9 Days of Rustic Kyushu, Day 4 (Part 2): Rokubee + Shimabara Carp Streets

Sunday, 26 February 2017



Day 4: Kazusa Dolphin Watching Cruise --> Unzen Jigoku Hell --> Shimabara Spring Group (Carp Streets) --> Shimabara Castle --> Samurai Houses --> Dejima --> Hotel
 
The next time, I should time-stamp my photos. I realised that I'm not exactly sure whether we stopped for lunch first or whether we went to the Unzen Jigoku Hell first. I have a tingling feeling that its the latter. And since I didn't mention lunch in the last post, it'll be in this one then.
 
 

 
Anyway, lunch on Day 4 was a recommendation by our guide: Rokubee (六兵衛). The specialty was a local noodle that was made from sweet potato flour mixed with grated yams. The dish was apparently named after a man called Rokube. It is believed that he had invented this dish to prevent the people in Shimabara from dying during a period of famine.
 
 
 
 
Rukobee is a small family-run establishment with bar and tatami seating. While the place couldn't sit many, we realised that their traffic flow was constant during the entire time we were there. People just kept popping in and out either to dine in or for takeaways.
 
Rokube itself is a very simple dish; noodles in a soy-based broth topped with chopped green onions and grated yam. The noodles themselves were an acquired taste. We all agreed that it was springy but while I enjoyed the taste, my parents didn't particularly like it. Nevertheless, we all drained the bowl of the hot broth which was a warm welcome to the tummy after a morning out in the brisk air.
 
The highlight however, was a hot bun that was made from the same sweet potato and yam flour. Now that one was seriously yummy! I would have happily swapped my bowl of noodles for that bun! Initially we only ordered one to try but the minute we all took a bite, we ordered a second one for the road!
 
 
 


Before proceeding to Shimabara Castle on our itinerary, our guide again recommended another pit-stop, the crap streets of Shimabara. Again, this was something that had initially caught my eye while planning for the itinerary. During planning, I had decided to skip it in fear that there would be too much walking and a lack of time. Hence, it was great when our guide assured us that while there would be some walking needed, it was well-worth it and only a quick pit-stop.
 
And boy, I'm glad we listened to him about this.
 
 



We started at the designated tour office. There's a mini-shop next to it, so you can stock up on drinks. Strongly recommend that you do so especially if you're visiting in the summer and in the afternoon. While you walk the streets, the sun will be beating down on you.
 
The real fun starts after you move out from the tour office and walk along the streets. The highlight of this area were the craps that could be found swimming in the area's drainage system! Yup you read that right! Carps in drains!
 
My parents and I were highly impressed by how clean the water was in the drains. They were even linked to some koi ponds in some houses. We were told that the residents took pride in their crap street and worked to maintain the area. Simply amazing! I cannot envision this kind of community pride happening anywhere in Singapore!
 

 




 
 
As assured by our guide, this was a pretty quick pit-stop. We took only about 30 to 45 minutes to marvel at the fishes before we were beaten back to the tour office by the hot mid-day sun.
 
I'll highly recommend this as part of a driving itinerary for sure. It's a quick stop with a lot of Instagram-worthy shots. Besides, I doubt there'll be many places where you can say that you've seen carps swimming in drains.
 
 
Tourist Information
 
Rokubee (六兵衛)
Address: 1-5916 Hagihara, Shimabara, Nagasaki Prefecture
Local Address: 萩原1-5916
DID: +81-957-62-2421
Operating Hours: 10:30 am to 11 pm, open on Sundays too.
 
Shimabara Spring Group (Carp street of Shimabara)
Address: Block 2, Shin-cho,Shimabara
Local Address: 〒855-0843 島原市新町二丁目
DID: +81-957-63-1111
Admisison is free, and parking available near the tour office
 
 

9 Days of Rustic Kyushu, Day 4 (Part 1): Dolphin Cruise + Unzen Jigoku Hell

Sunday, 19 February 2017

 

 
Day 4: Kazusa Dolphin Watching Cruise --> Unzen Jigoku Hell (雲仙地獄) --> Shimabara Spring Group --> Shimabara Castle --> Samurai Houses --> Dejima --> Hotel
 
Day 4 saw us taking a day trip out to Shimabara and our first stop was a dolphin watching cruise in Kazusa Town.

While we were there pretty early (at about 9 am), there was already a Japanese family ahead of us. We were first made to go through a briefing. Unfortunately, it was again done in Japanese and of not much use to us. Our guide did translate here and there, but I'm pretty sure there was much that he didn't really tell us.
 



What little bits I did get, was that dolphins were actually a pretty common sight in that part of Japan. However, sightings would depend sometimes on where the dolphins were headed for food. I'm also quite sure that the briefing included some basic biology of the dolphins. No way to mistake that when the lady pointed to their size and weight that was indicated on the board. Plus, there were hand gestures that mimicked the shape of the dolphins.
 
Sigh. Someone should really help them with getting some audio tape support.
 
 


That's the boat we took for the cruise! It looks kind of tiny after the ferry we took to Hashima Island but actually well-served its purpose. Besides, you wouldn't want too many people fighting with you to catch sight of the dolphins. This way, everyone on board was ensured that they would get to see the dolphins even when remaining seated.
 
Yup! We were warned not to lean too far out in our dolphin excitement and that it was best to remain seated. Despite the language barrier, the cruise operators were very strict on safety protocols. They made sure that our guide translated that portion of the briefing. They also ensured that we had our life vests on, and knew what to do with them before they allowed us to board the boat.
 
 


Our first indication that we were in luck.
 
Once we were out of the port, it was not long before we caught sight of our first dolphin! Once someone shouted and pointed it out, we could immediately see a whole shoal of them!
 
THE ENTIRE BOAT OF PEOPLE WENT GA-GA!
 
Seriously, I meant that. Of course, in the "OMG! Look at them! So cute!" way. Well, at least that's what I assumed the Japanese were saying. I'm pretty sure they said Kawaii a few times. But really, it was amazing seeing them so up close and in the wild.
 
We were not allowed to feed the dolphins, something which I completely agree with. The dolphins need to survive in the wild and human interference should really be kept minimal. But even without the lure of food, these lovely water creatures were not shy! Our boatman killed the engines the minute the dolphins were spotted, so we were just drifting. And these dolphins just swam really close to the boat; to the left, to the right, under the boat.
 
Even my mom, who was groaning at the thought of another boat trip (she's got motion sickness and is never without her pills on trips) got jubilant at seeing the dolphins. She actually clapped her hands like a kid who just got sweets.







By the way, that's a baby dolphin swimming with its mama!
OK. I assume mama but it could be papa for all I know...
 
Anyway, a word of caution. Please do put on some sunscreen and bring along water as well. I was too excited with the dolphins, too was occupied with taking photos and lulled by the strong sea breeze into thinking that everything was ok. I forgot all about the sun and hydrating myself until it was a little too late. Obviously, that didn't help my flu one bit but I swear, you'll forget all that during the dolphin cruise.
 
 

 
 
My departing shot of the lovely dolphins as we left to head back towards land.
I was really quite sad to end this part of the tour. It was really enjoyable even if we weren't allowed to do anything much. This was also one of my dad's favourite part of the tour.

On my original itinerary, once we were done with the dolphins, we were supposed to head to Shimabara Castle. However, our guide told us that we had plenty of time, and brought us to another attraction that was along the way: Unzen Jigoku Hell.
 
 


Unzen Jigoku is pretty famed for its onsen (hot spring) resorts. Similar to the Jigokudani Hell Valley that we visited in Hokkaido, this was a hotspot of volcanic activity. Basically, hot water, gases and white steam are abound. The sulphur stink here was also very strong. Unfortunately, my mom couldn't take it and we left the place within 30 minutes. It was a good thing that admission was free!

 







Although I did not get to explore much of the place, Unzen Jigoku Hell was also a nature park. There are trails that lead to the woods and to various onsen resorts.

Interestingly, Unzen Jigoku Hell was also a site where Christians were martyred during the period where they were persecuted in Japan. They were tortured in the boiling waters and many did not make it out alive. I cannot imagine the pain they would have gone through, just take a look at the video of the boiling water there. Hell was definitely a apt name for the place.


video


Tourist Information

Kazusa Dolphin Watching
Address: 251-11 Otsu, Kazusa-cho, Minamishimabara 859-2605, Nagasaki Prefecture
Local address: 〒859-2605加津佐町乙251-11 
DID: +81 957-87-4640

Unzen Jigoku Hell
Address: Obamacho Unzen, Unzen 854-0621, Nagasaki Prefecture
Local Address: 〒854-0621小浜町雲仙
Website: http://unzen.org/tourism/spot1.html
Admission: Free

 

Bincho at Hua Bee

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Interrupting the Japan: Kyushu posts for a local restaurant review. Haven't been writing such reviews on the blog for quite a while. Since there's a place I enjoyed, it seemed like a pretty good time for one.




Bincho at Hua Bee

Bincho at Hua Bee probably needs no introduction. When I checked in with my best friend Google, there was a whole slew of reviews done about it and mostly positive. Many established bloggers have also already written sonnets about it. I'm probably just being repetitive and I'm nowhere as established as some of these people are. (But Heck It!)

So you probably already know that Bincho is located in hipster Tiong Bahru area, at Moh Guan Terrace. It's a pretty short walk from Tiong Bahru MRT and near other cafés such as Forty Hands, where you could drop by for a cuppa.

 
 
 
 
Bincho is hidden inside a nostalgic "kopitiam" (coffeeshop), near a road junction. In the day, Hua Bee Restaurant still sells their bah chor mee (minced meat noodles), coffee and toast. This was also the venue where they filmed Eric Khoo's "Mee Pok Man". In the day, you can still reach Bincho through Hua Bee. However, by night, Hua Bee becomes closed and you'll have to get to Bincho through their back door. Back door's via the carpark, just watch for the sign.
 
But then again, you probably knew this already. I'm just being repetitive.
 
 
 
 
Once in, Bincho impresses with its exposed pipes and metal wire hipster café/bistro feel. Unfortunately, the place is pretty small and doesn't hold many people. We were a party of six and had to squash ourselves at the long table you see in the photo above.

My advice to you: Call ahead for reservations and go in a smaller party. Four should just be cozy enough.
Oh and if you can, ask to sit on this end of the restaurant. Apparently the other side's warmer with all the cooking going on.

Again, perhaps you already know this...
 
 


Anyway, my party of six was the office bunch, hence we were there for lunch. The lunch deals were also a lot more affordable than their dinner menu. For example, the yakitori don is 25 bucks and comes with a salad, appetizer, side dish and dessert.
 
Let's just say the reason for this blog post was because I fell in love with the nosh. At the very least, I felt like I was almost back in Japan. Damn good food. And deserving of the online accolades I've read.
 
But of course, you guys already know that.
 
Photo above was that of my appetizer and salad that day. A couple of my friends didn't take beef, and when their replacement appetizer came, they didn't take roe either. So happy me ended up with both versions of appetizers. It was the start of a very happy introduction to Bincho. That's fried chicken skin on the salad by the way. Cholesterol and diet be damned.




Actually, I was quite surprised when they put the chicken drumlets in front of us. I honestly thought that the salad was the side dish until then. But hey! Who am I to reject damn good drumlets? Cleaned them to the bone.
 
 


Friends ordered the tsukune don (chicken patty bowl in front) and the yakitori don (grilled chicken meat bowl at the back).
 
My bird-eater cum scavenger-eater of a friend (basically she just eats tiny portions) finished that entire bowl of tsukune don. Yup, inhaled it. A feat for someone who can be full on apples only. That's the power of that tsukune don. Impressive magic.





My Kurobuta Aburi Pork Don.
That egg was simply divine, I could go back just for that. The aburi pork itself was generally ok. Yummy but there were some parts that I personally felt were too charred.
 
 


Another friend's oyako don (chicken with onions and egg bowl). According to her, it was good. And she had a mini taste of the tsukune don, and still prefers her oyako don. This time, its power of the egg.
 
 
By the time we hit dessert, it was a choice between matcha ice-cream, or fresh strawberries. No prizes for guessing which one we went for. Actually, don't even need to guess if you have eyes for the pic below.
 
 



In all, great food that's within walking distance of my not-so-new-anymore office. Which means, I'm definitely going back there to try their other dons. I'm also excited to bring my other foodie friends there for lunch if they ever drop by.


Bincho at Hua Bee
Address: 78 Moh Guan Terrace, #01-19 S(162078)
DID: +65 64384567

 

Crowne Plaza ANA Nagasaki Gloverhill Hotel

Saturday, 11 February 2017



Crowne Plaza ANA Nagasaki Gloverhill Hotel

Seriously, its a mouthful of a name for a hotel, and kind of long to type when searching for reviews. Which was what I was doing before we left for our trip to Kyushu. What I got was a bit of a mixed review online hence it was with a little trepidation when I agreed to book the hotel, especially since we had planned for 2 nights in Nagasaki.
 
It is hence fortunate (for us) that I'm able to write a pretty positive review of the hotel for this post. Unfortunately for you readers, for some reason, I have no idea where the photos I took of the room went to. There's this chunk of missing photos which includes those of this hotel's room. So it's just going to be my words on your screen. Plus the only 2 photos I took on my mobile phone (and hence did not mysteriously disappear).
 
Let's start with what I like best about this hotel: it's location, which is absolutely fantastic. The Crowne Plaza ANA Nagasaki Gloverhill is situation at the base of Glover Garden, and next to the Oura Catholic Church. That's 2 attractions within walking distance for you! Seriously, it's the first hotel I've stayed in that is next to 2 attractions. Well, theme park hotels not counted in that list.
 
You want to know what else is nearby? Apparently, there's a train stop within walking distance from the hotel, which should make moving around pretty easy. Not verified by us though since we had a driver. Shikairo, the Chinese restaurant that first served champon, is right across the road from the hotel. The port is also nearby so any ferry trips can also be easily managed.
 
Shopping street is on one side of the hotel. There's also a convenience store as well as a drugstore. I bought most of my Japan drugstore beauty products at this pit-stop. And when I finally fell incredibly sick, the convenience store to get my Panadols (and face masks) was just a few steps away. That plus the countless drinks and snacks we bought.
 
Basically, almost everything is within distance from the hotel. Love it!
 



Since the only other photo I have is that of my breakfast, let me then share about the breakfast buffet. The breakfast buffet was a decent spread of East and West, so you don't have to worry about not being able to find something to eat. Additional plus, the food is pretty decent unlike our next hotel.
 
Breakfast service staff were efficient. The floor manager on both mornings were the same guy and he could speak some English, so that came in handy. I also bought a cheesecake from the patisserie on the ground floor and it was the usual Japanese hospitality. Apart from those, we didn't really interact with the staff otherwise. Even check-in was handled by my guide, so not much comments from us there.
 
Now onto the room itself. Do note that the hotel is pretty old, so no surprise there that our room appeared a little tired and worn. Nevertheless, it was neat and clean with the requisite basic amenities present. Those of you who cannot stand the smell of smoke, please make sure you ask for a non-smoking room.
 
As there were 3 of us, they gave the bigger twin room and added a bed next to the window. Not exactly the most spacious, but let's be honest, hotels in Japan aren't exactly known to be spacious. In fact, we've had far worse and cramp-ier spaces so we ain't complaining there. More importantly, beds were comfortable. I knocked out pretty fast both nights we were there.
 
A mouthful of a name but a hotel I wouldn't mind coming back to.
 
 
Tourist Information
 
Crowne Plaza ANA Nagasaki Gloverhill
Local Name: ANAクラウンプラザホテル長崎グラバーヒル
Website: Link here
Address: 1-18 Minamiyamate-machi, Nagasaki 850-0931, Nagasaki Prefecture
Local Address: 〒850-0931南山手町1-18
DID: 800 852 6027
 
 

9 Days of Rustic Kyushu, Day 3 (Part 4): Mt Inasa Night View

Tuesday, 7 February 2017



Day 3: Atomic Bomb Museum + Peace Park --> Hashima Island --> Glover Garden --> Mt Inasa Night View --> Hotel

After dinner we proceeded to have dinner at Shikairo (四海楼), a Chinese restaurant in Nagasaki that's just right opposite our hotel. I totally love the location of our hotel, it's so convenient! I'll blog about it in the next post. Anyway, we had champon and some other dishes. It wasn't the best meal but at least we could say that we had champon at the place where it was professed to have first originated from. You can read about my mini "review" here.

After a short rest back at the hotel, we proceeded to Mt Inasa (稲佐山) for the night view. Mt Inasa is a 333 metres tall hill that is located near the city centre. There are a few ways to get to the summit for the night view: by car, by bus and by ropeway. We did the obviously tourist thing and went for the ropeway which accorded us quite a lovely view of the dying sunset as we went up.




The first thing that struck us once we reached the cable car station at the top, was the number of TV and radio transmitter stations! They were all brightly lit up and lined up along the short walk to the observation deck so there was no way we could have missed those towering structures! In fact, from from angles, there was no way I could get that structure out of the picture frame!




The night view at Mt Inasa has been touted as one of the top 3 spectacular night views of Japan, with the other 2 being Mt Hakodate in Hokkaido and Mt Rokko in Kobe. While I've been to both Mt Hakodate and Mt Rokko, I was only in Mt Rokko in the day and did not get to witness the night cityscape. Hah! That means I'll definitely have to do another trip to Kobe one day to complete that hat-trick!

I digress, but what I was trying to get at was that I was now able to compare the night views of Mt Hakodate and Mt Inasa. Unfortunately, both mom and I agreed wholeheartedly that we both preferred the night view at Mt Hakodate. Mt Hakodate's night view struck me as softer and more romantic. You can read about it here.

In my opinion, the selling point for Mt Inasa's night view was the lights flanking the Nagasaki harbour, like a huge waterway and the lights are the guiding points.





By the way, there is also a restaurant at the summit of Mt Inasa. You may want to consider having your dinner there. Then you can catch a pretty sunset and end the night with the glittering lights.


Tourist Information

Mt Inasa
Address: Inasamachi, Nagasaki 852-8011
Local address: 〒852-8011稲佐町稲佐山
DID: +81 95-844-1188
Ropeway Fees: 1,230 yen for a round trip. One-way tickets are about 720 yen.
Check for their annual maintenance periods.

 

9 Days of Rustic Kyushu, Day 3 (Part 3): Glover Garden

Sunday, 5 February 2017

 
 
Day 3: Atomic Bomb Museum + Peace Park --> Hashima Island --> Glover Garden (グラバー園) --> Mt Inasa Night View --> Hotel
 
After the day's earlier sobering itinerary stops, it was refreshing to just take a relaxing stroll and enjoy some pretty scenery.  Glover Garden was hence the perfect next pit-stop on the itinerary.
 
Glover Garden is a lovely garden park located on a hillside that overlooks the Nagasaki harbour. It was built for and named after a Scottish merchant Thomas Blake Glover, who had apparently contributed quite a fair bit to the industrialisation of Japan. Its location provided a lovely view of the city.





Tip: Take the escalator to the top and then walk down to enjoy Glover Garden. It doesn't make sense to walk up and then take the same route down.

Glover Garden houses the Glover Residence, No. 2 Dock House, the Ringer House and the Alt House. All these building are open exhibits. However, we only managed to tour the Glover Residence and the No. 2 Dock House as we got delayed by some fun, and had to skip the last 2.

So what exactly happened? Well, this:




Yup. There was a lovely koi pond in front of the No. 2 Dock House. Initially we were only admiring the (seriously) huge-assed koi fishes. However, when we found out that we could purchase fish food, that's when we completely lost track of time. My dad enjoyed feeding the koi fishes, while I was just busy snapping pictures of all that action!





Heh. Yeah, even the pigeons were attracted by the food! My mom ended up scolding us for messing our pants as we didn't realise that we were sitting on some fresh bird shit!
Well, if you're there, just make sure you don't sit on the ground!





We also took the time to walk through the No. 2 Dock House. I highly recommend that you take the effort to climb to the second storey. Firstly, you get a bird's eye view of all the fishy action that's going on in the koi pond right below. But most importantly, is this amazing view of the Nagasaki harbour from the deck:




Once we were done at the No. 2 Dock House, we proceeded to Glover Residence itself. There were some pretty scenery along the way, which contributed to slowing us down further.


 


The Glover Residence is thought to be the oldest surviving Western styled house in Nagasaki, and is noted for its fusion of Western and Japanese style architectural elements. Indeed, it makes for a very pretty postcard type picture!

Interesting fun fact (1):
It was thought that Glover Residence and its surrounding gardens were the inspiration for Puccini's opera "Madame Butterfly", which is also set in Nagasaki.

Statues of Puccini and the actress Miura Tamaki, who played the role of the female protagonist Cio Cio-san can be found within Glover Garden.




Interesting fun fact (2):
Given the setting of the love story, it should not surprise then that there is also a popular legend that has to do with romance. It is said that there are 2 heart-shaped stones that have been built into the gardens. Those who are able to find one heart stone will have their dreams of love come true, find both and touch them will bring about good fortunes.




And this was the main reason why we were delayed at Glover Garden. I was so adamant on finding those heart stones that even though my parents were sceptical about the presence of those heart stones, they joined in the fun as well!



Unfortunately, we only managed to locate one of the heart stones. Even my tour guide is clueless about the location of the second stone! I'm not superstitious, but I would think that at least some part of the legend must be true. So I would think that since there is one, the second heart stone must definitely be somewhere around.

Let me know if you can find both!




By walking down the hillside attraction (instead of up), we ended our tour of Glover Garden right back at the shopping street. We spent some time looking around since we didn't have the chance earlier and my parents ended up buying some really juicy loquats from the stall below.

Apparently, they had heard from someone that there was a fruit stall (near the Oura Catholic Church)selling loquats that were pretty decent. Since this was the only stall that we could locate, we just assumed that it was the one. The loquats were quite good but the ones that we bought from a supermarket later in the trip were even better.





By the way, the Oura Catholic Church is right at the base of the hill, just next to Glover Garden. So those of you who are interested in churches, you may wish to put this together with Glover Garden on your itinerary.

Tourist Information

Glover Garden
Website: http://www.glover-garden.jp/foreign/english.html
Address: 8-1 Minami-yamatemachi, Nagasaki 850-0931
Local Address: 〒850-0931南山手町8-1グラバー園内
DID: +81 92-822-8223
Refer to website for admission fees and opening hours
 
 
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