The final stop on my summer road trip was Oita prefecture. By the time I reached Oita, I was pretty exhausted from everything that I had been doing the previous days. I also quickly learned that there was not much to do in the city center, and so for my next visit, I hope to stay in a place where I can be surrounded by nature and go to an onsen (a bath house).
Oita is most known for their hot springs and onsens. Particularly in an area called Beppu. Beppu has the most amount of hot springs in all of Japan. However, not all of them are suitable for lounging. You can also try some local cuisine that has been steamed over the hot springs in a bamboo steamer. This style of preparing food is known as jigokumushi which literally translates to "hell steaming". It is said to have a distinguished taste because of the unique cooking process and has been around for hundreds of years. Since it was the end of summer, I had no interest in doing anything that had the terms "hot" or "hell" in them. I do know that many people visit hot springs in the summer, I just can never be one of those people! So when I do visit Oita again, I hope to do so during winter.
Even though I didn't make it to Beppu, I did make it to another tourist destination known as Yufuin. Yufuin is at the base of mount Yufu and has a gorgeous landscape surrounding the main part of the town. There are also onsens in Yufuin (of which, again, I didn't visit) but there are also a number of restaurants, museums and shops as well. I ended up going to an area called "Floral Village" which has a bunch of little shops and attractions that are modeled to look like an English village.
When I first arrived, I found a Japanese teahouse that was Snoopy themed. Every single food item on the menu is in the shape of a Peanuts character. I ordered Japanese curry and rice. The rice was in the shape of Woodstock.
After lunch I explored the rest of the village and indulged myself by purchasing a small No-Face stuffie (a character from the Studio Ghibli film Spirited Away) and a small handbag with Jerry from Tom and Jerry.
Yufuin also has a display where you can view large crystals such as amethyst and rose quartz. It also has a few classic European cars on display. However, by far the most memorable part of Yufuin for me was a small enclosure called "Owl Forest". For a fee of ¥680 (or $5.15) you can enter and not only view a wide array of owls, but also pet the back of their heads and take pictures with them. I entered, but did not pet any. For one, I've always felt bad for animals that are in enclosures, it's not their choice to be there and they probably don't want to be touched all day long (which is probably hypocritical of me to even enter in the first place). But also, I find owls a bit scary. I've always had a fear of birds and owls are even worse because of their piercing, big eyes. With that being said they are beautiful birds and it was such a cool experience to be surrounded by owls.
Owl's Forest also had a Snowy Owl, which is the same type of owl that played Hedwig in the Harry Potter series. I do not have a picture of the Snowy Owl because it was sleeping (:
The next day I visited Usuki. Usuki is known as the home to the largest stone Buddha in all of Japan. Most Buddhas in Japan are made out of metal. In Usuki, there are multiple carvings in volcanic ash that came from Mount Aso and eventually hardened. These carvings were created sometime between 794 and 1333 C.E. Historians are unsure of who carved them, but it is quite a unique and spiritual experience nevertheless. There are four different clusters of these carvings and you can walk up (quite a few stairs) to view all of them in half an hour. These statues became recognized as a national treasure in 1995.
Usuki was my final stop on the trip. Because it was in the middle of the work week, it was pretty empty. I did, however, run into two English speakers along the way. First was the woman who was working in the ticket office. The second was an elderly man with a camera.
I was trying to take a picture of a very small frog on a fence when the man approached me. He asked me something in Japanese, and like always, my first response is to apologize because I don't understand. He immediately began speaking to me in English and asked me what I was trying to take a picture of. I am always surprised to encounter English speakers in Kyushu, but even more so to encounter older English speakers. Anyway, I pointed to the very tiny frog, and he quickly bent over the fence and took a few captures.
Afterwards I asked to see his picture, he showed me a very beautiful and clear picture of the frog. Something that my camera and lens does not have the capacity of doing. I love my camera for a lot of reasons. It really helped improve my photography these past two years. However, it is also the most "basic" DSLR that Nikon has to offer. So anything above an ISO of 400 and the picture becomes super grainy. In other words, it is not the kind of camera that professional photographers get hired with. It has been on the back of my mind to get a new camera for about a year now. I was hoping that it would happen for my birthday (which just passed) but some unexpected finances came up in November. Including the need to replace the air conditioner in my 2014 Honda Fit (as a side note, a few months before I moved to Japan, I had to replace the air conditioner in my 2010 Honda Fit. Possibly a coincidence, but... I don't know). Anyway, this is a drawn out way of saying that it will be awhile until I can invest in a new and better camera., but hopefully sometime this year.
The man continued to walk with me for the rest of my visit around Usuki. He helped translate the signs that were only in Japanese and I was very grateful for his help and company.
Right after Usuki I started the journey back home, which was about a three hour drive. The next day, I jumped right back into teaching and studying for my classes with Sacramento City College.