It is Saturday morning, 7am. I am sitting in the hostel in the Mount Aso region, in the middle of the most southerly of Japan’s main islands, wondering where I will stay tonight. I have been caught unawares by a huge holiday weekend. Who knew, apart from everyone, that all the accommodation would be booked out, from the lowest bunk to the top of the range hotels? I have a tense few hours ahead of me, but my plan is to get the tourist information centre to do the work. That thing with not being able to speak or read Japanese gets tricky at times like this.
Plus, surely not everywhere is a holiday destination? Perhaps today will end in an ironic reverse in which the tourist goes to the business area while the businessman comes to the resort. And I could go anywhere on the excellent rail system. Have Rail Pass, will travel. I wonder if the bullet trains run all night? I suppose I could get a sleeper train to Hokkaido and maybe even back again. Arrive here tomorrow morning as if nothing happened.
I could stay in an internet cafe in some city somewhere. I went to one in Tokyo that has little booths with mats on the floor to lie on. You hire the booth for 12 hours at a time, there are tea and coffee facilities and a machine dispensing pot noodles. You can even get slippers and blankets at reception.
I don’t think it will come to that though.
Aso is a spectacular region, scenery wise. It is a giant bowl, about 25 kilometres across, which is the crater of a vast, ancient volcano. There is a ring of mountains around it, and in the centre another cluster of peaks where the volcano continues to spew gas and lava. The flat grassy area in between is where all the houses are. I have been hoping to go up and look at the relatively small crater that still exists, but various things have prevented me up to now. I have a feeling it might be one of those things I am just not going to get to to.
Still, as the old lady who ran the bar down in Kagoshima said: their volcano, Sakurajima, is much stronger. It has erupted 67 times this year alone. What has Aso done in the time, pouffed a few bits of gas? Pah! You can walk all over Aso. If you try to go over Sakurajima you will die.
She was a tech-savvy old lady – she told me all this via the voice translator on her smartphone -and keen to advertise the merits of “their” volcano. Everyone in Kagoshima is proud of it, showing me photos of their cars covered in ash, youtube videos of eruptions and so on. On the streets, though mostly swept spotlessly clean, and in the parks, you can see piles of volcanic ash. It makes up all the soil. Aso is covered in grass. So hey, it can go and whistle!
Find out soon where I end up…