The ferry rolled into Miyazaki port bright and early on the cusp of the Marine Day weekend. John and I disembarked, thumbing nearby traffic for a lift to the hills. After a few minutes, a car screeches to a halt and we’re ushered in. We immediately head off in the complete opposite direction, towards Shirahama beach in the southern part of the prefecture. Hitching in Japan is very rarely direct, with most locals taking you under their belt with errands to run or other sightseeing missions in sight. Eventually, the driver pointed us westward, into an intense rain storm that threatened to knock the wipers off the vehicle. We pulled into a lone shop by the side of the deserted road, where the driver talked hurriedly with the owner. “This is my mother’s shop”, explained our guide. “She’ll give you a ride the rest of the way to Ebino Kogen”. Despite our repeated protests, the obedient mom did as instructed, driving us at least 100km out of her way. We couldn’t have thanked her enough.
Camping was looking like a lost prospect in the relentless rain. John and I procrastinated as long as we could in the outdoor bath of the tourist hotel, weighing our options. The guidebook mentioned a cheap rotenburo near the trailhead to Koshiki-dake. John called up the place, reserving two spaces in the cabin. Our spirits were lifted with a guaranteed dry place to sleep. After checking in, we killed more time by alternating between soaks in the milky waters and frisbee in the small but empty parking lot.
The rain continued more or less unabated the entire night. After checking out of our modest accomodation, we donned our rain gear and headed up towards Mt. Karakuni, the highest peak in the Kirishima mountain range. Wetsuits would’ve been much more appropriate attire, as we quickly became drenched from head to toe. Apparently the rainy season was still very much here, but we stubbornly pushed on like two untrained basset hounds searching for food. Somewhere near Shinmoe-dake the rain began to abate, but the cloud hung thick in the humid air. Here we were tramping through some of the most breathtaking volcanic scenery on earth and we couldn’t see a thing.
Up and over the volcanic hills we pushed, reaching the parking lot at Takachiho in the late afternoon. The campground was completely flooded as we once again had to weigh the options. Pitching the tent in the vestibule of the visitor’s center seemed like the most feasible option, until we found the perfect place: nestled in the forest about 50 meters north of the parking lot stood a lodge housing some display cases of indigenous insects. It was obviously built for use by school groups on day excursions, yet remained unlocked as if to beckon us in. We dropped off our gear, leaving a window unlocked in case the park service came by to lock it up for the night. More time was killed with parking lot frisbee, with both of us running for cover every time a vehicle approached. We didn’t want to be seen by anyone, less the park authorities. Once darkness set in, we cooked up dinner and prepared to settle in for the night, when I noticed a peculiar-looking arthropod. It appeared to be a cross between a bush-cricket and praying mantis, and they were everywhere! We tried to kill them off one-by-one, but soon realized it’d take us half the night. Would these mutant creatures bite? We didn’t want to take any chances, so we pitched our tent inside of the hut!
Before settling down for shut-eye, I subconsciously locked the front door of the lodge to keep any unwanted wildlife from entering. Sure enough, around midnight, John and I were both awoken by the beams of a torch outside of the entrance. The unidentified person tried to open the door to the hut, shining the headbeam directly into our tent. “What the..”, we both thought, too paralyzed by fear to move. Who on earth would be snooping around these parts so late at night? I thanked myself in hindsight for locking that door. The person never came back, so we could only ask ‘what if’ questions the rest of our trip.
The next morning, we packed our gear and started the long, steep slog to the summit of Takachiho. Once again, the cloud hung heavy and the wind threatened to sweep us into the crater of what I’m told is a very impressive volcano. We fearlessly pushed on towards Higashi Jinja and the bus stop at Haragawa. After dropping down to the river bank and dam, the sun finally decided to rear its ugly head, 40 hours too late in our opinion. Once hitting the main road, we stuck out our thumbs again, this time catching a ride with a friendly middle-aged women driving alone through the mountains. We wanted to go to the beach, any beach, and had absolutely no idea how to get there. “I’m a cop,” confessed our driver. “Let me call up the boys to ask for advice.” As if this trip could’nt get any more surreal. The phone call went something like this:
“I’ve just picked up 2 foreigners. They want to go to the beach. Which road is the best to drop them off so they can hitch?”
Amazingly, the cop dropped us off at the beginning of route 222 in the town of Miyakonojo. She gave us words of encouragement before driving off into traffic. We waited all of about 10 minutes before another car came to our rescue. A young male out on a leisurely drive, who jumped to attention when being told of our destination. “The beach sounds like a great idea!”, quipped our new friend Kenji. He himself had done some hitchhiking a few years back and knew how difficult it was to get rides. “I know a great beach!” We drove off into the late afternoon light like best friends reunited after a decade abroad. We reached the coast, heading north along the breakwater, until arriving at our home for the night, Shirahama! John and I both looked at ourselves, awestruck to be back at the same beach the first driver had brought us to 2 days earlier. Kenji ended up hanging out with us most of the night, and even drove to the convenience store for us to fetch some beer. We taught him how to throw the frisbee as the fireworks in Miyazaki harbor exploded brightly on the horizon. John and I pitched the tent right on the beach, under a thick grove of palm trees. Life really couldn’t get any better.
The next morning, the sun finally showed its full strength, as the temperature really started to heat up in the tent. After a morning swim, the beach came to life with families, budding surfers, and…..the Japanese Self-Defense Force! Military trucks unloaded scores of muscular men donned in white t-shirts and camo pants, each holding a pair of gardening shears. “Uh-oh..”, John and I screamed, “they’re here to prune the trees!” Despite having several dozen groves of palm trees to choose from, you can guess where they started their pruning. Our vocal protests did nothing to quell them, and they didn’t even have the decency to wait until we’d taken down our tent! The only logical explanation is that the beach owners wanted to make money from parasol rentals. Either that, or the gov’t needed to use up their budget. We beat a hasty retreat back to Miyazaki city, killing time before the ferry back to Osaka.
Kirishima definitely lived up to its name, but I definitely need to get back there to better appreciate the scenery. With the recent eruption of Shin-moe, my quest for revenge may take some time indeed.