Dateline: November 20, 2008
An Unexpected Trip
We met Ryo in the lobby of our hotel and headed for a Sonic train to start the 2 hour trip to Nagasaki. What we were expecting to be a day spent checking out the sights — including the bomb memorials — ended up being entirely different.
As before, the train streamed passed more power lines scattered all over the place. Ryo let me try some little cheese bites he picked up that morning. They smelled like the inside of a pumpkin and tasted like pumpkin-flavoured processed mozzarella; not bad, but not great either.
The clouds started clearing about 20 minutes after the midway point of our voyage. Unfortunately, another 20 minutes later and we were back into the clouds! Along the way we passed a schoolyard with all the little kids doing their morning calisthenics. I’d seen it lots of times in various videos from Japan, but never “in person”.
After passing through several more tunnels, we were back to the blue sky. I think the weather was taunting us. On approach to Nagasaki Station, the wheels hitting the gaps in the track sounded exactly like the beginning of the Terminator theme, all the way down to the pacing.
After disembarking, we met up with two guys that Ryo knew outside Nagasaki Station. Julien has lived in the area for four years, but used to live in Toronto. Ponte (pronounced PAWN-tay), as he asked to be called, is a doctor and rented a Honda STEPWGN with a wicked power middle seat for disabled people that swings out of the van and down to the ground. This is when we discovered we weren’t touring Nagasaki; rather, Ponte was going to chauffeur us to a volcano that buried some houses and killed many people in 1991 by way of a pyroclastic flow.
Nagasaki has a great, old-fashioned looking streetcar system. Everything from the cars themselves, to the power poles, and even the brick pathways surrounding the tracks. We also found out why there’s hardly any garbage cans to be found out in public: terrorism. Instead of providing places for bombs to be hidden, all public garbage cans were removed.
On the way out of town, we stopped just beyond some potato fields (ash from the volcano makes for very fertile ground) and took some shots over the ocean.
We headed up a narrow, winding road toward the volcano. Many hairpin turns awaited us amongst the switchbacks that brought us upward. There was even a 10% grade at one point in the road.
The town of Unzen was the next thing we went through; no stopping here, though, as the volcano awaited! The area became the first national park in Japan. Mount Unzen is actually a volcanic group, not just a single volcano as the name would suggest. We turned onto Nita Pass, a single lane road heading further up the side of the mountain.
From high above Shimbara, the town that got hit by the pyroclastic flow in 1991, we could see the path of destruction stretching out to the ocean. The museum near the shore was built over top of some houses that were buried in lahar, almost two stories deep. They now stand as part of the exhibits of the devastation.
Ponte lent me an official Urawa Red Diamonds jacket to head to the nearby summit in a gondola as it was going to be much colder up there than it was where we stood at the first viewpoint. He was joking that, because I was wearing it and was a foreigner, people might think I was a member of the team. It sure seemed like it when some people saw me in the jacket!
It was only 1 degree at the upper gondola station, so I was happy for the Urawa jacket. There was a lot more snow on the ground up there than down below. Ponte and I walked up the series of stairs along the trail to the very top and got some amazing views of Mount Unzen and Shimbara. We were up at 1,333 meters (4,373 feet).
Branching off from the trail we were on, was another that travelled along a nearby ridge, but we didn’t have time to check it out as the others were still waiting down in the parking lot.
As we made our way back to Nagasaki, Ponte stopped at a small bakery and picked up a tasty snack: thin Japanese cookies. I still have a box of them sitting at home as a memento. Not only did he get the cookies, but he got a few extra bags of “scraps” for us to munch on in the van. The cookies are circular and get cut out of a large sheet of dough. All the leftover pieces get tossed into bags and sold as well.
Finishing the Day
Once we got back to Nagasaki Station, we bought our tickets for the return trip to Hakata and for our planned outing to Hiroshima tomorrow. Ponte grabbed some gyoza for all of us while we waited to get our Shinkansen tickets.
The group went to a ramen place near the station for a really late lunch (7pm is late for lunch, right?). There was a ¥2,200 (around $30 CAN at the time) pitcher of ice cream sundae on offer! I got to play with Julien’s Dell Mini 9 for a bit, which was a new thing at the time. I polished off a big bowl of tonkotsu ramen (a specialty of the area) and some more gyoza; both were excellent.
After saying our goodbyes, we hopped onto the train at 8:25pm to head back to Hakata.