Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Winter Vacation Part III

Traveling from Kagoshima to Kumamoto was really quite easy, since Yoichi-san was so kind enough to buy me a shinkansen (bullet-train) ticket. So an otherwise 3-hour bus ride was reduced to 40 minutes or so on the bullet train. It was really quite cool to ride, but the tickets are a little-bit expensive (so thank you so much Arima family!). Overall, my trip to Kumamoto was a little shorter than going to Kagoshima. There, I was able to meet my grandmother's youngest sister Yoko. Yoko is married to a photographer, and her two daughters Mari and Mami are both excellent at speaking English. I was lucky to be able to visit with them, and had a great time.

The first day, after meeting  Mari, Aunt Yoko, Mami and her children (Ken and Yuri), we went to  the most famous location in Kumamoto: Kumamoto Castle.

Kumamoto Castle (熊本城 Kumamoto-jō) is a hilltop Japanese castle located in Chūō-ku, Kumamoto in Kumamoto Prefecture. It was a large and extremely well fortified castle. The castle keep (天守閣 tenshukaku) is a concrete reconstruction built in 1960, but several ancillary wooden buildings remain of the original castle. Kumamoto Castle is considered one of the three premier castles in Japan, along with Himeji Castle and Matsumoto Castle. Thirteen structures in the castle complex are designated Important Cultural Property

We had to walk there from the bus-parking since that day the tram was not running due to the holidays. However, there are lots of cool places around the castle to buy things and look at souvenirs, so no one really minded it. The castle, itself, is not all that large, but is extremely tall due to being about 40 feet off the ground. However, if you include all the surrounding buildings and the entire structure, it was a fairly large place to visit. They had a tour of the inside of some of the buildings, and of course, there were lots of places to stop and take photos. If you were lucky, you got to see the historical re-en-actors in the castle courtyard (they were more like armored power-rangers, handing out trading cards and taking photos, but they were pretty cool to see in person). Ken and Yuri managed to get most of their trading cards, but not all of the actors work on the same day, so you have to come another time in the week to see them all.

After touring the castle, most everyone was fairly tired and hungry, so we went back to Aunt Yoko's house for a brief break. That night, we had a great dinner together at Mami's house where I was able to meet Yoko's husband (Yamamoto-san) and Mami's husband. (Because Yamamoto-san is a photographer he took most of the photos, so I don't have a whole lot for Kumamoto.)

The next day was a long day of mostly scenic driving. We went into the mountains nearby, including Mt. Aso which is suppose to be a very famous place with a famous shrine. We never made it to the intended shrine, but we did however, go to the shrine of the White Snake (Shiro-hebi sama). If you go to the shrine and touch the white snake, it's suppose to bring you money later in the future (lord knows I need the scholarships). Sadly you were not allowed to take a photo with the snake, but I did manage to get a few of the mountains and of the snake's shrine.

For dinner, everyone met again for a tasty treat of yaki-neku. These types of restaurants are a lot of fun, because you are able to grill your own food at your table. It's something probably way too risky to have in America, but it's fun in Japan. However, you have to be careful not to drop anything into the built-in grill, otherwise it will catch on fire. Later that evening I walked around downtown Kumamoto with Mari, and we talked about life in Japan over coffee. Kumamoto is the size of a city I am accustomed too, so I was much more comfortable there than in a large place like Fukuoka's Tenjin district.

Sadly, on my last day there was not much to do. Mari, Mami, Aunt Yoko, and Yuri took me in the morning to do some shopping. We had lunch at a nice cafe in a mall, and after that it was already time for me to go! Somehow, I managed to receive just as many souvenirs as I had brought with me to give away, so I was carrying quite a bit of luggage back home with me on the train. It was so sad to leave, but I know I can always come visit them another time.

Maybe in spring I will have another exciting vacation? At this point who knows, but I will look forward to seeing my family, no matter the circumstance.