Kagoshima is the capital of the southernmost of Japan's main islands. Although it is a port city, it never had facilities to house cruise ships. So it decided to remedy this sad state of affairs And today was the day that the new port opened. Our arrival was greeted by the fire men's band, playing a rousing selection of Sousa melodies. A steady stream of business men wearing black suits and white shirts, poured past us to attend the commemorative speeches. It was in the 90's and very humid and they looked like they were suffering in the hot sun.
It appeared that festivities would continue throughout the day, but it was time for us to begin our tour. Our experienced guide had been shepherding tourists around for 19 years. She would have made an excellent grade school teacher. She posted a map which kept us focused on the stops for the day. At every stop she stated why we were there, what we were to accomplish and walked up and down the bus aisle with a sign that told us what time to be back. The tour ran like clock work. The Japanese word for "yes" is "hai," and she punctuated almost every sentence with a vigorous "hai." Soon when she would give us directions and we would respond like the cooperative students we were with a vigorous "hai" in return.
We drove through a lush green countryside, punctuated with palm trees, that gave way to rice fields and tea plantations. Green tea, a Japanese staple, is grown on Kyushu. The first stop in Chiran took us through a village full of samurai homes. We know the word samurai as warrior, but the guide said these men were also the top ruling class and had more power than the emperor at times during their history. We were disappointed that we could not go inside these homes, because people still live in them. But the tiny gardens were available for touring. In the Japanese way, each rock and plant symbolized various aspects of nature. Ken's eyes soon glazed over....
The stop at the bottom of the Satsuma Peninsula provided a scenic overlook of Mt. Kaimon, one of many volcanoes that have formed the land here. There are about 800 active volcanoes in the world: Japan has 10% of them. Our guide said that whenever she does the laundry, she looks at the smoke coming out of the nearest one. If it's white it's steam and she can hang her clothes outside. If it's black, it's ash and the clothes stay in.
Lake Ikeda, formed by the caldera left when its volcano blew its top was the next stop. While most of us have heard of Scotland's Loch Ness monster, Lake Ikeda has its Izzy. In the tourist shops its rendering looked like a similar creature, but the sighting was probably a giant eel, which is common here.
Our last stop was at a pottery factory. Our fellow passengers swarmed, purchasing the high priced stuff like it was about to disappear from the face of the earth. The pottery staff, bowed good-by to us in the parking lot, holding a large banner in gratitude.
Our friends Keith and Susan took a similar tour, but it included a highlight we were glad to hear about, but not do ourselves. This area is noted for hot sand baths. To participate they were taken to a locker room where they stripped off ALL their clothes and donned yakuta, the Japanese style bathrobe. A few feet from the seashore, men who looked like grave diggers were preparing the bath site. After Keith and Susan assumed their horizontal positions, they were buried in the hot sand and this treatment to cure whatever ails you began. After ten minutes the 150º sand treatment ended, and they moved to a hot water pool to rinse off the black grains still wearing yakuta. A unique Japanese experience.
We returned to the ship just before sail away time and the port christening festivities were still going on. Local women performed an especially vigorous drum beating routine. Once again we felt honored and appreciated. We will come to expect a similar level of enthusiasm from future stops as well.