There’s another reason we’re in Kagoshima; there is an active volcano next door! But that isn’t even the interesting part, as any avid gamer knows there are these white beets you pull out of the ground, some of them as big as your head, and throw at foes in Super Mario 2.Volcano As it turns out, these beets are for real, and they grow right there, at the side of the volcano! They’re called Daikon and they’re basically huge radishes, I guess the reason they get so freakishly large is the super-nutritious ashen soil. We board one of the frequent ferries and head over, only to find out from the lady at the information desk that the Daikon season is late winter! Total bummer… Oh well, we decide to hop on a tour that takes us up to the top observatory together with about a hundred Japanese baseball kids.

The tour is kinda meh, but observing Japanese touristing is always amusing. And at the topmost observatory there is this rather cool scale model of the volcano under the glass floor. In the souvenir shop I get a Daikon fridge magnet, the only Daikon I’m likely to see this trip sadly… On the map we’ve found a lava field that you can visit as well, so we hop on a bus and find ourselves dropped off somewhere in the wilderness with a couple of footpaths leading up a hill.Coins Disappointingly there is no live lava to be found here, even though you wouldn’t think so, given how hot it is! The sun is unrelenting, the ground is all black and the few shady spots are taking by the cleaning staff, gasping for air. The field isn’t much more than a maze of footpaths interspersed by a few bigger hunks of lava rock where people are fond of placing coins. As we’re about to leave the volcano decides to wake up and start billowing sulfurous smoke! Quite cool to watch as we wait for the bus in what is surely over 45 degrees Celsius heat.

We have another stop planned on the way back, touted as one of the best onsens in the area, complete with fabulous pictures, the Furusato Onsen certainly looks like the perfect place to cool off for a bit. The bus pulls up to this Communist-looking, huge box of concrete which probably was all the rage somewhere back in the early seventies.Snow crabs Undeterred we go inside and receive our robes and bathing clothes (this is a mixed onsen, so you’re basically bathing in a pajama). Walking down to the pools we pass this supremely depressing dried out swimming pool, looking more or less like the one I saw in Pripyat, Chernobyl. The actual onsen is just one pool that doubles as a shrine, which is kinda nice. But you quickly realize that the pictures online are taken from more or less the only possible angles and that the place is really not very nice. Suffice to say that we don’t stay that long.

Back at the mainland we have some time to spare and decide to visit the nearby aquarium as well. They have this baby whale shark they’re rather proud of, but the coolest thing I found were probably the snow crabs. Freakish creatures those! They have a dolphin show as well, but if you’ve been to Kolmården, then it’s not very impressive. Towards the evening it’s time to move on to our next destination; Hiroshima. That means traversing almost half of Japan to get there, but with the Shinkansen that is only some three-four hours which is nice. It’s rather late when we arrive so we just grab a taxi to get to the hostel we booked. But due to the mess that is the Japanese address system, the driver can’t even find the place! After a lot of confusion he does eventually find it and we can go to bed in the somewhat crappy but cheap dorm.

Magical Yakushima

The boat pulls into a blistering hot Yakushima, the entire island is basically a dormant volcano which gets about 400 days of rain a year, making it intensely green.Creepy root Our plan is to rent a car and to zip around the island in the about 5 hours we have. That plan is quickly foiled though when it turns out that we’ve chosen a Sunday of all days to go here. And since this is a very popular tourist location for the Japanese as well this means that every car on the island is already rented out…

Oh well, the ladies in the information says that we can take a bus instead that will take us halfway up the volcano to a bunch of trails, totalling about 5 km. This actually sounds just like what we’re looking for (it also helps that we don’t have any alternatives…) so we hop on and start the ascent. The trails start right next to a beautiful stream and the rest of the scenery is no less so. Everything is just very green and the footpaths are kept in impeccable condition. All the Japanese we meet are dressed in very expensive-looking hiking gear, with poles and all. They take their hiking seriously in this country!

Saying “Konichiwa” every time we meet people nets us a lot of smiles and I’m having the best hiking I’ve ever come across. Before long we find our first couple of deer, calmly munching at the scenery. Turning around to call Hasse over, I see him taking pictures of the monkey behind us. Nature is really in your face here! Golden TreeThe place is filled with really old trees, and the very oldest ones have nice and clear signs in both Japanese and English, telling the story behind them and their naming. Incidentally Yakushima is also where Hayao Myiazaki of fame drew his inspiration for one of my favorite movies and as you walk around here you can really see it!

Somewhere along the hike we lose track of Anders, this isn’t that uncommon as you’d think though and since the entire trail is a loop, we’re not too worried. The trail is rather hilly, snaking up and down the mountain and we’re starting to realize that even though it’s only 5 km, it will probably fill up our time quite nicely. Nearing the end of the trail there is an additional loop you can walk, but Hasse and Anders beg off, so I end up doing that part alone. Since most of that part consists of very nice walkways, I get it into my head that I should run full tilt while filming. So I do just that, and it’s implausibly fun! After about 4-500 meters without meeting anyone I almost run over a very confused deer. He gives me a rather bewildered stare for a second or so before flashing his big white ass and bounding off into the vegetation.

Taking a breakThe rest of the circuit isn’t all that interesting though and before I know it I’m back at where the bus dropped us off. No sign of Anders and Hasse though, so I take the opportunity to wade out into the stream to cool down. Turns out that even though I took a detour of 1.5 km, I still arrived ahead of the guys! Since there isn’t enough time for any other excursions we catch the ferry back to Kagoshima and go out for some kaiten sushi (carousel sushi), which is a type of restaurant where all the tables are next to this conveyer belt where the sushi goes round and round at a leisurely pace and when you see something you fancy, you just pick it off the belt and eat it. The plate the sushi comes on is color coded to signify the price and also has an RFID chip inside it, so when it’s time to pay the waiter just scans your stack. Super convenient! There is also an iPad at the table, from which you can make custom orders if you can’t see your favorite sushi on the belt. There is no extra charge for this, and the delivery system is really neat; what happens is that when your sushi is done, a little train, running on a track next to the belt, pulls up to your table loaded with your order! (btw, as we leave, Anders has racked up a stack of no less than 12 plates (where most plates has two pieces of sushi on them))