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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Japan - Day 5: Kumamoto Castle and Shimabara

After another great Japanese breakfast, we had to leave the Yawaragi-no-sato Yadoya Hotel in Yufuin. We had asked the hotel to call us a cab and so we drove to the Yufuin Train Station, because we were too lazy to drag our heavy luggage through the town. We were headed for our next destination, Shimabara. Therefore, we took a train at about 9 a.m. to Kurume, which took about two hours, and changed trains there into a shinkansen for another twenty minutes to Kumamoto. It is worth it to look up at the train connections beforehand as it proved us very helpful and made our lives easier. When we arrived in Kumamoto we were thinking about just continuing to Shimabara, but our desire to see Kumamoto's most famous attraction, the Kumamoto Castle, was bigger.

In Kumamoto Station we first went to the tourist information inside the train station. We had to ask there anyway about the location of the bus stop, where the bus (Sanko Bus 7) to the ferry terminal of Kumamoto leaves, because from there we would later take a ferry to Shimabara. They were very helpful and gave us a timetable of that particular bus, told us that the "Ocean Arrow" ferry, which initially we wanted to take, wouldn't leave that day, but we could take the Kyusho Ferry which would take us 30 minutes longer. It is cheaper and goes from 7 a.m. to 7.10 p.m. every one or two hours. Anyway, half an hour didn't really make a big difference. They also gave us a ferry timetable and told us the location of the bus stop (you take the east exit of the station where you see the tram and cross the big street and go right). So we had done our preparation for the onward journey and put our luggage into the lockers inside the Kumamoto Train Station and went to the tram station in front of the train station. We had already seen online, that it's just a few tram stations to Kumamoto Castle up north and so we got into the tram and off we go. Inside the tram was a tram plan in English, so we saw we had seven stations to go until Kumamoto Castle/City Hall Station (Stop number 10), which they also announced in English, so there was no way we would miss our stop.

When we exited the tram, there were already signs to the Kumamoto Castle and it was just a short walk to one of the several entrances. There were already huge walls and walled stairs and everything there looked grand. They also have some gardens, that we skipped. We went straight to the main castle, slowly climbing up. When we arrived, we first walked through the underground passage and took a look from the outside and inspected another building, then we went to the other side and finally entered the castle (after I took some pictures as samurai...). We didn´t go all the way up, because we still had some traveling ahead and a ferry to catch, so we soon took the tram back to the Kumamoto Station. We were still happy for that stop, because the castle is a real stunner and the huge complex is quite impressive. 

In Kumamoto Station we took our luggage out of the locker and went to the bus station for the ferry terminal. We had to wait a bit and looked closely at every departing bus, if it might be ours. There was actually another bus number 7 departing there, but it said nothing about the ferry terminal and the bus driver confirmed to us, that this isn´t the right one. Finally the bus arrived. The bus ride was a bit uncomfortable, because there was no space for us to stow our luggage and the bus was relatively full, but after 30 minutes we were finally at the ferry terminal. There we bought our ferry tickets inside the ferry terminal and after a few minutes could already proceed to the entrance and enter the ferry. Inside the ferry we watched some Japanese TV, although they showed just some kind of advertising show, where people always became happy, healthy and energetic after taking some pills. 

After about an hour we reached the ferry port of Shimabara. From there we walked about five minutes to the small train station (Shimabaragaiko), got a cheap ticket (1 Euro) inside the train from the nice conductor and went on for three stations to Shimabara Station, before we walked to our nearby hotel for the next two nights, the Shimabara Station Hotel. The hotel is centrally located, nearby the train station, the bus station and some attractions. It's also relatively cheap. The only thing it's lacking is an onsen, which we already got used to and were looking forward to relax after a long journey. Still, our room had a fantastic view of the main attraction, Shimabara Castle, was clean and comfortable and also had a foot massage machine, which was very welcomed.

It was already too late for sightseeing and after all the traveling that day we were also a bit exhausted. So we just went out for dinner into a nearby shopping street. We had seen the entrance to the indoor shopping street, when we walked past it to the hotel and it looked interesting, although many shops were already closed. It was a bit difficult, because my friend is really picky with food and after all, we neither could read the menus nor could we really ask what they have (or understand the answer...). But most restaurants had a display, where you could see in plastic, how the meal offered looks like. So he was very happy to see finally a pizza displayed, which we didn't see often in Japan. The restaurant had a lot of other stuff too, so I gave in to go there. It looked a bit like a strange old museum inside with some kitsch stuff like an old telephone standing around and we were the only customers. But the food turned out to be o.k. and so we were happy. Later we walked to a little 24-hour-store just a few steps from the hotel to buy some supply for the next day, and just went to bed.

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