In July, I visited yet another prefecture! I traveled to a neighboring prefecture called Kagoshima. Kagoshima is called "The Naples of the East" because of it's location in the bay and it's "comfortable climate". Additionally, Kagoshima is home to Japan's most active volcano: Sakurajima.
This particular weekend was a holiday weekend. It was "Marine Day". Marine Day is about giving thanks to the ocean. Since Japan is an island nation, it has, throughout it's history, heavily relied on the ocean for food and transportation. So it makes perfect sense to spend the weekend at an oceanfront hotel that overlooked Mount Sakurajima.
Because my city is a border city, it's only about an hour's drive into the city. However, on the morning of my departure, I first had to drive to Miyazaki City for my driving lessons. If I haven't already mentioned, the driving test in Japan is extremely challenging and there are a lot of hoops to jump through (even though I have been driving for well over a decade!). Anyway, on the first day of my trip, I didn't get into town until the evening.
The first evening I went to Amu Plaza which seems to be a chain in Japan, because they have locations in Nagasaki and Miyazaki as well. Amu Plaza is an area that has a station, restaurants and many shops. The thing that made Amu Plaza in Kagoshima unique is that it has a Ferris Wheel on top! That night I ate at a yakiniku restaurant (a restaurant with various grilled meats). I ordered a variety plate, rice, and miso soup. Most of it was fine, but as many of you know, I can only eat so much meat in one sitting. Also, I am never fully sure what type of food I am ordering, so in the variety of yakiniku, there was some sort of tongue that I tried. The texture was interesting.
The following morning, I woke up early to explore Mount Sakurajima. I first turned on the TV in the hotel room. It was the first time that I watched cable television since I've been here in Japan. The week prior to my holiday, the former Prime Minister Abe was assassinated, so there was a lot of news coverage about him. Abe was Japan's longest sitting prime minister, and it seemed as though he was working his way towards being appointed again. Regardless of my own opinions about him, it was a major deal because things like that are VERY rare here in Japan. I eventually began watching the track and field World Championships that were being held in Oregon, U.S.A. I obviously couldn't understand what the announcers were saying, but it was easy to guess because of all the context clues. But then it was time to get ready.
The ferry from Kagoshima to Sakurajima island leaves every 15 to 20 minutes 24 hours a day. You can drive your car onto it and relax for the quick 15 minute ferry ride. Depending on the time of year, there are a variety of things you can do on the island. People even live on the island! The adventures in Sakurajima started at the visitor's center. At the visitors center there is an onsen, outdoor footbath, and a museum. I went to the museum. The museum is all about Mount Sakurajima. It walks you through the evolution and impact that Sakurajima has had on the bay. The most interesting part, in my opinion, were these massive digital maps that were monitoring Sakurajima's current activity. On the morning of my visit, the likelihood of an eruption was small. At the time of my visit, Sakurajima had fewer eruptions than it did the previous year in July.
Afterwards I headed over to a park that had some model dinosaurs. To get there you have to take a very steep, narrow, and windy road. I am not exactly sure what I was expecting, but all it was, was a children's park. They made some dinosaurs that you can slide down and climb on. It was quite underwhelming, but I wouldn't have known unless I tried it out.
Next, I headed to the observation deck where there is not only a great view of Mount Sakurajima, but also a great view of the Bay. It looked exactly like Naples! Just kidding, I have never been to Naples, but when I do eventually visit I hope to reminded of Kagoshima because it is a beautiful place.
On my way back down to the base of the volcano, I stopped at yet another park. In 2004, the park held a rock festival with a few musicians including Tsuyoshi Nagabuchi, a Mount Sakurajima native. The concert attracted more than 75,000 people from all over the country! To honor the night, they built a unique statue of Nagabuchi's screaming head.
After leaving the park, I stumbled upon an abandoned building that seemed to once be an onsen with an ocean view. Japan has a lot of abandoned areas and I am very intrigued by them, probably because it is all new to me. There are obviously some abandoned buildings in California, but quite frankly they are a fire hazard, so they are an uncommon occurrence. However, here in Japan, there are quite a few abandoned buildings. Not just in rural areas, but even in city centers. In the 1980's Kagoshima and Miyazaki were popular honeymoon destinations. However, in more recent years, Japanese couples have been traveling to Hawaii for their honeymoon. So both areas have a lot of failed hospitality businesses that still stand. This is the first abandoned building that I took the time to explore.
For my last stop on the island, I visited the Kurokami buried shrine gate. In 1914, Sakurajima had a massive eruption that rose over 26,000 feet in the air! This was one of the eruptions that had a massive impact on the way that Sakurajima is shaped. As a result, a tori gate in Kurokami was mostly covered, leaving only the top of the gate peeping out of the ground. You can still visit it today and see the impact from the eruption.
After that, it was time to head back to the city. It was already early evening by that point and I was extremely tired and possibly a little hangry. On my way back, the line for the ferry took forever to get through. In total it took about an hour to get back to the city. Once I got there, I quickly changed my clothes and headed outside for dinner. To my surprise, Sakurajima was erupting! I ran as fast as I could with my camera equipment and climbed up onto the sea wall to get a clear image of the eruption, while repeating out loud "I was just there!". Although Sakurajima often erupts, the eruptions are normally small, so small to the point that you can't even see it clearly from the city. So this was a pretty cool moment that I was able to experience. Everyone on the island was okay too.
Also, I do show my pictures to my students. One teacher said that the eruption looks like fried chicken! Now I can't unsee it, what do you think?
For the next few days Sakurajima had quite a few eruptions, including one that caused those living on the island to evacuate. It also made global news. By that time I was safe in my city, the only thing that I experienced was a small amount of ash, but really it was nothing of concern for my area.
After watching the eruption for several minutes, I headed to dinner. I ate at this Korean restaurant called Nene Chicken. The food was great and spicy. However the portions were huge and it was challenging to finish it all. Also, the dish I ordered had a lot of cheese, which I love, don't get me wrong. However, one bite I took had too much cheese and I began choking. Full on eyes watering, face turning read, unable to breathe for a few seconds. Luckily I began to cough which allowed some air to get through before anything serious happened, but wow. Two near death experiences in just a matter of hours! Again, just kidding, I had to be a drama queen for a second. At the end of the day, all that mattered was the food itself was good.
The next day I visited a large park known as Senganen Gardens. The gardens are huge and include seasonal flowers, koi ponds, unique trees, and waterfalls.
One of my favorite discoveries in the park was a cat shrine. In the late 1500's Lord Yoshihiro sailed from Kagoshima to somewhere in South Korea. On his journey, he brought along seven cats with him. These cat's weren't used as emotional support animals, the sailors used them to tell the time. Apparently, sailors could tell what time of day it was based on the size of the cats' pupils. Only two of the cats survived the trip to South Korea and back, so Lord Yoshihiro built the cat statue to honor the cats for their hard work and to honor the cats that didn't survive. I got a little cat trinket from the shrine shop.
There's also a huge palace that you can tour. It was home to the Lords and welcomed guests from all over the world. Including Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
In addition to the places I already mentioned, the gardens also has numerous shops and restaurants. I stopped at one of the restaurants to get shaved ice. Summer in Japan is EXTREMELY hot. I have turned into one of those people who say it's not the "temperature" it's the "humidity", but it's so true! I have never experienced anything like it. So cold snacks and food are a life saver, during these hot months. Not to mention, the ice cream in Japan is way better than American ice cream, in my opinion it's not overly sweet. Anyway, each prefecture has a specialty food (like Nagasaki's specialty was their amazing champon) and one of Kagoshima's specialty is shaved ice. In Kagoshima, they call their shaved ice Shirokuma which translates to polar bear. What makes it special is that the topping is not a flavored syrup, but instead they use condensed milk. So the texture is more creamy and heavenly. It also happens to be in the shape of a bear, which is adorable.
Kagoshima was the third prefecture I visited on my island: Kyushu. I made it my summer goal to explore as much of Kyushu as I could. I did just that by visiting three more prefectures in August!
Documenting my story through pictures and blogging has been a lot of fun! I want to update everyone with what is going on behind the scenes. Firstly, I did a massive update of my portfolios on this website. If it's been awhile since you took a glance, go ahead and give it another glance! The only portfolio that I left untouched is the photojournalism portfolio. To this day, I am most proud of the work I was doing when I was documenting the various social justice movements in Northern California. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was truly a part of the community and doing something important. I will always stand by marginalized communities and will continue to proudly show my work from that time.
Next, I have been taking photography classes with Sacramento City College since Fall 2020. I have taken way more units than the degree required because I was taking advantage of the online classes and genuinely love learning about all things photography. However, my time with the photography department is coming to an end. I will be officially done this December, and receiving yet another degree this coming Spring. I have seriously enjoyed the connections I made with classmates and professors at Sacramento City College. Even though all of my classes have been online, I got to shoot with some classmates before I moved to Japan! Also, the professors continue to be understanding and flexible despite the fact that I am living on the other side of the world.
For my final project I am working on portraits (something that is completely out of my comfort zone). I first tried out portraits with the pictures that I took of my sister for her graduation. However, for her photoshoot I relied on the natural light because I did not know how to properly work with my flash. So, for my final portfolio I will be using my own lighting equipment to showcase my knowledge on how to use artificial light, shape it, and modify it. This will improve my photography immensely and I am very excited for what is to come.
This final portfolio will showcase environmental portraits of foreigners living in my prefecture. I am calling it "In the Inaka" (inaka means countryside or rural). One friend is helping me with this project as an assistant - she's helping me with scoping out locations, setting up my equipment, and even brainstorming poses to try out. I am starting to feel like a professional photographer! I am very excited to share this project with you! But until then, here is a sneak peek into the behind the scenes of what the set up involves on location.