A key ingredient of my ALT successor package is the tiny grey kei car parked out front. It has a few bumps, many scratches, two windows which don’t operate too smoothly and one killer mix tape in the glove box (that’s right, it takes cassette). Checking the registration history, it seems to have been in the ALT family for about 4 generations now, so frankly I’m amazed it still runs at all.
Month 1 (August) has had its fair share of down-time due to school & national holidays. As it would work out I had the entire week of the 21st off. So, rather than bum around my house in sweaty boxers, I took the tin can for a run around Kyushu.
Note: All except the last day were toll-free days, e.g. no highways which require payment were used. Highways have a speed limit of 60-80 km/h and regular roads are around 40-60 km/h. All drivers seem to view these as ‘guidelines’, but if you’re off highways expect the miles to crawl by in their own time. Good thing the countryside is so gorgeous.
A day that started and ended in joy, but saw me slumping a bit midday due to all restaurants being closed. Eventually 7/11 provided, as it always does. In hindsight this day could stop around Kumamoto, Mount Aso or even into Takachiho gorge. Thankfully that means those place are still up for a first visit next time. There’s also the option to go via Shimabara and take the ferry to Kumamoto, which would give the day a different flavour all together. Given my original plan to only go to Kagoshima, this day was the longest drive, so perhaps also good to get it over with at the start.
By far my favourite day of the trip. The sand bath at Ibusuki was a real treat, but the true victors are the Kirishima mountains. The winding mountain roads through thick forests, breaking into large valleys, where farming communities serenely go about their business, and then once more diving into the darkness on the other side as tin can and I alternate between climbing and sailing through the trees. Arriving in the evening, Miyazaki was filled to bursting judging from the lack of hotel and hostel vacancies. Thankfully the ever-forgotten lesson that unplanned changes could lead to great surprises held true. Just look where we woke up on day 3!
This day started joyously. Due to no effort or planning on my part, we enjoyed the sun rise from the Aoshima Shrine and even made it back in time for breakfast. The crossing into Oita Prefecture uses the most tunnels I’ve ever driven through in my life, kilometers of tunnels split with valleys and bridges. A friend of a friend (we met Monday) opened their home for the night. Arriving in the afternoon, we went to enjoy a quiet onsen tucked away above Beppu, before returning to his family for a ridiculously large dinner – new dishes replacing the old with no end in sight. We tapped out eventually to what seemed the great delight of his mother. The onsen range in Beppu is vast and definitely deserves a second visit to explore further though, including the infamous Hells – a variety of onsens found in the city (one has red water!?).
- Highway home
Our final day started slowly. After breakfast we visited the Usuki Sekibutsu (Stone Buddhas) where we even met a Spaniard cycling through Kansai and Kyushu for 4 weeks. Next a short visit to a local coffee shop hiding just off the main road and then it was time to take the highway home. Oita to Omura costs ~4’100yen in tolls, which isn’t cheap, but honestly the highway was an excellent experience in itself – it feels like a tiny ‘autobahn’! The road is in great quality and the views along the way are lovely, since you frequently drive on bridges and elevated roadways. This also means there is less chance of sudden animal or human appearances on the road and, combined with a fairly relaxed view of the speed limits, means you can enjoy a smooth sailing experience at your own pace. Also, kei cars are epic. Not nearly as troublesome, slow or uncomfortable as they seemed before. Tin can is a man amongst men, or he would be if he wasn’t a kei car. It all ended roughly where it began, at a nearby cafe to my place called Alma Road Coffee. Happiness (:
While there were occasions where I wished to be on the train instead of the car, I find myself leaning heavily in favour of road trips as compared to train trips following this week’s adventure. Any freedom to enjoy Japan’s pristine beauty in the countryside is too valuable to give up. The enjoyment that mountain and coastal roads offer isn’t available in the same amounts on a train either. But, most importantly, I would recommend trips in any shape or form. Go go go! Japan is unfairly beautiful, well-connected and accessible for both short weekends and long weeks of joy.
Let’s make the most of it ❤