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Doing the rounds in Kagoshima

We tried to get out early from the hotel this morning. We did make it down for the free Japanese breakfast of rice and soup, but couldn’t quite check out on time.

Our luggage left in the care of the hotel we eventually made it to Hakata Station, where we tried to book some seats on trains to other places in Kyushu. The answer was the same – no reserved seats left. Damn public holidays!

We were left to chance our hands (bums actually) on unreserved seats. It was actually quite liberating because, with our JR Passes, we were free to chose whatever train ride we wanted.

I was quite tempted to go to Nagasaki, primarily because the train looked so remarkably cool, but we stuck with our original choice: south to Kumamoto and Kagoshima.

Kagoshima itself is served by a Shinkansen, but it is disconnected from the rest of the network until the line is fully completed. In between Hakata and Shin-Yatsushiro, the current northern terminus of the Shinkansen runs the Relay Tsubame, a grey metal train looking like some evil mechanical construct.

Fortunately, we found seats together and began our ride south. It’s a pretty route, past mountains and the coast, though little of the latter is visible. Terraced rice paddies and bamboo forests decorate the landscape.

We chose not to stop off at Kumamoto, but instead go straight for Kagoshima. At Shin-Yatsushiro, where the Relay Tsubame terminates, we walked straight across the platform to the Tsubame Shinkansen. Tsubame means swallow. This most modern of Shinkansens has a distinct retro feel, with wooden backed chairs and bamboo blinds.

Unfortunately, the Tsubame also lacks decent baby change facilities.

The scenery was very pretty, but all too brief, as we seemed to spend most of our time inside tunnels.

It was mid afternoon by the time we reached Kagoshima and our first priority was to find some local fare. We caught a tram from in front of the station down to the main shopping arcade. Japan’s trams retain an old charm, unlike the new European and Melburnian services.

After a detour into the Mitsukoshi department store to change Alex’s nappy we went in search of lunch through the covered Tenmonkandori arcade and surrounds. Unfortunately, the public holiday meant most eating options were closed.

We walked back to the station, enjoyed the sight of cherry blossoms along the Kotsuki river, ate some tasty, but unremarkable food court meals, then returned upstairs to catch a scenic bus. Actors dressed up as Ultramen were entertaining children outside the front of the station.

We just missed the bus, and looking at the timings we realised that it would take too long anyway. I was disappointed that I had not even seen Kagoshima’s Sakurajima volcano. Fortunately, at the top of the station was a giant ferris wheel, which we caught to admire the spectacular views of the city and Sakurajima. Unfortunately, there was not even a hint of activity – I have never seen an active volcano in action. Then it was back to Hakata.

Japan is supposed to be the land of the rising sun, but it is at its best at sunset. The golden light suffusing through the hazy skies, reflecting off the water in the rice paddies, the neon glow of the shops and pachinko parlours. It was a beautiful ride back, except that Alex was getting overtired.

On our return to Hakata we emerged into frigid air, a distinct change from the southern warmth of Kagoshima. We collected our bags from the hotel and rolled them to the station, picking up some bento boxes for dinner.

The Hikari RailStar ride across to Shin-Yamaguchi on Honshu was mercifully short, as Alex was beginning to whinge. But at Shin-Yamaguchi we had to lug our heavy bags up and down stairs in the cold to transfer to the local train that would take us to Yamaguchi proper.

The two car diesel was thankfully heated as it chugged along on its 15 minute ride. Yamaguchi was already mostly asleep as we walked about a kilometre to our destination, the Hotel Sunroute Kokusai. The hotel itself was surprisingly nice and modern inside, not at all what we expected. It even has internet access, though you need to borrow one of their DSL modems.

Tomorrow we go goldfish lantern and soy sauce hunting.

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