kate rowland

travel blog

4 Days in Kyushu - Takachiho

JapanKate RowlandComment

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! 

sakurajima 1.jpg

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.

takachiho gorge

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!

Takachiho Gorge.jpg

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.

Masks of characters from the traditional folk dance at Takachiho shrine.

Masks of characters from the traditional folk dance at Takachiho shrine.

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.

My new friends! The pirate costume is inexplicable.

My new friends! The pirate costume is inexplicable.

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!

Mountain Sunrise

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?

The views over Takachiho Gorge from Amaterasu Railway

The views over Takachiho Gorge from Amaterasu Railway

The open top train!

The open top train!

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 costume loving izakaya owner / train driver friend!

My costume loving izakaya owner / train driver friend!

My next stop was Mount Aso, another active volcano.... to be continued!

Kate x

9 Awesome Shops to Visit in Tokyo!

Japan, TravelKate RowlandComment

In Japan, shopping is a big deal. The sheer number and variety of shops in this consumer capital is, honestly, astounding. Often, I will mistakenly take the wrong exit from a familiar train station, and end up in a mall I had no idea existed. Just when I think I've got to grips with our local shopping street, I discover there are 5 more floors of shops in each building, not to mention 3 basement levels. At first it can seem overwhelming, so if you're visiting Tokyo and want to shop, it's a good idea to do some research first! I have by no means explored everything, but here is a list of my favourite shops in Tokyo so far...


1. Darwin Room

Shimo-kitazawa is a cool, relaxed neighbourhood in Tokyo, and has many independent shops. The plant-covered Darwin Room is intriguing both inside and out. Part shop and part museum, this tiny space is a natural historians dream, stuffed full of fascinating objects, books and exhibits. They even have a few seats, where you can relax with a coffee and admire the surroundings.


2. New York Joe Exchange

Located at the other end of Shimo-kitazawa is New York Joe Exchange, a thrift store where you can buy, or sell, clothes. There's loads of reuse stores in this area, but this one is inside an old traditional sento (a Japanese bathhouse), complete with beautiful tiles, and is particularly cheap!


3. Sekaido

Shelves stacked high with pencils, in every colour you can imagine. Delightful rows of sketchbooks, in size order. Trays filled with a rainbow of watercolour pans and ink bottles. Things you never knew you needed, like pencil caps and beautiful, giant calligraphy brushes. I could spend hours and hours in this art supply store. There are many branches in Tokyo, but the Shinjuku branch is the biggest (and busiest!).


4. 100 Yen Shops

Everyone's heard of these pound/dollar store type shops, found all over Japan. Unlike a pound shop in the UK, however, 100 yen stores are filled with genuinely excellent products! Pretty ceramics, cute souvenirs, stationery, craft and beauty goods. I've bought loads of useful, (and not-so-useful) items for our apartment here. There are a few different chains, the most popular are Daiso and Seria.


5. Tokyu Hands

Tokyu Hands and it's rival-corporation-owned equivalent, Loft, are 'creative life stores'. I'm not sure exactly what that means, but they sell cool stuff! The stationary floor is famous, but my favourite department is the DIY/craft floor, with it's huge range of raw materials, tools and supplies. Last time I returned to the UK, I was accompanied by a suitcase filled with exotic wood, glossy acrylic and sheets of copper...


6. Don Quijote

Often known as Donki, this discount shop is... an assault. Noisy, hot, busy, and cramped; if you feel claustrophobic, it's not for you. However it sells some of the most confusing, hilarious items you'll ever see. Christmas tree shaped gimp mask? Check. Powder to turn your bath into jelly? Check. As well as hilarious tat, they also stock genuinely good things, like cheap Kodak Instax film in a range of colours, a million flavours of Kit Kats, and extensive amounts of Gudetama merch. Oh, and some are open until 5am, if not 24 hours. Drunken, post-karaoke shopping spree, you say?


7. Mount Zine

Inside an unassuming, traditional wooden Japanese shop in Meguro is Mount, a zine library, shop and art gallery. Twice a year they have an open call for makers and artists to submit their zines, and everything is for sale. Go along, buy some super zines and get inspired to make your own!


8. Pass The Baton

In a basement on the busy Omotesando shopping street is Pass The Baton, a reuse shop with a twist. Alongside every pre-owned item for sale is a tag, with a story or a little about it's former owner. Apparently there are items owned by famous people, if you know enough about Japanese popular culture to appreciate that! There are some really interesting antiques, jewellery, clothes and even some up-cycled and handmade items. Worth a browse for unique souvenirs! 


9. Mooosh Squishy Shop

When visiting Harajuku, make sure to step off of Takeshita Street and visit Mooosh, a shop selling squishy things. Yep, a shop filled with soft, squishy, scented characters and floppy fake bread and fruit! They also have a ball pit like area, filled with squishy strawberries, perfect for taking some cute photos.


Do you have any favourite shops in Japan, or are there any that are on your wish list to visit? Please let me know! 

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