Beautiful coastal line with isles facing the Shimabara Peninsula in the distance. The current Japanese Emperor and Queen once visited when they were Prince and Princess, as inscribed on a stone.
after checkout, drove back to Fukuoka but stopped by small canal town Yanagawa for famous Unagi-don. Along the main expressway between Kumamoto and Tosu, there were road maintenance here and there. In one section this had caused very slow traffic for more than 15 min as vehicles had to squeeze from 2 lanes to 1.
visited this western-style mansion with a large garden. From there, boat rides could be seen along the canals right outside of the premise.
decorations for Hina-matsuri
Returned car in Fukuoka. Live music performance was outside JR Hakata City with plenty of food stalls and bars. Many locals were enjoying there.
Visited Shimabara Castle and town where carps were swimming in small clear streams. After lunch, took ferry to Kumamoto in about 40min and continued south to Kami-Amakusa. This way we saved a big detour drive though the ferry ride with a car was not cheap either.
Though the Shimabara Castle was not original, it was worth a visit. There were plenty of artifacts and historical information of this town.
views from Shimabara castle
Carps swimming stream
Cars were parked and locked in positions
departing from Shimabara
On the way to Kami-Amakusa we bumped into a bunch of cute toddlers on the road, following their teachers orderly. They were holding on to a ring so they would not be running around.
We were looking for lunch before the ferry ride and luckily there was this old shop Kaneko opposite to the Shimabara ferry pier. A senior woman served us. Both the tempura-don and udon were in large portions but inexpensive.
Before arriving at Kami-Amakusa we took a brief rest and had a cake set in a small coffee house converted from warehouses in Meiji-era.
Shimabara – good way to lead toddlers on the road
Shimabara – local shop serving meals
almost reaching Amakusa
Visited Glover garden and took a brief tram ride. The Glover garden was the residence of a Scottish merchant in the late 19th century. Together with other foreigners’ residences it was worth a visit.
Nagasaki harbour viewed from Glover garden
Left Nagasaki and drove uphill to Unzen onsen. It was freezing cold up there with frost along the mountain road. Had a very nice stay in onsen ryokan. Both meals were sumptuous and great service. Again in cheap room rates.
Lounge area at night
Brekie with a tofu nambe
After checkout, drove up to Nita-toge for nice views of Shimabara Bay and Fugendake.
overlooking Kumamoto coastline in the distance
Kujukushima literally means 99 islands and that refers to many islands off the coasts of Sasebo in NW Nagasaki Prefecture. Visited a few observation points including Kouzakibana Koen (garden) which is the most western point in Japan mainland including Kyushu.
most western point in Japan mainland
local Catholic church but closed
local oysters for sale
Took the Pearl Sea cruise outside Sasebo after lunch in 50min. Though it was windy and drizzling, it was the most beautiful sea cruise we ever had including Matsushima Bay in Miyagi and Shimoda in Izu. Even on a cloudy day, some of smaller bays was in turquoise. There are over 200 isles in that area.
sea cruise pier
Pearl sea cruise
Ojikase – floating submarine
Views from two different observation points. The photos taken in Ishidake was in next morning on a sunny day. It was the place where shots of the movie The Last Samurai were taken.
views from Tenkaiho
views from Ishidake point
Visited Kyushu in 1 week in mid-Dec. This was our 5th visit to Kyushu though second time by car. Apart from the first and last day in Fukuoka, we visited by car with high level itin below.
D2 – the Arita Porcelain Park in Saga Prefecture, stayed in Ureshino onsen
D3 – Kujukushima in Nagasaki Prefecture, stayed in onsen resort in Sasebo.
D4 – Nagasaki city and stayed in Unzen onsen.
D5 – Nita-Toge, Shimabara, took ferry to Kumamoto pier and drove to Kami-Amakusa for onsen resort.
D6 – Returned to Fukuoka, stopped by Yanagawa for few hours along the way.
Arita Porcelain Park
Arita has been producing porcelain for centuries. We visited this park for about 2 hours including lunch. The buildings looked aged. Loads of tourists from mainland China were constantly ferried in – for lunch and shopping.
Ureshino onsen town
Drove to Ureshino onsen town after lunch. The town was small and quiet. There was a public onsen facility but we did not soak in it. Relaxed in a local coffee house with small garden inside. It was cosy and comfortable.
public onsen facility
local coffee house
Ureshino onsen stay
Picked a ryokan with 3 premises in town, including one on the hillside. As we stayed overnight we are allowed to enjoy onsen for free in all its premises. We headed to the hillside rotenburo by car in about 15min. It was huge with mountain stream flowing below. Chatted with a local who flew from Tokyo to Kagoshima and drove all the way there. My original intention was to stay in this hillside ryokan but it was closed during weekdays, due to insufficient demand.
Overall, this onsen ryokan served nice meals, great onsen and service. Stayed in a spacious twin bed room with garden view. Room rate was so cheap that would be almost impossible in neither Hokkaido nor in Honshu.
Returned to Osaka/Tennoji and checked into hotel in Abeno Harukas.
headed to Expo ’70 park in northern Osaka. Roses have passed its peak blossom and most have started pelting due to hot temperature of 30C over past few days. While in another corner, hydrangea have started to bloom.
Expo ’70 Commemorative Park
Headed to Kurama and Kibune as day trip in northern Kyoto for first time. Took Eizan rail to climb uphill and arrived at Kurama, whose temples were built along hillside. As we have planned to hike over to Kibune, we took a cable car about halfway uphill.
Eizan train to Kurama
entrance to Kurama
looking back from cable car
further slopes and steps uphill
Hiking to Kibune
This took about 45min from Kurama Honden (Main Hall) via Okuno-in uphill then downhill. Bumped into a bunch of school kids who were in outing.
Uphill from Okunoin
Nishi-mon (western gate)
As it was almost 1pm when we arrived at Kibune we went for Kawadoko ryori (dining) in Hirobun, about 15min uphill from Nishi-mon. Along the mountain stream platforms are built during the summer months till September so visitors can enjoy a meal while stream flows underneath.
Although it was on a weekday, the queue for the famous “Nagashi-somen” took 1 hour. Thus, we opted for one of the lunch courses instead – with somen anyway. The lunch set was nice – better than expected and it was truly refreshing and relaxing sitting next to a mountain stream, when day temperature exceeded 30C.
After finishing lunch, we headed downhill to visit Kibune Jinja. Then headed downhill for bus and trains back to Osaka via Kyoto.
platforms upon stream
Kaiseki lunch with somen
heading up to Kibune Jinja
Eizan train arriving at Kibune-guchi
Views from hotel room and Observatory in Abeno Harukas
Hotel Lobby on 19F
views from room
views from Observatory
Stayed in onsen ryokan in Kii Katsuura. On next morning, drove along Wakayama coastline westward to Shirahama.
Coastline from Kii Katsuura to Kushimoto
Stopped by Hashigui-iwa Rock prior to Kushimoto. Reached the southernmost tip in Honshu again.
views from balcony
Nachisan in the distance
Nakanojima – onsen hotel we stayed in 2013
rock formations close to Kushimoto
Southern tip in Honshu
Visited Sandanbeki, the white sandy beach and Engetsu Island again before checking in luxurious onsen hotel.
white sandy beach in Shirahama
Returned car in Shirahama (without drop-off fee) and took JR Kuroshio express train back to Osaka/Tennoji in about 2 hours.
After checking out from Ichijo-in in Koyasan, we drove to Kumano Taisha almost 90km away in almost 3 hours, along narrow mountainous road downhill. There were some beautiful scenery on the way.
Kumano Hongu Taisha (熊野本宮大社)
entrance at Kumano Hongu Taisha
some steps to be conquered
Kumano Hayatama Taisha (熊野速玉大社)
It was a very hot day at well over 30C in the area. Had a quick soba lunch and drove to coastal town Shingu for Hayatama Taisha.
Before we left, dropped by Jofuku Koen (徐福公園). The legend of Jofuku (Xu Fu in Chinese) is that he led 3000 boys and girls by sea to a fairy island to look for longevity herbs, by order of the First Emperor of China during the Chin Dynasty around 200 B.C. After landing, he found the place fertile and in good climate. So he stayed behind and passed on agricultural and fishery skills.
visits by date by emperors
Statue of Jofuku (Xu Fu in Chinese)
Kumano Nachi Taisha (熊野那智大社)
2nd visit since 2013. Though it was not in our plan, as we finished early in Shingu dropped by again while driving en route to onsen ryokan in Kii Katsuura. Visited the Nachi Fall – the tallest in Japan.
tallest waterfall in Japan @133m
Stone inscribed with World Heritage Nachi fall
Our 2nd visit to Wakayama since 2013. This time we visited World Heritage Koyasan and Kumano Hongu Taisha before returning to Shirahama and Osaka.
Our overall itin – KIX > Wakayama > Koyasan > Kii Katsuura > Shirahama > Osaka/Tennoji
Picked up rental car in Wakayama city and drove uphill to Koyasan. Visited Garan, Okuno-in and Kongobu-ji. Stayed overnight in temple for the first time.
sculpture of Kobodaishi in Okunoin
Okuno-in – beyond this bridge no photo is allowed
surprise – some Koyo in Okunoin
no photo is allowed inside
Temple stay in Ichijo-in (高野山 一乗院)
This was our first temple stay, which has been held up as most temples do not offer room with own toilet and bathroom, until we found Ichijo-in which does. Though we are well used to shared bathroom as in onsen ryokans, not having a toilet in a room is a big NO.
Vegetarian meals were served. Dinner was served from 17:30, which is the earliest dinner we ever had in Japan – luckily we checked in after 4pm or else we might have missed it ! At 6am on next morning bell rang to summon all for morning prayers while room was prepared for breakfast serving. The morning prayer lasted for 1 hour and was attended by about 30 people.
inside our room
stopped by while driving en route to Karatsu. Yabakei is an area of strange rock formation and is famous during koyo season, though too late in late Dec. Drove onward to Tosu Premium outlet for lunch break.
Husband and wife rocks
before and after repair
a seaside town we last visited in 2008 from Fukuoka as day trip by train. This time we stayed in seaside hotel overnight and visited nearby Yobuko morning market. Unfortunately the Karatsu castle was under renovation so we could only strolled around. As we arrived at the morning market quite late, the market had almost finished. We then went for early lunch in nearby live Ika (Squid) restaurant.
view of town
live ika restaurant in Yobuko
Hakata – Xmas illumination