Asia, Japan

Japan 3.0: Day 7 (Oguni – Mount Aso – Fukuoka)

It was our last day in our villa and we really made the most out of our time here by staying till the last minute. We took time to really soak in the beautiful scenery and serene atmosphere on our patio. The breakfast was once again lovely. On this day, there were a few more guests accompanying us in the dining hall – mostly Japanese tourists.

The Beauty of Mount Aso

After a relaxing morning, we drove over to the Mount Aso to admire its beauty. The town itself is actually an enormous caldera. After driving through the town, we drove to “Cuddly Dominion”, a petting zoo. It was really quite sad to see a large black bear trapped inside a small cage. I really did not enjoy it. But hear me out. We were actually here because we wanted to take the helicopter ride above the active volcano. At the time of our visit, the volcano was on level 2 warning, meaning visitors cannot go without 1km of the craters. Even if we went to the visitor centre, we would not be able to see much. The helicopter ride is really the only way to see the volcanic crater. There was another helicopter service, but was closed on the day that we were visiting, so our only choice was to go through this children’s petting zoo. The entrance fee to the zoo was not cheap (~2400 yen), but we just have to factor that into the price of the helicopter ride. We selected the 7-minute ride to the crater and back. It was totally worth it. The pilot was so cool with his aviators and dress shoes. He was very attentive to make sure we were strapped in properly and had our headphones on before taking off. Then he gave us explanations throughout the flight in English. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really hear what he was saying, but Aaron was able to. The crater itself was spewing out ashes as we flew by so we were not able to fly directly above it. The views were still incredibly breath-taking. This was definitely the highlight of our trip! 

Soba Road

After that exciting adventure, we headed to the Soba Road that we did not get to go to yesterday for some buckwheat noodles. Again, the roads seem very unmanicured and the restaurants seem very isolated and we were worried that we went to the wrong place. I was able to pick up the Hiragana for soba so I figured we must be on the right track. The first restaurant was closed and we were getting worried that we came too late. Similar to our experience in Kurokawa Onsen the other night, as soon as we saw that a restaurant (四季の里 蕎麦 季里) was open, we made our way in. It appears we were the only guests visiting at that time. The restaurant was ran by one nice lady who did not speak much English. Picking up on some Kanji and using some photos on the menu, we ordered some tempura to start and had one cold and one hot soba noodle both with duck meat. For the tempura, she was trying to explain that there are 2 different types but we did not understand so she kindly helped us select one. It turned out to be mushroom tempura. The texture was almost cloud-like, similar to a very tender fish. The soba were both very good. The texture and taste of the noodles were very different from the ones we had the other day on Nokonoshima Island. The duck meat was perfectly cooked and nicely presented. Near the end of Aaron’s meal, the owner lady brought over a teapot. Through hand gestures, we were able to understand that it was meant to be poured into Aaron’s concentrate soba dipping sauce to turn it into a soup. We really enjoyed our meal, especially as the only guests in the quiet restaurant with the sounds of the flowing river as our backdrop.

One Last Lookout

After our nice lunch, we back-tracked to check out the Daikonbo Lookout. I read that it was supposed to beautiful and it was definitely a really nice way to end our trip out to Mount Aso. After one last Cremia before hitting the road, we start heading back to Fukuoka. The drive was generally straightforward until we got closer to the city. I find that it is always more confusing navigating back into a city than to leave it. Regardless, we made it in time for our car rental booking expiry; however, we needed to hurry to make it to our dinner plans.

Can’t Go Wrong with Crispy Chicken Skin

Our friends whose wedding we just went to asked us to have dinner tonight. They chose a yakitori place, 鶏皮屋 勝軍, which specializes in chicken skin. Of course we needed to have some chicken skin but apparently what’s even better than their chicken skin skewers were their special spicy skin skewers. Other than those crispy delights, we also tried the pork belly, green peppers, bacon-wrapped quail eggs, as well as the chicken hearts, which was my favourite. We also shared some refreshing cabbage which really helped to balance out the flavours and textures.

Yatai, Not All That

After yakitori, we all wanted to experience some yatai, which was the local street food stalls that Fukuoka is well-known for. We originally found a stall in a more quiet part of town. The only other guests there was a young family sitting in the stall next to us. We were able to get seats for the 7 of us quite easily and we sat down for some drinks and oden.

Afterwards, we walked over to Canal City for a more lively experience. The area was a lot busier but we were luckily able to find seats again. We wanted to start with some drinks but they insisted that we must order food first, so we picked 7 dishes to share. After that, we kept ordering drinks but they quickly asked if we were done and asked that we settle the bill immediately. It was obvious that they wanted to kick us out of their stall. It was unfortunate because we were going to order more drinks but instead, they would rather have their seats empty for other customers (or more accurately, potential customers, since there was no one waiting around). I was told that locals don’t really frequent these stalls. Most patrons were likely visitors from other parts of Japan. We were the only foreigners at the stall and the only ones to get kicked out so we cannot help but wonder if there was some discrimination here. Based on this negative experience, I would not recommend yatai‘s. The food and drinks were mediocre and the way we were treated was not something I would want to come back for.

Prohibition

Hoping to get more drinks elsewhere, we ventured over to a cool prohibition-type bar nearby. We literally had to push a hidden wall around to enter the place. We got the upstairs area all to ourselves and had a great chat before calling it a night.

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