Hotel Review: Blue Wave Inn Kokura (3900 yen/night, 1 night)
A pleasant enough hotel five minutes walk from the station (look for the blue sign). The downstairs sections are very flash-looking and the rooms were clean but small and had the standard things in them, including the usual cramped bathroom. No internet unless you bring your own laptop. 6.5/10
Walking through the car park into a government office building, when there was no signs or helpful receptionists to tell me I was doing the right thing felt rather racy and dangerous. As un-suspiciously as I could, I got into the lift in front of the various business-suited types and headed for the fifteenth floor, and then the stairs up to the observation platform. To my relief, the doors at the top were open as I had arrived just past 9am, and I found myself in a square room around the perimeter of the various contraptions that powered the place and kept it air conditioned. The low humming noise was ever present from the vast array of machines just behind the walls, making the casually stacked sunbeds look even more out of place.
As I was about to leave, the receptionist pointed out the so far unnoticed building to the left of the exit, which evidently many other people pass by without noticing too. Since it was covered by the ticket price I figured I'd give it a few minutes.
The Kodama Shinkansen left at a quarter to eleven, and after retrieving my backpack, I was able to catch it with a little time to spare. As it glided out of Kokura station, I waved goodbye to Kyushu, and looked forward to Western Honshu and what it had to offer.
Of course, it was nothing as ominous as I had thought, just a 2-stage door system that opened and closed the inner and outer doors automatically, presumably as a safety precaution in case something went wrong in the depths of the caves. I didn't want to know what afforded such a precaution, and was just relieved to be greeted by a young gent who offered to take my picture, mainly because the nearby bus park was empty and he had nothing else to do in the meantime.
The general lack of people didn't bode well for anything actually being open, but I took a risk and decided to head for the second cluster of places on the map, which included such things as a science museum and an observatory, plus what appeared to be a decent bit of natural scrubland and forest for taking a pleasant walk on while here. All it meant was to follow the road on my map.
I ambled back to the station in the fading light of the day. The plains had tried to claim me, but I came through it and got some of it's rocks for a nominal fee. One bus came by that headed direct to Shin-Yamaguchi, but this wouldn't accept the JR pass, so I waited a little longer for the proper (ie free) one.
The light was fast fading, and for the last 20 minutes, I was the only one on the bus. And for the first time, I was beginning to feel the chill of winter. I reached Yamaguchi and got on the reasonably full train to Shin-Yamaguchi, arriving about half past six. I picked up my backpack from the locker, and got on the Skinkansen to Tokuyama, then the slower train to Okayama.
Peach Boy and his chums were still present outside of the station at Okayama, but now he was bathed in the neon glow of the night lights. I followed my map to the hotel and found it without too much trouble.
Inside, a squat old man with a strange lazy eye and an overworked expression took my details and gave me a key, but this was for a locker, not a room. This locker, one of a huge bank of them at the entrance held your shoes, and a second locker was available upstairs to stick my worldly things in. Young and disinterested guys slouched around and watched the plasma TV in the lounge area. I went up to my pod.
I crammed the small bag into the ultra-thin locker, but there was no way my larger pack would fit, so I took it out with me to try and get some food.
There was little that looked open down the streets around the hotel, but I eventually happened upon 'Skippers', an Irish pub - of all things - that sold good old fashioned fish and chips. Since the last day or so had been a bit of a washout, I decided to have a taste of home, so ordered myself a plate. The waitress latched onto my non-Japaneseness and used the opportunity to practice her English on me, telling me about her boss's obsession with my country (I'm not Irish, but I figured it was close enough), and him realising his dream to have a genuine Oirish pubbe in the middle of Japan. He hadn't been, but he wanted to some time.