I’ve been away from the Heath for almost a month, mainly in Japan.
It was a trip built around ‘onsen’ or hot springs and seaside. Lots of temples, shopping and architecture too, but mainly sitting or swimming in warm water.
And eating stuff that lives in water, too. Even eating things still ‘alive’ in the case of a squid and a lobster that we dined on even while their tentacles still waved.
This chap was washed up on the beach in Kuratsu Bay in the far west of Japan’s Kyushu island. The beach has a strip of pine forest behind it and is patrolled by buzzards who feast off this kind of ocean drift-sushi.
Japan’s coastal strip is intensely urban because the interior is largely wooded mountains, so there’s not much wild shoreline. We spent one day on the family resort beach of Shirahama in Kansai province. It actually has hot springs next to the beach (sand imported from Australia). We paused there before walking the three-day Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail.
Much more beautiful and almost totally deserted was Neshiko beach on the island of Hirado at the very top left edge of Japan. This is a gorgeous corner of rural Japan just an hour from Nagasaki and accessible by a very high and long road bridge. The shoreline is mainly rocky and steep covered in pines, but Neshiko has three crescents of sand next to the sparking south China sea.
And then finally, to Karatsu with its white-tiered castle and pottery kilns. And, of course, more seafood. Though we left this chap for the birds.
[For those thinking of going to Japan, here are some tips from our trip
Like everyone else we used the Japan Rail Pass which was great value and a wonderful experience in itself.
We went in August/September when it is still hot and humid – some people would find that unbearable. I am sure spring or autumn are much better – partly because you will get either flowers/blossom or autumn leaves. However, we found that most of the places we went to were not crowded – though the nicest hotels should always be reserved ages in advance.
In Tokyo we stayed at this very modest, traditional ryokan where everyone was incredibly friendly. It’s a lovely, low-rise, low-key neighbourhood with loads of charming temples and loads of very good small inns and restaurants. it is a walk away from the National Museums and the Metro is only 5 minutes away
This is the pilgrimage hike we did. You can get to the start from Kyoto or Tokyo easily via train and then bus. The local tourist office is excellent and they will sort out all your accommodation and luggage.
In Kyoto we stayed in this very expensive but very beautiful and perfectly located ryoken:
Gion Hatanaka Ryokan, Kyoto City
We also stayed in this (very cheap) incredibly beautiful temple (though the rooms are in a boring modern extension) within a stunning temple complex and had a meditation class:
We then travelled to the west of Japan which feels subtly different – Kyushu. We hired a car and drove into a wonderful volcanic zone and the charming spa village of Kurokawa where we stayed in this expensive ryokan which was worth every yen for its rooms with their own hot baths, its stunning food and beautiful location:
Our last stop was in the low-key seaside town of Karatsu which has a good beach, a nice castle and a wonderful museum of festival floats. It also has some wonderful pottery workshops and shops and is within a drive of some of Japan’s most interesting pottery villages like Onta. We stayed in this expensive beach-side ryokan which had, I think, the best food of the whole trip:
Back in Tokyo we stayed in the relatively expensive http://www.marunouchi-hotel.co.jp/en/
it’s a normal modern hotel but it’s handy because it is right next to Tokyo station. The views from it are also stunning as it’s all on the floors 25+ We spent hours gazing at the view of the tracks of Tokyo station and the cityscape beyond.