Day 17: Eruptions, Robots, and, of course, Shochu

With no set itinerary for the weekend, I was able to sleep in a little before Yagi-kun picked me up for the drive to the Sakurajima ferry terminal.  On our drive Sakurajima was silent until it wasn’t. An enormous eruption sent ash billowing skyward in a startling display of the volcano’s volatility. Startling apparently only to me as Yagi-kun and his wife didn’t seem at all surprised or impressed. They stopped the car for a photo nonetheless.

sakurajimablows

We then stopped off at a imo shake shack called Mommy’s Cafe. Sweet potato shakes taste exactly like they sound – and are addictive.

imoshake

The drive around Sakurajima to the ferry was an interesting one – driving on land that didn’t exist 100 years ago before a large eruption created much of the southern rim of the volcano. The ferry is surprisingly cheap and very fast – 15 minutes.

With no plans for the day I decided to make good use of my JR Rail Pass (21 days of unlimited train rides) by taking the Shinkansen high speed rail for an 80 minute ride up to Fukuoka. Before leaving I stopped by a marvelous curiosity inside the Kagoshima Shinkansen gate – Satsuma Bar – a bar only available to Shinkansen passengers that serves approximately 150 different imo shochus from Kagoshima. There isn’t a single bar in New York City that serves even 50 shochus and here’s a rail station bar serving 150. No wonder Kagoshima feels like home to me.

satsumabar

Still not fully comfortable navigating suburban Fukuoka by bus on my own, I enlisted the help of Rumi-san, a Kyushu University grad student who I’d met on Day 8. We had lunch in the mall next to Hakata Station. If this doesn’t look like mall food, believe me, I know. Asian shopping malls are amazing compared to the big sprawling messes full of fast food chains we get in the states.

hakata lunch

Rumi-san then helped me navigate to Robot Square, the largest robot shop (and museum) in Kyushu. We arrived in time for an impressive display of some robot activities including synchronized robotic dogs and a gymnastics robot that can do flips, push ups, and even break balsa wood with a kung-fu chop.

robot square

A couples hours later I was back on the train down to Kagoshima for dinner with some of my favorite shochu makers. We met at a tiny 2nd floor izakaya serving great local food. At first it was only my translator from last year, Akiko-san, and her sister, Sachi-chan.

akikosan

(Akiko-san, last summer’s translator, who has become a good friend)

We enjoyed a few dishes before Komasa-san showed up. Maker of the delicious Kura No Shikon, I’d not seen him since last summer and we had a good hug and catch-up before Manzen-kun, Nakamura-kun, and Tekkan-san arrived. They’d all brought shochus of their own, but we stuck with the house selection while at this place.

future

(left to right: Manzen-kun, Nakamura-kun, me, Tekkan-san (Yamato Zakura), and Komasa-san)

Those bottles would be opened at the next place – a bar on the top floor of a clothing store owned by an Australian expat. We had a couple small dishes for sharing, but the focus was on the shochu. Manzen in particular brought a special bottle of premium shochu (pictured below with Sachi-chan). And strong. 37% ABV.

sachichan

All in all a nice day off finishing with an absolutely delicious night.

 

Kampai!

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