Anybody who knows me is aware that I have an unnatural love for sandy beaches and the sea. By that, I mean that I can pass an entire day staring at the ocean from the shore and be more than content. Of course, I love lying on a blanket under a beach umbrella, swimming in the ocean, throwing a Frisbee atop of the sand, and drinking and chatting while gazing at the waves. The seashore is the most beautiful kind of nature.
Since moving to Fukuoka, I have researched a number of beaches around Kyushu, and I eventually chose Miyazaki Prefecture in southeastern Kyushu as my “be lazy on the beach” long-weekend summer getaway destination. Specifically, I selected Miyazaki City as a “base of operations” because of its easy access to beautiful coastline spots to its north and south. This was to be my perfect, sunny weekend, a way to dispel some of the stress that had accumulated during one of my busiest work periods of the year.
However, one weakness of human beings is that they often forget just how unpredictable Mother Nature can be. Namely, in this case, two simultaneous typhoons passing by either side of Japan at an unusually early time of the year.
My lovely travel partner and I chose highway bus as our method of travel, as it was cheap and provided the most convenient and most direct access to Miyazaki. Once we arrived in Miyazaki, we would move about using local trains and buses. We hopped on the “Phoenix” bus operated by Nishitetsu, which takes just under 4:30 to reach Miyazaki Station. In front of the station, there was almost nothing but a few palm trees, and hardly any people. After walking just a few blocks from the station we noticed that our place of lodging was not exactly in the center of town. I saw a horrid-looking, unpainted concrete building that looked like an abandoned fort along the way, and it turned out to be a hospital–every day I looked at it, squinting my eyes in the sun to see if there were any lights on in the windows, in other words checking to see if it was actually operational or not, and wondering how it must feel to stay long-term in such a place (I dubbed it “the hospital of horrors”). This was the part of town we would be staying in.
After about 10 minutes of walking, we arrived at the hotel with our bags, portable beach umbrella and other equipment in tow, only to find nobody at the front desk of the sweltering lobby–just a couple of harmless-looking haniwa staring blankly at us from the entrance. But before long an elderly woman with about two teeth came out from a back room, looking as surprised to see us as we were to see her. We dropped our bags off, we changed into swimsuits and beach apparel, and walked back toward the station.
The typhoons approaching Japan were no surprise to me, as I had been worriedly checking the weather reports each day before the trip, noticing that the number of days forecasted to be rainy were growing. We had originally planned on going north to Takanabe, a beach between Miyazaki and Hyuga Cities, on our first day, but with rain predicted throughout the afternoon we decided we should visit Seagaia Ocean Dome, a giant, artificial indoor beach with artificial tides and sandy shores, and also the world’s largest indoor water park. Unfortunately, when we asked for directions to Seagaia at the station’s tourism information office, they informed us that it had gone bankrupt and closed. So we decided to take our chances at Takanabe.
Just a 30-minute train ride from Miyazaki and a 5-minute walk from the station, Takanabe is a beautiful beach that is popular among surfers (as are many Miyazaki beaches), with an expansive view and powerful, crashing waves. Almost nobody was at the beach when we arrived, either on account of the weekday timing or the coming typhoons, so we had the place mostly to ourselves along with a handful of other beachgoers and several lifeguards. We set up our blanket and umbrella, opened our bento and got out some chu-hi from the cooler bag, and started our afternoon of lazy bliss. We went down to splash about in the ocean, and all was going well…until we were sucker-punched by an instantaneous bout of torrential downpour. Running back to our umbrella and blanket, we scrambled to put everything inside plastic bags so it wouldn’t get soaked. After the rain stopped, everything seemed calm until our umbrella blew away, tumbling merrily down the beach. Two times. Noticing that the beach was equipped with firmly planted rental umbrellas not being used by anybody, my travel companion made use of her female charms and asked a nearby lifeguard if we could use one, which he permitted us to do.
Things seemed to be going all wrong, but we noticed that others at the beach didn’t seem to care at all. When the rain picked up, people ran for shelter until it ended, and when the wind picked up, they held onto their umbrellas until it passed. As with most typhoon-influenced weather, things tended to start unexpectedly but pass quickly. In the end, we figured we were wet from the ocean already, so a little rain wasn’t going to hurt us. And like the other Miyazaki people at the beach, a little rain or wind wouldn’t send us running home. In fact, it became sort of a game, running at full speed for cover every time the bullet-like pellets of rain spiked down from the sky, as if a heavenly bucket had accidentally been accidentally kicked over somewhere far up above. Furthermore, because the waves were just choppy and rough enough to make riding in an inflatable raft or ring incredibly fun–being tossed in the air each time a wave spiked underneath me, and trying to hold on and stay upright every time a wave crashed on top of me, was nothing but fun.
After returning to the hotel and drying off, it was time for dinner, and using my iPhone application I searched for a restaurant in the area that serves chicken namban (moist and soft fried chicken topped with sweet tartar sauce, usually served with noodles), a dish that is popular throughout the country but originates from Miyazaki Prefecture’s Nobeoka City. By pure luck, a restaurant was just a couple of minutes away on foot, and its ratings and prices were both excellent. One of the most enjoyable things about traveling in Japan is experiencing the local cuisines, because it is a country with a rich culinary culture and great variety from region to region. Of course I had eaten chicken namban numerous times before, but this was completely different from anything I could have imagined: the chicken was tender and cooked to perfection, the sauce was more delicious than I could have imagined, and even the rice on the side was of the highest quality. Only later did I learn that this shop, whose name is Ogura, was the pioneer of chicken namban in Miyazaki City and a sort of holy land among fans of the dish. Let’s just say this: if you visit Miyazaki and do not eat at Ogura, you are making one of the worst mistakes of your life.
We made day two our sightseeing day, as it was to be the worst weather of our stay, making beachgoing quite difficult. Our first stop was Udo Shrine, located near Nichinan City in southern Miyazaki Prefecture. We rode what was supposed to be a rosen bus, which is usually a medium-distance bus, falling somewhere between local city bus and highway bus, with many stops along the way. But this was just a city bus with a very long route, so we were shaken about on rock-hard, cramped seats for almost two hours before reaching our destination (at least it was fairly priced). Near the bus stop was a small gas station, which was equipped with two cages, one containing a hawk and one containing a wild boar. (Never figured out the reason for that.) The shrine was about 15 minutes by foot up a small hill.
Udo Shrine was built in honor of Yamasachihiko, the father of Emperor Jimmu (allegedly the first emperor of Japan). The shrine itself is inside a cave, and the approach takes you through a tunnel and along a rocky cliff towering over the raging ocean below, with brightly painted orange gates complementing the bright greens of surrounding palm trees. Visitors take in a grand vista as they descend to a level near the water, surrounded by eerie rock formations that look like they came from an alien world, before entering the small cave underneath a low rock overhang to see the shrine itself. Behind the shrine is a sacred rock that has a shape similar to a woman’s breast, and it was said to have nourished Emperor Jimmu when he was a child (Shinto deities often manifest themselves in rocks, trees, and other natural objects). You can even drink some of the “breast rock water” behind the main shrine building, which is said to help women with pregnancy, childbirth and nursing (needless to say, I passed).
After leaving the shrine, we half-jogged back to the bus stop to catch our bus, which was due to arrive soon. After about 45 minutes on the bus, we went back north to Aoshima Shrine, a lovely temple with a tropical feel, located on a small island (Aoshima Island) connected by a wooden bridge to the nearby coastline. Along the way, visitors can see unique, natural sight as Oni No Sentakuita (The Devil’s Washboard), composed of many straight rows of rocks jutting up at an angle from the ground below, continuing out into the ocean. The shrine itself is buried in a lush subtropical jungle, providing a reminder of the vast diversity of climates and cultures that can be experienced in Japan. Like Udo Shrine, Aoshima Shrine is painted brightly, making it a spectacular sight to see against the vibrant jungle backdrop. The shrine supposedly brings luck to married couples.
The next day we planned to visit Odotsu, a beach in Nichinan that can be reached via the JR Nichinan train line in 90 minutes, but you have to time it well because very few trains run to and from that station each day. As we crawled further south inside the rickety, one-car train, which was nearly empty after it split off the Kagoshima-bound line onto the seldom-used Nichinan Line, beautiful coastal and mountain scenery spread out before us. However, upon reaching Odotsu, and old man who worked at the beach facilities promptly told us that the ocean was off-limits that day due to dangerously high waves. It was a beautiful beach, but unfortunately we could not swim in it that day, so we managed to catch a train about 30 minutes later back to Aoshima Beach, a gorgeous, sandy coast located near the shrine we had visited the previous day. Aoshima was our home for that day and the next, as we listened to music, drank and ate to our heart’s content, and battled the raging waves on our inflatable rafts. Despite the occasional rain, the weather was mostly sunny, and like the hundreds of others at the beach we enjoyed our stay despite the typooons. I would go as far to say that the typhoons made our stay more enjoyable because of the fantastic waves they created.
Whenever I lounge around on a beach all day, my mind is freed from all restriction, able to come up with new ideas without being distracted by anything else. While looking at the majestic coastal scenery in front of me, I find that things flow forth naturally, and I notice the small things around me I am normally to busy to give consideration to. One of my disconnected thoughts concerned palm trees, which I had seen a lot of over the last few days. I was impressed with their strength, despite being rooted in sand and having to hold up their heavy upper portions while staying upright against typhoon-class winds. They bend gracefully against the windy onslaught, but because of their flexibility and fortitude, they never lose a branch or fell over, no matter how close they tipped toward the ground (I which I could say the same for our beach umbrella). There are many things we can learn from nature, even from palm trees.
The final day of our vacation was spent at Shirahama, a secluded beach just a short drive from Aoshima. Although the wind battered our poor parasol, ripping a few of its seams and bending some spokes, we managed to escape the occasional rains and strong rays of sun by taking shelter underneath a stand of palm trees. Fluffy clouds were scattered across the sky like cotton, in stark contrast to the clumps and unnaturally giant clouds we had seen on previous days, acting as an ideal backdrop for the palm trees, blue ocean and golden sands. When the typhoon rains came on this last day, I no longer scrambled for shelter, but walked out into the downpour with beer in hand, looked up at the sky and enjoyed the warm waters as they poured down from above. I wasn’t the only one.
As with most trips I take in Japan, there was a number of unexpected twists and turns during my time in Miyazaki, but in the end it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The people of Miyazaki, who seem used to being battered by nature and stand almost nonchalantly under rapid bouts of surprisingly fierce rains, showed me that sometimes it is better to roll with the punches life sends your way, because you may actually enjoy your time more that way. While Miyazaki is not a popular travel destination for anyone except surfers, it has a unique air that cannot be found in other parts of Japan, a sense of disconnectedness from the rest of society that makes it the perfect place to get away from the stresses of daily life. Fukuoka is a fantastic place to live, but when I left from Shirahama and boarded the “Phoenix” to head home again, I wished I could stay just a few more days. As our bus made its way through the misty mountains toward the opposite coast, one thought was bouncing about in my head: I hope the typhoons will join me again in Miyazaki next year.