Kuju-san

I’ve been off hiking again! This time me and my boyfriend’s family hiked Mount Kuju (九重山) in Oita prefecture. This trip was probably my fourth to this area, and I have to say Kuju and the Aso-Kuju National Park is beautiful! If you are not into hiking but have a valid driving license out here, it’s definitely worth a trip, the scenery in the park is spectacular.

Anyway we had rented a house, in a complex called “Forest Hills” in Yufuin, so we were based in the area so we didn’t have so far to drive. We woke up early, and the got to see Yufuin covered in a sea of morning mist, was quite a beautiful start to our day!

Morning mist in Yufuin
Morning mist in Yufuin

We drove from here to the start of our hike at the Makinoto-pass, which has a small shop to buy coffee and ice cream, but is basically just a place to leave the car while hiking the mountain. To the left side of the car park is the start of the route, and there is a box where you can fill in information about your party in case you go missing or have some accident while hiking.

Marker at the start of the hike!
Marker at the start of the hike!

From here we walked up a rather steep concrete path for around 15 minutes, before the real hike began and the concrete vanished and we were walked a dirt path with many rocks and boulders in our way. There were also ladders and wooden steps we had to climb at one point, but after the initial climb the way stayed fairly flat until we arrived just under the summit of Mount Kuju.

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We could see many other hikers on the path ahead of us

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There are good signs the whole route of this hike, something I like about this one is the road forks several times, at one point there are 2 other routes available both easily signposted. We were quite keen to try Hossho-san, as the route looked quite challenging, maybe next time!

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There it is – Mount Kuju!

The path stayed fairly flat until we got to just underneath Mount Kuju, here we had a descent that was extremely rocky and then levelled out to a nice rest stop. Here there was a toilet and many people were scattered around looking at the views over Aso and eating lunch.

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Smoke from Mount Aso rises in the distance

Then there was another very rocky ascent, this part of the way is quite tricky as you can’t see a particularly clear path. You just have to keep looking at your feet and picking the best way between the rocks. From here we managed to hike to the top fairly fast.  While climbing the rocky ascent the path forks and if you go to the right, you can climb Naka-dake instead if you wish, this is the highest peak on Kyushu island at 1791m, 5m higher than Mount Kuju.

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We did it!

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The summit – 1786m!

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We did this hike in the last weekend in November and had glorious weather, unfortunately the weather has turned and it’s much colder now. The way up from the rest stop to the summit of Kuju-san has yellow spots painted on rocks en route, in case of bad weather so you can more easily find the path. Also this hike took us about 6 hours with some stops for food, coming back to the car was very quick.

There is a apparently a bus you can take that drops you at the Makinoto pass, that goes from a number of different cities in Kyushu. It’s called the Kyushu Odan Bus, you can’t catch it from Fukuoka but you could get the train to Kumamoto or Beppu and go from there, although it’s probably easier to hire a car.

http://www.kyusanko.co.jp/sankobus_top/

I really enjoyed this hike, and as I said at the beginning of this post, even if you are not planning on hiking the area, the region is really beautiful. As the winter season is here, going for a drive through the mountains and stopping in some onsen towns is also an option.  Chains are recommended on your tyres if you are driving in the region while snow is on the ground.

Think the next hike on my list is Yakushima, not exactly that close to Fukuoka, for now I think the hiking is on hold until it gets a bit warmer!

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The Wizarding World of Harry Potter!

So I’m a MASSIVE Harry Potter fan! This post is just a short piece about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Japan (USJ) in Osaka, and what you need to do in order to enter that section of the park.

You need to get a special timed entry ticket to enter this area of the park during busy periods.  Using the Loppi ticket machines found in certain convenience stores, you can reserve in advance a fast pass ticket booklet.  If you get the set of 5 or 7 fast pass tickets, these include entry to “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey” inside Hogwarts. This will allow you entry into the Harry Potter area as well, and will let you queue jump the line for this attraction once you’re inside.

However when me and my friends went to USJ, it was a Sunday on a three day weekend in October during Halloween season! All these fast pass booklets were sold out!!! In this case though it is still possible to get a timed entry ticket into the Harry Potter area!

There are machines inside the park, around the entrance to the Amityville section of the park, where one member of your party can queue up with all of the party’s entry tickets, to select a time slot to enter the Harry Potter zone. We arrived around 8:30-9am and were still able to get an entry slot for around 10am! So if you arrive around the park opening time you should definitely be fine! I would say arriving in the afternoon could mean you miss out though.

You can enter between the times listed on your timed entry ticket, and once inside you can stay as long as you like, but once you leave you can’t re-enter the Harry Potter area. And I believe they only issue one timed entry ticket per person per day!

Even though it was really busy when we went I thoroughly enjoyed it!!! All the food available to buy inside is delicious!! One point is there is a very long line for the sweet shop, if you only want to buy Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans there is a small separate cart selling those.

Below are pictures, if you don’t want to see spoilers of inside the Harry Potter area, don’t scroll down!

The Hogwarts Express!
The Hogwarts Express!
Oishi Butterbeer!
Oishi Butterbeer!
In "The Three Broomsticks"!!
In “The Three Broomsticks”!!
Hogwarts!!!!
Hogwarts!!!!
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Queue for ‘Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey” going through the Hogwart’s greenhouses.

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Inside the Castle!
Inside the Castle!

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Waiting to enter the sweet shop!
Waiting to enter the sweet shop!

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The Ford Anglia
The entrance to Hogwarts!
The entrance to Hogwarts!

Mount Hiko-San

So I haven’t posted anything in ages, I know I’m rubbish! I’m going to try and get back into it with some posts on my favourite season autumn!! I know it will be soon coming to an end with December right around the corner but December’s weather has known to be okayish (well compared to the dreaded chill that January and February bring anyway!!) And recently I’ve been getting very into hiking, it’s a wonderful autumn activity if you wrap up warm and bring the appropriate gear, as the scenery can be very dramatic at this time of year! And Japan is known to have a lot of mountains!! Kyushu especially has some beautiful areas for hiking.

I may have mentioned in a previous post that me and some friends tried to climb Mount Fugen Dake in Unzen national park during the summer, but being woefully unprepared made probably the best possible decision and gave up! Well I honestly learnt my lesson and I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again!!

Anyway moving on, so me, my boyfriend and his father went on a little expedition to Hiko-San ( 英彦山) a mountain that lies on the border of both Fukuoka and Oita prefectures.  If you are able to rent a car it takes around 90 minutes to drive there from Fukuoka city centre (I will list information about getting there via public transport at the bottom of this post). Hiko-san is considered one of Japan’s most spiritual mountains and the path follows an old pilgrim trail still used to this day by mountain priests or yamabushi ( 山伏). And on our drive up the mountain we saw a group of them wearing traditional clothing jogging up the mountain in training. We parked the car at Seinen no Ie (青年の家) and from here got a free shuttle to the start of our trail ,the shrine, Takasumi Jinja ( 高住神社), where we stopped for a chat with a couple more yamabushi before hitting the trail.

Our new yamabushi pals
Our new yamabushi pals

The route up the mountain is easy to follow but is pretty steep, you definitely need gloves to help with gripping onto the ropes or chains you sometimes need to use to pull yourself over large rocks in the path.  Getting to the top took us around 1 hour and 20 minutes, the view from the top is fantastic! At the North summit it is a fairly easy stroll to the central summit, when we got there it was very busy with a lot of people eating lunch!! The North summit was a lot less crowded and more sheltered from the wind!! But the central summit does have a toilet and a covered viewpoint that you could sit inside if it was raining.

On the hike up!
On the hike up!
At the summit!
At the summit!
Lunch!
Lunch!

We had a good lunch cooked on a mini gas stove we’d carried up, it felt wonderful to have something hot as it got extremely windy and cold! At the top is also a very old shrine you can go inside and make an offering. On the way down the first part of the path was very easy to follow, going down an old stone staircase, obviously part of the original pilgrim trail, the scenery here was very autumnal. The route we had chosen branched off a little way down. It took us a bit of humming and haring to figure out which way we were meant to go, the map and compass we brought with us proved very useful!

Scenery on the climb down

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A lucky catch!
A lucky catch!
Lost in the woods!
Lost in the woods!

We ended up taking the bird sightseeing trail, which thankfully was the right way, during our descent we didn’t see any birds, but we did spot three deer! Finally we emerged into a gorgeous field of pampas grass which used to be an old ski slope. From here it was a very short walk to where we parked the car lucky!!!

This used to be a ski slope!
This used to be a ski slope!

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It was a challenging hike for me, a beginner, and the mountain was beautiful it did feel like a really spiritual place. Although a bit tricky to get to without a car, I would recommend it for anyone in the Fukuoka area who enjoys the great outdoors!

Some additional information, this link (see below) has some basic maps with different routes, we did route A on the 2nd page. It says this route takes 3.5-4 hours, it took us more like 6 hours, we stopped for around an hour for lunch and it took us a while to find our bearings on the descent.

http://www.fsg.pref.fukuoka.jp/hikosan/pdf/5-2tozan_sansaku_map.pdf

This hike is also listed in the Lonely Planet “Hiking in Japan” book, I found out about this after doing the hike, the route in the book is different to the one we took.

If using public transportation, you can get a train to Hiko-san station from Kokura station and it takes 1 hr 45mins. From here you can get buses to Hiko-san Bessho, and start your hike from there doing a different route to the one we chose.  Happy Hiking!

Start of Summer Spectacular! Unzen Peninsula driving holiday!

Hello! So I haven’t written anything on here for ages, mainly because it’s been rainy season and I was hibernating until it finished! And also because I have been frantically planning my summer holidays.

To kick off the holidays, I went on a driving tour of the Unzen / Shimabara peninsula, in Nagasaki Prefecture. Originally we were planning to go to Miyazaki but due to a friend having to cancel and a new friend joining the group (who had already extensively toured round Miyazaki) after much researching we decided to visit Unzen, and I’m so glad we did!!!

It is around a three to four hour drive from Fukuoka and we managed to go the whole way only paying ¥200 in tolls! And for a three day trip there is plenty to do! Getting anywhere around the peninsula is within a one hour drive pretty much, and there is not much traffic so it’s a really good place for a driving holiday.

The first day I was actually working until 2pm, so we didn’t arrive until 6pmish, just in time to see the sunset!! The views from the road are beautiful and we found our hotel in Obama town very easily. Of course we had to take photos with the town sign, of Mr. Obama relaxing in the onsen. Our hotel was opposite Hotto Futto 105, a foot onsen with views of the sea, and we sat there and enjoyed the sunset.  We had dinner in a nearby restaurant, where you can steam food using the natural onsen steam, although I opted for the Tempura set.

Sunset from Hotto Futto 105
Sunset from Hotto Futto 105
Obama onsen
Obama onsen
Lovely Tempura dinner
Lovely Tempura dinner

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The next day we woke up early to go see the Mount Unzen Jigoku (hells) and hike up Mount Fugen, instead of taking the ropeway up we walked, which took about 30 minutes, we were very tired when we got to the upper ropeway station. We attempted the hike to the peak of Mount Fugen as all material I’ve read says this is a “relatively easy hike”, I think this is probably true if you are not a rookie hiker and come very prepared! There are some very steep stairs and as we had eaten no breakfast or brought any food with us, we decided to call it quits and go get lunch! The views we saw up to this were still very beautiful!

I’d recommend bringing food, as it took us an hour to find a restaurant after we descended, and wearing proper hiking gear. If you need to stop and take breaks I think the hike would take around 3 hours or a bit more! If you are a seasoned hiker then you could probably do it quicker.

After lunch we went to see old Samurai houses in Shimabara and the castle there too! We finished the day with a barbecue back in Obama,  with a view of the sunset.

 

Me at the Unzen Hells (jigoku)
Me at the Unzen Hells (jigoku)
Hello Mr Caterpillar
Hello Mr Caterpillar
My friends almost at the upper ropeway station
My friends almost at the upper ropeway station
The ropeway
The ropeway
Mount Heisei Shizan
Mount Heisei Shizan
In Shimabara at the old Samurai district
In Shimabara at the old Samurai district

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Shimabara castle
Shimabara castle
More sunset views
More sunset views

We started our final day with dolphin watching in Minami Shimabara, the whole trip takes only an hour, but we saw so many dolphins!!! They take you out on quite a small boat, we were with around 10 or 15 other people, and it only takes around 20 minutes to get there and the dolphins stay around the boats, I guess because they are quite curious so we got to see many up very close!

After this we went to a beach, just next to the dolphin watching place and I went for a swim. After eating a picnic lunch we went on a hunt to find a waterfall, the first we tried to find is called Ayugaeri-no-taki waterfall, and the road to get to this is very very narrow! So we opted for looking for the other waterfall, the roads to this are also narrow but nowhere near as bad as the first!!!

That waterfall is called Tonosumi. We found this abandoned park and were a bit confused, but then this old Japanese man helped us find the trail down to the waterfall, which is slippery but a really pretty waterfall awaits you at the bottom! The trail starts at the back of the park, there is a gap in the hedges and a wooden sign.

Finally we went to the Mt. Unzen Disaster Memorial Hall (last admission is at 5pm, it closes at 6pm) , that has exhibits on the 1991 Mount Fugen eruption and resulting pyroclastic and debris flows that killed around 40 people. The museum is very interesting, there is a free audio guide available in English and most of the exhibits are interactive in some way. The entrance fee is ¥1000.

 

Me on the beach!
Me on the beach!
Dolphins!
Dolphins!
Me on the search for dolphins!
Me on the search for dolphins!

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Tonosumi Waterfall
Tonosumi Waterfall
Rescue Helicopter used during the 1991 Mount Fugen eruptions
Rescue Helicopter used during the 1991 Mount Fugen eruptions
View of Mount Fugen from the Mt. Unzen Disaster Memorial Hall
View of Mount Fugen from the Mt. Unzen Disaster Memorial Hall

 

This area was Japan’s first national park, and has beautiful scenery! The people were really friendly and I’d really recommend visiting this area! One thing I will say is we saw very few restaurants as we were driving round, so bring snacks or don’t leave it till the last moment to go find lunch.  The website for Mount Unzen Geopark (see below) has very useful pdf files for tourists in English with all these places and more listed. For most it also gives you the map code, so you can just type that into the satellite navigation (GPS) for the car and it makes driving around really easy!

http://www.unzen-geopark.jp/en-iroiromap

I hope everyone has a great summer vacation!! It’s only just begun hoorah!!!

Birthday Shenanigans

Ahhhhhh!! So I haven’t posted anything in ages, boo!! Well in my defense I think one of my last posts was about how excited I was about the beach . . . and then rainy season hit! boo! And a mixture of not doing much and a grumpy mood put me in a bit of a creative slump blogging wise. But it wasmy birthday last week and despite the rain, I was determined to go out and have a good time!

The girls from work surprised me with cake!
The girls from work surprised me with cake!

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So me and a couple of my friends went to see some live music two weeks ago at a venue called “Early Believers” , it’s near Fubar on Oyofuko-dori and is a fairly decent size and also has a bar with some seating in the front which isn’t bad for chillaxing when you’re not rocking the dance floor.

We saw a band called “Habana” who I really like, I’ve seen them once before and thought they were awesome! It turns out that one of my friends knows a couple of the band members, so we got to hang out with them before and after the show too, which was cool!

Their music is quite difficult to explain a kind of euphoric dance but that has some traditional Japanese elements, as well as a sitar and a didgeridoo, if that helps give you any idea of their musical style lol.

The band
The band

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Working the hat
Working the hat
Tomodachi's!
Tomodachi’s!

The next morning we also woke up early to catch the England vs. Italy world cup match, which was a good game, it would have been even better if England actually won!!! And as of writing Japan only have a slim chance of going through, so I’m going to have to pick a different team to support, decisions, decisions!!!

Working another hat! This time with a grumpy face! Cos England are out! boo!!
Working another hat! This time with a grumpy face! Cos England are out! boo!

Due to having friends now who actually are down with the live music scene in Fukuoka, I feel like there will be more opportunities to post about these kind of gigs, and the plan for later in the week (after pay day!!!) is to go see an Ainu band! If they are any good, I’ll let you know!

The Owl Cafe!!

So I finally went to the owl cafe!!! And really liked it!! Was quite an experience having a barn owl sit on your head, lol. I’m a huge Harry Potter fan and instantly started comparing the owls on which would make the best owl postman! Some may be more express delivery owls, while others could carry hefty sized parcels, like a new broom for instance haha!

Anyway, you have to book in advance and probably best to go there in person, so you’ve already established how to get there. You have to book for a one hour slot, ours was 5pm-6pm. It costs ¥1000 and includes a drink, an alcoholic drink puts the price up to ¥1200. And I believe a maximum of 20 people can go in at once, our time slot wasn’t full and there were 12 of us in there.

When your time slot comes round you go up to the 2nd floor, where the staff take your drink order and then give an explanation (all in Japanese of course) of how to best handle the owls and what you shouldn’t do, e.g. stroking the owls tummy is a bad idea but the head and beak is ok! There is a card they gave us, this explains these instructions in English, so don’t worry! This takes around 10 minutes and then you get 50 minutes handling time with the owls!

Now to the owls!! In our slot there were 5 owls we could interact with, 2 large owls and 3 small ones, Gori, Mashu, Niko, Natsu and a baby one that I forgot the name of, sorry cute baby owl!! And the staff help you hold the bird and generally you can hold each owl on your hand, shoulder or on your head! But this varies on the owl. There are other owls sitting on perches on the right side of the room, you are not allowed to touch these ones, but you can take pictures (with no flash). I believe the owls who interact with the customers get rotated, and the ones on the perches are having a break, some were sleeping!! When I was holding Niko he got very sleepy and starting yawning like crazy!! All the owls were very friendly and I would really recommend checking this little place out!!

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The beautiful Gori, he would be my 1st choice postman
The beautiful Gori, he would be my 1st choice postman

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Mashu the Barn Owl
Mashu the Barn Owl
That's a big yawn!
That’s a big yawn!
Me and Niko got very sleepy!
Me and Niko got very sleepy!
Me holding little Natsu
Me holding little Natsu
Cheeky Natsu
Cheeky Natsu
Owl Selfie!
Owl Selfie!
Look it's Hedwig!
Look it’s Hedwig!

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Wink ;)
Wink 😉
Another very sleepy owl
Another very sleepy owl
Me with the little baby owl, only one month old!! He nibbles so you have to wear a glove!
Me with the little baby owl, only one month old!! He nibbles so you have to wear a glove!

To get there you can take the subway to Nakasu-Kawabata station and take the Canal City exit (I believe it’s number 5 or 6), once you get above ground turn left down the shopping arcade, keep going until you reach almost the very end, the shop will be on the right hand side if you come from this direction. Look up to see the owl sign!

 

Let’s go to the beach, beach!

So I had a lovely weekend at the beach!!! And despite the horrible rain today, now all I can think about is the summer!!! Am getting super excited about all the awesome beach times to come!!! It got up to 27 degrees yesterday and I was brave enough to try swimming and it was well worth it! The water was so clear and I’d say more refreshing than chilly!

One of the best things about living in Fukuoka is there are a multitude of great beaches on your doorstep!! Some are easily accessible using public transport and are very close to the centre of town! Others take you out of the city to Itoshima or the islands of Nokonoshima and Shikonoshima!!

So many great beaches to choose from, my favourites are Fukutsu beach, Shikonoshima, Itoshima and Shingu. Here are some summery beach pictures – hopefully I can get in a couple more trips before rainy season swings round!! : )

Chilling on Meinohama beach during Golden Week
Chilling on Meinohama beach during Golden Week
Meinohama beach view towards Fukuoka Tower and Momochi
Meinohama beach view towards Fukuoka Tower and Momochi
Momochi beach
Momochi beach
Shikonoshima Beach
Shikonoshima Beach
View from the top of Shikonoshima of the spit below connecting it to the city
View from the top of Shikonoshima of the spit below connecting it to the city
Beach combing finds at Wajiro Beach
Beach combing finds at Wajiro Beach
Fukuma beach Sunset
Fukuma beach Sunset
Sandy toes
Sandy toes

Another Itoshima Beach

At Palm Beach Restaurant at Nishinoura Beach
At Palm Beach Restaurant at Nishinoura Beach
Swing at BBQ cafe on the way to Nishinoura
Swing at BBQ cafe on the way to Nishinoura
Nishinoura Beach in Itoshima
Nishinoura Beach in Itoshima
Shrine on the way to Shingu Beach
Shrine on the way to Shingu Beach

 

Momochi is really easy to get to as it’s basically in the city!! It’s not the most beautiful as it’s a man made beach but for convenience you can’t beat it!! The easiest way to get there is to get the subway to Nishjin, when you exit you should be able to see Fukuoka Tower in the distance, just walk towards it for around 10-15 minutes and you’ll find the beach! Buses go near there too!

Fukuma is easy to get to from Hakata Station by train, about 20 minutes (you get off at Fukuma) on trains heading towards Kokura, and then you should probably take a taxi to the beach which is only around 10 minutes away.

Shingu is also fairly easy, you go to Chihaya station on the JR and then change to the Nishitetsu station. Take the Nishitetsu to Shingu at the end of the line, the beach is a 5 minute walk from the station.

Shikonoshima is a bit harder to get to, and is much easier if you have a car. There are buses that go there, I will have to do more research into which number you should take but from Hakata station the journey time will be fairly long.

Itoshima is also easier if you have a car, but is a really nice area to explore on the weekend, and has a lot of cute beach side restaurants and cafes. If you can hire a car, I’d really recommend heading out that way as it starts to get a bit warmer!! If you drive toward Keya you can find a lot of nice beaches to stop at on the way there, I’ve never even made it to Keya as we always get sidetracked by other nice spots!!