Local Train Adventure in Kyushu (Part 2)
Japan's largest bell which brings good luck if you ring it, an Eco Park which has a Lovers' Sanctuary, and Kumamoto Prefecture's longest beach and oldest hot spring are featured this week.
Our two-day train journey from Kagoshima-Chuo Station to Kumamoto Station in Kyushu continues. Our goal is to reach Kumamoto by 6pm the following day and if we succeed, we will be treated to a meal of Kumamoto specialities. On the first day, we started by riding on the JR Kagoshima Main Line and then switched to the Hisatsu Orange Railway. We ended the day at Nishi-Izumi Station and spent the night at Toyoko Inn.
The next morning, we return to Nishi-Izumi Station. In order to advance along the line by spinning the roulette wheel, we need to find a tourist attraction or speciality in this area. Furthermore, it has to be included in a list of famous places and specialities, which was prepared in advance by the local tourism office, railway companies and local magazines. We ask a taxi driver, who tells us about the Hakozaki Hachiman Shrine, where we can see Japan’s largest bell. It is not within walking distance, so he agrees to drive us there. We reach the place after 10 minutes. The bell was inspired by the Kaminarimon of Asakusa, Tokyo. It is believed to bring good luck to people who ring it.
The shrine is on our list so we spin the wheel and get a three. We thus get to advance three stops to Fukuro Station by the 8.55am train. If the shrine was not one of the entries on the list, we would have had to travel back along the line. We reach Fukuro Station at 9.40am and a resident here mentions Nanri Shokudo, known for its shellfish soup set meal. It is quite far away so we decide to take the bus leaving at 10am to Kojomae, the nearest bus stop to the restaurant. However, the restaurant is only opening at 11am, so we ask the owner to suggest a place we can visit in the meantime. He suggests Eco Park, which offers a nice view of the sea and also has a monument for lovers.
One of the restaurant’s service staff drives us to the park, which is 10 minutes away. After seeing the huge park and the Lovers’ Sanctuary, we head back to Nanri Shokudo. We order the shellfish soup set meal. The soup is made with lots of large clams caught in the Shiranui Sea. We also try the whitebait rice bowl, which was recommended by the staff. When we check our list later, we are surprised that the restaurant is not included. But much to our relief, we see the entry for the Eco Park and Lovers' Sanctuary.
We are thrilled to land on an eight on the roulette wheel and get to travel eight stops ahead to Tanoura Otachimisaki Koen Station. A passenger recommends a place called Enmusubi-kan within Otachimisaki Park. The next train from Tanoura Otachimisaki Koen Station leaves 55 minutes later at 1.30pm. We get another recommendation from a local resident here - Kumamoto Prefecture’s longest beach. It would take us more than half an hour to walk there so we call for a taxi instead. After checking out the beach, which spans 530m, we head to Enmusubi-kan by the same taxi. It is a small facility, where visitors can experience making salt from scratch. However, as time is short, we rush back to Otachimisaki Koen Station and check our list. Both Otachimisaki Beach and Enmusubi-kan are included, so we can proceed further along the line.
This time, we get a three on the roulette wheel so get to advance to Hinagu Onsen Station. On the train, we find out that the area is famous for its chikuwa, which is Japanese fishcake. The train enters Yatsushiro City, the second-biggest city of Kumamoto. After we reach the station at 1.50pm, we speak to a resident who mentions a hot spring centre called Banpei-yu. It is a 10-minute walk from the station. We first try some grilled chikuwa. Made from a mixture of locally caught fish such as swordfish and horse mackerel, this traditional treat has been around since the Meiji period. Banpei-yu in Hinagu Onsen - the oldest hot spring in Kumamoto Prefecture - is our next stop. The bath has pieces of Banpeiyu, a large citrus fruit, floating in it. As we do not have much time, we opt for a footbath instead. Chikuwa and Banpei-yu are both on our list. We spin the wheel, land on a seven, and get to proceed to Matsubase Station by the 2.40pm train.
We have to switch back to the Kagoshima Main Line to reach Matsubase, so we transfer trains and bid farewell to Hisatsu Orange Railway. On the train, a passenger recommends we check out the Ukisai-kan Speciality Shop, which sells locally produced agricultural products. We have two hours until 4.30pm to explore the area around Matsubase Station. We head to the Ukisai-kan Speciality Shop. Different types of fruit from Uki City can be found here, including melons, muscat grapes and pears. The store also uses local products to make gelato, such as pear- and asparagus-flavoured ones. More than 600 of these unique-flavoured gelato are sold in a day.
The store owner mentions that another popular spot in this area is Okadake Park, which has an 80m slide. We decide to give it a miss, which turns out to be a bad move as the park is on the list, whereas Ukisai-kan is not. This means we have to travel back on the line. We are relieved when we get a “one” on the roulette wheel, so we just need to go back one stop to Ogawa Station. After making enquiries on the train, we find out that Sakaezushi is a popular place. We reach Ogawa Station at 4.45pm and have to catch the 5.25pm train in order to reach Kumamoto Station by 6pm. To save time, we take a taxi to the sushi shop. Its popular items include fatty tuna sushi and deep-fried pike conger from the Ariake Sea. Unfortunately, Sakaezushi is not on our list of famous tourist attractions. The Ebisu-dori shopping strip is one of the entries instead. We will not be able to meet our deadline of 6pm so have failed in our challenge. We thus miss out on a feast of Kumamoto specialities.
1) Ring Japan’s biggest bell at Hakozaki Hachiman Shrine for good luck
2) Chikuwa, or Japanese fish cake, is a speciality of Hinagu Onsen