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The Road to the End

September 7, 2009

Today, I took the road to Sata. Where is Sata? It’s the end of Japan. (Well, actually, Okinawa is further south, but this is the farthest point south of the main islands of Japan.) It’s about 90km from where I live to the southernmost point of Japan. Cape Sata is where Alan Booth finished his epic walk across Japan in the early 1980s and is also where Will Ferguson began his cross-country hitchhiking adventure. Intriguing? For more about these adventures, check out their books (The Roads to Sata by Alan Booth and Hokkaido Highway Blues by Will Ferguson).

I didn’t walk to Sata. Nor did I hitchhike. I drove there and back by myself. This was really the first big adventure I took in my car by myself. Adventures by yourself are indeed different from those where you have your friends along with you. Both have their advantages, but I was glad I was able to explore on my own today.

It’s only 90km from my house to the end of Japan. Heh, what’s that going to take, about two hours max to get there? Well, it took over three hours, but I did stop a couple of times along the way.

First I stopped at Otori Gorge. This is the gorge that I had seen the sign for in Osumi-cho the last time I biked there. I couldn’t remember the name when I was talking about it with my boss, and she had no idea what I was talking about. I can see now why she didn’t know there was a gorge beyond Osumi Town. There are a bunch of signs on the way, and as soon as I emerged from a tunnel there was a sign pointing to the left. I turned off the road and drove down a side road for a ways. To my right, I could tell that there was indeed quite a deep gorge next to me, but I couldn’t really see it very well (lots of vegetation in the way) and I was surprised that there wasn’t a big parking lot to pull into and a bunch of people milling around. Well, there was one little parking lot at one point, but it was chained off and there were a bunch of signs there warning about not trespassing and to beware of danger. So, I thought maybe I missed it, and I went back to the main road and pulled in in front of a roadside ramen restaurant. I thought the place was abandoned, but then I could hear some radio music coming from the inside. I went into to ask about the gorge, and sure enough, there was an old woman in there, all by herself, wiping down the tables.

“Excuse me, I’m looking for Otori Gorge.”

“Ooh! Yes, I bet you are. It’s here.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yes, but they closed it down a couple of years ago. There were a series of… accidents.”

“Oh really?”

“Yes, but you can still get down there if you want. Just go back up the road until you see the chained off parking lot.”

“The one with all the ‘Danger, No Trespassing’ signs?”

“Yes, that’s the one.”

“Is it okay to go there?”

“Oh yes, as long as you watch your feet and don’t try to walk across the suspension bridge. You can take the bunny path.”

“The bunny path?”

“Hahaha, yes, the bunny path.”

“Is it alright if I park here and walk back up there?”

“Oh no, you can’t do that. It’s much too far.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“Here, have a lozenge. It’s so hot out there.”

“Yes, yes it is. Thank you.”

“Oh, you’re welcome. Here, have another. You’re going to need it.”

Well, this certainly sounded like an adventure in the making! The possibility of danger and an abandoned tourist attraction in the middle of a gorge, woohoo! Unfortunately, there really wasn’t anything worth seeing there. I made my way carefully down the stairs and poked around the old cottages by the river for a bit, but nothing had fallen apart enough to be called a ruin and there really weren’t any good views of the gorge from the parts you can get to without crossing the suspension bridge.

So, I got back on the road again and kept going. The road through the mountains wasn’t super interesting, but I did pass one used car dealership that had a sign saying, “Used Car – Nostalgic Car.” I liked the sound of that. You don’t see a lot of used cars in Japan. Well, around here, I guess you actually do, but I don’t know very many people who are willing to buy a car that’s ten years or older. One reason for this is that car insurance and licensing fees go up the older your car gets (backwards from the US) and you can buy a new K-car (light car with weaker motor) for under $10,000 including the first couple years of car insurance. But there is indeed something nostalgic about older cars. My “old” car is over ten years old and I absolutely love driving it around. I feel a very strong attachment to this car, and I feel like it reacts to me like a loyal dog.

Anyway, I kept going and the views got a lot better when I got to the coast. I saw a sign for a waterfall a couple of kilometers off the main road and thought, “Hmm, I like waterfalls. Sounds like something worth checking out!” It was. Man, I found this huge gorge that has a pedestrian suspension bridge running across it (which, I might add, you have to climb up to on one side of the canyon and then climb back down again on the other side to get back to your car). Anyway, if you go up on the bridge, you get a really fantastic view of a pretty impressive waterfall. I’ve got pictures.

The final part of the drive down was really nice. I was wondering if it was just going to be foliage covered hills dropping off into vast blue ocean, but it was actually quite impressive there. I doubt it’s the same for everyone, but I felt quite good standing there looking out from the same spot where Alan Booth finished his epic trek. His book was actually probably the biggest factor in inspiring me to walk the Tokaido road from Kyoto to Tokyo during my winter break while I was studying at Kansai Gaidai in Hirakata. (Wow, that sentence was full of prepositions!)

I stopped at a beach on my way back up the coast and swam around for a bit. Two kids wearing life jackets jumped out of a boat that was coming in and paddled out to meet me. The girl did all the talking.

“Hi.”

“Hello.”

“What’s your name?”

“Quill. What’s yours?”

“Nanako and Ryouta. Are you floating?”

“Yeah, aren’t you?”

“No, I have to use this vest.”

“Oh. Where did you go in the boat?”

“To the end of the sea!”

“Wow! Really?”

“No, we went to the middle of nowhere and then came back.”

“Wow, the middle of nowhere? Where’s that?”

“Oh, it’s over there,” she said, waving her hand non-chalantly off towards the volcano across the bay. “Are you American?”

“Yeah. How’d you guess?”

“Your accent’s funny.”

“Oh really?”

“Yeah, but you can’t help it. We’re Japanese, so we don’t speak with an accent, but you’re not Japanese.”

“No, I guess I’m not.”

“Do you know James?”

“James? No, who’s that?”

“An American. Do you know Simon?”

“Simon? No, I don’t know Simon.”

“Oh, I thought you would, because you’re American.”

“No, we live in different towns, and we’re probably from different parts of America. I’m from Oregon.”

“Where’s that?”

“It’s part of America. On the west side. Up north.”

“Oh… Northwest.”

“Yeah, that’s right. It’s really beautiful.”

“It’s really beautiful here.”

“Yeah, I think so, too.”

“Well, I gotta go. Bye!”

And that was that.

I decided to take a different road back, and crossed over the mountains to the other side of the peninsula. I had some nice views in the late day sunlight as I wove back and forth along the coast, but it got pretty dark about when I was passing by the rocket center. Yeah, JAXA (the Japanese version of NASA, but with less money) sends up some rockets every now and then from Kagoshima prefecture. There was absolutely nobody out and about in any of these little villages as I was passing through and it was a dark ride back over another set of mountains to get back to Miyakonojo.

It was a good day, and now I’m ready to start another great week. I’ve got a practice presentation on Monday afternoon in front of my boss and my coworkers to make sure I’m ready to present to the kids when I go see them later this week. I’m much more nervous about presenting for my coworkers than for the kids. The kids will love whatever I do, because they’ll just be stuck on the fact that there’s a huge foreign dude running around in their classroom.

It was my friend Ecchan’s birthday on Saturday. I made banana bread and brought it to our potluck party at my boss’s house. The night before that, I went to another house party with a bunch of the volunteers who help out with events for the Miyakonojo International Association. We had fire stew (among other delicious things) and I had a great time flirting with six older women.

As I sit here in my living room with the windows open, every now and then I hear a truckload of pigs going by. They let out some pretty strange squeals sometimes.

One thing I get asked by a lot of Japanese people here is what kinds of things surprised me when I first came to Japan. I had a hard time coming up with examples the first couple of times I was asked this, but now I’ve figured some out.

One thing that was really weird in Osaka was how everyone would rush to get to the train, even if it wasn’t coming for five more minutes, and then just stand around on the platform waiting for it. I still don’t understand. Osaka people are known for being kind of hasty and impatient, and I really noticed that while I was there.

Another thing is that, while there are chunky people in Japan, you don’t see very many. However, you do see a significant increase in fat people if you sit around in a McDonald’s for awhile. They’re not terrible, but a lot of the people in there do have quite a bit more meat on them than the average Japanese person. Another confusing thing is how Japanese people can eat and eat and eat fried chicken and beer and all sorts of terrible things at work parties and not gain any weight. I can’t keep up with even the littlest girls in the office. Hmm…

Speaking of food, Japanese TV is full of shows focusing on people eating. They’re not cooking shows, they’re eating shows. Not only that, the people doing the eating always react as if they have eaten the most amazing thing ever and they writhe around in ecstasy squealing and squirming and exclaiming how wonderful it is. And then, everyone in the studio audience reacts in awe and surprise that this person was not only able to eat it, but that she (usually a very lovely, thin, young Japanese girl) enjoyed it to an almost indecent extreme. Ahem. I don’t get it.

Anyway, I figured it was important to write some of these down before I forget. Who knows, pretty soon maybe I’ll be oohing and awwing whenever some Japanese girl on TV eats a bowl of noodles.

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One comment

  1. It sounds like you are having quite the time over there. I didn’t know you had a car!!! Reading your blog makes me wish I was back in Japan. Whenever I think of Japan I get these pings of sadness, like I am missing something. I really, really, really, want to go back. I want to speak Japanese again. I want to live there again! I am so glad that you have this opportunity, if anyone deserves it, it is definitely you. Keep it real homie. Miss you.



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