Day 10: Kagoshima, Japan

Could it be? Could it really really be? Just when I had resigned to the fact that Japan was simply going to be a wet experience, it goes and gets sunny. It would turn out that, between a clear day and lots of volcano eruptions (the fun touristy kind, not the screaming melting flesh kind), Kagoshima was prepared to make our send-off from Japan a memorable one.

After a nice bus ride into Kagoshima from the pier, our guide Mihoko describing everything along the way, we arrived at a temple with (of course) another lovely Japanese garden. These are not like "oh, one more masterpiece" at the Louvre, which begins to feel a little like too much chocolate. Quite the opposite, the gardens, though similar, seem to relax everyone and be taken as worthwhile stops. As luck would have it, the volcano erupted again as we were touring the grounds. It was a clear day, which apparently even when it's sunny it's usually hazy, so these were some pretty prime views of Sakurajima.
I'm sure however, that the residents of Kagoshima must have thought we were all crazy with our oohs and ahs. Just like anything, you see it enough times and it just becomes part of the background. Clearly the locals just go on about their daily lives with this mountain smoking in the background.
We left the garden once everyone got the daily dose of Japanese zen, and our tour bus guided us to the ferry boat to take us to Sakurajima. The volcano began smoking again during the ride over, but in this case, a Japanese child wandering around and gawking at the Americans proved to be more entertaining. There happened to be a film crew from Tokyo following us as part of a documentary. Who knows? The kid may have just gotten his big break as a Japanese film star!

We arrived at Sakurajima, and while the lovely Mihoko was telling us about the Sakurajima radishes (which apparently are the size of children), the volcano erupted yet again. At this point, she began to go on about how lucky we were to see the volcano erupt so many times. A few people laughed nervously at this thought, which was complimented periodically with concrete shelters (which appeared to offer the option of being baked alive or char broiled). I wasn't very uptight about the whole thing. I figure they're kind of like earthquakes, if little ones are going off, then it's alleviating the pressure of a bigger event later. Besides, as precedes every disaster, what are the chances...

There was one rather large eruption while we were walking through the fields of black lava dust, chunky rocks and small (read NEW) trees. This time, the photo opp for me seemed to be the groups of people holding up pocket cams, iPhones and the like trying to capture this eruption. Of course, being so close to it did give a little insight into the more unpleasant aspects, as our sunny surroundings turned brown and my tongue began to feel like I had just licked an ashtray. Admittedly, ashy air does create some interesting light for photographers. By now though, my overactive imagination had taken over, and I was imagining what it must be like to be totally inundated by this, without an air-conditioned tour bus and some bottled water to escape to.
After the return ferry boat ride, which consisted of some rather tasty noodle soup and Georgia Coffee (another little thing I love about Japan), we arrived back in Kagoshima to be returned to the ship. I had been noting that this town was markedly less cheesy than other cities in Japan, including my former home of Naha. Of course, it is Japan, and it just wouldn't feel right if it weren't at least a little tacky.

The people of Kagoshima sent us off with a performance from a young drum corps, who is reportedly quite well known in Japan. These kids were tight, and it was without a doubt the nicest send-off I've ever seen from a port of call. They were in fact, encouraging everyone on this ship to return. This is an offer I will be more than happy to accept very soon.

I know that if I were really zen, it wouldn't matter whether these were high or low notes, as they all make up a tune. Of course, I'm not the Dalai Lama, and I was glad to end my stay in Japan on a high one. As I get ready to close my laptop, I feel very good about the whole Japan experience. I will be back sooner rather than later for a more proper tour of Japan, as I see this snuggling up next to London and LA on the favorite places in the world list.