I’ve been in Japan a week so far for a faculty development project through the U of M. This past Sunday was my first completely free day out on my own. Given that I can’t really read anything in this country, and I can only say “hello,” “thank you,” and about 8 random food words in Japanese, I wasn’t really sure what to do with myself. But I had an awesome day!
First, through the kindness of strangers at the bus station, I got myself to Monkey Mountain, a park just outside of Beppu that is loaded with hundreds of free-ranging Japanese macaques.
Then I got myself back into town, and with the help of a tourist information center employee and a friendly bus driver, took ANOTHER bus to the Kannawa neighborhood of town to visit one of Beppu’s “hells.” (Beppu has a LOT of geothermal activity just under its surface, so steam basically rises out of any available crack in the earth. Consequently, there are thermal hot springs and geysers and steam kitchens all over the city, including some touristy themed hot springs.) I chose to visit the “Demon Monk Hell” because the bubbling mud pools are supposed to look like little bald monk heads. And yeah, they kind of do.
Honestly, I felt a little silly for spending $4 to visit what was basically some nicely-landscaped hot mud pits, but then I saw something that absolutely made my day: a black and gold lizard with a METALLIC TEAL AND BLUE TAIL!!! Whaaaat?!?!
I was DELIGHTED to discover that such a creature exists in the world. It’s black and GOLD! With a METALLIC BLUE TAIL!! Isn’t this amazing? We live in a world where spectacular lizards like this dart around nicely-landscaped hot mud pits – incredible!
I strolled around and successfully found a new bamboo workshop that isn’t even in most of the tourist maps yet. I also got myself on a bus going back to downtown Beppu (granted, it took a long scenic route, but it still got me where I meant to go). Then I walked to the mall for a late lunch and decided on a sushi place. I walked in, indicated I’d like to eat, and got sat at a bar with an electronic menu. That was it from the wait staff – I was on my own to figure out how to get some food. I scrolled through pictures on the tablet (because I couldn’t read a single word) and hoped I was ordering stuff. A few minutes later, someone brought me a tall glass of wine. Success!
And then, the most wondrous thing happened: the food I ordered started to arrive in front of me… on a little electronic train! SQUEEEEE!
Baby monkeys, bubbling mud pools, fantastical lizards, and sushi trains – what a great day!!!