My comfy Kagoshima bed. What a luxurious difference it made from the acceptable but decidedly plain bottom bunk in my Okinawa room. I had set the travel alarm nice and early the previous night but looking blearily at it in the darkened room, it was silent and without a pulse. I took the battery out and gave it a tap but nothing brought it back to life. Bloody thing, I'd just bought it.
Fortunately it was only 7am, and there was a long journey ahead of me, worthy of one of the days on my first outing. I would be leaving Kagoshima as soon as I could for Miyazaki, and after spending as much time there as I dare, taking the train up the coast to Nobeoka, where my next hotel awaited.
It was time to get back on the JR network and justify the pass I had got at a very unfavourable exchange rate. The next train to Miyazaki was only a local one, meaning the journey time would be about two hours. Skipping the tickets I went down to the platform and waited. Even though the local train would be stopping several times it seemed like the best option rather than waiting for the next limited express, which wasn't due in for another hour. It was getting uncomfortably close to departure time with no sign of train before I had the good sense to look all the way to the end of the track behind me, where the train was waiting patiently. A few minutes more and it would have passed me by, leaving me looking a bit stupid.
As the train made its way slowly around the southern coastline, occasionally getting close enough to see Kagoshima Bay and the picturesque Sakurajima a little way off. Heading inland, the beautiful Japanese countryside was gouged out to make way for our single track. Heading through a pleasant valley one minute would be spoilt by a claustrophobic concrete lined basin the next, with only the peaks way above our heads showing any signs of natural life. Unfortunately this is the price paid by the Japanese for their envied rail systems; something has to be sacrificed and all too often it would be the wilderness. I thought about the road building in Okinawa and the miles of track being laid for the Shinkansen and sighed.
The journey carried on through several stops, and happily the concrete abated in favour of some wide open, fairly untouched natural beauty. Eventually we all made it into Miyazaki station at about midday. It was time for an old-style rush job to make the most of my time here. I stuck my bags in the nearest available locker and got hold of a map from the tourist office. A quick scan and an obvious path from the station, south out of the west exit to the Oyodo river and back down the main street and loop back to the station would cover several of the highlighted attractions and take the next few hours, which was all I had. The station boards showed limited express trains to Nobeoka at 4.30 and 5.30, an hours ride. My map of the route to the hotel from Nobeoka station was vague but it did seem like quite a hike, so getting there late wasn't a good idea.
I trotted off to the first attraction - the Miyazaki Science Center (also) was just round the corner and is easily distinguished by a big shiny dome and a dirty great full-size rocket stuck outside. Also outside was a large group of schoolchildren, many of them sat impatiently cross-legged on the ground, a few more excitable ones running about and generally giving the handful of teachers something to do. At least some of them had been on the train but there were several schools worth of kids ready to swarm on the poor staff with sticky fingers and clipboard questions.
I moved through the crowd as anonymously as I could, although I was inevitably watched by a hundred little eyes as I passed down the middle of the group. Inside, it was the calm before the storm, so I got my ticket quickly (520yen) and started out on the ground floor.
The film started, and as the lady said, it was all in Japanese, but I got the gist of things. I was accompanying a gruff-voiced scientist on a research submarine deep into the murky depths of the ocean (which I told myself would make up for the lack of scuba diving earlier when I was asked to choose which film to see). Suddenly, we're attacked! The slight bobbing movements of the seat platform used to suggest descent were thrown out of the window and were replaced by being thrown wildly around the room, save for my seat belt. A giant squid had wrapped itself around us and was not letting go, the mouth ready for a bit of unexpected European cuisine.
By the time I emerged, the schoolchildren had been let loose, and were now running around the place, excitedly prodding at any interaction buttons, wheels or levers they could find. Now was a good time to head upstairs to the next floor. Unfortunately I had been beaten to it.
The second floor included a ringed balcony that looked down on the exhibits below, with recessed areas all around containing a variety of 'have a go' experiments in a similar vein to Eureka in the UK.
The third floor was a full-sized screening room, and at the top of the steps, a set of double-doors led to the large film room beyond. There were a half-dozen posters - all animations of various styles - with a discovery theme. Of particular interest was Ginga no Katasumi, a Ghibli-styled film about a boy and his sheepdog with nothing but the night sky for company, and 'Journey to the Stars', an intriguing looking film narrated by Whoopi Goldberg (in the English version at least).
Generally they all sounded interesting to watch, even the crazy-assed slapstick looking ones, although one poster managed to irk me a little; a film called Fantasy Railroad in the Stars (released in English as The Celestial Railroad) looked nice (and the Kagaya film studio website has some beautiful imagery), but stuck slap bang in the middle of the poster was a glowing Christian cross. Having seen the trailer (which seems to be for a very pleasant zen-style cgi journey), there seems to be no reason for it to be there, so why was it? It was probably unnoticed or heeded by anyone viewing it and wasn't a problem for them, but again, western religion was creeping in where I personally don't think it should be, and it was becoming increasingly noticeable on my journey.
Anyway, it was all moot. The theatre would not open for the next film until an hour or so later, meaning that the science museum would be about it for my time in Miyazaki, so I headed back down the steps, took a quick look around (by now things were getting pretty busy) and headed out.
I finally found the river a little way on; a wide stretch of water with the occasional bridge. A high breaking wall had a set of steps, and at the top, I had the choice of following along the top of the wall or heading down to the waters edge. I took the chance to be closer to some nature, relatively speaking, so descended the other side onto the grassed verge. The walk was quite pleasant, and I ate a couple of the satsumas as I strolled along.
Before long, the Tachibana main road appeared, and according to the guide book it was where I should be going to complete the loop. The rather wide road sloped down into a shopping district containing a few municipal buildings with nice views over the riverside. According to the guide there was a temple - the Tokuzenji - hidden cheekily behind some of the frontage buildings. As I headed round them, the sight of a temple roof peeked out now and again from between the modern buildings, but it seemed penned in with no way for the average tourist to gain access.
Eventually, after doing a circuit of the block and finding no way in, I gave up, but as I was heading down the alleyway back to the main road, a woman pushing a bike directed my attention to a little tiny shrine nestled between the buildings. I stopped, and by coincidence so did the lady. Now, if you find yourself talking with someone, don't try to bluff that you know what they are saying when you don't speak the language like I did, or you will get a lot of words said at you with an expectation of understanding in return. Only so much smiling and nodding will work. Eventually, she got the message that I hadn't a clue what she was saying, and instead invited me to pay respects with her at the shrine, which we both did.
Kencho-kasunanomiki street was across the road, and on the map looked vaguely interesting a little further down, the street was lined with green trees, pleasantly dappling the pathway and the busy road.
Passing the grand government office at a major crossroads I changed my direction back to the main road, and again I was bothered at the sight of not one, but several churches. One had a sign outside that told the story, in dual language of the missionary cause being fulfilled, bringing the Christian religion to those who need it most, the Japanese, whose own religions must be condemning them to hell as we speak. Grumbling and imagining how I would have given the chubby, friendly looking pastor a good talking to if I saw him, I went on my way.
Exiting north, I found myself on Takachiho street, one of the main artery roads which although pretty devoid of sights, conveniently took me right back to the station. Tall trees and small pools containing waterlilies separated the pavements from the road, and every now and then large winged butterflies flitted from the trees to the warm pavement. In a lovely moment one landed on my hand as I outstretched it, and I boosted it back up to the treetops with a swish.
I returned in good time at 4pm, and got a ticket for the half past to Nobeoka. The platform was busy with commuters but at least this time I had a ticket, and therefore a seat.
By the time I reached Nobeoka it was starting to get dark, and I had to find the hotel. The bus station that I would need to use was next to the station, so I took the opportunity to get hold of a timetable. A very helpful bloke brought me inside the now closed bus terminal and helped me find the right one from a shelf of several dozen, which I was very thankful for as there wasn't a letter of English on them. He circled the words for Nobeoka and Takachiho, and with much thanks I left for the hotel.
Hotel Review: Hotel Merieges Nobeoka (6440 yen/night, 1 night)
The price was a bit high, but there weren't many pickings for places to stay near Nobeoka station, this was the best I could get balancing price and convenience. It's about 20 minutes from the station, and very nice indeed. It overlooks the river for some nice views, it has free internet, the staff are good English speakers and very enthusiastic to help, and the rooms are luxurious with comfy beds. On some of their non-room floors they have their own restaurants of various themes. I had Chinese on my night (very nice) but they also had Indian, Japanese and Italian. In my dishevelled and care-worn clothes, I felt quite out of place in the poshness. 9/10
After checking in, I asked if I could use their computers, and an enthusiastic receptionist bounded over to the terminals, logging in for me rather than expecting me to do it myself; I'm guessing from the posh, shiny lobby that the place tends to attract people who don't (or can't) do things for themselves. I caught up on some emails, and then after dropping my bags off in the room, gorged on some food in the Mandarin Chinese restaurant (1850 yen). I took a stroll at the riverside to walk things off, and then got myself some sleep. I had travelled far but there was just as much again tomorrow.