As promised, here I am with a post about my life in the JET Program. To start off my return to Japan blogging on the right foot, I want to share the day I had back on November 22, 2018, when I walked around the nearby city for about 6-7 hours while waiting for my highway bus that would take me to Fukuoka. Since that weekend was 3 days, I was worried that if I went later in the day the parking would be full and I would be stuck so what I did was go around 9 a.m. and secure a parking spot, even though that meant that I would be waiting until 6:50 p.m for my bus. (Yes, I am that extra).
Here in the inaka (countryside), everyone has a car and you really don’t walk anywhere. Unfortunate for me since once of my favorite hobbies is walking around and exploring. However, on this day I got enough walking done to last me a while. The morning started off freezing cold so one of the first places I stopped off at was a cafe that I had eyed since we often drive past it but had never gone to.
The sign for the cafe said that they were open, but when I walked in I was greeted with what looked like someone’s dining room with the glass sliding doors closed and 2 women inside talking. I was kind of at a loss at what to do because it literally looked like I just barged into someone’s home. After confirming that it was indeed a cafe, I joined the owner and her friend in the “dining room” for a cup of coffee.
This cafe is called Hitoyoshi Forest Hall and there is an attached mini-concert hall for where they host different events. Next door/upstairs there is a female-only traveller’s hostel as well. Contrary to what I would have expected for what I thought was a random cafe in the city, they have many international travelers come to visit. Their website is really nice as well so I would recommend you check it out!
The owner was also really nice and talked to me about her cafe, things to do in the local area, and even shared her contact information so that I could maybe go over for a meal sometime. I haven’t contacted her or gone back to the cafe since that time, but maybe I should make it a point to go again once more before the year ends.
Once I had finished my coffee, defrosted, and was ready to move on, my first stop was to Aoi Aso Shrine, which is designated as one of the National Treasures of Japan. I had been here before back in August or September, but decided to stop by again to check my fortune (omikuji) and purchase some good luck charms to send home (omamori). Based off of the families with the young children that were gathered, it must have been time for shichi-go-san ceremonies.
Although the shrine is very nice, my main business of going to that area was to visit the gift shop that is next door to the shrine. They sell a variety of not only Kumamoto Prefecture souvenirs (omiyage) but they also have a lot of local products made in the Hitoyoshi-Kuma area. For Christmas presents for friends and family back home, as well as those who live in other prefectures in Japan, I bought a majority of their gifts from this store.
Outside of the store they also have a free foot bath. Hitoyoshi is well-known for being an onsen spot with over 20 different hot springs. I didn’t use the foot bath but I enjoyed their sign warning visitors not to swim in it.
After walking around and shopping I had worked up an appetite so I decided to try the cafeteria-like restaurant next door to the gift store. I ordered a set with oyako-don and udon. I was really full but I knew that I needed to fuel to get through the rest of my long day.
After I purchased my omiyage and got some food in my stomach, I really needed to continue to walk so I chose a new direction and set off. By the afternoon the mist had burnt off and the sun came out so I was really happy. I was also not very smart and had purchased a lot of omiyage which I then had to lug around on my walk so I settled for sitting down near the Kuma River, soaking in the sun, and watching some guys fish.
One of my favorite parts of this area which has now become my new home is the Kuma-gawa. When the weather is clear and the skies are blue, the river looks beautiful. But even when it is cold and misty, the eery look of driving over a bridge surrounded by white clouds over the river is also amazing.
Although I probably could have sat there enjoying the view forever, I still wasn’t ready to be done walking so I hauled myself up and continued to walk. The walk took me to a shrine which was very Japanese in the sense that it had a cemetery, the traditional gateway demarcating the entrance of the sacred space, as well as a colorful and plastic looking children’s nursery.
When I arrived at the shrine a tour bus full of people also arrived so I decided to skip entering the main hall and once again hit the road. I walked in a while in the same direction but there was really nothing but a quiet residential neighborhood so I turned back to the direction I came from.
My next stop was the area near Hitoyoshi Station which also has a lot of omiyage shops. After browsing the shops, my back really was tired so I sat on one of the benches outside of the station and just relaxed while enjoying people watching. Hitoyoshi Station itself is also a tourist spot, with a large clock tower out front which has a little show that goes off with the hourly chime and the attached Hitoyoshi Rail Museum Mozoka 868. While I thought it was mostly an amusement park for small children the owner of Mori Hall Cafe said that it is also a spot for adults to visit. I didn’t end up going this time, but I’ll definitely have to check it out before I leave.
After I was recharged enough to make the walk back to the bus station where I parked my car, I began walking again. I got back to the car and dropped off my purchases and since it was around 3:30 pm I still had a lot of time to spare so I crossed the street to look at the CD/Bookstore and then went to the nearest Mos Burger (fast food chain) to again, rest and have a coffee.
By the time I left to go and catch my bus it was already dark out and cold again. I did a lot of walking that day and I really enjoyed myself. It was also the first alone, walking exploration time I had for a while so that in itself was refreshing. I also got to see some of my favorite things including the blue skies, clear water, and the autumn trees lining the streets.
It was a really good reminder of the reasons why I like Japan. Since moving to Japan I was really caught up and stressed with trying to not only adjust to living and working in a foreign country but also living alone for the first time. I was really grateful for the chance to just wander aimlessly without a schedule, without the pressure of social interaction, and without thinking about work.
I am not sure how well my descriptions came across but I hope that you could at least enjoy looking at my pictures. Thank you for reading and I will be back again soon with another post about my life in JET. I’ve got 5 months worth of blog posts I need to catch up on!
Bonus image: The sign that I felt summed up the theme of the day