Date: Sat, 6 Jun 1998

Day 13. On our way to Beppu. We wouldn't even know Beppu existed if it weren't for the book Dave Barry Does Japan. You should read it sometime - it's damn funny, especially if you know what he's talking about. We got up right at 8am, and sprinted through the usual rigamarole then packed. Boy that suitcase is getting full. But I do give Samsonite a lot of credit - that suitcase is taking a LOT of abuse. We walked over to the crowded streetcar and piled our way in.

At the station, we got tickets and headed to a panya for breakfast. It's like there's a mini Central Market bakery in every department store and train station. I love those places. We ate in front of the station, defending our food from ravenous pigeons. At least they don't head butt us. We walked around the station purchasing bentoo (and egg salad for Kel) and questing for Happy Turn to feed Kel's cracker addiction. No such luck. We got her Pringles, but it's no substitute. After a few hours she may start going into withdrawal. And you know what that means. Space madness. Maybe if I occupy her mind...with more duties... :) We headed up to the track and got on the train, sat in the seats on the ticket, and the train left right at 10:40 as expected. However, my trusty digital compass said we were headed east. A bad plan if you want to go to Kokura, west of Hiroshima. 60 heart stopping seconds of racing through train schedules, tickets, and checking the compass 56 times over, we determined there was a strong magnetic source around somewhere. Phew. So much for technology. Kel's reading Contact, having devoured The Joy Luck Club in about 3 hours in Hiroshima. Man that girl can read.

Should be in Kokura in about 53 minutes, then we change to a regular train to Beppu. The Hells, for all those wondering what I was talking about earlier, are many hot springs that look so much like hell, they named them as such. They're also so much of a tourist attraction, one guide book says to blow them off. But we have to see what Dave Barry was talking about; the place where his wife bought mud, which we may buy if the selection is impressive enough. :)

We caught the next train in Kokura without a hitch. Kyuushu is beautiful. Not that every mountainous region in Japan isn't. Heavily wooded with bamboo forests, but more populated than Hokkaido. We got off the train in Beppu and headed down the street to the Foreign Tourist Information Center. There were these three older ladies who were extremely nice and helpful about everything. They were completely amazed that I spoke Japanese, even more so that I read it, and more so again when I started writing hiragana and kanji. They said my Japanese was excellent. They added that most of the people that visit them don't speak a lick of Japanese. They gave us maps and some green tea candy. We headed across the tracks to the hotel, Kokage. The lady seemed rude, not seeming to care that I had called ahead to make a reservation. The rates were also 1000 more than the guide book said. Actually, a lot is, so it's just out of date. We dropped our stuff off in our room and headed off to the bus to visit the eight Hells. The lady was a lot nicer on the way out. --M




Date: Sat, 6 Jun 1998

The Hells and beyond - We boarded the bus to the first Hell - Umi no Jigoku - 'the sea hell'. The guide book is right; the town from above does look otherworldly. The dozens of steam pipes everywhere make it look like Blade Runner. We disembarked and bought a book of tickets to all 8 hells for 2000. It was already 3, though, and the hells closed at 5. Everything says it takes 2-2.5 hours to see all the hells, so we began to rush through them. The first hell is pretty neat. It's a pond with azure water and tons of steam billowing up. In several places it has surging, bubbling, and hissing springs that billow more sulfur-smelling steam. These are all tourist traps, though, and every hell has its convenient gift shop selling identical merchandise that everyone must conveniently pass through. This one makes you go through twice. Off to the left was a mini-hell with red water. The next hell, Yama Jigoku (mountain hell) was really just a pile of rocks. They also have a bunch of animals kept in pens heated by the spring. I fed the elephant. When I dropped two of the crackers where I couldn't reach them, he blew them over to me. Very smart. Kel fed the hippo. Kel also discovered one of Ben Burtt's secrets - sandpeople sound like donkeys. (You had to be there, I guess.)

The next hell was Kamado Jigoku (oven hell) which people use for cooking. Indeed, they had eggs boiling away in a little basket, and what looked like dumplings steaming. The next hell, Oniyama Jigoku (no translation), had lots of breeding crocodiles in concrete pens. Ok, we didn't actually catch any crocodiles breeding, but hey. The next hell was Shiraike Jigoku(white water hell). It had lots of tropical fish and milky white water. The next hell was Kinryuu Jigoku (gold dragon hell), which had high pressure steam used to warm a tropical greenhouse. It also had a sign that said, 'If you fall in you will be boiled!' The next hells were 3km away so we walked down the long hill to the last two. We skipped Chinoike Jigoku (blood red hell) so we could see Tatsumaki Jigoku (water spout hell) in time. This is a geyser that religiously erupts every 25 minutes for 5 minutes of duration. What's hokey about it is that it erupts at :25 and :55 past the hour, which means the show ends right at the half and hour marks. People take tons of pictures and then trot off for the tour bus. We then hit Chinoike Jigoku which has a pool of blood red water. They also sell medicinal mud here, which I bought a tub of for my host parents.

We caught the bus back up the hill so we could catch the Sex Museum which is next to the 6 hells. This was a bizarre assortment of stone and wood phalluses (one 8ft in length), historic prints, ceramic plates, kama sutra positions, and other artwork. There was also a theater showing instructional sex position videos and downstairs wax figures of important sex history, and a motion wax setup of Snow White and the Seven Horny Dwarves. We caught the bus back to the station, then another to our food selection, which despite the two large signs, I managed to miss. It was an all you can eat place with food you grill yourself at your table. Very yummy and filling. We walked down the street towards the station and found Kotobukiya, the Beppu equivalent of Wal-Mart. We bought Kel a swimsuit and two towels. We walked all the way back to the station, stopping in an arcade where games were only 50. Went to bed around 10. --M


Date: Sun, 7 Jun 1998

Day 14-Beppu. Wow two weeks already! We got up moderately late, as we needed to change money. On the way out the door, the obasan handed us some eggs boiled in the hot spring. We went to Mister Donut for breakfast, where I tried one of the soft-boiled eggs; it tasted just like a soft-boiled egg. We changed money, then caught the bus to Suginoi Palace, the granddaddy of Beppu hot spring resorts. We bought combined tickets to there and Aquabeat, an indoor waterpark next door. We put our stuff in a locker, then split up to go to our sex-segregated baths.

As I convinced Kel to leave the towels since the guide book didn't say we needed any, of course there were none. I looked outside for Kel to give her money to get some with, but didn't find her. She was smart though-she had the locker key and used it to get money out of the backpack. I bought a towel, then stripped and entered the bath. That place is HUGE. I bathed in the outside shower, then entered the biggest pool filled with hot, relaxing water. We picked a good day; the baths were all but deserted. I then tried the adjacent medicinal pool filled with reddish murky water. I exited and rinsed off in a waterfall shower. Nearby was a small bath with kanji I couldn't read. Also next to this bath was a rather large erect stone penis. Distracted by the fantastic phallus, I thrust my foot into the water - icy cold water as I suddenly discovered. I yelped loudly and drew my foot back in terror. This drew the attention of a nearby bath worker who smiled. I smiled back and scurried off.

More cautiously, I moved from bath to bath, some with bubbles, others with rocks, some with waterslides, and all with varying degrees of tempurature. I opted not to take a sand bath; sand in certain areas sounds uncomfortable. After I had tried every other bath at least once, I went back into the locker jroom, dried, and dressed. I met Kel in the lobby.

It's Kelly. My bath experience wasn't nearly as exciting. I went in, noticed there were no towels, cursed Marc, and went to get some money to buy one. And they were tiny! I mumbled something close to "Please give me a towel," and the sympathetic bath lady smiled and gave me one. I went in to the bath, noticing it looked just like a big jacuzzi. I was wearing just a T-shirt, which I kept within two inches of me at all times. I hopped in, thought, "Wow, I've taken a bath in Japan," and promptly jumped out. That was about it. - Kel

We hit the arcade, then went across the street to Aquabeat. It's always 30 degrees inside the huge building, and the water is heated so it's not even remotely cold. They gave us wristbands that contained both our locker keys and a bar code to charge things to - no money necessary with suits on. We headed first to the dormant wave pool, then to the river that runs through an artificial cave. Kel agreed to go down the waterslide; she didn't want to at first. I went down the body slide, then Kel. Zoom! When Kel came out, she was grinning from ear to ear- she loved it! She said she giggled all the way down. She did it two more times while I tried the other courses you needed inner tubes for.

Kel went back to the wave pool while I tried the Super Roulette, a steep slide leading into a cone shaped slick container in which you whizz around in. When you run out of momentum you get dumped into a pool of water down below. I joined Kel in the now moving wave pool for a while, then we hit the solarium for 5 minutes of artificial sun. Afterwards we went on the waterslide once more. Kel said she wanted to go on it like 6 more times, but she thought the ladies that worked there would have thought she was nuts. We headed back to the lockers and again no towels.

Kel rented one with her wristband, and we met back at the stairs. We fed our wristbands into machines that charged us for the towel and gave us exit tickets. We headed back across the street to McDonald's for lunch where we won a world cup pin, then we rode the bus back to town. We took a nap at the hotel, then wandered around the shopping arcade. I bought peaches, then we walked to a CD rental place waaay down the road. We didn't realize it was a rental place until we got there, but we did get to listen to CD's and figure out which ones we liked. We walked back to the station area where we cooked our own okonomiyaki-these much more like the ones I made - and the lady told Kel she was pretty.

We went across to the arcade (notice a recurring pattern here?), then a few doors down to a movie theater where we saw Good Will Hunting. Kel realized that she had some green stuff in her teeth and she hoped she didn't smile at the lady. She made this dorky smile in demonstration and we just about fell out of our chairs laughing. We ate the very juicy peaches and saw the great movie. Then back to the hotel. Sorry I'm a day behind folks. I'll catch up on the train. --M


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Marc Hernandez :: Kelly Bickford