[YEAR 7!] Quit our jobs, sold our home, gone riding...

At least we're not hungry anymore, so we find our hotel and check in.

Our hotel is very comfortable and they seem to cater to Gaijin as well, because some of the signs are in English... or maybe they're in Jamaican...

One of the selling features of this hotel, and the main reason why we booked here, is because it has an onsen! An onsen is a hot spring bath. Nobody in Japan takes showers, they all go to the public hot baths, it's a social thing. There is a shower in our washroom, but it's probably just for gaijin. So we're not doing that. Instead, we find these folded up neatly in the closet:

These are the Japanese equivalent of terrycloth bath robes, to wear before and after visiting an onsen.
They're called Yukata. So cool!

We had to Google the proper way to wear them. Like all things Japanese, there's a right way to do things and a wrong way, and plenty of people around to judge you if you're doing it wrong! These robes are called Ryokan Yukata (Ryokan is a Japanese Inn), even though we're not really staying at a true ryokan, more of a hotel.

Neda is sporting the Chabaori, which is a half-jacket you wear over a yakuta during the colder months.

The Yukata is meant to be worn while you are staying in the Ryokan or hotel, walking the halls, at meals, etc. If the town you are staying in is an onsen town, it's even acceptable to wear it outside in public. Although Beppu is a pretty well-known spa resort town (over 2000 onsens here!), it's also a fairly large city, so we'd look pretty silly wearing these outside...

Neda is off to her onsen!

I've read so much about onsens, and the ones I've seen have all been these outdoors natural hot spring pools, but the one in the hotel was just a swimming pool. Well, actually two pools, one hot and the other one VERY HOT! I was the only one in the onsen, so I totally could have brought my camera in and taken some pictures. I might do that next time. Don't get too excited guys, onsens are segregated by sex...

So much to describe about the onsen experience, but I'll do that later when I have some pictures to share. Since Kyushu is actually known for its hot springs, I'm sure all of the places we're going to stay in while on this island will have an onsen. Hmmm... Sneaking a camera into a public bath house... what could possibly go wrong?

The next day, we're off to explore this new island! Leaving Beppu, riding past some farmers fields to head south.

In addition to hot springs, Kyushu is also known for agriculture because of its sub-tropical climate. And because of that warm climate, it's the only island where you can motorcycle all-year-round!

Just outside of Beppu, we stop at the Iwashita Collection (motorcycle museum)

We poked our head inside. The entry fee was a bit expensive and it looked kinda junky from the reception area, so we decided to opt out. Instead, we took the opportunity in the parking lot to admire the mountains of the Oita Prefecture, and also to take off our rain suits, which have been doubling as a cold-protection layer. Because for the first time since we've arrived in Japan, the temperature has hit 20C! YAY!!!! Spring is finally here!

Sweet motorcyle riding in the twisty mountain roads without our bulky overclothes!

We are entering the Aso-Kuju National Park, right in the middle of Oita Prefecture.

The road we're on will skirt the eastern edge of Mount Aso, the largest active volcano in Japan, which is in the mountain range that we are seeing in the distance ahead of us. But then we'll veer east, back to the coast. The peaks are magnificent and the plan is to visit Mount Aso on the way back up on the western side of Kyushu. The weather is changing so quickly these days. It might be warm enough in a weeks' time, that we may be able to head up into those mountains... fingers crossed.

We stop for a little break next to a little roadside topiary

And then back to do more basking in the sun while hitting some twisties. What glorious weather we're having!

Another pitstop

This time at some kind of mini-farm, they had horses, goats and many dogs.
We saw a bag of sardines lying around, so we took a few fishies and fed them to the doggies

Good thing Neda has no tankbag on this motorcycle, otherwise it'd be more than just sardines that she'd be stealing...

Okay, the RideDOT.com doggy feeding session is over. Back to hit those mountain roads. Speaking of, they are beautiful in the background!

Just outside of the town of Ogata, we stop because there are a lot of tour buses and cars pulling into a parking lot. So we stop as well to check out what all the fuss is about.

A suspension bridge leads from the parking lot to...

Harajiri Waterfalls, nicknamed the Oriental Niagara Falls because of the shape. Yeah... but like 100 times smaller! :) Canadian pride...

This waterfall literally sprang up overnight, when Mount Aso erupted some 90,000 years ago. The lava flowing from Aso carved through the flatlands in this area, creating this geographic wonder.

Rare picture of the two of us. A Torii Gate rises out of the water

Harajiri Falls is a very popular tourist attraction in the area

Neda is always stopping and taking the time to smell the flowers

Okay, back on the bikes! We are now leaving the Oita Prefecture and heading to the Miyazaki Prefecture.

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We continue our ride southwards through the Miyazaki Prefecture, on the island of Kyushu.

We love the mountains in Miyazaki! So scenic! 12% of the land in this prefecture is devoted to National Parks!

Tokubetsuto Senmaida (rice terraces) in the background. Not as grand as the Maruyama Senmaida we saw a few days ago, but still very pretty!

The senmaida sit empty waiting for planting season, which will probably begin about 4-6 weeks from now. From here, we head towards the town of Takachiho, in the northern section of the Miyazaki Prefecture.

Drama in the parking lot of the the Ama-no-Iwato shrine.

There's a lot of mythology set in Takachiho. Although this angry dude looks like he's going to drop a rock on my head, he's actually one of the good guys.

Legend has it that the Goddess of the Sun, Ameterasu-omikami, was once driven into a cave because her brother, the God of Storms, was bullying her. Such a timeless tale! Anyway, her retreat into the cave deprived the land of light, which co-incidentally explained why there was a total eclipse of the sun at the time.

A bunch of other gods threw a party outside the cave to draw her out, and finally, the God of Strength and Power, Ame-no-tajikarao, lifted the rock blocking the cave entrance and the Goddess of the Sun came out again to grace the land with her light!

What did he do with that rock? He dropped it on a random motorcyclists' head!

So *not* a good guy in my books...

Higashihongu Shrine near the entrance. There was a guy dressed in traditional robes talking to everyone.
Not sure if he was a priest or a guide... I'm so ignorant!

Pale half-moon sits above the temple roof, paper cards with wishes written on them hang from a board outside the srhine.

As pretty as this temple is, it's actually not the main shrine

You have to walk into the forest a few hundred meters, past a river...

The path ends at Ama-no-Iwato, which means "Cave of the Sun Goddess". Hey, you mean the story is real?!?

The path leading to the cave and the cave floor itself is littered with rocks of varying sizes and visitors have built little inukshuks (I only know the Inuit word for stone people, not sure what the Japanese word is) all over the place.

Kids building an inukshuk on the path leading to Ama-no-Iwato

This is the real temple of the Sun Goddess!

We hike back to our bikes. It's going to be a very short ride to our next destination.

Zooming through the heavily forested mountains roads in the Miyazaki Prefecture. So awesome!

We really appreciate these mirrors posted up at each corner in the tight and twisty mountain roads, we make use of them all the time to see if there's any oncoming traffic.

Less than 15 minutes ride and we arrive at Takachiho Gorge.

Takachiho Gorge is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Miyazaki Prefecture. However, we're arriving so late in the afternoon that all the tour buses have already left. We park on the sidewalk next to a scooter and the parking lot attendant walks right by us and ignores our bikes. *shrug* Cool. Free parking once again!

Clear blue sky refected off a pond at Takachiho Gorge. Neda says the duck looks like a painted wooden statue! It was real.

The Gorge was carved out during the same lava flow that created Harajiri Falls that we visited earlier on, about 90,000 years ago when Mount Aso erupted.

A popular activity is to rent boats and take a leisurely ride beneath the small waterfalls
that flow into the gorge. Very pretty!

Our daylight hours are short enough as it is! The mountains are no help at all when the sun disappears below them at 4:30PM!

I can totally picture the lava cutting through the rock when I see these striations on the gorge walls

Beautiful reflections on the Gokase River's waters

We are one of the last people to leave the Gorge as we climb back onto our bikes. There's about 140 kms we still need to cover if we want to make it to the next populated centre further south.

So ironic that in the Land of the Rising Sun, it always feels like we are racing against the setting sun every evening.
Although the days have been getting noticeably longer since we arrived in Japan, this was quite a long riding day and we pulled into the city of Miyazaki well after sunset. We haven't booked any hotel or AirBnB yet, plus we are starving (!), having eaten nothing since a late breakfast.

Just as we cross into the city limits, we see a large lit sign by the side of the road with pictures of well-marbled red meat! Yes! We are totally in the mood for meat! Also, we can sit down in a warm restaurant and try to find a place to sleep tonight.

Usually we would have taken the time to search for a cheap Japanese chain restaurant, like a Yoshinoya or Coco Curryhouse, but today is a special day. It's Neda's birthday, so we are treating her to a nice dinner! Fifth birthday on the road! :D

Taking our shoes/boots off is a regular ritual before entering any building in Japan. Once we're in, we treat ourselves to a meat fest!
You can see Neda is straightening her chopsticks the proper Japanese way - with two hands. She is so nerdy that way...

Yakiniku is Japanese BBQ. It's heavily borrowed from the Korean BBQ restaraunts where they bring you plates of raw meat and you cook it yourself over a personal grill set in the middle of the table. It's not really traditional as Yakiniku only came to Japan after WWII, but it's very popular here, especially in Miyazaki because they are known for their Wagyu beef in this prefecture.

What is Wagyu beef? It's a special way of breeding cattle so they have lots of marbled fat in the meat. VERY TASTY! But very expensive. We only ordered a small plate to taste (it was delicious!), and had regular meat and seafood to fill ourselves up. I've heard Wagyu cattle get regular massages by Japanese women and then are fed a steady diet of beer to raise their fat content, but wikipedia says this is a myth. That's too bad, because massages and beer totally sounds like a place I could stay at for awhile. Um... minus the slaughter at the end of the stay, I guess...