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.

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.