Hello everyone! As promised, I’m back from taking a break last week! Usually, I post on Sundays but since today is the last day of Golden Week here in Japan I decided to post today since it’s my ’emotional Sunday’.
Wait, some of you might wonder what this “Golden Week” is? When most people think of Japan they think of crazy work ethics and more or less no holidays. That is not entirely false but it isn’t the entire truth either. What most people don’t know is that the Japanese calendar actually is loaded with national holidays (thankfully)! The Golden Week begins on April 29 every year and hosts 4 national holidays in one week which together with weekends often result in a hefty breather for many of the people living in Japan. This year it was a good harvest with a stunning 10 days off in a row! Oh, and a fun fact! The emperor’s birthday is always a national holiday. And since it would be rude and potentially cause a riot if you suddenly removed a national holiday this doesn’t change even if the emperor changes. This all means that slowly but steadily the Japanese national holidays keep increasing! In a far future, Japan might be the most laid-back country in the world!
So how did I spend this unbelievably long holiday? I had the pleasure of having my girlfriend Madoka visiting here for the first time! She stayed from the 28th of April to the 3rd of May so this time I will share some of our experiences here!
Most importantly apart from being together! Did we get blessed with wonderful and superb weather to make the most of all the outdoor activities and beautiful nature that Minamioguni and the Japanese countryside has to offer?… NO!!! Not even nearly…
As you can see from the number of umbrellas on the picture above the weather gods didn’t exactly smile on us. And for the record, Madoka boarded an early plane leaving 8:45 on the 3rd to go home. Just so you don’t get the wrong idea and think that we at least had 2 good days at the end of her visit. But no time to despair! Nothing else to do than to try and make the most of the experience!
But it wasn’t easy… Especially when what usually is a breathtaking view that makes your jaw hit the floor has morphed into a thick white wall that hides anything worth seeing. I’m not crying! But there has to be someplace which you can enjoy even when the rain pours and mist lays thick?
Looking out over large scenery might be impossible but how about something a bit closer? Like a waterfall?
This is Nabegataki! A natural wonder and one of the major tourist attractions of the neighboring town Oguni. And Nabegataki definitely turned out to be a good choice when the weather tries to force you into submission. No mist and the rain even made it all very atmospheric by enhancing the beautiful lush green of the leaves and the moss. Oh, I don’t know if anyone noticed but Madoka is not very keen about having her picture posted on the internet (very normal in Japan) so I have taken myself the freedom of replacing her face with this fabulous portrait I made!
The cave-like shape that is covered by the curtain of water is thought to be a result of Mt. Aso’s super eruptions occurring from 270.000 to 90.000 years ago (4 eruptions). The pyroclastic flow carrying volcanic rocks, debris, dust and such formed a layer over a river and solidified into a compact layer of hard rocks. Over time, the softer layer beneath (that originally was the river) was eroded forming this concave shape allowing you to actually walk behind the waterfall (see the first picture of the post).
Look how happy she is! This is how happy Nabegataki makes you! Even though it’s cold and rainy outside! On the topic of waterfalls! Another one, this time in Minamioguni, that we visited was Meotodaki! The name literally translates to “husband and wife waterfall”. Can you guess why?
Yes, exactly! It is because of the two waterfalls that meet up and mix together into one river. Just like married couples who entangle their legs and arms to ensure that they always move together! Or wait? That isn’t right… Anyways! This place is also quite beautiful and worth a visit! Especially when the weather doesn’t offer prime conditions. The rain even makes the impact of the river and the waterfalls even greater since the amount of flowing water increases as well. But be careful on really stormy days since the water level can rise suddenly and quickly!
Another great thing in Minamioguni that isn’t affected by bad weather is the food! As I’ve mentioned countless times the food here is amazing and we truly enjoyed that fully. For example!
On the 29th there was an event at my workplace where seven wonderful local farmers arranged an all you can eat lunch buffet! For 1200 yen (roughly 10 US dollar) you could choose from 25 separate dishes and eat to your heart’s content. And of course, everything is locally produced and even prepared by the farmers who actually grow the vegetables. Madoka was literally shocked at how good everything tasted. And let me stress that she is Japanese and have lived with Japanese food her whole life and still expressed that this was a whole new experience for her and how moved she was by the amount of care and love that was put into every single dish.
On the topic of food! Let me tickle your taste-buds and introduce some more of the amazing flavors that are hidden in the Aso mountains! For many people good weather and holiday = BBQ! And on the other hand, bad weather and holiday are equally painful since you are missing out on a possible BBQ. But not in Japan, because here we have indoor-BBQ, also known as Yakiniku!
And in Mount Aso it’s not some random beef with lots of unhealthy fat that has been transported far distances and bred only for the purpose of eating. The Akaushi cow, specific to the Aso area, is low on saturated fat and the breeding is a part of maintaining the grasslands of the Aso mountains. The grass-covered plains of Aso, of course, creates a very unique landscape but it is also a part of preserving an ecosystem that in turn protects many endangered and scarce species of animal and plants. So in short, in a world where you need to question what meat you consume, Akaushi is definitely one of the choices that let you keep some of your karma.
And as you can see, Madoka is very happy about her indoor BBQ! This restaurant is located in Minami Aso village and is called Akaushi no Yakata. Here you can enjoy the often quite expensive Akaushi at a fair price while you gaze out at the beautiful surroundings of Minami Aso village which is located right in the Aso caldera. This 2-person set costs about 5200 yen or 46 USD which isn’t too bad if you split the cost!
Let us head back to Minamioguni for one last recommendation on one of my favorite places to have lunch!
This small restaurant called Kaze no Mori, roughly translating to ‘the forest of wind’, is a lovely little restaurant owned and run by a local married couple. They grow most of the ingredients by themselves and are very particular about chemic-free vegetables. What they can’t grow themselves they buy locally. What is more amazing is that they even make the seasoning themselves since they have their own herb garden. I have wanted to bring Madoka here for so long and have her taste this perfect example of the magic that can be born from cooking. Every bite pulls you deeper and deeper into a sense of harmony and deep satisfaction. Healthy and tasty beyond words! Everyday? Yes, please!
What makes it all even better and enhances the deliciousness of the food even more(if that is even possible), is the wonderful view! We even had a short break in the rain here which allowed us to sit outside. Saying it wasn’t cold would be a lie but we stacked up with some blankets and it was well worth it to enjoy the superb atmosphere! And once again, look at that smile! It’s worth more than a thousand words!
When the weather report finally promised a clear sky I got too excited and forced Madoka to wake up 5 in the morning to go watch the sunrise!
In the end, the mist was really thick preventing us from experience it in its full glory but at least I managed to get this one picture that wasn’t all too bad. By this time Madoka had returned to the car and was fast asleep in the passenger seat though.
But little did we know that our early morning excursion would lead us to something far more impressive than some old sunrise. Maybe impressive isn’t the right word? What was that word I was searching for…? Ah! Disturbing! We took a wrong turn which led us on a slight detour. A detour we would never forget. Because that is when we suddenly found something truly scary and disturbing waiting for us right by the wayside. Well… Have a look…
What are these countless shapes lining up along the road? Animals? Birds? We looked closer…
Endless amounts of bush sculptures! Or topiary, as I now have learned that they are called. Notice that apart from the ones in the foreground these odd and eerie shapes keep stretching far into the background. There must seriously have been at least a thousand of them appearing suddenly in the middle of nowhere. This is no simple hobby, this is someone’s life work. I had no idea that the Japanese version of Edward Scissorhands lived right here in Mt. Aso. And to be honest, the quality of the work varies from very impressive to right out creepy. For example, how about this next topiary which I believe is meant to encapture the beloved cute mascot of Kumamoto, Kumamon!
For those who don’t know, this is Kumamon!
Cute right? And here we have double Kumamon running hand-in-hand towards the sunset, presented by Japanese Edowaado Scissorhands!
Aaaaaaah!!!! Not so cute… I wouldn’t want to be chased down a dark alley by these two in the middle of the night. And what is up with that big fella to the right? So many questions and so few answers. But that is how life often seems to be here in the land of the rising sun.
Let’s move on before I get cursed by these lovely bush creatures. I say move on but I think I will be satisfied here for now!
Lastly, I leave you with a picture of Madoka looking out over the neverending beautiful landscape of Minamioguni as seen from the top of Oshitoishi Hill. Our final day we were actually blessed with some nice weather and could enjoy this wonderland the right way! Or to be honest, we actually had plans to go to the neighboring prefecture and meet up with some friends that day… But at least during the morning hours, I got to show off the beauty of my beloved Minamioguni as it is supposed to be seen, showered in sunlight instead of rain.
Of course, this is only some of the things we did and the places we visited. But if I included it all the post would be too long and I don’t want to exhaust you all!
There is so much more here in Minamioguni and Mt. Aso that I want to share with you Madoka. I loved seeing you smile at all the things here that make me smile. So I’m hoping for revenge soon! With better weather!!! Thank you for coming! ❤
And another special mention before I finish! A big congratulation to my mother on her birthday!!! Thank you for always supporting me and watching over me in everything I do. It’s too bad that I can’t share it with you but I hope you have the best birthday because you truly deserve it! Big Love! ❤ ❤ ❤