~ / Brian Norlander / travel /
Conquering The South of Japan, Spring 2020

Visiting Otsu, Shimonoseki, Fukuoka, Nagasaki, Saga, Kobe, and Tottori from May 01 to May 09, 2020.

My friend Sajib and I went on a road trip starting in Tokyo, going to Kyushu, Japan's southern island, and then coming back.

We camped every night for free while soaking in Japan's beautiful nature in 17 different prefectures.

Day 1: Tokyo to Mt. Fuji

After work on Friday, we grabbed the rental car and headed out of Tokyo to start our epic road trip. Our goal was to reach Kyushu in the 9 day window we had. Other than goal, most of the trip was improvised as we went. Camping spots, food, and things to see were decided on the road

After driving a few hours through medium traffic in Kanagawa, we started climbing the foothills of Mt. Fuji. After dark, we grabbed a bowl of ramen with gyoza and then found a spot to camp.

We were both new to the concept of wild camping, but regardless it was a start!

The first campsite was also the worst. We hastily set up the tent in an open space near a side road off of the highway.

Day 2: Mt. Fuji to Otsu

Good morning Fuji-san

On Saturday morning we woke up early, packed up the tent, and hit the road. Waking up outside with the sun and the birds was a welcomed change of pace. After grabbing a coffee at the Konbini, we headed towards Hamamatsu.

On the way to Otsu, we traveled through Shizuoka, Hamamatsu, and Nagoya.

This was the first night we camped in a public park. After doing a lot of research reading different blogs about how other people had camped in Japanese public camps, I was confident that we could do it, but still a bit uncomfortable at the idea. Nevertheless, after it got dark we set up the tent and went to sleep

In the morning, many fisherman were casting for fish nearby, and some early morning walkers were strolling through the park, but no on seemed to care that we were camping.

Second night was a success.

2nd campsite: On the southern edge of Lake Biwa, near Kyoto

Day 3: Otsu to Hiroshima

Good morning Lake Biwa

On the way to Hiroshima, we passed through Shiga, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo, and Okayama prefectures. This part of Japan is not heavily populated, nor does it have many major cities. Between Kobe and Hiroshima it is very hilly, but not exactly mountainous. While we were there in May it was very cloudy and rainy most of the time.

One problem with camping every night is you need to find some place to shower. Luckily, Japan is abundant with public onsens. We found a great onsen near Okayama and washed up before leaving Honshu and entering Kyushu

Himeji Castle

Day 4: Hiroshima to Fukuoka

At this point in the trip I was very accustomed to waking up early and also driving for most of the day. Maybe too accustomed, because I got pulled over by the Yamaguchi police for speeding. My first speeding ticket ever, and it was in Japan.

After some broken communication, I understood that I had to pay a fine for ¥10,000 for speeding more than 10km over the speed limit.

Kanmon Bridge: Connects Honshu to Kyushu

Shimonoseki is a large post famous of gufu (blowfish). Here you can take boats to Korea and China for around ¥10,000, which is often less than flying. Additionally, this city is famous for the Treaty of Shimonoseki in 1895, seeing a defeated China hand over Taiwan, Penghu, and Port Arthur to the Japanese.

After crossing the bridge from Shimonoseki to Kyushu, we had one goal in mind: Hakata ramen. The island of Kyushu, and more specifically Fukuoka, is famous for being the birth place of Hakata ramen, one of the most famous styles of ramen in Japan. Hakata ramen has a base of tonkotsu, a creamy pork bone broth. It is typically served with ultra-thin, straight and firm wheat noodles. Thin slices of chashu pork and chopped green onions are the most common toppings.

Hakata ramen in Fukuoka
Fukuoka

In Fukuoka we started to learn about the love of fishing that many Japanese people have. All along the wharf where we camped near people were fishing well after dark. Kids, parents, groups of men, etc. were enjoying the sport.

On the coast north of Fukuoka we found a beach that made the perfect spot for our 4th campsite

Day 5: Fukuoka to Nagasaki

South of Fukuoka

Next on the list was a legendary ramen shop in Saga, Koyokaku (豚骨ラーメン 幸陽閣). The menu is very simple. Ramen with egg, ramen with extra pork, and ramen with egg and extra pork. Saga ramen is similar to Hakata ramen, expect it has a raw egg and very thick broth. At only ¥650, the recommended bowl is the 卵入り (with egg).

Koyokaku ramen (豚骨ラーメン 幸陽閣)

After passing through Saga, we headed directly for Nagasaki. After seeing Hiroshima earlier that year, I was also interested to see Nagasaki. Viewing the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum was a very powerful, emotional experience. Seeing the photos of the city after the atomic bomb, hearing he first hand accounts, and the artwork inspired by the incident left a strong impression on me.

Nagasaki
I much enjoyed the geography of Nagasaki. The city-center was surrounded by hills and there were many nice viewpoints throughout the city.
Nagasaki Peace Statue
Turkish rice
5th campsite: Near Obama

Day 6: Nagasaki to Yamaguchi

The drive from Nagasaki to Sasebo was one of the most beautiful places I've been in Japan. A popular bike route, the road has several bridges and many ocean views. With clear blue skies you can see many islands nearby.

South of Sasebo
Tsunoshima Bridge

That night we made it to Tsunoshima, as island in a remote part of northwestern Yamaguchi. We planned to camp on the island, maybe finding a beach or a park, but we were met with ferocious winds and a stinging cold coming from the Sea of Japan. Surrounded by open sea on 3 sides, the island was extremely wind swept and we didn't see anyone else on the island that night.

We felt that if we tried to set up the tent somewhere on the island, it would have likely blow away. Even when we were inside the car, it felt like the wind was pushing around our tiny Honda rental car. So we decided to leave the island and sleep in our car on the mainland that night.

Day 7: Yamaguchi to Tottori

This stretch of road was very remote, it must have been one of the most remote areas of Japan. On the northern coast of Honshu, there are not many large cities, the largest being Matsue and Tottori.

Most of the populated areas we passed through were small, quiet towns. Beaches were common, and we saw surfers at several of them.

Sea of Japan
Chankonabe: (ちゃんこ鍋) restaurant near Matsue. Chankonabe is a Japanese stew commonly eaten by sumo wrestlers as part of a weight gain diet
The owner was a former sumo wrestler, and he told us he would eat this during this training days
Tottori Dunes
7th campsite: Next to Lake Koyama (湖山池) near Tottori
Woke up to this

Day 8: Tottori to Osaka

To get from the northern coast on Honshu to the southern coast, we needed to cross some mountains. Luckily the drive was not long

Our goal for that day was to reach Kobe and go the the top of Mount Maya, a scenic viewpoint with view a Kobe and Osaka.

One of the many Lawsons we stopped at. Lawson is a convenience store in Japan and we found it to be most popular in the rural areas.
Kobe
Caused by the Kobe Earthquake of 1995
Kobe Chinatown
Kobe ramen
View to the north of Kobe
8th campsite: Near Osaka

Day 9: Osaka to Tokyo

At this point in the trip we were both very tired and ready to go home and sleep in our own beds. We drove all the way from Osaka to Tokyo in one day, stopping at Hakone along the way.

Hakone

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