Wednesday, March 04, 2020

More species hunting fun in Japan : Beppu.

With the end of our holiday getting close, we arrived in the last city of our itinerary, the hot spring resort of Beppu on the north eastern coast of Kyushu, early in the afternoon. After a short walk from its train station we dropped our bags off at our hotel. It was clear straight away that geothermal energy was an obvious feature of the city.

Steam rising from the earth all around Beppu.

Feeling quite hungry we headed straight out again to a nearby restaurant to eat lots of Japanese fried chicken, another one of our favourite Japanese dishes. A large statue of Tanuki the racoon dog was outside the eatery, beckoning us in and willing us to spend generously. He's quite common outside of shops, bars and restaurants in Japan and he always has his rather impressive testicles on show. Japanese culture is facinating!

Tanuki is a cheeky chap who lets it all hang out. Read more about him here.
We went through two heaped bowls of this. What's so special about Japanese fried chicken you may ask. Well, it's coating is very crispy yet the marinated chicken thigh inside is incredibly moist. It's usually served with a lemon wedge and Japanese mayonaise. What's so special about Japanese mayoniase I hear you say...

The sight of such a gargantuan scrotum and a belly stuffed full of tasty chicken was too much for Lillian so she wanted to take a power nap on a futon when we returned to our hotel. I wasn't tired at all so just before she drifted off I got permission to head out to do some fishing in a nearby harbour. Only a ten minute stroll away from our accomodation at its entrance was a rather large warning sign.

A stark reminder that nature is incredibly powerful.

After quickly planning my escape route to a nearby apartment block should the ground start shaking I climbed up onto the harbour's wall and began fishing. There were plenty of small fish around and I soon started catching them on small pieces of dried ragworm. The species caught were mainly darkbanded rockfish, grass puffer and threadsail filefish but before long I had also added two species to my trip's tally included a new one. I also spotted a few larger, more elongated, pale grey filefish slowly swimming around but sadly could not tempt any of them. I suspect they were scrawled filefish.

There were lots of these pearl spot chromis in the harbour. They have tiny mouths and are adept at stripping bait. A change to smaller hooks was required to catch a few.
This is my first black scraper. It has a much more elongated body than its cousin the threadsail filefish. Small hooks again are the best choice for their small mouths.

On our first night in Beppu we went out for a walk, had some sushi and then took the elevator up to the observation deck of Beppu Tower. Some of its thick glass windows were cracked and the employee working there told us the damage had been caused by earthquakes! Back at the hotel we relaxed under the stars in a late night private outdoor onsen. In Japan public hot spring baths are usually single sex so it was nice to be able to have one all to ourselves and enjoy a relaxing soak together.

Beppu Tower after dark.

The next day we headed into the city centre and caught a coach up into the mountains to visit the small town of Yufuin. The main reason for this excursion was to visit Owl Forest Zoo, a small venue located in a quaint little park called Floral Village where we got up close to several different species of these fascinating birds.

I like fishing. Lillian likes owls. I like them too.

In the afternoon we explored a bit more of Yufuin and stumbled upon a Totoro shop which Lillian loved and we had a tasty burger as well before catching a coach back down to Beppu. That evening we went to a local bar for some food and a few beers. On the way back to the hotel I spotted these when we popped into a 7-Eleven and of course I had to try them.

Ebisu gets around. He even has his own beer which is very nice.

We got up fairly early the next morning and caught a bus so we could visit the Beppu sand baths. I must say that whilst it certainly felt a little odd being buried in the warm volcanic sand wearing nothing but a yukata and lying there stewing away for fifteen minutes, it was also a strangely refreshing experience too and afterwards we both felt pretty good.

A relaxing sand spa is very popular in Beppu. We left feeling great.

We then decided to walk back along the coastline towards our hotel. I'd taken my fishing gear with me so as we slowly made our way back I tried fishing at a couple of different spots that didn't produce much and then we found a small harbour that I fished around for a while, both on the inside and also from the large concrete blocks that made up its outer defences.

I did a bit of tetra block fishing with Beppu Tower in the distance.
The inside of the harbour was much more productive and is where I caught my second puffer species of the trip, this panther puffer.
I also caught my first blenny of the trip straight down the side of the harbour wall.
With an impressive set of nashers it was the aptly named shorthead sabretoothed blenny.

In the afternoon we caught another bus and headed south to just outside Beppu where we spent a few hours wandering around the Umitamago Aquarium and then visiting the Takasakiyama Monkey Park which is located nearby a short way up the side of Mount Takasaki.

We'd visited several aquariums throughout our trip. As well as catching fish I also like veiwing them and learning about them too.
It's also hard to resist the draw of a monkey park. The animals are wild and come down to the park where they are fed. The baby Japanese macaques are particularly adorable.

Coming back down on the monorail from the monkey park I got permission to fish in the sea for a while at the back of the aquarium before we headed back to Beppu. There were rocks close in that gave way to a cleaner sandy area further out. From the rough ground I caught some star bambooleaf wrasse and then after loosing a few rigs I began casting further out where I managed to add a few species to my trip's tally including a couple of new ones.

A small red seabream. I caught some of these the first time I was in Japan.
My first new species from the sandy area was this bluntnose lizardfish.
As light faded it was followed by this finepatterned puffer. My third puffer species of the trip.

In the evening, as it was our last night of the trip, we went out for a very special meal. It was also a potentially deadly one too! I am of course talking about eating puffer fish or fugu in Japanese and we had booked ourselves a six course fugu dinner!

The species the Japanese prize most is the tiger puffer. It's also the most toxic. There was a large, almost cartoon like, model of the species in question outside the restaurant we visited. How could something so cute be so dangerous?

Over a couple of hours numerous different parts of the puffer fish were prepared in a variety of different ways and presented to us by our host. We were both a bit nervous beforehand but once we started eating we kind of forgot about the danger aspect and just enjoyed the experience.

Probably my favourite dish was the sashimi. Sliced incredibly thinly it is eaten with a delicious dipping sauce.

The reality is that fugu can only be prepared by licensed chefs, only a few people actually die each year and usually they are those who foolishly try to prepare the fish themselves, illegally without the necessary training and requesite skills to do so safely. All that said I was aware that some people only begin to feel ill several hours after eating it so we had another late night soak in the private onsen when we got back to our hotel and stayed up for a while before heading off to bed just to be on the safe side! On reflection I'm not sure if I would have it again. The various dishes were all delicious but it was also very expensive and when you factor in the risk, despite it being miniscule, perhaps its wise to settle for fugu being a once in a lifetime experience.

Still alive the following day and ready for a risk free, totally non toxic and very tasty traditional Japanese breakfast.

So the last day of our trip to Japan had arrived and we made the train journey back to Fukuoka to fly home. We had a few hours to kill before going to the airport so we left our luggage in Hakata Station and I had one last fishing session in the Naka River trying to catch a black seabream. After visiting a small tackle shop to buy some ragworm we followed the river upstream and whilst I did see one fish sadly it wasn't interested in the lively bait I repeatedly freelined in front of it. Catching one would have been a great way to end the fishing on the trip but it was not to be.

So our second amazing Japanese adventure had come to an end. We'd had an epic time exploring a new part of the country and I think it's safe to say that we've well and truly fallen in love with Japan. The fishing was a lot of fun although I really wish I'd managed to tempt that black seabream before we flew home. Overall I did much better than the previous trip both in terms of the total species caught and the amount of new species as well.

Here's a summary of what I caught with the new species in bold...
  1. Amur Catfish
  2. Areolate Grouper
  3. Black Scraper
  4. Bleeker Wrasse
  5. Bluegill
  6. Bluntnose Lizardfish
  7. Candystripe Cardinalfish
  8. Common Carp
  9. Dark Chub
  10. Darkbanded Rockfish
  11. Doederlien's Cardinalfish
  12. Dusky Tripletooth Goby
  13. Fine Patterned Puffer
  14. Giant Trevally
  15. Goldlined Seabream
  16. Grass Puffer
  17. Half-lined Cardinal
  18. Itomoroko
  19. Japanese Chub
  20. Japanese Seabass
  21. Japanese Whiting
  22. Koi Carp
  23. Marbled Rockfish
  24. Mottled Spinefoot
  25. Multicolour Rainbowfish
  26. Nagasaki Damsel
  27. Northern Snakehead
  28. Ohagurobera
  29. Oily Bitterling
  30. Panther Puffer
  31. Pearl Spot Chromis
  32. Red Naped Wrasse
  33. Red Seabream
  34. Sevenband Grouper
  35. Shorthead Sabretooth Blenny
  36. Spotnape Cardinalfish
  37. Spotnape Ponyfish
  38. Star Bambooleaf Wrasse
  39. Threadfin Emperor
  40. Threadsail Filefish
  41. Three Spot Cardinalfish
  42. Urohaze
  43. Yellowfin Goby
  44. Yellowfin Seabream
So, will I be going back to Japan? Almost certainly, but not this year. A fishing only trip in 2022 with some of my friends has been discussed and Lillian and I might return next year as well. We wanted to visit some new destinations this year so with that in mind Lillian and I are off to the Hawaiian island of O'Ahu for two weeks at the end of May. We are also currently considering a trip to Porto, the Azores and Lisbon later in the year as well. Tackle will of course be going along too.

Tight lines, Scott.

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