The roosters started at 4:30am again. I desperately needed to exercise, so I went for a run in the morning with Jake. I did a little under 3 miles along a little river/canal in this weird suburban-rural neighborhood, which would have been really nice had there not been construction up and down the river. They must be building new roads or infill housing or something. I would have run farther, but we had to check out so I showered and we headed out.
We drove northeast to the village of Shuchijō, where one branch of Jake’s family (on his mom’s side) comes from. We walked around the village, which was really just some houses and fields, to a nice park, where we sat and ate our onigiri, a morning ritual now. There were local families with children playing in the park (River Side Park, lol) and it felt extremely local and pure. The air was fresh, and there was even a bridge of rocks (maybe an even simpler kind of bridge than a log) across a little shallow river. Across the street was a dirt baseball field, where a Sunday afternoon game was just starting.
Down the road we found a little temple with a little graveyard behind. A lot of the graves were very old, but there were fresh flower bouquets in front of most of them. One of the graves had a family crest on it that matched the family crest Jake’s mom had shown him, so he thought it might be related. I took some pictures of him in the town so he had something to show his family, and then we moved on.
Emma wanted to go to the Melon Dome, a rest stop tourist attraction that would fit right in somewhere on the side of a Midwestern highway. It was a big market, with produce, gift boxes and a lot of goods marketed with the local Kumamoto bear. Obviously, there were a lot of melon things as well, but I mostly looked at the wide range of little snacks and bags and tried to figure out what things were. We felt like noodles, so I found an udon restaurant about halfway back towards Kumamoto and we drove straight there.
The menu was in kanji (characters), not even just Japanese lettering, so I had no idea how to choose, and Emma had to translate, as she’d been doing on and off all weekend. I wanted tofu but I got tanuki udon with ebi(shrimp), which turned out to be just fine. It came with just bits of tempura batter in the broth. I like udon because it’s simple, it’s like the chicken noodle soup of Japan. Mine was totally fine but nothing special, as the noodles were a bit overcooked and hard to eat, and the tempura was a bit much. I liked the place though; it was filled with local families eating their Sunday brunch, although again, not such a lively atmosphere. Just slurping and the sounds of the open kitchen. I really do think the culture is just different, and people get enjoyment from food in a much quieter way. It’s enough to just be together, eating. I obviously care a lot about my food, but the social aspect impacts me as well.
Anyway, we drove from there to the train to try to get to Nagasaki at a reasonable hour. We got tickets at the Kumamoto Station, but there was only one available seat in the green car for the second leg, so we decided to take a slightly later train and have a longer wait (only 20 more minutes) at Shin Tosu, where we’d be changing trains. We wanted to sit together, and that seemed like a small price to pay. We were both tired, so we got a quick coffee at Starbucks, which seemed like an easy option, even though they wouldn’t let me pay with my Starbucks card through the app.
We rushed to the platform and found our spot just as the train pulled up, and almost as soon as we got on, were handed a towel and mint, and looked out the window, we were disembarking at Shin Tosu to change trains. Riding the Shinkansen, even on a full train where Jake and I were only able to sit across the aisle from each other, was infinitely more relaxing than being in the car. I was happy to be back in my natural habitat, on the train.
We had some time to kill at the station in Tosu, so we went to the JR ticket office and scheduled our next few train trips, which I wanted to do to make sure we could sit together. There was a crowd gathered around some children playing Christmas music, so we watched that before heading to the platform to catch the local line to Nagasaki. There are two different types of train (rolling stock) that run from Fukuoka to Nagasaki, and we were on the older of the two. The green car, however, was perhaps the nicest yet, with ample legroom and recline and huge bay windows. I’m excited to ride the newer model on the way back, which is supposed to be even nicer, if that’s possible. It was getting dark by the time we set up, but after 40 minutes or so we were riding along by the water (the Ariake Sea) and it was beautiful, even in darkness. I’m really happy I chose to upgrade to the Green Pass. The seats have been amazing and Jake and I have had such a wonderful time riding the rails. I honestly think the train rides will end up being some of the highlights of this trip, which is definitely a tall order. Very grateful to have Green Car privilege.
We arrived at Nagasaki Station, which was decked out in Christmas lights, and walked up a steep hill to our hostel, nearby, ROUTE Nagasaki. It turned out to be a tiny and friendly place, with only 5 beds, each pretty enclosed. We dropped our stuff and headed out in search of dinner. I had found this gyoza place near Chinatown, in the main Shiambashi entertainment and nightlife district, and we walked through a totally dead Sunday evening here towards the restaurant, but couldn’t find it. I assume it was closed, but I really needed food, so we got an order of soup dumplings (xiao long bao) from a Chinese takeout spot on the Main Street. The vendor made them by hand as we watched, and they were light and tasty and just enough to tide me over.
We walked around trying to find a real place to eat, but a lot of places were closed. Maybe Sunday night, maybe just the town. We decided to stop in Local, a beer bar that sounded good, for a drink, and to figure out where to head next. The bar turned out to be rough; we drank a mediocre imported beer and had our heads talked off by an American who had moved to Nagasaki to “escape the rat race,” but seemed to be pretty starved for conversation. He offered to take us to a dinner spot he liked, but thankfully I declined and Jake I found a yakitori place, Torimasa, that looked good, on the way back to the hostel.
We sat at the bar and ordered a few different cuts, some rice and some sake and watched the chef grill some chicken. I learned that sake just means “alcohol,” so I figured out how to order what I think of as sake: hiyazake (at least, I think, and the waitress seemed to understand. She asked if I wanted it cold or hot. I almost always prefer cold). The chicken meatball, skin, thigh, pork belly with miso, and bacon wrapped asparagus were all delicious, as was the little clam appetizer and the sake, which was served in a mesmerizing little cup with blue circles. I wanted more but was also full, so I refrained, and the damage wasn’t bad at all. We walked back to the hostel and found the common area closed for the night, but we sat at a table in the shared room and tried to plan a little for the next few days. I think we’ll start with the Atomic Bomb Museum and Peace Park in the morning, and go from there. It’s supposed to rain, so I’ll get a chance to test out my waterproof shoes and my raincoat and Slim Dungarees.
Looking forward to colder weather,