I'm living in Kusatsu-shi, Shiga-ken for an undetermined amount of time and teaching English as a second language at a local high school. This journal is to document my experiences, thoughts, and to stay connected with others at home and abroad.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Winter Visitors: Part 2

Smiling through the awkwardness--when I was in an onsen in Kyushu I asked a guy if he minded me taking a photo of the onsen. He thought I wanted him to take a picture of me. You can see the result.

After the first few days of sticking close to home and checking out some of Shiga & Kyoto's best sights, we decided we'd had enough of the island, Honshu at least.
On December 21 we took off for a week in Kyushu, land of onsen, shochu, and home to many battles between Japan and the Chinese several hundred years ago.

After a 7:49 Shinkansen to Hakata (Fukuoka Prefecture), we changed to a local and stopped by Karatsu (Saga Prefecture) to visit Ryuta-gama, the Nakazato family kiln. Muan Nakazato was the 12th in a line of Nakazato's that have practiced pottery since coming to Japan from Korea over two hundred years ago. Muan helped revived Karatsu-yaki during the 1920s-60s and continued firing the ancient kilns that nearly all others had abandoned the art. Muan was later named a Living National Treasure.

Muan passed away in 1985, but his son (Takashi) and grandson (Taki) continue to carry the family's torch as the 13th and 14th Nakazato potters. Their workshop, Ryuta-gama, tucked up into the hills about 5km from the coast, was absolutely inspiring. While we toured the grounds, where it appeared the Nakazato's were farming enough food to keep themselves well fed year-round. What else would a person need? A place to pursue their love, work outdoors, and a gallery of their artwork? I think it was at this point that I decided I am going to make sure that Katie and I have a place like this in the future. Needless to say we couldn't resist buying a few of Takashi and Taki Nakazato's works as well.

Monument on the site where the 2nd atomic bomb was dropped in Nagasaki at 11:02am on August 9th. It apparently detonated 500m above the point you're looking at.
Later that day we ended up in Nagasaki where, low and behold, more kin were abound! My cousin Winston just moved to Japan to metriculate at Temple University in Tokyo, so we planned on all meeting with his girlfriend, Erin, who lives in nearby Oita Prefecture. We didn't spend much time here, but naturally that stint included a visit to the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. Coming to Japan and not seeing Hiroshima or Nagasaki would be depriving oneself of witnessing (in as far as that word can be applied) one of the most devastatingly important events in human history.

The sky--the place where the bomb, endearingly nicknamed Fatman, burned a hole through the memory of Nagasakians for all time.

Katie and I found this painting in a temple near the one-legged torii.

While thankfully unable to physically witness the effect of The Bomb, artwork produced by those who did gives you an idea of what local people went through.

The famous one-legged torii, that had its better-half blown off during the blast in 1945. It still stands, in the same place, however it's worth mentioning that at the time of the attack the surrounding area was a tree-covered hillside, not unfathomable concrete.

No, this isn't nuclear aftermath, this is the next stop on our Kyushu tour: Beppu. Home to some of Japan's best onsen (hot spring) hot spots, this appears to be a former hotel or tenament that couldn't handle the geothermal heat and bakuhatsu-ed (exploded) in red and green sulphur stains.

Beppu pluses: 1) You can use the onsens for bathing, cooking food, heating your home (unfortunately I didn't see much of that happening--Japan hasn't been learning from Iceland). 2) There are free, outdoor baths in the hills above Beppu, one of which Katie and I hiked up to early Christmas Eve morning. 3) Oddly my favorite, the entire city smells like sulphur and other natural minerals, and after bathing in the odors and pools of Beppu for a couple days, my body continued emitting distinct, subtle whiffs of rotten eggs for about a week.
Cousin Winston, aka, Shiroi Oni.

Mom, Becca, and Katie in the steam that was pouring out of a gutter on the streets of Beppu. That's right, the underground springs bubble up so profusely that the boiling water spills over into roadside drains.

One Beppu minus: Near the well-known Kannawa area of Beppu, in the heart of the famous Jigoku Onsen (Hell's Baths), there is an art/antique shop with a bitter, flammingly racist man steering the helm. Katie and I were looking at chawans (ceramic bowls for tea ceremony), and the guy told us not to touch anything. When I pressed the issue, asking how can he expect us to appreciate the craftmanship if we can't feel it, he told us to leave. I shit you not. I asked if it was because we were foreigners, he said yes, so I let him know what I thought about that and left. I strongly encourage anyone who checks out Beppu to go by this store (it's hard to miss as it sits adjascent to a sex museum) and touch everything, especially the most expensive objects you can find.

Last stop, Christmas Day, Kurokawa Onsen. A two-hour bus ride from Beppu, Kurokawa is a small galaxy in the mountains with some of the classiest onsens in Japan. Even though we stayed at a relatively inexpensive place, we had our own private cottage with two rooms and a long list of amenities including 3 different kinds of robes, two varieties of slippers, and the most extraordinary meal I've ever eaten which consisted of basashi (horse sushi) as the appetizer of a roughly 20 course meal. It was absolutely ridiculous, but it came with the territory of Japanese luxury--my Christmas gift to Mom, Katie, and Becca (and myself!).


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