Ariake Sea 有明海
Fukuoka to Ariake -Sweeping curves to a blow-dried rectum
Just after 11am we leave Fukuoka and head for Susenj to cross the mountains (pref.R.56) via the Mitsuse Tunnel. After crossing R. 202, the road up towards the tunnel is wide with smooth curves sweeping upwards.
I recall coming down this road, 30 years ago, when it was a dirt track that became increasingly impassable as the gully erosion in the centre became wider and wider. We were too far down to reverse and there was no possibility of turning round; we had to press on. I unloaded the family and eased the 4WD Honda Street down the crumbling track. We made it but only just. Things have changed since those days. The approach to the tunnel on the Fukuoka side has also been much improved but much less interesting.
The Saga Plain 佐賀平野
Beyond the tunnel, we make for Okawa and Yanagawa across the Saga Plain. This is flat and uninteresting terrain until the Ariake Sea – glimpses of which are very photogenic. Sadly, such glimpses are rare and the landscape becomes increasingly industrial. Here, though, road improvements elevate you above the plain and a toll-free bypass skims you over a lot of small, depressing towns and industrial blight.
The Ariake Sea 有明海
As we approach Amakusa, the road skirts the Ariake Sea more closely and there are some very beautiful scenes. The late afternoon sun shining on the black mud, exposed by the low tide, and the innumerable poles, silhouetted and reflected, in the glassy water. Unzendake hazy in the distance. This on the Kumamoto side.
Amakusa Islands 天草
Arriving in Amakusa, we shop at a local supermarket for supplies and then head off over the first of the bridges. This area too has some wonderful scenery but not much of it is visible from the main road. A little after 5pm, as it is getting dark, we reach our destination for the night, the Ariakai michi no eki. The michi no eki has a large parking area, but this is early December, so there are few people about. The beautiful, sunny afternoon, that had me stripped to my shirtsleeves as we were taking pictures of the Ariake Sea, turns rapidly chilly as the sun sets and the clouds roll in.
This michi no eki has an onsen accessible by steps from the main car park or you can drive up to the onsen car park. The onsen is quite large and has many washing places all of which function well but it is not a place to remember. The rotenburo, the outside bath, is small and rectangular with a view of a frosted screen.
The clouds have brought the rain and a cold, steady shower falls on my head as I wallow in the warm tub. One thing I noted that I have not seen before, in any onsen from Wakkanai to Kagoshima. A man in the changing room, completely naked, with one foot up on the hand basin so you could truly say “stark bollock naked” drying his arse with the hair dryer! I once saw a notice in a hotel room requesting that guests not use the hair dryer for “the other purpose” which kept me wondering for a long time. Perhaps, now I know.
＊Ariake onsen Sazanami no yu ; 500 yen /adult (Wed. closed)
Yutoku Inari Shrine 祐徳稲荷神社
In this Ariake area, but on a different trip, or two, we visited Yutoku Shrine. Yutoku Shrine, dating from 1688, is the third largest Inari (Fox) Shrine in Japan and deserves a visit. It has loads of steps, a platform built on pillars out over the hillside and a tunnel of Tori. There are carp as well and fine views over the valley. All this adds up to a shrine a little out of the ordinary. It also has a elevator which is unusual in itself.
Also on this earlier trip, we followed the coast on the Saga side. This also, perhaps more so, encourages photos. Here we find Oouo-jinja. This we suspect is an Instagram spot, given the number of young people angling for selfies. The attraction is a number of small Torii stretching into the muddy water. Around, the shallows, mud flats, myriad poles, boats and reflections all add to the momentary magic of a muddy shore. On wet day, I suspect, it is just plain miserable but, with a clear blue sky it sparkles in reflected glory.
The author is a long term resident of Japan who has and continues to travel the country extensively. Avoiding highways where possible, the author has driven from Kagoshima in Kyushu to Wakanai in Hokkaido covering 20,000 plus kilometres and counting.