Golden Week; Last day in Kumamoto!

Now onto the last day. I promise this is actually the last part of the Kumamoto series!

So, with our hearts still in Tsuetate, we headed off to what I thought was home. On and on we drove, winding through the ever beautiful Kumamoto mountain range, with good conversation to accompany the view. We stopped only once, and ended up at this adorable little area that had a small collection of cute shops; one of which was an impressive liquor store. 

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Bending, twisting, the car groaned now and again, doing her best to climb the steep hills that lay ahead of us. Considering she had people and cases bursting out of her at all doors, I think she did a pretty good job. With my heart resigned to home, knowing my week of bliss was soon to be over, I was overjoyed when we came to a car park in the middle of cluster of hills, mountains flanking us.

“What are we doing?’ I asked a little cautiously, not wanting to let on that I was utterly out of the loop. It turns out that the Nakamura’s had one surprise left for us; Kuju flower park「くじゅう花公園 」(I will put details about the park at the bottom of my post).

At first, I had thought that we were still in Kumamoto, but it turns out we had just crossed the border into Oita. That brought my Golden Week prefecture count up to 3, an uneven number that for once, I was happy with.

The shops at the entrance were welcoming with all their pine and fresh produce, taking you back to a calmer time where the internet wasn’t a thing and the stress of an unreceived text was a far off dream. We spent the following hour or so exploring the meadows of flowers, ducking in and out of different fields, bathing in the colours. Sadly, we were a little out of season and the tulips, one of my favourite flowers, were already withering, and in many places gone all together.


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11255743_10153181868635901_1860491075438159133_o IMG_7252_FotorI’m pretty sure that the sign said not to step into the heart… lets hope they’re not cursed with bad luck in love. 

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And some good news for all you vegetarians and vegans out there; they had a vegetable oriented buffet! Healthy, well cooked and relatively cheap, the meal replenished the strength needed to return to work the following day and to say goodbye to a beautiful holiday that had given us a taste of freedom. Oh how I miss freedom.

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I could not have asked for a more perfect ending to a perfect holiday. I had spent my golden week in the best way possible! Surrounded by friends and my amazing boyfriend. Going to Kitakyushu and then Kumamoto had been the first step in the stages of ‘Let’s see how much Naomi and Chad can do together without wanting to kill each other‘ and we passed with flying colours! Working in Japan, or any place for that matter, can sometimes make you forget just how beautiful a place is, which is why I sorely needed this trip. I was reminded once again, just how beautiful Kyushu is. So please guys, come visit Kyushu, even if it’s for a day, I promise you will not be disappointed.

Thanks for reading ❤︎❤︎

Japanese website: http://www.hanakoen.com/

English pamphlet:http://www.hanakoen.com/wp-content/themes/hanakouen/img/guide/pamph/pdf/pdf-en01.pdf

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Kumamoto Mystery Destination

After leaving Aso Farmland, we were soon back on the long and winding roads of the Kumamoto countryside. With music pouring through the speakers of Shelby, Chads tiny but ballsy car, we watched the scenery change around us. From Hills, to towns, to villages, to valleys, we saw the beauty of Kumamoto. I was most curious about this destination. The entire trip had been a little bit of a mystery, but with time ticking on my interest was peaked.  Winding ever on, we finally arrived at a small village, passing many onsen along the way, the pipes spewing out steam.

With the hands on the clock pushing six, we soon came to a standstill, the traffic surprisingly heavy for a small village between two mountains. It didn’t take long for us to find out why. Nestled between two large mountains either side a roaring river, sits Tsuetate 「杖立」, a small onsen retreat in the heart of Kumamoto. I had forgotten that today, May 5th, was Children’s day 「子供の日」and Tsuetate, as I later found out, was famous for celebrating it. Hundreds of carp streamers「鯉のぼり」 hung above the river, dancing on the wind as it made it’s journey through the valley. It was honestly breathtaking. Easily one of the most beautiful things I have seen, like something straight out of a Miyazaki Hayao masterpiece. Due to traffic, we were a little late to dinner, but thanks to the kindness of our patrons, we had a delicious dinner laid out for us upon our arrival.

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We spent our evening relaxing in the onsen after a delicious meal, with me and Mamie having a good bonding session in the soothingly hot water. By the time we got back to our rooms, our beautiful wooden table had been swapped for four comfortable futons, which we all soon fell into. Not before having some delicious beers of course. There is honestly nothing more relaxing than sitting with your friends, wearing Yukata and listening to the crashing of water below you as you sip your beverage of choice.

The next day the tight schedule continued. Even more so in fact due to it being our last day, we still had a lot to see before we arrived back in Nagasaki! After an equally exquisite breakfast, we decided to go on a little adventure and explored the small area of Tsutate before we left. With a tunnel of wishes, twists and turns everywhere you went and stunning views, I immediately decided that those who live in the area were some of the luckiest people alive and that I too, in return, was lucky for being able to come here, even if for a short while.

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If any of you have no plans next Golden Week, I cannot recommend this place enough. With a raindbow of colour blowing in the breeze above your head, and old mountains either side protecting you, I promise nothing but a dream like experience.

Thank you for reading

❤︎❤︎

Golden Week Part 2: Kumamoto day 1

Kumamoto, a place that stole my heart the moment I stepped off the bus when I visited during my year abroad. With the top of Kumamoto castle peering over the edge of the trees, it watches over all of Kumamoto. My stay last time, however, had been brief, so when Chad suggested we join our friends on their Golden Week Kumamoto travels, I was overjoyed.

We were to set out the day after we got back from Kitakyushu, and the 5 am wake up call was less than desirable. So, a Gasto breakfast later, the four of us; me, Chad, Mamie and Ethan all crammed into Chad’s little car and off we went, following the wonderful Nakamura family, our party leaders for this mini excursion. Catching the ferri from Shimabara to Kumamoto, we arrived in the late morning, and already the city area around the castle was jam packed with cars from all over Japan. We even saw some number plates from Hokkaido!IMG_7056

With food on the mind we happily followed the Nakamura’s to a little Ramen shop, tucked away down some inconspicuous street. Chad was sweetly worried because I’m a veggie, and in honestly, so was I. Not that I told him that of course. Thankfully, I managed to nap some meat free cold noodles, and scoffed them down as well as I could, leaving only a little. We were, however, greeted by a surprise as we left, with a line of people queuing up down the street waiting to get into the small restaurant. Unbeknown to us all, Mr.Nakamura had cleverly timed this, making sure we got there before the rush of hungry people wanting to try some of Kumamoto’s finest ramen. Damn, if only I had payed closer attention to the name of the place!

It was then off to the castle. Just as it had before, the large , grand architecture of Kumamoto castle wowed me once more. I would have probably spend forever staring at it had The Nakamura’s daughter not attracted herself to me early on into the trip and was thus my ever playful companion. She dragged me this way and that and by the time we sat down for a drink I was beat. Thank go for Chad’s quick thinking, pulling up the games on his phone for her to play with, buying me ten minutes to have a reprieve. With winding staircases, far off views of buildings protected by mountains and golden walls that transport you back to a much different time, Kumamoto castle is defiantly a place I would recommend. Sadly, the small samurai show I saw two summers ago wasn’t on today; my new little sister would have enjoyed that.

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Kumamoto castle


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We were soon off again, calling to buy some materials before making our way to our accommodation for the evening, a cabin near Mt. Aso. It was compact and cozy, with high ceilings and porch which I refused to step out on thanks to the millions of bugs gathering there. The Nakamura’s took the downstairs bedroom, while me, Chad, Mamie and Ethan took the two double beds in the loft. Our evening was spent playing Uno, dining on delicious vegetable curry (curtesy of Mamie and Mrs. Nakamura) and a lovely soak in the indoor onsen. Yes, you heard right, on top of everything, this place had an indoor onsen like bath, with windows that covered two walls, allowing us to see into the forestry outside. All in all, it was a perfect end to a perfect first day.

Golden Week, Round 1; Kitakyushu

I could not wait to get back. With my bag packed and new white sandals strapped securely to my feet, my Golden Week adventures began. Accompanied by the ever-sweet Mr. Cooper, we set off at 7:22 pm, catching the two hour something train to Hakata, Fukuoka. We then added a little sass to our excursion by catching the Shinkansen (aka. The fastest bloody train ever) to our desired destination of Kokura, Kitakyushu. And so, no more than three hours later and feeling oddly refreshed, I was back in my old stomping ground, uncontainable excitement coursing through my veins. And I mean that it was quite literally uncontainable. I spent the entire trip shouting ‘Natsukashiiiiiii’* and ‘Oh my god I’m hereee!’; Poor Chad. Poor anyone who was walking by really. Oops.

With the stress of a few weeks work resting around our shoulders, the first evening was spent curled up in our pleasantly small APA hotel room for two, drinking beer and watching The Great Gatsby. Despite the lack of candles, petals and whatever else one would usually say denotes a romantic evening, it was perfect.

Our Saturday began with a monorail trip to Moritsune, where we made our way to, what I will wager, is the most delicious pancake house in all of Japan, Rusa Ruka. Flanked by palm trees, It was like a little piece of summer in the middle of spring. It was just as I remembered. From the sweet tinkling of the bell when you opened the door, to the rustic feel and various eclectic trinkets on sale. The pancakes were just as mouthwatering too. As someone who hates various fruits and creams, I went with the classic pancake set, taking the free second helping so as to savour the flavour as much as I could. Who knows when I’ll come again! Chad being the more adventurous eater, however, went with the extravagant strawberry dish, coupled with a brown sugar milkshake. It looked out of this world delectable. I wish we’d had the time to sit there all day, but with time nipping at our heels, I took him on a quick trip down memory lane in which I showed him my old apartment and university, before we headed back to Kokura station.

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First point of call, go to the information desk and get instructions on how to get to *Kawachi Fujien*, a beautiful wisteria garden and the entire reason for our coming here. After a short bus ride from Kokura to Nijyou we found ourselves exactly where we wanted to be. If only we knew where exactly where that was. At this point I just decided to done my cool new sunglasses and try and look a little less lost and a little more sassy. Luckily for us, a taxi happened to be passing by, its bright blues and oranges as beautiful as water in the desert. We flagged it down, and after being assured by the kind gentleman that it would cost no more than around 2000 yen to get us to our wisterian utopia, we were off.

With Golden Week infecting everyone with the travel bug, I shouldn’t have been surprised at what lay before us. Like a giant snake, car after car joined together from the foot of the hill to the garden, and what should have been no more than a ten minute taxi ride soon became an hour. With each passing minute I felt the coil inside my chest wind tighter. It didn’t help that people outside were walking faster than us. Had there been a place for the conversational taxi driver to turn around, I probably would have insisted we get out and join them in the far more sensible option. Lucky for us, and true to the mans benevolent nature, he turned the meter off once it reached around 2500 yen.
We reached the garden a little before six and my heart stilled at the sight before me. As beautiful as a Monet, and twice as vivid, an array of pinks and purples hung from the arched frames to which they clung. With the afternoon sun shining down, its gentle rays kissed my skin and showered the flowers with a tenderness that was almost to intimate to watch. The wisteria blossoming under the ever loving gaze. The smell was sweet and fresh, the wind freely dancing upon the hill, running its fingers through the flowers, making them ripple in delight.

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A click brought me back to world around me. Camera out and eyebrows wiggling in a way that suggested he meant business, Chad stood, poised and ready to capture as many moments as he could. Damn him and his snap happy disposition! Refusal was not an option. So I posed, smiled, and burned with embarrassment as he began to solidify our memories. A month later and I’m glad I didn’t fight him on this, as I can look back on our first ever couples trip with a fond clarity. That, and I look pretty damn good in some photographs. Who’d have thought that wisteria would be the ultimate compliment to my complexion? {is currently thinking on replacing half of hair with wisteria so as to always look ones best.}

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The highlight of our excursion, however, was not the beautiful scenery or the sweet smelling flora. No, it was the perfectly serendipitous choice of shirt Chad had gone with that day. There, through the lens of the camera, I noticed the amalgamation of human and nature as his shirt began to blend in with all around him. Never before had someone come up with such a full-proof plan on how to blend in to Japan. The best part about it all? Everyone else seemed to notice this too, sharing in our amusement. With the sun setting and people returning home, we finally made our way back to Kokura, the trip made eventful by a nosy taxi driver who made it his life goal to ask me and Chad every personal question under the sun in the limited time he had with us. Life goal completed sir, life goal completed.

But the day was not over yet! Far from it. Our next point of call was Tenmaru, a small tempura place in Kitagata. It had been one of my favourite places to frequent when I was a student, and I was eager to get my hands back on that greasy heavenly substance. The familiar smell of vegetables filled my nose as we sat at the counter, the warmth from the friers brushing up against my skin. The menu had changed very little, and I assured Chad without any hesitation that this would be the best tempura he had ever tasted in his life; I was right of course. Ah, there truly is nothing more satisfying than being told ‘You’re right’ while your favourite foods sits pleasantly in the bottom of your stomach.

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We ended our evening with a stop off at a small wine bar we passed the night before. compact and tucked in, the second floor bar was dimmed and possessed a rich, earthy smell that overtook my senses. We sat at the far end of the bar, relaxing in the large chairs as we mulled over which wine to choose. Luckily for me, I have a boyfriend who knows a thing or two about wine, and thanks to him and the bartender, I got to enjoy the most delicious of wines. I had never enjoyed a red wine before, and the sense of maturity it inspired in me was astonishing. I mean, here I was on holidays with my boyfriend and drinking red wine, two things I had never done before!

The next morning we were woken up by a new kind of alarm. Instead of the mechanical tinkling that our brains have become programmed to recognise and loath, we were woken up by something else. Screams. The screams of an unruly child across the hall, his parents finding it perfectly okay for their child’s voice to reach unnatural decibels so early in the morning. Seriously though kid, are you even human? I cant decide if it was impressive, or impressively Infuriating. With the rain battering down upon the city of Kokura, we swiftly packed up and made our way to the last point of call before heading back down south. Sandwiches. A food I rarely get to enjoy in Japan. A little bit of advice for my fellow vegetarians and vegans reading this. If you ever want a good ol’ sandwich in Japan, take caution, for Japan likes to show its love of meat by adding it into everything. Everything. After a short wait outside the bustling shop, I was soon sitting across from a very grumpy bear of a boyfriend and the most delicious egg and hash-brown toasted sandwich in the world. Nagasaki needs to step up it’s game, thats all I’m saying.

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With many new wonderful memories attached along side the old ones, I left Kitakyushu with a contentedness in my heart. I was sad to leave of course, but I was glad to get back to Nagasaki. Besides, the adventure was not over yet, not when I was heading to Kumamoto the next day for Golden Week adventures round two!

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Thanks for reading ❤︎❤︎

Elv Café; The Hidden Gem of Nagasaki

(Original article can be found here: http://en.japantravel.com/view/elv-cafe )

A quaint café located in the heart of Nagasaki City, Elv will capture your heart and remind you why you fell in love with cafes in the first place.

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My need for small, unique cafés could be perceived as something of an addiction. Without them, I feel myself growing anxious, laying in bed in the mornings wondering what I will do with my life, staring at my simple, hand-me-down kettle with a sigh of bitter disappointment. Considering the fact that I grew up in Britain, my love of cafés honestly comes as no surprise. Upon moving to Nagasaki, I made it my goal to find a café in which I could enjoy the peacefulness of my own thoughts and scribble away in my diary. I was worried at first that I would be doomed to spend my days in the ever-crowded Starbucks, unable to think a coherent thought that deviated from the path of ‘Damn, there are a lot of foreigners in here’.

That was when I discovered Elv.

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A small café, situated alongside Megane-Bashi and its ever-flowing koi-filled river, Elv can be spotted by its small sign and myriad of plants that guard the doorway. With its smooth music and earthy tones, you will feel at home the moment your foot steps through the doorway. For a vegetarian, opening the door to a café you know you are bound to fall in love with is always daunting, faced with the horrid truth that there’s a huge chance you may not be able to eat there. Thankfully, that was not the case with Elv.

Despite the menu being small, its various options are bound to tickle the fancy of anyone who decides to stop by for a bite to eat. And for those of you who appreciate the sweets over the savouries, the chocolate cake will most certainly hit the spot.

With the cold weather still nipping at your nose, Elv has a delicious and very effective way of warming you up. Hot wine! Appealing to the eye and taste buds, it’s a drink for all your senses. Coming in a glass that will bring the warmth back to your hands, this delicious beverage will slide down your throat with an ease that is welcomed. Just be prepared for the moment you look at your bill and realise you had four too many glasses than previously intended. “Just a taste,” my friends said.

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“But I’m not really a coffee kind of person, I would much rather a nice beer,” I hear you say? Well fear not, for Elv caters for everyone. Besides the usual staples, this wonderfully diverse café also has a small range of alcoholic beverages, its most notorious being Belle-Vue Kreik. Having heard many a good word about this cherry flavoured liqueur, I decided to give it a go. The tangy and unmistakable flavour of cherry danced along the sides of my tongue before sliding down with ease. Like an unsweetened cider, this drink is the perfect balance between sweet and tart.

With its eclectic art, smooth music and delicious food, this unique café run by the ever-welcoming George Nakamura will make you fall in love with cafés all over again.

Lets go to Unzen!!

After waiting for over a year for it to arrive, the Unzen flannel cabin party finally happened!

Being a block 10 event, the party brought in cool people from not only Nagasaki, but from Fukuoka, Saga and Ōita too. I had never been to Unzen before, and after seeing Emily’s video on last year’s party (a fellow Nagasaki JET), I just knew I had to go.

Clad in heart glasses, a flower crown (both available at Wego) and of course the required flannel, me and my buddy Aaron were all set to go! The bus journey was a little long, but absolutely worth it. The views were spectacular as we drove along the coast and winding roads sealed off by bamboo forests.  I wouldn’t be lying if I told you I got a little bit emotional. I was reminded suddenly of just how lucky I am. Japan is such an amazing country and I think sometimes I forget how beautiful and wonderful it can be. That’s why I love trips, they make me see how awesome my life is. And so, with good music, stunning views and pretty awesome company, the journey flew by!

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There was one stop, however, which cracked me up. Not far from Unzen, you can find a town called Obama. Not only was this town right on the sea, with steam coming out of the ground every which way, but it also had a very creepy statue of Barack Obama, which I felt made the place seem more complete. I’m sure you’d agree. It was an honour to have him wave to us on our journey!

The moment we arrived in the quaint, traditional styled City of Unzen, we were picked up by Emily and whisked away to our mountainous cabin resort. We had three cabins rented out and with hills, trees and an array of wildlife (in the form of Goats, horses and sheep, the latter of which I was very happy about, me being the proud Welsh person I am)  to keep us entertained. It was wonderful, and the feeling of summer saturated my skin. With three cabins to ourselves, I’m pretty sure we took over half the resort, which made me feel a little sorry for the fellow campers who were staying with their families. As much as I hate the phrase, I think of a bit of Gaijin Smashing happened, much to the regret of me and  the surrounding Japanese families. But truly, the place was idyllic and I was never more glad to be a part of block 10.

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With alcohol, a roaring BBQ and three cabins full of friends from all over Kyushu, there was little else to be desired. It became evident pretty soon, however, that I was not the drinker I one was, and have apparently left my party hat somewhere back in Wales. I didn’t even make it to 1 am, and was passed out in my pyjamas amongst the raving. Well done Naomi, well done.
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We spent our following morning eating homemade French toast on the veranda in the company of friends, everyone buzzed from the night before and basking in the warm spring sun.  I felt calm, at peace and more than ready for the day ahead of.  And so, clad in spring clothing and with a skip in my step, I set off to explore Unzen, my sense of adventure renewed.

With the smell of sulphur guiding us, Aaron, Christina and I decided to make the hells our first point of call, following the path between them as the earth bubbled and boiled all around us. As if it were breathing, the earth hissed and grumbled, spewing out steam from its core. Like stepping into the fires of mordor, the earth seemed alive, angry almost. Each hell has its own name and story and I wish we had had more time to read them all.Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

The path led us to a stone torii gate guarded by statues of lion like creatures. It was a beautiful sight, and for a moment I just had to stop and stare. The shrine was peaceful and beautiful, and deserted bar one demonic looking cat that watched over the shrine. I was reminded me once again of just where I was in the world and just how much I loved it. It may sound strange, but sometimes it’s easy to forget where you are and how much you enjoy your daily life.  I was more than happy for this overdue reminder.
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We concluded our little excursion with a visit to a homely little place called Kaseya Café. With a delicious array of bread and drinks to choose from, I was spoiled for choice! Which, if you are a vegetarian or vegan living in Japan, you will know how rare that is! Not wanting to leave the place of famous onsen boiled eggs without actually eating one,  I finally settled on an egg filled fried bread( I have no way of knowing if it was an onsen egg or not, but I can pretend that it was and feel a little better about the whole thing.) I decided to be greedy and add a soufflé-esque cake to my order, along with Unzen lemonade to wash it all down. It was pretty bloody delicious!

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At 13:00 on the dot the bus turned up, and we were transported back to our everyday lives. With the sound of The Lumineers lifting my soul, they bus journey sped by, and I was gifted once more with wonderful views. I went on to have a great evening with Chad,  filled with Chinese food and fireworks. My time in Unzen as brief, but I completely fell in love with the area and will 100% be visiting again before I leave Japan.

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