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Travel blog I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast, but I'm intercontinental and I eat French toast (Beastie Boys) | | | Photos available at www.istockphoto.com/georgeclerk

Hiroshima to Fukuoka

JAPAN | Friday, 28 November 2008 | Views [6790]

Arriving in Hiroshima by a super fast shinkansen, the first surprise was the size of the city.  It's quite big - the population's over a million.  Otherwise, on the surface it seems very much like any other city in Japan.  You see this type of tall and very thin car park (not much more than two cars widths) all over Japan.  That cars are parked by machine - you drive your car in, then leave it to be automatically slotted into a space.  When you collect your car, you drive onto the turntable, spin around, and you're all ready to drive back onto the street...

The petrol stations are brilliant too - no need to waste space with hefty pumps on the forecourt, they're in the ceiling, so you just pull down a hose and fill up...

But of course, Hiroshima is different.  Towards the end of the war, a few large cities in Japan were spared from the conventional bombing which went on for months, as they were possible targets for the atomic bomb.  The allies wanted to determine the impact that an atomic bomb would have on an untouched city.  Out of the possible targets identified, Hiroshima and then Nagasaki were selected not long before the bombs were dropped.

This photo was taken from the rebuilt bridge that was the target for the bomb, which was dropped on the 6th August 1945.  The bomb exploded about 600m above the ground, just beyond the ruined building on the left.  The building is now called the A-Bomb Dome, and is world heritage listed, so it's been kept in the same state since after the war.  The picture below shows the city not long after the explosion.

The nearby Peace Memorial Museum has lots of information about the bomb and the impact that it had, but seems to make a point of avoiding presenting a view as to whether using it on the city was right or wrong.  Inside are old clocks and watches, stopped at 8.15am when the explosion happened, plus badly damaged clothing that belonged to children who were working at demolition sites in the city centre.  It also has a section of a stone staircase which was bleached white by the explosion, except for the outline of a person who was sat on the stairs at the time, waiting for the office to open.  The museum is presented for maximum impact, with the aim being to suggest that nuclear weapons around the world should be destroyed.

The museum is surrounded by a park, which was full of children playing football and kicking the leaves.  Schoolchildren from all over Japan go to visit the city, and were doing a project of some sort, which involved interviewing and taking photos of other visitors.  So being a tourist, I was asked the same set of questions at least ten times!

I was there for two nights, then headed on for a night in the town of Beppu in Kyushu, down in the south west of the country.

Slightly bizarre statue in Beppu


The day after that, on the way between Beppu and Aso I had to wait for a train connection in a small town called Taketa.  I wasn't bothering about breaking the odd bit of spider web as I snapped away taking pictures of the autumn leaves like this one...

...but then I remembered that Japan has its fair share of decent sized spiders, and that maybe I should check around me.  It was a good thing that I did - just above my head in the little maple tree was this stripey monster, slowly moving closer as he kept a beady eye on me...

Aso town is inside the gigantic caldera of the still active volcano Aso-san.

The caldera of the volcano is so big that from Aso it still takes almost half an hour by bus and cable car to get to the crater of Mt Naka (above), which is one of the volcano's five peaks.

The view from Mt Naka

But before I did all that, I had to find somewhere to stay in Aso.  Getting accommodation as I've been going along has been so easy that in a lot of places I've just turned up at the train station, found a place that looks OK, and asked if they had a bed spare.  But knowing that Aso's quite small, I tried ringing a few places ahead.  They were all either full or didn't answer, so I decided to just find somewhere when I arrived.  That was a mistake!

I walked for about an hour and a half in the fading light, and the few places that I did find were fully booked.  But then finally I saw a colourful sign for a hotel, and eventually found it tucked away up a road through the woods.  Couldn't find reception anywhere.  I had another look at the sign, and realised that I was at a 'love hotel', where you can rent a room for three hours, with the option to extend your stay in 30 minute blocks.  Love hotels are basically discrete and places where couples go for a 'rest'.  Contact with any staff is kept to a minimum to avoid embarrassment.

But they did also have a price for the night... not the most ideal accommodation, but by this time I was seriously running out of options, so I phoned the number.  I got a lady who spoke no English, and seemed to be extremely unimpressed that I was calling.  The Japanese words that I could understand were 'excuse me' and 'goodbye'!

So I headed back to the main road and kept on going, until I found myself at the next train station down from Aso, where I waited for ages in the freezing cold for a train.  But thankfully I then did manage to get an answer out of a hostel and they still had a dorm bed free.  I'd seriously been thinking that I might have to try to spend the night in one of the laundrettes that I passed - could have even washed my clothes at the same time!

This sign was in the hostel in Aso...

After a bit of volcano spotting there, I continued east across Kyushu to Kumamoto, where I stayed for one night before getting the train up to Fukuoka.

In Kumamoto I decided not to have food in this Thai restaurant, for some reason!

Fukuoka's Naka-gawa river in the rain.

Fukuoka tower
Then I headed up to Fukuoka (where I am now) on the North coast of Kyushu.  Near Fukuoka Tower, I found 'Robosquare', a robot museum / shop.  Being the only customer there, I was shown all sorts of robots, some for fun and some for home security or industry.

This mini-dinosaur was very lifelike in its movements, and responds when patted and stroked.  When the picture was taken, it was half way through singing a Christmas song.

This one was having a rest.

The slightly embarrassing bit came when I was encouraged to wait another 15 minutes, until the 'robot dancers' were performing.  So I did wait, and was still the only customer there to watch.  Five decorated robot dogs did synchronised dancing and lip-sync to Mariah Carey's 'All I want for Christmas is you'.  It was pretty clever, but a little bit cheesy!  The staff clapped along through the song, and we all had to applaud the robots at the end!

After that, a gymnastic robot quite like this one did some warm-ups before doing lots of impressive tricks on the horizontal bar.

All photos © George Clerk.  All rights reserved.  Licenses available at www.istockphoto.com/resonants or please contact me at photos@foogaloo.com

Tags: aso-san, beppu, fukuoka, hiroshima, japan



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