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Tuesday, October 01, 2013

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 17 Saiki to Sotaro

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 17, Friday March 22nd Saiki to Sotaro

So far on this leg of my journey I have really lucked out weather wise.... it's yet another clear sky as I set out from Saiki in the pre-dawn light. My next destination is Nobeoka in Miyazaki, and whichever route I take it's going to be two days of walking through some fairly remote country.

What looks to be the most interesting route would take me down the coast, but a close examination of the map shows that it has a lot of switchbacks which means lots of ups and downs as well as ins and outs around an irregular coast. It also seems that it would be hard to find accommodation, so I opt instead to follow the train line up and over the higher country inland. If I can get to the highest point near the Miyazaki border this evening then I can take a train down to Nobeoka and then tomorrow take an early train back.

Banjo River, Kyushu, Japan

The first couple of hours my route follows the Banjo River inland. The road is busy and there is nothing of interest until the sun rises golden and reflected in the placid river. After an hour the river is flanked by a levee so I climb up above the traffic and walk the path, going against the flow of high school boys bicycling into town. Another 30 minutes and I turn left and cross the river and start to head up into the hills. Thankfully most of the traffic doesn't.

This is what I consider to be the typical Japanese landscape: a long narrow valley, paddies along the river, houses against the hills, every few hundred meters drink vending machines, every few kilometers a small village Post Office,... each small settlement with a shrine and a temple,... but no shops except the occasional liquor shop. For the first time in many days I find a shrine that has masks hanging in the main hall, but it is locked so I can't get in to examine them closer. Still too close to the city. Further from the city the shrines will more likely be unlocked.

On the other side of the river express trains rattle by. About one every 30 minutes, but local trains are few and far between. One at 6 in the morning, one at 5 in the evening, and one more at around 8.

Around lunchtime I am in Naokawa, about halfway to where I want to reach today. It seems to be the biggest settlement on this road, big enough to host a michi-no-eki where I am able to buy a locally-made bento and sit and eat at a picnic table. It's clouding over.

Giant Beetle, Kyushu, Japan

Across the street a giant beetle sits atop a sign pointing to a forest park. The road continues to climb, though much more gently than I had anticipated. The valley narrows and the distance between buildings increase. Ahead I catch a glimpse of pink and blue and yellow, unusual colors out here where man-made structures tend towards natural earth colors and I wonder what it could be. It turns out to be a rural Love Hotel.

Most writings on Japan's love hotels focus on the urban examples. Very little is written about these kind that are usually found in the middle of nowhere, like this one, halfway between towns or cities. They are more like old style American motels, with individual cabins, these painted in candy colors. If I hadn't already booked a room in Nobeoka for the night I would have considered staying here, though some do not allow single customers through fear of suicides I believe. For couples traveling, love hotels can often be good deal for price.

Either side of the road is now just forest, no farms, few buildings, and as I reach Shigeoka station it starts to shower. I check the timetable. About 100 minutes till the train comes. The next station is a tad under 8km away. I decide to risk it and head off briskly with my umbrella. I'm tired, but it will mean 8km less to walk tomorrow. I make Sotaro station with 5 minutes to spare and with the last light I peer out of the train window and look at the country I will be walking down through tomorrow. Now I am in Miyazaki.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu 16

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