Saturday, February 08, 2020

More species hunting fun in Japan : Kumamoto, Kagoshima and Aburatsu.

After arriving in Kumamoto late in the afternoon we went out to explore a bit and ended up going for a walk around the castle's grounds. Kumamoto castle and many of the surrounding buildings and walls were badly damaged by a magnitude 6.2 earthquake in 2016 and are still being rebuilt. Afterwards we found a sushi bar and had a great meal, the gizzard shad nigiri was great but the standout dish was the Japanese omlette topped with tiny sardines. We also had a few beers and spent a couple of hours in a karaoke venue murdering various songs whilst consuming even more beer before eventually stumbling back to our hotel.

Kumamoto Castle being rebuilt.
Gizzard shad or Kohada in Japanese. Very tasty indeed.
Japanese sweet omlette topped with hundreds of tiny sardine fry.

The next morning we didn't have an alarm set but when we did wake up it was to the sound of rain battering against our hotel room window. Undeterred, we were keen to stick to our plan for the day and whilst it might have been wet it was still very humid so we dressed accordingly. Catching a tram, the main mode of transport in the city, we went to explore the Suizen-ji Jōju-en Gardens. Like the gardens we visited in Hiroshima they were very nice indeed being immaculately maintained. One tree in particular had been there for quite some time.

Umbrella and t-shirt weather.
This tree is over a thousand years old.

Later in the evening we visited a restaurant that specialises in horse dishes, something that Kumamoto is famous for. I tried raw horse the last time we visited Japan and thoroughly enjoyed it so we were keen to have some more. Strangely the establishment was named Mutsugoro which is Japanese for mudskipper so I asked one the chefs why this was the case and he explained that when it first opened that was the main food they specialised in. Once again several beers were consumed and a second evening was concluded with a drunken karaoke session.

I had basashi (raw horse) again and I also tried the horse tripe stew as well. Lillian opted to have the grilled horse which was also excellent.

The next morning we hired a car and drove east to visit the Aso-Kuju National Park. As we approached Mount Aso, the active volcano in the centre of the park, we could see huge plumes of smoke rising into the sky and weren't sure if this was something to be concerned about. It turned out that whilst the activity levels were indeed high and a 1km exclusion zone was in effect, this had been the case for some time and the ash clouds were nothing to worry about. Unfortunately however the raised activity levels meant we could not go up any further to see the crater itself. After taking a few photos from a safe distance and visiting the Aso Volcano Museum we hit the road again.

Mount Aso smoking away behind me. This is fairly normal.

For our next stop we drove south west to visit the small town of Takachiho. The gorge running through it was formed by the Gokase River slowly eroding a deep narrow chasm into the volcanic basalt columns that formed from lava that poured from Mount Aso during a very active period in its ancient history. Parking the car we walked along a nice trail following the gorge until we reached the boat hire area, on the way passing a pond that had lots of sturgeon in it.

Visitors row boats in Takachiho gorge close to a waterfall.
No fishing allowed sadly.
Down in the gorge the scenery was stunning.

After hiring a boat ourselves and rowing up and down the gorge we walked back the way we'd came to the car and drove to the final stop of our road trip going north again to visit the picturesque Nabegataki Falls, a waterfall that you can walk behind.

This photo really doesn't do the falls justice. They get lit up after dark too but sadly we had to get the hire car back by 19:00.

Driving back to Kumamoto we were making good time but as we got further into the city the traffic got heavier and soon almost ground to a halt. By the time we had reached the petrol station that was closest to the car hire centre and filled the tank we were already overdue so I had to put the foot down and do a bit of drifting around corners to make it back before the staff left. Luckily we just caught them as they were turning off their office's lights. For dinner that evening we treated ourself to another superb dining experience in the shape of teppanyaki beef.

Watching the chef carefully taking his time cooking our dinner to perfection right in front of us was torture but the mouth watering beef practically dissolving in our mouths made it more than worthwhile.

The next day we were leaving Kumamoto in the afternoon and incredibly I had managed to go over seventy two hours without fishing. Suffering from withdrawl symptoms we spent a couple of hours looking for a likely place that I could fish for tanago in drainage ditches near our hotel but sadly we didn't find one. Determined to catch something before we left the city I ended up freelining some bread to some carp that we spotted skulking around in a piece of slack water at the edge of the Shirakawa River.

My only fish in Kumamoto. Great fun on my Rock Rover though!
Before leaving I bought a Kumamon hat. He is the mascot for the city. The Japanese do love a mascot.

After a short bullet train ride we arrived in Kagoshima and caught a tram to our hotel. After dropping off our luggage we headed out again, catching a second tram to visit the city's aquarium and have a wander around the harbour area. Mainly so I could check out its fishing potential.

Like Nagasaki and Kumamoto, trams are the main mode of transport in Kagoshima. Both old...
...and new.

After visiting the aquarium and sadly finding out that the harbour seemed to be a no fishing zone, we went for some sushi in a very busy conveyor belt restaurant nearby. It was a lively establishment with its chefs constantly shouting orders out in a theatrical manner. It also had lots of cool fish prints on the walls.

An uni (sea urchin) and ikura (salmon roe) gunkan combo was a perfect treat to finish off our sushi feast.
I overindulged myself again.
I love these gyotaku fish prints. Made by covering your catch in ink and then pressing paper onto it they were originally a way to record catches but are also an artform too.

The following day we headed back down to the port area and caught a ferry across the bay to Sakurajima, Japan's most active volcano. Sakarujima used to be an island but large scale eruptions in 1914 created new land that reached the mainland so its now a peninsula. From a distance we could see grey clouds of ash covering the volcano's peak. Once we disembarked from the ferry our first stop was the visitor centre where we spotted a rather unique snow globe.

Ash clouds being spewed from one of the craters on Sakurajima.
Very apt.

We then went for a walk along a coastal lava trail path that followed the shoreline. I had my fishing gear with me but there were "Fishing Prohibited" signs at the side of the path almost everywhere access to the sea was possible. Towards the end of the walk we came to a small harbour and as there was no signs that we could see we stopped for an hour or so and I wet a line. It was a fish every cast due to the incredible numbers of Nagasaki damsels in the area. After switching tactics from drop shotting sections of isome to fishing a lure on a jighead I caught a small wrasse.

I wasn't sure if I was allowed to fish here or not.
These Nagasaki damsel were loving small sections of pink isome.
An Ecogear Shirasu jighead with a Tict Brilliant lure was taken by what I'd later identify as juvenile red naped wrasse.

We then carried on walking along the trail and reaching the end we then caught a tour bus which took us up to an observation platform located further up the side of the volcano where we enjoyed the views it offered. Near the ferry terminal there is a free public hot spring foot spa and a fishing park so when we got back on the tour bus again and headed back down to the coast that's where we went to relax. 

Lillian made the most of the volcanic hot spring foot spa whilst I fished at the fishing park nearby. Perfect!

The fishing park was pretty good and only cost a few hundred yen. This payment granted access to a purpose built pier and also included the loan of a life vest. The pier was manned and also had facilities to clean any fish caught should you wish to take them home to eat, which most Japanese do. I soon discovered, but wasn't surprised given where I was, that the bottom was very snaggy due to being volcanic rock. The fishing was pretty good though and despite loosing some rigs I caught some grass puffer, a few marbled rockfish, some star bambooleaf wrasse and fairly large red naped wrasse.

A nice colourful red naped wrasse.

After a while I thought it had started raining very lightly until a few drops landed in my mouth and had a dreadful taste. It turned out the wind had changed direction and it was ash from the volcano behind me that was falling from the sky. Looking down I discovered my clothes and tackle were quickly getting covered with a fine dusting so I packed up and headed to join Lillian at the foot spa. Soaking my feet for ten minutes or so was a nice way to finish the visit to Sakurajima and afterwards we caught a ferry back to Kagoshima.

Raining ash!

The following day it was raining rather heavily but we grabbed umbrellas from the hotel and went for a walk. At one point there was a relatively small moat at the side of the pavement that had a few koi carp in it! After ambling about for a while we then went for a ride on the massive ferris wheel that has been built on top of the shopping centre next to the train station before catching a tram so we could visit the Kagoshima City Sea Fishing Park. Once there I paid the small fee and I spent a couple of hours getting soaked and adding a few more species to my trip's tally while Lillian took advantage of one of the shelters on the pier.

Swimming in the rain. These koi carp were in a small moat in front of the Kagoshima City Museum of Art.
It was a pretty grim day so the views from this massive ferris wheel weren't great unfortunately.
What better way to spend another grey day in Kagoshima than fishing in the rain. I much prefer the wet variety to the grey powdered kind.
This was my third cardinalfish species of the trip. It is a candystripe cardinalfish.
It was soon followed by my forth, the three spot cardinalfish. Quite big as cardinalfish go.
Just before we left I caught this small areolate grouper.

On the way back to the tram stop we visited another tackle shop where once again I exercised remarkable restraint yet again aided by Lillian's watchful eye.

Point tackle shop in Kagoshima. I really should have taken some photos of the interior but I didn't want to get drool on my iPhone.

It had been a wet cold day so after a hot shower back at our hotel we rewarded ourselves with a visit to a restaurant nearby that had some amazing black pork tonkatsu. The name refers to the colour of the pigs.

Crispy fried panko breadcrumbs surround thickly cut succulent black pork. Add a generous amount of tonkatsu sauce and some mustard for a truely amazing meal!

On our final day staying in Kagoshima we hired a car again and drove east to visit a few places of interest. Our first stop was a rather large statue of the animated fantasy film character Totoro that an airbnb owner has built outside their property in a clever piece of marketing.

I like fishing. Lillian likes Totoro. Fair's fair.

The second stop on our road trip was the small island of Aoshima to see some interesting rock formations and visit the island's shrine. The island is connected to the mainland by a bridge so that it can be accessed at all states of the tide.

Hundreds of tilted layers of rock form the "Devil's washboard" formations that surround Aoshima.

The shrine itself was very busy indeed and there were lots of tables inside covered with a multitude of things for sale. Too many in my opinion which I felt spoiled the shrine a bit. One thing I did love though was the ornate dragon fountain at the entrance.

One of the coolest fountains I've ever seen.

The third and final stop for the day was Udo Shrine which was a little further south down the coast. There are several shrines at the site and whilst there you can also test your skill throwing small clay pebbles into a depression in a large rock. Sucessful throws are supposed to bring good fortune and I managed to get three out of five inside it. With our sightseeing done for the day I had been looking forward to doing a spot of fishing from some rocks nearby but the sea was way too rough. 

The people on the left are trying to throw their clay pebbles into the ringed hole on the large boulder below them. I was planning on fishing from the rocks nearby but not in that swell!

With fishing on that part of the coast out of question Plan B was quickly formulated with the aid of Google Maps. We drove further south to Aburatsu's Harbour so I could take advantage of the sheltered nature of its location. After trying a few different spots that didn't hold any fish I eventually found a productive area and caught a few fish including a couple of new species. One was my fifth cardinalfish species of the trip and the other was a nice little jack whose identity would later surprise me.

This chap is a Doederlein's cardinalfish.
I was pleasantly surprised to find out that this was my first (Not so) giant trevally!

Before long we had to begin the drive back to Kagoshima to return the hire car. It took a little longer than expected but luckily there was no need to repeat the fast and furious manouvers that I'd pulled in Kumamoto! With only four days left of our trip our last stop was the coastal hot spring city of Beppu where I'd booked us into a nice traditional Japanese hotel right next to the sea. With access to a private onsen in the hotel we were looking forward to winding down a bit and slowing down the pace of our trip. I was still hopeful that I could catch a few more fish though.

Tight lines, Scott.