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.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

More species hunting fun in Japan : Nagasaki and Sasebo.

We arrived in Nagasaki fairly late in the evening so after walking from the station to our hotel we headed to a food mall in a large shopping centre nearby to get something to eat. After filling our faces with one of our favourite Japanese foods we had a look in some of the shops and also walked through an amusement arcade. Even though I'd spent most of the afternoon earlier that day fishing, I got permission to do some more of an electronic variety.

Takoyaki are dough balls filled with octopus chunks, tempura scraps, pickled ginger, and green onion. They are then covered with a tangy sauce and sprinkled with seaweed and bonito flakes. They're also amazing!
No water involved but this fishing arcade game was great fun.

The next day we spent the morning and the early afternoon visiting the Nagasaki Peace Park, the Hypocentre Cenotaph, the Atomic Bomb Museum and finally the National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims. Like our visit to the Peace Park in Hiroshima it was educational and thought provoking. The museum and the memorial hall were quite tough going emotionally and I'm not ashamed to say that by the end my throat was sore from swallowing lumps. Learning in graphic detail about the horrific reality of the devastation caused by the second atomic bomb that was dropped on Japan was difficult but the thing that really got me was reading the testimony and thoughts of those who had survived. Despite everything they went through there was still an underlying message of hope for the future in their words. Before we left to explore more of Nagasaki we folded some origami cranes to add to the multitudes on display already.

The origami crane has become a symbol for peace.

After some lunch we spent the rest of the afternoon taking a relaxing wander around the backstreets of the city, visiting shrines and temples before we walked back to our hotel, following for a time the street up above the Nakashima River. As we ambled along I kept my eyes open for any fish down below and soon spotted some that were incredibly hard to miss.

We visited a few throughout the afternoon but this Buddhist temple was quite unusual with Kannon the goddess of mercy standing on the back of a huge turtle.
The koi obviously stand out like a sore thumb but if you look carefully you'll see lots of common carp too. Rather conveniently there were some steps nearby so I stuck a pin in Google Maps so we could find this spot again.

Before going back to our hotel I also wanted to visit a fishing tackle shop but we struggled to find it. The Japanese are normally incredibly polite so when I asked for directions I thought at first the response I got was quite rude. When we eventually found the tackle shop the directions we were given made perfect sense.

Turns out the tackle shop was across the park next to Fukken Street after all!

Needless to say the tackle shop was amazing! Despite being dedicated to lure fishing only it was massive and had a mind boggling selection of tackle. With both the koi carp we'd seen ealier and also future trips abroad in mind I bought myself a 2.1m telescopic net handle that collapses to only 42cm and a 45cm rubberised net that folds in four, perfect for throwing into my hold luggage! I also got the nod to treat myself to a few packets of creature baits and isome crabs to use for seabream should the opportunity arise again.

The next day we caught a train north to Sasebo to visit the Pearl Sea Resort there. Its aquarium and a boat cruise around the kujukushima islands were the main reasons for the day trip but first we visited a shrine to Ebisu, the Japanese god of fisherman and luck, so I could say a quick prayer.

The shrine was located on this small island.
This is Ebisu. One of the seven gods of fortune. As you can see he's a top angler.

Before going into the aquarium I got the green light to fish for a while but things were tough. There were lots of lure munching puffers around so we hopped along the coast back towards the aquarium trying a few different spots along the way. Eventually in some deeper water something else began nibbling away but I struggled to connect with its bites. I ended up using progressively smaller hooks until I finally caught the culprit.

I'd later identify this tiny mouthed fish as a threadsail filefish.

After  a few hours spent visiting the aquarium and relaxing on the boat cruise I got permission to fish for an hour or so before we had to catch the last bus of the day back to Sasebo Station. To start with all I caught was a few grass puffers and a couple more threadsail filefish.

Wandering around the harbour having a few casts in each area before moving on eventually produced something different...
...when this Japanese whiting took a piece of dried ragworm.

Soon we ended up all the way around the harbour, opposite the moored cruise boats, on a small breakwater where a few locals were fishing. One angler was doing particularly well, fishing prawn under a float and was catching a few nice seabream. He was putting in plenty of shrimp paste groundbait to attract the fish and I managed to catch a seabream myself before we had to leave.

My first ever goldlined seabream. A nice fish to end a relatively tough day's fishing.

When we arrived back in Nagasaki we dropped my fishing gear off at our hotel, headed over the Uragami River and caught the Nagasaki ropeway up to the observation deck at the top of Mount Inasa. The views of Nagasaki after dark were spectacular and the photos we took really don't do it justice.

Nagasaki after dark. Much better viewed using the naked eye!

The following day we were travelling to our next destination but before going to the station we took a little detour, walking alongside the Nakashima River to the spot where we'd seen the carp. Armed with my new net and a few slices of bread I quickly set up my rod and was just about to start targeting the carp when I noticed there were also a few catfish swimming around on the bottom. Lillian had already started throwing in some small pieces of bread and much to my surprise the catfish soon came up and joined in the feeding frenzy on the surface. I decided to target one of these first which was pretty tricky due to their poor eyesight and all the carp bullying them away from the bread. Going a little way along the bank, Lillian was able to draw the majority of the much more agile carp away and I managed to catch a catfish that was a little more isolated by lowering my bait right in front of it.

This Amur catfish was a nice way to start the day and another new species added to my tally.

This was then quickly followed into my new net by a few very colourful koi carp. Catching these was no challenge at all so I made it interesting by targeting individual fish that Lillian pointed out for me.

The lady wanted a golden koi carp. I duly obliged. What a stunning fish!

Pleased to have caught some fish in Nagasaki I packed up my gear and we headed to the station to make the journey to Kumamoto. We had reached the halfway point of our trip and were having a great time. With three more cities left on our itinerary I was confident the remainder of our trip would be just as exciting as the first half had been and also that I'd get plenty more fishing opportunities too.

Tight lines, Scott.