Journey in Japan Part 2: Global Tower, Beppu Park, Crocodile Hell

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After a few days of relaxing and enjoying the views, I decide it’s about time I head out and see the sights. A sign in my hostel reads, “Like us on Facebook! You get 1 free boiled egg.” I instantly like them on Facebook. I write for a few hours then hire a bike from the hostel. ¥1,000 deposit, returned to me when I return the bike. Not bad, a free bike.

I cycle around the narrow streets. Mostly empty with the exception of the odd car. I pass a shop selling face masks of Manchester United players and former Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson. As I cycle uphill I see a tower in the distance. It feels like I am cycling up a mountain. I suppose I am. I park my bicycle at the Global Tower. Here, I pay ¥300 to ride the elevator 100 metres to the top. Global Tower is the symbol for one of the largest most advanced conference facilities in Western Japan. I take my first few steps out of the lift and onto the upper observation deck. I instinctively know that there is nothing below me. The platform hangs in mid-air. It takes me a while to find my feet; before I enjoy a lovely 360-degree panoramic view of Beppu and the ocean beyond. Very nice. I then start down a staircase encased in glass. The staircase literally floats in the sky between the upper and lower observation decks. It takes me a while to find my feet.

After leaving Global Tower, I cycle downhill in the direction of Beppu Park. My one-speed bicycle gathers momentum, and I begin to overtake cars. I slow down and my brakes shriek. The loudest brakes I have ever heard. All around me in the distance I hear dogs barking at the sound of my shrieking brakes. I pass a random golf course made entirely from concrete, before arriving at Beppu Park.

The park has no entry fee, but I think it deservedly should. I cycle around the park. There are not many people here so I do a few laps and take in the lush greenery, the surrounding scenery, and the shelter of a bamboo forest. I leave the park and head further downhill toward the ocean where I stop off at a giant supermarket. Japanese supermarkets are amazing. They have a huge selection of ready to eat food in plastic trays, but it’s all fresh, mostly healthy, and mostly delicious. I spend an hour wandering the infinite aisles before settling on today’s lunch.

My lunch is amberjack sashimi, some shrimp cutlet with tartare sauce, and two side salads. I also find some cheese that for once isn’t in the shape of a Mushi Cake. Real cheese is scarce in Japan, so this is a big deal for me. With my meal, I also drink a bottle containing seventeen different types of vegetable and three different types of fruit. Sounds quite healthy but tastes of disappointment.

Last night I took advantage of the free Nintendo Wii in the hostel and played Mario Kart with Ed, a guy from London. At the hostel, he asks me what I’m doing today. I tell him I don’t really fancy taking a bus anywhere, (most tourist attractions here are accessed by bus) and that I’ve already hired a bicycle. We look at a map, Ed hires a bike, and we set off, uphill, in the direction of Kannawa. After about fifteen minutes we stop off for a ‘Cooling Break’ outside some netted complex that turns out to be a driving range.

Inside the driving range, we somehow communicate with a non-English speaking man at reception; before receiving two clubs and ball tokens. I put the token into the machine, my basket below; at least 250 balls pour out, I wasn’t expecting this many. We take our places on the driving range. We each have an auto tee-up machine; a little robotic arm that places a new golf ball onto the tee for you. We stand for an hour hitting golf balls in the direction of a net. Beyond the net, all we can see is the ocean.

It’s approaching 2 pm and the sun is blazing. I asked yesterday if it ever rains here. The hostel manager told me that the day before I arrived they had just had two weeks of rain. Me and my good timing. Back on track and heading to Kannawa. After what seems like hours of more uphill cycling, we arrive at Kannawa Hyotan Onsen. Hot spring baths are everywhere in Beppu. Plumes of white smoke rise up in almost every direction. Even the cold water here comes out of the tap hot. We use the free outdoor foot onsen at the entrance and relax for a while before heading even further uphill.

We arrive in an area called “The Hells.” Eight connected outdoor springs each with their own theme. We pay ¥400 each and enter one of ‘The Hells’. Oniyama Jigoku, or Crocodile Hell. A sign inside says: “The force of the steam is so strong here that about one and a half train cars can be pulled by its pressure, and it creates ideal conditions for breeding crocodiles.” The sign is next to a really hot stream of spring water. The temperature, the sign says, is 99°C.

When the spring water cools in the winter, they put the crocodiles inside to breed. We wander around. The crocodiles are quite scary and there are lots of them. We stare at crocodiles for a long while. They do not move. They do not even blink. Playing dead a specialty of theirs. We find some enclosures with water and a few crocodiles swimming around. There is one giant crocodile that wants to eat Ed. At 5 pm Crocodile Hell closes, and a woman kindly asks us to leave.

Outside, the conversation turns to sushi, and we get on our bikes and head back in the direction of our hostel. The cycling is all downhill now. My favourite part. On our way, we pass Beppu Port. A huge cruise ship waits at one of the terminals. A bright red lighthouse waits in the distance. Back at the hostel, still no sign of my free boiled egg. We ask for directions to the ¥100 sushi restaurant. It turns out that it’s inside the same shopping complex as the supermarket I had visited earlier today.

At the restaurant, nearly all of the sushi is ¥100. We order our food on a computer screen, it is then made in the kitchen before arriving to us on a train. We order plate after plate of sushi. It’s actually surprising fresh. Ed orders a beer, I order a Highball, and we get through eleven plates of raw fish on rice between us. The cost is about ¥1100 each.

After sushi, we head back to the hostel and watch the news. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe is banging on about North Korea. We have a long discussion about the potential nuclear threat. It is massive news here and I’m hardly surprised. People have been protesting in the streets; on Sunday a man in Shinjuku made a statement by setting himself on fire. War, what is it good for? Abe-solutely nothing.

After we finish our discussion, Ed and I head out with a couple of beers and have a little wander around Beppu at night. Also, I took this photograph of a dragonfly that I quite liked:

Read the next part of my Journey in Japan, where I continue to explore Beppu by clicking here.

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