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October 17, 2014

Five Days in Miyazaki: The Roadtrip

Earlier this month we took off for a five-night trip to explore Miyazaki Prefecture. Although it rained every day of our holiday, we had a wonderful time and took in many of the beautiful area's sights. 

Day 1: Kirishima 

Our first stop was Kirishima which sits on the border of Miyazaki and Kagoshima. The "kiri" part of the city's name means "mist" and "shima" means island. So, literally translated, Kirishima means "Misty Island". Well, Kirishima isn't an island but it certainly lives up to the other half of its name - the area was clouded in mist frequently throughout our visit, giving it a creepy fairtyale feel. Add to that wild deer sightings and you have a place my dreams are made of. Let's go.

Driving up into Kirishima through thickening fog was like a dream, or the opening sequence of a horror film. We made our way to the campsite at Ebino Kogen where we were considering to stay for the night. As the car pulled up we were greeted at the campsite by wild deer and, with that, it was immediately decided that this would be our place of lodging.

The rain was holding off, so we decided to take a little 30 minute hike up to see Onami-Ike, one of the largest crater-lakes of Kirishima. 

However when we got to the top it seemed Kirishima was really delivering on the mist, and we couldn't even make out the lake. Walking around the peak we were clouded in a fast-moving fog and cold wind. No lake in sight, but the rather mystical, eerie setting was nonetheless enjoyable.

Back at the campsite after some impromptu skateboarding and a much-needed dip in a nearby onsen, we cooked up some cup noodles on our tiny gas burner for dinner and settled into the tent for the night. 

Having a tent and a car in Japan has really opened up travel options for us. We can set out on a five-day trip like this without having booked any accommodation. There are well-equipped campsites all over Japan, as well as many affordable hostels, family-run accommodation spots, and of course ryokan. This Miyazaki trip was a great test of the theory that we could get around without planning too far ahead. Armed with lots of highway and local maps, plus the trusty navigation system of google maps, we managed to plot a wonderful course and were able to stay in some great spots.

The campsite at Ebino Kogen was just amazing, and we basically had it all to ourselves (there was only one other group of campers).

Before hitting the road again for our next destination, we stopped off at the trailhead of the Karakuni-dake hiking course which was already covered in the day's fog. We hadn't planned to hike this time, but wanted to take a little wander up around the trailhead.

The landscape here was tremendous. It was like another planet. The smell of sulfur from Mt. Ioyama hangs in the air and you can't escape the quick moving fog which moves in without notice and makes everything spooky white. Very cool. 

And with that, we were on our way. As we drove out of Kirishima, I spotted a meadow out the car window with twenty or more resting wild deer. We pulled over and watched them from afar. Unfortunately they were as afraid of us as we were in awe of them.

Our final deer encounter of Kirishima through the car window as they calmly grazed by the roadside.

Kirishima is a peaceful, mystical spot. We really want to return someday to explore the area some more. 

Day 2: Udo Jingu
After spending the first night in misty Kirishima, we set off towards the Nichinan coast south of Miyazaki. Our plans for the day included seeing the famous Udo Jingu shrine and finding somewhere to stay for the night. A delicious bowl of soba warmed us at a road-house on our way.

Unfortunately, our trip coincided with a typhoon week and we didn't have one dry day. But the rain didn't steal any of the charm from Udo Jingu, a shrine we had known nothing about before going. I had seen it in the travel brochures we picked up and it looked like a nice stopover on our route. In fact, it turned out to be one of the most picturesque shrines we've visited in Japan. Located on an oceanside cliff, the grounds of this shrine offer incredible views out to sea. 

It's a fair walk from the car park to the shrine, going up steep stairs, through a tunnel underpass, and up and down some more stairs. The main building of the shrine is located inside a cave, which is as cool as it sounds. The rain outside added to the atmosphere inside the cave, water droplets falling from the ceiling as we circled the brightly painted structure.

Just outside the cave there is a booth selling ceramic pebbles, which visitors buy and try to land in a rope-marked target on a rock off the cliff. 

We had to try (good fortune is promised for those who land a rock in the target. Plus, throwing rocks looked like fun) but neither of us managed to land it. 残念!

We ended our day driving up to Nichinan and finding a great little seaside inn to say the night. We also had our first taste of real Miyazaki-style chicken nanban. And it was amazing! Now we were by the coast, Kam was itching to get out on the waves. So it was off to bed with us hoping the rain would ease off tomorrow so that we could enjoy the famous Miyazaki beaches.

Day 3: Aoshima, Heiwadai Park & Chicken Nanban
A classic Japanese breakfast in the seaside minshiku accommodation got us off to a great start to day three in Miyazaki. After we'd had our fill of miso soup, fish and rice, it was back in the car for a drive up the coast.

Today's first destination was Aoshima, a tiny island connected to the mainland by a short bridge. At the centre of the island is Aoshima Jinja - a unique and colourful shrine inside a subtropical jungle. At low tide, rows of black basalt rocks can be seen around the island. The strange formations are known as "devil's washboard". 

After bento-box lunches in the car, Kam went for a quick surf at nearby beach Kizakihama. Then it was back on the road, next stop Miyazaki City. It was our first time to Miyazaki, and although our visit was far too short to explore it properly, I got a great impression of the place. Before checking into our accommodation for the night we decided to seek out Heiwadai Park.

Heiwadai Park's sprawling grounds were a wonderful spot to take some time out. The Peace Tower looks down over Miyazaki City. Its design contrasts greatly to the architecture we're used to seeing in Japan, and its history is rather a controversial topic too (as we were told later on). Its sheer size is nonetheless impressive to behold. 

The park is also home to a 9,000m2 Haniwa garden with earthenware replicas of ancient Japanese haniwa burial statues. 400 moss-covered statues seem frozen in time, and their faces are full of expression.

After another round of Chicken Nanban for dinner, we spent the night in a very homely inn. The innkeeper and her granddaughter treated us to a cup of tea and some lovely chats before turning in for the night. 

Day 4: Aya-cho Suspension Bridge & Hyuga Surfing
Day four's morning drive from Miyazaki City to Aya Town was lovely. The road we took wound up towards the evergreen forest and the location of the famous Aya-cho Suspension Bridge. At 142m tall and 250m long, walking across this bridge is actually scarier than you expect any bridge to be. It was irrationally nerve-wracking! The view of the glorious evergreens surrounding the bridge is well worth conquering your fears for, however.

After walking the bridge and checking out some of the surrounding nature, we finished up at Aya-cho ahead of schedule. So it was back to the ocean for another surf. This time we went to Hyuga beach - popular amongst Kyushu's surfers and known for its waves. Unfortunately the weather was too rainy and cold for the most part of our stay, so I didn't get in the water for a swim like I'd planned. Kam, on the other hand, donned his wetsuit and jumped right in, having a great surf session before we headed to a camp site to set up tent for the night. 

The rain lasted all night, and we were one of only three groups staying at the campsite. Tomorrow was the last day of our trip. 

Day 5: Seifusou in Minami-Aso
The final day was largely spent driving back towards home, as we waved goodbye to Miyazaki Prefecture (not without one final morning surf for Kamil!). We woke up waterlogged and cold at the campsite, and the long day's drive took it out of us, so we very much welcomed the promise of a soak in the onsen when we finally reached our lodging in Minami-Aso.

Seifusou Ryokan had been recommended to Kam by his surfing buddy in Fukuoka. The ryokan was found at the top of a winding hill and was nothing if not authentic. Walking the floors of the 120-year old wooden building takes you back in time if you allow your imagination to wander a little. The baths were spectacular, as was the breakfast. 

And that brought our road trip to a close, we were on the road again homeward bound and happy to finally see the sun in the sky. See you next time Miyazaki! 

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