Urban Camping Japan - Week 2
~ Adventure by Ahslynn and Val ~
Nara, a little town outside of Kyoto, was one of the few places that we saw a lot of other international tourists. We were all there for the same reason, to feed the famous deer. I believe that the high volume of visitors resulted in a higher proportion of street markets peppering the town. We enjoyed visiting this city, it offered some decent food from the grocery store in the train station and the feisty, photogenic deer were fun too.
We visited Himeji Castle, the finest surviving example of early 17th-century Japanese castle architecture. This was the first and only place we were asked to leave after setting up our Nubé Hammock tent system to camp for the night. The security guards nabbed us at 5am so at least we got to sleep a bit before moving on.
We felt that this trip would not be complete without visiting Hiroshima to really gain a fuller understanding and respect for our two countries history. The visit to the memorial museum was a somber event. We did not feel that it would be right to urban camp in Hiroshima city so we opted for a more appropriate location on the island.
Leaving Hiroshima, we took a ferry to Miyajima and saw the famous floating torii of Itsukushima Shrine. The shrine has been destroyed many times, but the first shrine buildings were probably erected in the 6th century. It was dedicated to the three daughters of Susano-o no Mikoto, Shinto god of seas and storms, and brother of the sun goddess Amaterasu. Because the island itself has been considered sacred, commoners were not allowed to set foot on it throughout much of its history to maintain its purity. As we traveled past the floating torii we figured we would be a lot more secluded on the island than in Hiroshima anyway, meaning that we would not be in anyone’s way... (people that is anyway!) We found a perfect place to set up our Nubés and hammocks, then ended up surrounded by native deer and very loud monkies! We fell asleep to the sound of a couple monkey screeches as darkness fell over us.
By week two we were becoming overwhelmed by the big city, concrete, people everywhere, trains moving, and cramming into those trains.... Mom was just exhausted and needed some down time. Information at the train station called a campsite they knew of way out in the middle of nowhere... Banshu Ako. During our walk to this campground we found a 7-11 store where we bought ice cream, we stopped at a shaded picnic bench, and took a photo. All we wanted at that moment was there: A bench, shade, ice cream and no pack, and better yet a nice view!
We finally made it to the Ako Seaside Park campground, where we stayed 3 days. This place had showers, laundry, picnic tables, vending machines, kitchen set up for all to use... even a TV where we watched sumo wrestling. They were very kind and lent us two bicycles to get groceries. This was a really nice change of pace from walking around with our packs.
After realizing many people were visiting the area to go clamming, we quickly purchased a sack and dug in the sand at low tide with all the locals. I promptly got a slight burn, and many little tiny clams. The campground personnel took our clams, poured them into a plastic tub, then poured lukewarm water over them and placed them in the shade with a piece of cardboard over the top, and motioned with their mouths that the clams needed to spit the sand out. Ash was new to the entire process... but found her fair share of clams too. They then loaned us a frying pan to cook them up! On our next trip to the market we purchased two boxes of ice cream and gave them to the staff to say thank you! (They close the campground on a Tuesday I think, and were becoming worried we would never leave... we did little but rest while there!) Upon our departure they had made a little care package of food (one of the gifts included were Ritz crackers filled with lemon cream filling... quickly became a favorite) and then drove us back to the train station so we didn't have to ride the bus or walk.... so very kind. This couple and their staff hold a special place in our hearts!
After such a great experience at Banshu Ako we wanted to take our chances in a Japanese Onsen. (An onsen (温泉 ) is a term for hot springs in the Japanese language, though the term is often used to describe the bathing facilities and inns around the hot springs.) I knew that one place that we would be sure to find an onsen Japanese bathhouse, was in Beppu. We picked out one that was relatively cheap and included about seven different types of baths, a sand bath, and a sauna. After a nice soak we headed to a computer café and then on to bed in our hammocks. It was pure luck that we were able to camp next to a grove of bamboo.
From Beppu we headed even farther south to the city of Kagoshima and across the bay to Sakurajima. We had a bit of a hike up steep switchbacks to the Dinosaur Park, so named because of the life size dinosaurs and other animals statues located there. We found a perfect spot that had a functional bathroom, a little on the icky side, a nice outdoor sink, a rooftop patio, and a beautiful view of the active volcano and bay. It was the perfect place to camp out.
We found a new friend at our campsite that night. He was hanging around so we gave him some left overs. He LOVED our rice- a true Japanese Hawk!