couldn’t cope with. She’d become a Christian somewhere along the way as well. Her ex-husband was a US soilder based in Nagasaki. He was back in the US, with a girlfriend and his mother was looking after the child. I told her my story, and we seemed to both have personal stories that connected with each other.

It’s really funny, how when I’m starting to go off the rails, and I have certain expectations of what I want, God meets those expectations in the most unusual way. In this case by literally dropping me in boiling hot water (Beppu, as you might remember is the hot spring capital of Japan.) This friend showed me her local community run Onsen, where for 100yen I could dip in a real Japanese (not touristy) place. It was an experience I won’t forget. Having these men show me friendship even though we were completly naked and shared about 15 words of each others language. It was a little run down 60 year old building, with a men and women sections, a pool of hot water for each side and that’s about it. I think I shocked the blokes in there, and those coming in. Onsens for the Japanese are a communal experience and their major wash time. Think of a laundromat for the body.

She showed me the local dish – Dango Soup – in this 2nd floor resturant which I would have never found, even though I walked past it about 5 times a day. Well, walked past the building. She also helped me get the bus to Mt. Aso, but somehow she was told it would cost 1250yen, and it ended up costing 2950yen. Oh well, it was a really scenic bus trip.

It was a meeting I didn’t expect, and a friendship I hope to keep. I taught her a new word over Dango Soup – reconciliation. She didn’t know it, and the only way I could explain it was by describing something that was together, and then torn apart, and comes back together again. That she needed to talk to him, and be truthful. In Japan, forgiveness comes from saying sorry and with the gift of an expensive present. I told her it wasn’t the present that was important, it was saying the truth, and the act of giving.

I hoped she would be able to speak to her ex-husband in the US, and could reconcile with him the problems she’s had, and for them to get back together, or at least for her to be with her child again.

Aso-san (Mt. Aso) however, was like a cross between a moonscape, Satan’s Bottom and a Chevy Chase movie.

The Youth Hostel was run by this little old man and his wife. As with most places their Englsh and my Japanese combined to create conversations of bizare consequences. I thought he said I would be in an old style room, and that was because the place was full. Anyway, the Youth Hostel was a 20 minute walk up the hill from the bus centre/train station. I had phoned to make sure there was room before walking up. On the way up, carrying my heavy backpack, thinking I should have caught a taxi, the bus I had caught was returning down the hill. Stupid Me. Note to self: I am a moron. When I got there I realised that the comment about the Kombini (Convenience Store) that I walked past to get to the Youth Hostel was only one of two places to get food – I had thought there was a Kombini next to the YH. The other was a Chinese Resturant near the Kombini. So, after a bath (I’m really going to miss these baths) I walked back own the hill for some tabemono (food). Oh, and I bought a 6 pack of Good Times Beer (must get a photo, very cheap beer, very good times), knowing my English friend Rachel (from Beppu, and Osaka and Himeji) would be there. We have a tendency to cross paths a lot. Anyway, my fear about the YH being full were unfounded. There were 5 of us that night, and I think there were about 80 beds in total. I was the only male, and had a floor to myself, and the bath, and the toilets. Oddly, this was the first YH I was in that didn’t have a beer vending machine, which made me think we couldn’t drink alcohol at this one.

Anway Rachel ended up sleeping for about 12 hours, so I had the beer with a Scott girl called Michelle. At about 10:30pm (1/2 hour after we were supposed to go to bed, lights out etc) the wife proceeded to kick us out of the dining room. As we were finishing out beer and conversation the owner’s wife casually says to us, “I want a beer!” Unfortunately we had drunk them all.

In Kyushu, the people are more laid back.

The next day, waiting for the bus which was supposed to arrive at 9:54am, was 6 minutes late. Considering it only had to drive up the hill, this was the first time I had ever, ever seen somthing like this happen here. It didn’t worry me, but I took it down as a mental note. One the way up to the rim of the crater, which the day before had been off limits because of sulphur fumes (a la Satan’s Bottom) the bus stopped at a lookout to pick people up and drop people off. This Canadian and Finnish guy jump off to take photos, and ask the bus driver to wait. What the hell, the bus driver jumps out and has a cigarette. This is Kyushu, I love it.

The bus stops at the bottom of the ropeway, thus creating a ready market for lazy tourists (that is, me) that takes you to the rim of the volcano. There were the usual flag waving tour guides and tour groups (a la Chevy Chase movie.)

Once we get to the top, and pass through a concrete safety barrier and finally, finally get to see the thing it was pretty good. The crater had water in it, which was a aqua blue colour, with steam and sulphur coming off it. It didn’t stink at all, but people were still covering their faces with cloths. It looked really good. No blobs of molten lava though, but I think I’m glad there wasn’t. I went for a walk to escape the tour groups, school kids and tour guide. There was a path around the side to the top of Nakadake. It takes 70 minutes up, and 60 minutes down. The second half of the walk is almost straight up a cliff face. Needless to say, I didn’t even bother. I stopped about 15 minutes into it, and found a nice quiet remote spot.

There were lots of rocks around, large, small mostly loose.

I decided to build a cairn. describes it as “A mound of stones erected as a memorial or marker.” Which is pretty spot on. I was still thinking about my friend in Beppu, and some other things that I have recently and not so recently done. I felt the need to place a marker to signify a new start in my life. Although the actual act of constructing the thing didn’t seem to create within me a life changing experience, the reflection of time and the act of doing it will stay with me. I had left a small written note under the capstone, and tried to scratch a cross into it as well (the capstone, not the note.) It may only be a small marker, and it was out of the way, so not many people will see it, but it acts as a symbol of what I have done, and what I will do.

Near the Youth Hostel there’s a Buddist Temple. Not a big one, but very peaceful. Looked like it had been there for a few hundred years. It had some stone carvings, small timber structures and a few stone lanterns. I suppose the only similarity would be a small country church with graveyard, next to a quiet road. But since I’m so used to that sort of thing, it doesn’t supprise me, but these ones here in Japan do. Perhaps one day in the far future we’ll be doing tours of Sydney going through National Heritage buildings that haven’t been built yet.

Maybe then, after I’m dead, the Michael Palin of the day will create a TV series of “Mr Grumpy in Japan,” retrace my steps and will find the cairn with a remnant of the note still under the capstone and that Buddhist Temple.

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