After an eventful first day in Kagoshima, the first stop on my Kyushu trip, I was keen to make my way out of the dusty city and see some mountains! I picked up my rental car in the morning, a process that was surprisingly easy considering the language barrier. I found a rental company through Kayak, and it was pretty cheap, just £120 for three days. Fuel is cheap in Japan (well, cheaper than the UK) but it's worth considering the cost of the toll roads, too. But having a car gives you the luxury of deciding a schedule, and cramming as much as possible into a short trip! Plus, I like driving, it's much more fun than sitting on a bus. After 30 minutes spent trying to work the Japanese satnav (tip - search for places by phone number, it's infinitely easier than trying to type an address), I was off!
My first stop was a view point just around the bay from Kagoshima, Terayama Park. It had brilliant views over Kinko Bay and Sakurajima. The colour of the water below was an incredible turquoise blue, and on the horizon you could even spot Mount Kaimon, nicknamed the Fuji of the south! It was however, about 40 degrees and unbearable to stay for long. I wouldn't really advise travelling here in summer!
After a few hundred kilometres of highway and many a song sung at the top of my voice, I arrived in Takachiho town. I was here for the gorge. The weather was perfect, and it seemed unexpectedly quiet. This was a major tourist spot, and I'd heard the queues to hire a little boat and row down the gorge were often longer than two hours. I was so lucky! Alas. The boat hire was shut, due to the rainstorms the previous week causing the water levels to rise. I was upset, as this had been high on my list of things to do! It's hard to be upset for long in such gorgeous surroundings, though.
After wandering around for a couple of hours, I was thankful for the boat hire being shut. The water in the gorge was calm and blue, with no annoying, selfie taking boaters to ruin the view. It was so peaceful. Sun shone through the waterfalls cascading off of the gorges lush green walls, creating little rainbows. I'd seen this place a lot in photographs, and it does not disappoint. Honestly, it looks as heavenly as you'd imagine. It's a must see!
My accommodation that night was a guesthouse in Takachiho town, found through Air bnb. It was a cosy little house with a clean, modern tatami room and futon. If you've never stayed on a futon before, you should try it. I find them so comfortable, and I also love the straw smell of a tatami room! After a very well needed shower, I headed off to Takachiho shrine, at the recommendation of the guesthouse owner. Every night at 8pm they perform a traditional folk dance, and apparently it is not to be missed.
The dance was wonderful! There were four dances, performed in costume and masks, accompanied by some questionable flute playing from an old monk. Each story was full of feeling, and funny! I really would recommend it. The entrance ticket of 700 yen came with an explanation sheet in English.
Happy and sleepy, I wandered back through the town to an izakaya I had been told was excellent. As I sat down at the bar, a couple were coming in and asked if I was alone. I said yes, and they promptly asked if they could sit with me. What proceeded was one of my absolute favourite evenings in Japan! It's amazing how many language barriers can be hurdled by alcohol. They were locals, and were obviously so proud of their town. It was heartwarming how much kindness they showed me, and how welcome I felt. The izakaya owner was also brilliant, and kept popping back in different fancy dress and face paint. They could have served me the worst food on earth and I wouldn't have cared (but it was good!). At the end of a much later night than planned, with many photos taken and drinks consumed, and after my new friends flat out refused to let me pay, I made it back to my bed feeling like the luckiest person. It's moments like this that I hope I never forget.
At 4am my alarm went off, as I'd made the questionable decision to get up, drive 20 minutes into the hills and watch the sunrise over the mountains. It was worth it. The morning sun cast an oddly purple glow over a sea of clouds between the mountains. I then promptly went back and slept for another 3 hours!
After expressing my sadness that the boat hire in Takachiho gorge was shut, the izakaya owner from the previous night mentioned that if it was also closed the following day, I should instead pay a visit to a small sightseeing railway, Amaterasu, where he happened to be a driver! So, as the boats were still off limits, I headed to the railway in the morning. It was so much fun! The train is a single carriage, open topped with a glass bottom. It takes you on a picturesque journey through tunnels, over the town, and finally onto a large bridge that straddles the gorge. It's high, and the views were wonderful. For some reason they thought that the scenery required the addition of bubbles, with one of the drivers doubling as a professional bubble blower. Why not?
On return, I met the izakaya owner/train driver, who was very happy, and bought me an ice cream. Honestly, the people of Takachiho are THE BEST. The friendliest in Japan! It was with great reluctance that I had to leave for the next stop on my trip.
My next stop was Mount Aso, another active volcano.... to be continued!