Transitions commence new adventures. Make 'em last…

Feeling Kumamoto

After running around Nagasaki and Shimabara, it was time to rest up and relax for several days in Kumamoto. Upon my arrival I quickly sensed the pure tranquility amid my immediate surroundings, but I also felt people to be quite distant and far less gregarious than in comparison to what I pleasantly observed and experienced in Nagasaki. I couldn’t exactly put my finger on it. It could have been that Kumamoto honestly felt much more spacious among its wide streets, corridors, and extensive outdoor malls that curved through the city, in addition to the prodigious crystal-clear blue sky that appeared peculiarly interminable. Perhaps this had an affect on me. However, it seemed a bit surreal, and for some reason I immediately felt alone in a remote city of strangers.

Traveling alone is nothing new for me, it’s something I’ve always found quite relaxing and normal. Although, at that particular juncture of my trip, it didn’t seem to be the case. Lucky for me, this feeling would soon diminish amid fulfilling the plan to meet up with Natsuko, who is a good friend of Jin, my best friend in Korea. Jin and Natsuko met while studying abroad in Canada and have been friends for several years. Thus, when Jin ascertained that I was going to visit Kumamoto during my 2nd visit to Japan, she quickly offered the idea that I should meet up with her good friend there. I concurred, and not before long Natsuko contacted me on facebook and we set up the time and place to meet up during my time in Kumamoto, which was a 1-1/2 days after my initial arrival. She seemed really friendly and I looked forward to meeting her. Thus, until that time came, I kept myself busy leisurely gallivanting throughout the entire town. First stop: Kumamoto Castle.

Kumamoto Castle construction roughly began in 1467 when initial fortifications were established. By 1607, Kumamoto castle was expanded into a grand complex of 49 turrets and 18 turret gates. In 1877, the castle was besieged during the Satsuma Rebellion, which was a revolt of Satsuma ex-samurai against the newly formed Meiji government, and was the last and most serious of armed uprisings. During the siege, many of the castle palaces were destroyed, but 13 remained undamaged. In 1960, the castle keep was reconstructed using concrete. Then from 1998 to 2008, the castle complex underwent restoration work, during which many of the 17th century structures were refurbished or rebuilt. It was and still is considered one of the three premier castles in Japan.

Old Kumamoto Castle building diagram

View of Kumamoto from atop Kumamoto Castle

View of Kumamoto hills and Kumamoto Castle siegetower

Halt!!! Kumamoto Castle Samurai are here!

To my surprise, I soon discovered that a few wineries outlined the city, and I ventured to the few most accessible by train & walking. Next stop: Foodpal Hill Cellars & Kumamoto Winery

Welcome to Foodpal Hill Cellars

Foodpal Hill Cellars & Kumamoto Winery were not much more than a tasting lodge, although a few vineyards were nearby while the majority were several dozen miles north. Having never tried Japanese wine before, I was extremely curious on how it tasted in comparison to other wines I’ve drank from around the world. Thus, the significant bonus on this particular visit was that I was given free rein to taste wide assortment of Japanese wines. The wines were not of high-caliber quality, but a few of them were fairly decent. I would have perhaps bought a bottle to try at home, but shelving out $50-60 for a mediocre bottle of wine wasn’t my cup of tea. However, I tasted these japanese-green-pumpkin-seed-treats and immediately fell in love. I happily left with 5 bags of these things tucked under my arm.

Foodpal HIll Cellars Tasting Room

The one decent wine in Kumamoto. Too bad it was pricey.

Sakusaku Pumpkin seed snacks. So good!

Next stop: Just wandering…

Suizen-ji Park

Temple at Suizen-ji Park

Kumamoto Outdoor Mall

Random cool buildings in Kumamoto

Cool Sake Bar to visit!

I can’t tell you how much I greatly enjoy just wandering around random towns without any specific itineraries or rush; it really clears the mind and allows me to get a good feel for a place. After wandering through town, my first impression of Kumamoto had changed. I soon realized how much I really liked the town, in a rather ineffable, mysterious sort of way. Even though it seemed rather subtle, there was a youthful vibe emanating from the happening junctures downtown, most likely stemming from the handful of universities positioned around the city.  It somewhat reminded me of a college town, but with the added allure and benefit of being surrounded by historical buildings that also attract a variety of travelers from around the globe. Also, during my wandering, I couldn’t pass up getting a tasty burger.

Y’all know me, I couldn’t just walk by without trying a good burger in Kumamoto.

First time I ever had a 1/2 inch thick slab of mango on a burger. Was uniquely good.

Next stop: Cheese Bar Shirokuma with Natsuko & her friend.

Outside Cheese Bar Shirokuma

Inside Cheese Bar Shirokuma

I later met up with Natsuko and her friend and I suggested that we head to Cheese Bar Shirokuma on the outskirts of town. Having never heard of this particular cheese bar before, they were both up for a little adventure and agreed to check it out. I randomly found this place amid doing research on things to do, and I’m glad I did because I had the most fun in Kumamoto with Natsuko at Cheese Bar Shirokuma. In addition to having a great time getting to know her, Cheese Bar Shirokuma provided the perfect atmosphere to relax and chat amid trying a wide variety of delectable cheeses and wine. It was a wonderful place and a must-visit for anyone wishing to relax with cheese & wine in Kumamoto.

Cheese Bar Shirokuma – Assorted cheese dish and wine

“The Cheese Gang” at Cheese Bar Shirokum

The owner was also super friendly and generous, and later gifted us with a small, decorated dessert after we gobbled up all the wonderful cheese and were almost finished drinking a bottle of chardonnay.

Cheese Bar Shirokuma – Dessert and Wine

Before the evening was over, Natsuko opened her present that I had hand-delivered from Jin. She was very surprised and looked even more beautiful wearing her new gift.

Natsuko surprised with gift from Jin

Natsuko surprised. Way to go, Jin!

Nice earrings! Good job, Jin!

Kumamoto was a pretty cool place to chillout for a few days, in addition to having the opportunity to make a very nice new friend in the process. After feeling Kumamoto, I have a grand yearning to return with hopes of doing another round at Cheese Bar Shirokuma with Natsuko & friends. Until next time…

Relaxing night view of Kumamoto atop my hostel roof (Kumamoto Castle can be barely seen on the right).

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“Experience, travel – these are as education in themselves.”

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