Today we arrive on Kagoshima island. We are moored across a narrow inlet from an active volcano. It is belching smoke. I like Japan. The people are polite and the scenery is pretty but boy does it have its share of natural disasters. I am keeping my fingers crossed that another won’t happen in the the next 12 hours as we hover below this monster.
Today we have a private tour. Our guide is Reiko and we have a local driver.We are heading up into the mountains that surround this little sea port town. Reiko explains that this is one of the first places discovered by the Portuguese sailors. No rice is grown in this area. They are known for growing sweet potatoes. Some of the crop is converted into a local alcoholic beverage. James is now interested. We make a stop at a distillery and have a tour and tasting of the various brews. I could not tell the difference between this and Sake. James decides to help the local economy and purchases two bottles of their best offerings. Now that we have had an attitude adjustment, we cheerfully head up the steep mountain road to and area where the Samurai lived. We catch glimpses of Kagoshima far below as we wind higher and higher into the mountains.
It is here back in the Edo Period ( 1600-1868 ) that the Samurai were given residential quarters. Known as fierce fighters, they gained peace from their gardens which surrounded their homes. Both the gardens and their homes are beautifully preserved and elegantly manicured. The homes are still occupied by the Samauri’s descendents. We are not able to visit the homes but, we are invited to visit the gardens. We choose five to visit from the ones which are open to the public. Our driver is very knowledgable and makes several recommendations of particular gardens to visit. The homes are small well maintained wooden structures elevated off the ground and have the sliding wooden shutters. We are shown how they use a pole on the corners of the house so that the shutters can make a 90 degree turn. The landscaping includes protocarpus and other slow growing woody ornamentals fashioned into attractive designs that frame gates. Hedges that resemble mountains are joined by maples, plums, almonds and cherries all of them blooming. We find a local restaurant in the village and stop for lunch. Shoes off again. I must always remember to pack socks. We sit down to very low tables on cushions placed on tatami mats. We are served the traditional Japanese lunch. James has his,now traditional,Sake and more Sake. It gives him the courage to try this food one more time. Actually, it was pretty good food this time.
Back on the road we pass through green hedges in the fields on both sides of the road. It turns out they are tea plantations. Photo Op! Next we are headed to Kamakazi Peace Museum. They refer to it locally as the Chiran Museum. The museum is dedicated to the young Japanese University students who,with minimal training as pilots,were sent on suicide missions against our fleet. More than a thousand died. All for nothing. The war would be over in less than three months. I am only interested going here at all because the driver says he thinks the cherry blossoms have bloomed. What an understatement!! We arrive to a 1/2 mile long tunnel of pink billows of cherry blossoms. People are out on the grass beneath the trees enjoying cherry blossom ( Hanami ) picnics. We have learned that the competition for the best viewing sites can be fierce,so company bosses often send scouts ahead to claim good spots to set up the office picnic. I tell James to go on with Reiko and I will stay here with all the beauty. Young girls are all out in their best pink outfits posing with friends and family. TV cameras and reporters are covering the festivities. Yes!! Spring has come to Japan on the last day of our visit. The next 30 minutes passes too quickly.I love the little breezes that set the petals free raining down on everyone. It is too beautiful to descibe.
Our driver tells us to hasten along as there is one more site that he wants us to see. He takes us to a local park along the river where the mountain cliffs come straight down to the river. Here the cliffs have carvings of religious figures and a park full of cherry trees. It offers a pagoda similar to the gold one that we visited in Kyoto right down to the gold phoenix on the top. Today is a Monday and the park is very quiet but no less beautiful than the Chiran Museum. We stayed as long as we dared never too sure what traffic problems which we might encounter on the way back to the ship which is leaving early today.
We are lucky. Traffic is light. The driver, having heard that James likes motorcylces, pulls into a motorcylcle dealership. The dealer has many brands and two floors of various models. James does a little browsing.
We return to the ship where it has started to rain, but that doesn’t deter hundreds of locals from showing up to see the ship off. We are treated to a performance on the pier by young ladies,dressed in Kimonas,dancing for nearly 30 minutes in the rain while well wishers waved orange flags as well as Japanese and American flags. Glen Miller’s band is playing on the PA system as we pull away. Sayonara can be heard over the music as the flags continue to wave.