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Sunday, October 18, 2015

Kyushu Spring 2014 九州春季之旅 - Ibusuki JR Station 指宿駅

Bottom left: Fureai Ashiyu just outside the train station.
Ibusuki JR Station, on Ibusuki Markurazaki line.

Ibusuki city, located south of Kagoshima city, is most well known for its sand bath. Ibusuki hot spring water actually does not come from the sea, but from deep underground waters. Sand along the coastline is infused with hot spring water and burying your body under the hot sand is said to have therapeutic health effects.

What's nearby?

(1) Fureai Ashiyu (ふれあい足湯). This foot bath facility comes into sight immediately (look to your left) once you exit from the train station. Nothing beats having a good soak in the hot spring waters after disembarking from a train journey. 

(2) Umi Naka Ashiyu (海中足湯), approx 20 minutes walk and 7 mins by taxi from train station.
There are several foot bath spots around Ibusuki city. This particular one is one of its kind. As its name suggests (translates to "footbath in sea"), it is located just beside the sea and only appears during low tide. One thing to note that the hot spring water found in this containment does not come from the sea, but transferred to here from hot spring sources via pipelines. Nevertheless, to be able to soak your legs and enjoy the sea view/breeze at the same time must be a therapeutic activity to calm down one's mind. Unfortunately, I did not manage to find this secret spot during my visit to Ibusuki.
Umi Naka Ashiyu is located at the coastal area, near the cluster of hotels and Natural Sand Bath Center.

Foot bath in Ibusuki: http://youkoso-ibusuki.com/top/modules/pico/index.php?content_id=157

(3) Natural Sand Bath Center "Saraku" (砂むし会館 砂楽), approx 20 minutes walk and 7 mins by taxi from train station.
This is the place to visit if you want to enjoy Ibusuki's famous sand bath.

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Commemorative stamp:


Thursday, October 15, 2015

Kyushu Spring 2014 九州春季之旅 - Ibusuki no Tamatebako 指宿の玉手箱

Travelled 25.03.2014


There are a total of 3 round trips per day. For my trip, I boarded Ibusuki no Tamatebako 3 from Kagoshima Chuo Station at 1157 hrs and alighted at Ibusuki Station at 1248 hrs. Do check out the latest train schedule from JR Kyushu website: https://www.jrkyushu.co.jp/english/train/ibutama.jsp.
  • Ibusuki no Tamatebako 1, 3 and 5: Kagoshima Chuo > Ibusuki
  • Ibusuki no Tamatebako 2, 4 and 6: Ibusuki > Kagoshima Chuo
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Highlights:

Folk tale. Ibusuki no Tamatebako train was designed based on a well-known Japanese folk tale. Urashima Taro (浦島太郎) is a fisherman who rescued a turtle and was rewarded with a visit to Dragon Palace under the sea. He spent a total of three days in the palace, with the King and his princess. Before he left, the princess handed him a wooden treasure box - Tamatebako (玉手箱), and warned not to open the box. To his astonishment, he found everything around him has changed back in his hometown and later he discovered 300 years have passed since the day he left home. Forgotten about the warning, he opened the treasure box and white smoke engulfed him. Urashima Taro was transformed into an old man instantaneously.

Top left: "White smoke" appearing overhead when the train doors open; Top middle: Ibutama Pudding, a popular food item on board the train. 
Facilities & features. Ibusuki no Tamatebako amazes me with the intricate details portrayed in every corner of this train. The train exterior is painted symmetrically monotone black and white. On the "white" side of the train, seats were swiveled to face the windows for passengers to admire the view of Kagoshima bay and Sakurajima. On the "black" side of the train, there are sofa seats and shelves containing books of Japanese folk tales and Ibusuki. Cedar wood from southern Kyushu was largely used to build the interior of the train and makes one feel like he/she is in a wooden treasure box that was mentioned in the folk tale. In addition, when the train doors open, steam is released from the vents on the overhead of the doors, mimicking the white smoke that came out of the treasure box after it was opened. Miniature chairs and baby cot are specially installed for the younger passengers on board this mystical train. 

Train collar pin
Bought an Ibutama pudding from the mobile cart mended by the cabin attendant - one of the exclusive items available on board this train. An item which is inspired by the train, this dessert is made up of two layers of pudding: egg and milk layer on the top of black sesame layer. Adored the creamy and silky texture of pudding, coupled with nutty black sesame flavour. Apart from food, the mobile cart also sells train merchandises such as collar pin and clear file. If you do not plan to purchase any merchandise, one free yet meaningful souvenir that you can bring back home is the commemorative boarding pass and inked stamp designed exclusively for this train. All the elements combined to make this 1 hour train journey on board Ibusuki no Tamatebako a memorable one!  

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Video: Scroll to 20:55 for 遇约九州's feature on Ibusuki no Tamatebako.


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Commemorative boarding pass and stamp: 



Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Kyushu Spring 2014 九州春季之旅 - Michi no eki Sarakujima Hinoshima Megumikan 道の駅桜島日の島めぐみ館

Visited 25.03.2014


This was our final destination in Sakurajima before we boarded the ferry back to Kagoshima city. There are numerous rest stops, known as roadside stations (michi no eki), spread all over Japan. Such rest stops are not uncommon in many countries, which are typically located on highways or major roads, meant to let drivers to take a break after traveling long hours on the road. These roadside stations are normally a one stop place which contains shops, restaurants, visitors' information center, etc. In Japan, the popularity of some have elevated these roadside stations status to tourist attractions of that area. I have read that some michi no eki are equipped with public hot spring bathhouses, swimming pools, parks and even museums! Services/facilities that are provided by these roadside stations are just too plenty to name and definitely deserve much deeper exploration on my future trips to Japan (if I get the opportunity to drive).  

Top left: Delicious mikan soft serve; Bottom: Legendary Sakurajima's radish.
I am always looking forward to visit michi no eki because they serve another important purpose: to introduce the local specialties to visitors abroad. Sakurajima's agricultural products are being showcased here in the Farmer's market. Sakurajima produces the biggest radish variety in the world. This gigantic sized radish reminded me of the fairy tale "The Gigantic Turnip" almost immediately. It is normally about 6 kg in weight, but the bigger ones can weigh as heavy as 30 kg! The diameter of each radish is about 40 to 50 cm in length. You can bring back processed and pickled radishes as souvenirs. There is a small plot of land in front of the rest house where radishes are being cultivated. Small mikans are also a specialty of Sakurajima. One of the food that you should try here is the mikan soft serve! The flavour and texture of the soft serve is fabulous - sweet with a well-balanced tinge of sourness. The usual souvenirs such as biscuits and cakes are also on sale here and are made from the locally produced mikans.

Afterthoughts. Though the time spent in Sakurajima was short, I was satisfied with all three places/attractions covered within a short time span. As a city dweller from Singapore, a country which is unharmed by natural disasters, I am amazed to see how humans can inhabit on a land with an active volcano and cope comfortably despite the looming dangers of volcanic eruption all year around. Continuous spurting of volcanic ash brings along inconvenience to the lives of the locals, but ironically this is what makes the land fertile for agriculture. Sakurajima, a dangerous yet attractive island - hope to explore this place more in future!

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Michi no eki Sarakujima Hinoshima Megumikan Rest Stop 道の駅桜島日の島めぐみ館
〒891-1419 鹿児島県鹿児島市桜島横山町1722-48
Opening hrs:
Farmers' Market: 0900 - 1800 hrs;
Restaurant: 0900 - 1700 hrs;
Closed on 3rd Monday.
http://www.megumikan.jp/

How to get there? 
Exit from Sakurajima Pier and turn right. Turn left at the first traffic light junction. Approx 5 - 10 minutes walk from Sakurajima Pier.


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Commemorative stamp: 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Kyushu Spring 2014 九州春季之旅 - Yogan Nagisa Park & Footbath 溶岩なぎさ公園&足湯

Visited 25.03.2014

100 m long footbath facility, choose any spot you like!
The second place we visited in Sakaurajima. This is another attraction which is nearby the ferry terminal: turn right after exiting from the ferry terminal. What is unique about this park is its footbath facility which is 100 m long, the longest I have seen so far. There are several sections that are sheltered, but most remains open. Hot spring source comes from 1,000 m deep underground and water is brownish in colour. This footbath was especially welcoming to us especially after this morning's ascend up Dinosaur Park. Sat here for quite some time to sooth our aching legs, while admiring Kinko bay and Kagoshima city from afar. Recharged and moved on to our last destination in Sakurajima before heading back. 

Kinko bay and Kagoshima city on the opposite of Sakurajima.
Travel tip: As there are many free footbaths in Japan, I have gradually cultivated the habit to carry a small towel wherever I go... just in case I spot a footbath and want to have to soak! To me, this is one of the simplest pleasures that I always look forward to on every trip I embark in Japan.   

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Yogan Nagisa Park & Footbath 溶岩なぎさ公園&足湯
〒891-1419 鹿児島市桜島横山町1722-3
Opening hrs: 0900 hrs to after sunset.
Free admission.
http://www.sakurajima.gr.jp/tourism/000677.html

How to get there? 
Exit from Sakurajima Pier and turn right. Approx 10 mins walk from there.



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Video: Scroll to 30:25 for 遇约九州's feature on Yogan Nagisa Park Foot Spa.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Kyushu Spring 2014 九州春季之旅 - Sakurajima Dinosaur Park 桜島自然恐竜公園

Visited 25.03.2014

Dinosaurs co-existing with cherry blossom trees.
The plan was to visit several spots located near the ferry terminal because we could only spare one morning in Sakurajima. Selected three and the first was Sakurajima Dinosaur Park, which is opened to public 24/7 everyday. Direction to the park is quite straightforward: once exit from the ferry terminal, turn left and walk straight ahead. After about 2 minutes walk, a road signboard came into sight. What I did not expect was that this park was actually located on a small hill and we had to overcome the gradient and a winding road to reach this park. If you plan to visit the park, be prepared to spend another 10 - 15 mins to walk up this hill as there are no public transport service to Dinosaur Park.

An overcast on the volcanoes of Sakurajima.
Highlights: 

From its name, one may have perceived it to be some science park with dinosaurs exhibits. This is essentially a park for the local community, with some dinosaur replicas built as playground facilities for kids - though much better looking (and adorable) than those we have in our HDB playground. To me, the main reason that led me here is definitely not the replicas of dinosaurs. Because of the numerous cherry blossom trees planted here, this area becomes a popular "hanami" spot (or sakura viewing) during spring. It was a good day for us as 50% of the trees have started blooming beautiful and elegant flowers and would have reach full bloom if we came several days later. The altitude makes this park an excellent observatory to catch a glimpse of fuming volcano eastwards and an overview of Kinko bay and Kagoshima city westwards. Even though I would not specifically pick this park as a must visit attraction in Sakurajima, the unexpected encounter of "hanami" has somehow made my visit here a memorable and unforgettable one.


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Sakurajima Dinosaur Park 桜島自然恐竜公園
891-1419 鹿児島市桜島横山町
Free admission
http://www.sakurajima.gr.jp/tourism/000354.html

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Kyushu Spring 2014 九州春季之旅 - Sakurajima Ferry 桜島フェリー

Travelled 25.03.2014


Not an island anymore. Despite its name, classifying Sakurajima as an island is not entirely true now because part of its circumference is linked to the mainland (Osumi Peninsula) as a result of an eruption that occurred in 1914. High volcanic activity results in varying amount of ashes being released to its surrounding area everyday. Despite the looming danger of volcano eruption all the time, a small population chose to stay on this island, harnessing the fertile soil for agricultural needs and hot spring generated by the earth.

The most convenient way to get to Sakurajima is by ferry which can carry both passengers and automobiles. 
  • Ferry runs between Kagoshima city and Sakurajima 24/7 everyday. 
  • One way fare is 160 yen for adult and 80 yen for child. You will not asked to pay any fare when you board the ferry from Kagoshima Port because the conductor is stationed at Sakurajima Port and will collect the fare when you get off/board from there. 
  • Ferry ride takes about 15 minutes. A ferry disembarks from either port every 15 minutes interval between 0600 - 2030 hrs.  


Oishii Udon! Started the day early and took a cab to the ferry terminal. The driver broke the silence and started to engage in a casual conversation with us, though I could not comprehend majority of what he said. Just before we reached, he mentioned "oishii udon" with his finger pointing towards the ferry terminal. From the enthusiastic tone of his voice, you can really feel that the he meant what he said. However, I could not really relate what udon has to do with this ferry at that point of time. This burning question which was eventually resolved when I caught sight of this small food stall inside the ferry and yes, it was selling udon and soba. Was still full from the early breakfast and decided to try this during our return route instead.

In fact I was skeptical at first because it looks like any udon I have eaten before. Had high expectations because udon is also one of my favourite Japanese food, Nevertheless, decided to give it a try. Ordered my bowl of udon and added a piece of fishcake to it. I was fully captivated by the taste after delivery the first spoonful of noodles and soup into my mouth. Dashi (soup) is very light but immersed with the flavours of bonito flakes and kombu. Udon was firm and smooth, to the point I could slurp the entire strand into my mouth in one breath! Having tasted many different bowls of udon, I must say this is the best I have eaten before. May sound overly exaggerated but this is the type of comfort food that warms the stomach and heart.

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Sakurajima Ferry 桜島フェリー
http://www.city.kagoshima.lg.jp/sakurajima-ferry/


How to get there?

(1) Take Kagoshima City Tram bound for Kagoshima ekimae, alight at Suizokukan-guchi. Takes another 5 mins to walk from here to ferry terminal.

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Commemorative stamps: