Tuesday, July 22, 2008

My Trip: Beppu's Hells & Meeting My Penpal

On Tuesday morning I got up and checked out of my hotel before 11am. It was a bit of a late start but I was quite tired so I needed a good lie-in.

I wanted to see a bit more of what Beppu had to offer before I left to meet my friend in the small city of Saiki. I read in the guidebook I took, 'Lonely Planet', that Beppu has two types of onsen. There are the ones for baths, and ones for looking at. These are called jigoku (地獄), or 'hells'.

A group of hells was quite close (or so it looked on the map) to my hotel, so I decided to walk there after checking-out. It turned out to be a gruelling uphill hike in 33C. I was so overheated I had to sit down several times during the walk, which took about 40 minutes.

They were called the Kannawa hells, and there are loads of different ones to choose from. I only had time for two so I went to Shiraike Jigoku (White Pond Hell) and Umi Jigoku (Sea Hell). The entrance fee for both was about Y400, but you can buy a combination ticket for Y2,000 which allows entrance to all of them, excluding two.

I went to White Pond Hell first.

And then Sea Hell.

They were very interesting and definitely worth a visit, but I had to get back to the station, and it's a long way from the Hells!
I asked a local and she said to take a bus from station number 1. So I waited for just ten minutes, I was worried that it could be an hour or so as it's quite rural, and was on my way to JR Beppu station. As I got off and paid my fare, I accidentally put my money in the change machine instead of the slot for paying, and a load of Y10 coins came pouring out! The driver said "No, no! Cheinji!" but some of the coins fell on the floor and he said it was okay. I apologised and got off the bus, very embarrassed.
I bought my ticket to Miemachi station, which is near my friend's house, and then took a local train to Oita city, the capital of Oita prefecture. There, it was quite easy to change to the long-distance train, which took me all the way to Miemachi. It cost about Y1,000.
We passed more countryside, and there were no real city areas around.

At one point, my friend rang me to ask where I was, but I didn't know the name of the station, and I was struggling to remember what I'd seen on the sign, when a woman in front of me turned round and told me the name! How nice of her!

And then, once we were off again, a man came up and sat behind me, and started chatting to me! He must have been in his sixties but spoke some English, which he said he learned in high school. I said he must have a great memory. He gave me a pack of chewing gum and even waited with me until my friend arrived at the station! He was so kind.

I think that Kyushuians (I have no idea what the English word for them is!) are generally very friendly, as several people asked me if I was okay, or let me know when my jumper was touching the ground and I hadn't noticed.

Meeting my friend for the first time was very strange. We'd written so many letters to each other, for nearly five years, but never met face to face.

She and her sister drove me to a shopping mall nearby, and she bought me some lunch. I was very surprised to find that in Kyushu, people can stand on either side of the escalators, and the people who want to walk up have to wind their way through them. In Kansai, people stand on the right and walk on the left, but in Tokyo everyone stands on the left and walks on the right.

Then she drove me to her home. She lives in the middle of some really beautiful scenery.

This is her house. It's so traditional! She told me it's 200 years old.

I met her family, who were very kind to me. Everyone was very friendly. But at first all her pets went crazy when they saw me. They'd never met any foreigners before so I must have been very strange for them. But they warmed to me and let me play with them after a while.

They drove me to a large bridge nearby, and we looked down at the view and took some photos. It was still very hot, but because her house is in the mountains, the air was fresher. It was so clean!

Coffee and pizza anyone?
Then we headed back to her house for a delicious meal. It was very like British Shephard's Pie. They said that it tasted bad, but I thought it was great. We all knelt down around the table and ate like a traditional Japanese family. They were very impressed that I could use chopsticks!

It was interesting for me to listen to the local dialect, called Kyushu-ben. Usually I can gather some meaning from people's conversation, but their accent was so different!

The main one I noticed, because they said it a lot, was the difference in pronunciation of "Atsui" (hot). It sounded much more like "Achii". And I'm not sure, because I'm not a native speaker, but I think the 'o' sound was a little different from Tokyo Japanese. It was very interesting for me to hear it!

After dinner, we all had a traditional Japanese bath (separately, not at the same time!) which is called an o-furo (お風呂). It was my first in a Japanese home. It was the usual procedure, where you shower and wash hair before you get in, and then you wash all the soap and shampoo away before easing yourself into the scaldingly hot water. It was so hot it felt like sunburn!

After the bath, we took her dog for a walk around the local area. The thing that struck me most was how dark it was! Tokyo is never dark, but there it was pure blackness. You could see the stars, moon and Milky Way clearly. It was lovely. It reminded me of one of my last nights in Birmingham, when I stared up at the night sky and wondered what the sky would be like in Japan. I know now!

Something that surprised me was how cool and fresh the air became at night. I guess because it's a higher altitude, but it was a big difference from Tokyo, where it stays sticky and warm all night.

I slept in her brother's room, because he was away, and I saw that he had Friends DVDs, 'Spirited Away' and a PS2! I should meet her brother.

Before we went to sleep, she showed me all the letters she keeps from people all over the world, and some of her photos from when she was a baby and at school. It was a completely different life from mine. She loves drawing, and she showed me some really lovely pictures she had done. It was nice to be able to finally see these things in real life.

She also showed me her English study notes. They were really extensive and detailed. I was impressed.

As I lay down to sleep, I had a weird feeling of missing Tokyo. It was probably because I was so far out in the countryside, but I had a sudden desire to be back in the city. It was reassuring to see a Coke vending machine or a McDonalds. I'm such a city kid!

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