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20.7.10

Fun Times on the Road

Hello Friends,

I apologize for my silence these past few weeks, but the incessant rain and fog have rendered me completely apathetic and unmotivated to do anything of any consequence. However, rainy season is now over (so they say) and the last couple days have been blissfully sunny, so much so that today i got sunburned on my face, arms, and legs completely unexpectedly. But that didn't hold me back from enjoying the sun all day and enjoying life. Furthermore, the World Cup is finally over so i am happy for 2 reason 1. being that i don't have to stay up until 330am every night when i want to watch a game and 2. i no longer have to care about soccer. which are both good things because it was getting irritating having to do one and then the other simultaneously.

Last week, i had the good fortune of taking an unexpected road trip with some friends. Our initial plan was to take a trip down to "Miyazaki" which is famous for its beaches, but as i mentioned before, it has been raining the last three weeks so we decided it was best to go elsewhere. We decided to go see Mount Aso which is about a 2 hour drive from Beppu. The scenery on the way was stunning (i feel like a broken record always talking about the nature and surroundings im in). There were luscious green fields and hills that had tall grass blowing in the wind. It was like watching a ghost gently glide through the air making the grass sway in whichever way it chose. I felt like i was somewhere in Middle Earth with the rolling hills and rural landscape. When we arrived at the mountain, i had no idea. The entire mountain was covered in fog and it was hard to see (redundant?). But we decided to drive up and go to the top anyway, which turned out to be a waste because the fog was even denser on the mountain and there were gale force winds that literally almost blew my door off its hinges and took a child airborne until the kid's dad pulled him back down. Apparently there was some sort of famous crater, but we weren't even able to see 5 feet in front of us let alone a crater more than 100 feet away.

Feeling defeated we decide to drive another 2 hours out and visit the ancient city of Kumamoto. Our first stop here was Kumamoto Castle, which is one of the biggest castles in Japan. It was surrounded by an enormous park, and had a moat dug out around its walls. Unfortunately for us, we arrived about 20 minutes before they closed. We pretended we were tourists and pretended none of us spoke Japanese (which 2 of us including me did) and tried to negotiate free entry due to the time constraints. They wouldn't budge asserting that the Japanese government has made the rules and would not like it if they gave us a discount. In the end we paid the amount because odds are it was going to be a long time before any of us came back to Kumamoto.The castle was nothing of its old self. It had been gutted and basically turned into a museum, which i thought took away from the eminence that i am sure was exuded from this castle in its hayday, at least judging by the model of what the area looked like in the old days. We went to the top, took pictures then were asked in song to vacate the premises. Which i thought was an interesting way to ask people to leave. The Japanese hate to be impolite, so what better way to be rude than to play a lighthearted song that asked people to leave? (sidenote: im reading a book on Okinawa and the WWII happenings that occured on that region and learned that because of the Japanese's politeness, to a point of insufferable vagueness and fear of failure to a point of "seppuku," the commanding officer at Midway reported to his higher ups that the damage was minimal and US casualties had been great. This kind of off base generalizations and not admitting defeat is, as this author asserts, what cause the Japanese to fall in the Pacific [other than the A-bombs]. so naturally, if the Japanese will avoid this kind of information they will have no problem using a non-confrontational method of getting customers to leave). Needless to say, we made our way out and left the castle premises.


From there we headed to Kumamoto downtown area in search of a restaurant that my friend had been to before. The restaurant served Kumamoto's famous "sashimi" which is HORSE meat. As it turns out, the restaurant was closed. So we settled on just one we stumbled upon and ordered about 6 different dishes for 4 people. The sashimi, was remarkably good. And horse meat has jumped up my favorite meat list into the top 10. What was more surprising was that it was served entirely raw, which i was not expecting. The meat came out in 2 parts the regular meat, and the fat (literally they served slices of fat. I tried one but didn't like the taste so stuck to the regular part) So in essence, if i were to happen upon a stray wild horse and be hungry, i would no longer have a problem cutting up that horse and eating the meat raw. Plain and simple. In addition to the horse meat, i also tried eel and octopus for the first time which was surprisingly good. The only taste i have yet to try is that of human meat...

It was our goal all day to go to a famous Kumamoto onsen. But by the time we were done eating, we realized that the nearest one was about a 2 hour drive away, in the opposite direction of home. So we decided on this one that was on our way home, but a little out of the way. About half way through, we decided to stop at a random hotel that looked like it had an onsen and see if we could get in even though we weren't guests. GREAT decision. The first one we stop at turned out to have a bunch of exotic onsens which was a really cool experience. There were private ones that each had their own themes(this one shown right has a cave that leads to the outside). Some with a waterfall, a cave, rocks, etc. It was really cool to be able to stop there. After about 45 minutes, we got out and debated staying the night in the hotel. But ultimately decided against it. The reason we considered it was because my Japanese friend who was the one that could drive, had gotten minimal sleep the night before, just drove literally all day, and now just got out of a hot tub. So he was understandably tired, too tired to feel comfortable driving home along the dangerous winding mountain roads that were the only roads around. Never being one to shy away from a challenge, i stepped up and offered to drive home. BAD decision. I was driving fine, but the conditions were not ideal if not downright dangerous for any driver, let alone a driver who hadn't driven in 5 months and is not used to driving on the left side of the road. Roads were winding, visibility minimal due to fog, and roads slippery because of the rain. It was weird because in America i always stayed away from the yellow line in the middle of the road, especially at night, lest a cop sees me graze it and i get pulled over. Here, there are monstrous draining ditches that run along the side of every road. So if i get to close to the edge, one wrong move and we end up in a ditch. So i did my best to stay in the middle of the road. Thankfully there was very little traffic. In fact, i made it back in about half the time it took us to get out there. It was a thrill nonetheless.

Today was another adventure in and of itself. Maybe not to the same degree as the last one but still fun. Me and some friends went to Yufuin which is on the other side of the mountain that i live on. Its a real peaceful quiet neighborhood and was really nice to walk around and enjoy the first truly beautiful day in about 3 weeks. We visited a small lake and i realized how clean the whole city is. Kids playing in the water, no litter, nothing. This quaint little town brought me back to the olden days when things were easier. Everyone here wasn't bothered by the hassles of everyday life. They were all very relaxed and down to earth.



In other news, finals are starting up soon. Subsequently, so are the good byes. Just said good bye to a good friend who is going to New Zealand to continue his studies abroad. I get depressed thinking about the good byes im gonna have to say within the coming weeks as well as the daunting task of packing. But i take heart in knowing that i will have a buffalo chicken pizza waiting for me when i get back to the states and try my best to live in the moment, what few i have left here, and really cherish the people i have met and the things we have experienced together.

Until Next time,

M@

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