After the rain and chaos of Oita, we headed south, to the very tip of Kyushu, to Kagoshima, home of the Satsuma clan, the last Samurai, tropical gardens, black sand baths (thanks for that experience, Ayumi) and a very active volcano.
Four days here was the plan, with a chance to meet Rich, a Handsworth lad, who sadly still supports Sheffield Wednesday, his lovely family, and spend some time away from the rugby mad areas of Japan.
Didn’t happen. The rugby bit that is. Rugby has definitely arrived down south as well, despite Kagoshima not having a match played there.
On Saturday we set off to watch the England game in a Brit friendly bar called Big Ben, with the promise of ‘proper beer’ at a reasonable price. As we settled into the space allocated, a small note on the table informed us that, as soon as the game finished, we were out, and se we would have to find somewhere else to watch the Japan game.
This did not go down well with the regulars – Rich, plus his mates – a Kiwi, a Canadian and a Scot, who’ve been patrons of Big Ben for years. They will not forgive the owner for removing us so abruptly, but I’m sure he made more money from the long queue of Japanese waiting for our space when we left. Another bar, craft beer (very expensive and rather peculiar to look at – see picture below) and a mixture of nationalities all settled together to cheer the Japanese home against Samoa.
It was a long day, with lots of history, beautiful gardens, whisky and shochu tastings, and the chance to catch up with a few years of events and experiences. Always great to see old friends and just slot back into easy conversations and enjoy their company.
The next day we experienced possibly one of the more bizarre episodes we have ever encountered in Japan. The Local Area Games.
Rich and his family live in the south of Kagoshima and each local area holds a sort of Sports Day in the autumn. It was organised to the minute, with races and relays from the 4 and 5 year olds up to the parents and even the grandparents. Each area had its own tent, with flags and matching coloured bibs and everyone contributed points to the overall scores.
Okay, so far, reasonably normal and straightforward, but then they brought in some other activities. The very old people got involved rolling balls at skittles, all highly competitive though, there was tug of war, and suddenly everything stopped for lunch. Bento boxes provided for everyone there (apart from us foreigners) for free!
We managed with a sandwich from the local 7/11 and the huge collection of snacks provided by the family.
There was a musical interlude, complete with marching band, baton twirlers and some mass participation dancing, all in 30+ degrees of sunshine.
After that it got even more bizarre, with ‘chuck hundreds of small bean filled balls into a small bucket on a pole’ and ‘run with a board with a hoop and a ball’, preferably with 2 people of totally different sizes. Again everyone was participating and having a whale of a time, despite the need for a crash helmet in the first event!
The end was a final relay series, using the smallest to the oldest in each team, some running a few metres, the rest half the track, or even the full circuit, depending on age and size, and our purple team seemed to do quite well.
As with any event we have attended in Japan, at the end everyone helps clear up, there’s not a scrap of litter left behind, and the family groups all headed home with some very hot and sweaty kids in tow. Amazingly after all that, down in the local community hall, there was yet more food, and an announcement of the final result. Apparently our purple team won the whole thing!
It was a wonderful way to end our stay in Kagoshima, with something so typically Japanese; slightly bonkers, incredibly well organised, involving everyone, the youngest to the oldest in the community, and so welcoming to us as foreigners and non-Japanese speakers.
The Shinkansen whisked us back up to Fukuoka in just under two hours – an incredible train, and so comfortable, and we took with us some wonderful memories of good friends, great entertainment, and yet more stunningly beautiful images of Japan.