And so we headed to Oita, or more accurately Beppu which is a seaside town just outside of Oita, set in the south, or the west end of Japan, depending on how you look at these things on the island of Kyushu. For once we took a flight and sadly increased our carbon footprint, as the train journey would have wasted time we didn’t have to waste. So we duly flew out of Haneda and down to Oita. We arrived about 9.30pm on Sunday night alongside the ITV RWC crew, led by Jill Douglas. A really helpful station master helped us find the bus to Beppu, I am not really surprised that he was so helpful, as that is the way in Japan as I have written so many times before, but this guy waited by the bus and waved us off. So sweet.
We soon got talking, or more accurately Kirsty got talking to a fellow traveler who had just arrived for the rugby. His name was Paul and he was off to see his son and his friends. Paul mentioned that his son Tom, was a musician and had justfinished a long tour. It turned out his son was Tom McFarland, the founder of Jungle a band I had seen at Glastonbury earlier in the year.
We decided to get an early night and settled in to watch Inception, which had been left hanging on Netflix by the previous occupier of our hotel room, purely by chance. And then it all started to come back. When I was in Kyoto, I kept referring to Mr Saito and Kirsty would wonder what I was talking about. I also remember, when walking through the Nijo Palace, where photographs were forbidden, thinking to myself I had seen this before, somewhere. And that was it. It was in Inception, the Nijo Palace and Mr Saito. What a coincidence! Here’s a little video of our room…
Next day we laid in for a bit and I recorded some more for BBC 5 Live and got those files delivered before deadline which was a load off my mind.
We decided to explore the local area of Kitahama which was known for natural hot springs. We jumped on a bus and then walked a pretty long way and decided to visit a couple. It seemed that there were a total of seven of these hot springs all of which were known for a particular feature. The Hell one, the blue one, the live geyser one, one that had some crocodiles, one that had bubbling mud resembling a monk’s tonshure and some that we weren’t sure what the unique feature was!
We visited three of the seven and decided to call it a day. It has to be said, they were pretty spectacular and well worth the effort.
We headed back to base, jumping off the bus early so we could see the sun go down on the beach. Beppu was a mix of 1960’s seaside style town with some pockets of technology and plenty of illumination at night. It was a little tired and yet very, very charming.
Beppu at night
Eventually we decided to find somewhere to eat and ended up in the equivalent of the greasy spoon, but instead of a fried breakfast, the two old guys served just two choices of dish, Ramen or Gyoza and one brand of bottled beer. Everywhere we looked the walls were pasted with old magazine pages and newspapers. In a corner I spotted pasted magazine pages featuring Thunderbirds, then I spotted The Saint, James Bond,,Godzilla and loads more 60’s pop culture icons. Anyway, given we love Gyoza, it was a no brainer. And what Gyoza it was. Probably the best I have ever eaten, so simple and so perfect.
We then went onto another bar come restaurant for a drink and ended up eating some more amazing food. This bar also had a retro vintage toy theme, this time there were cabinets full of the kind of toys I have carefully looked after since I was a child, and for those who know me well, you will know what I mean. I was literally in my idea of toy heaven.
Before we left we met an Aussie called Mick and his daughter who was half Fijian. Mick only needed a big knife and a crocodile to actually be ‘that’ Mick’, but he turned out to be a font of knowledge about all things rugby in Australia. Mick had clearly played the game, given that one look over his facial features confirmed he had seen plenty of real action. Upon further investigation we found out that Mick had played rugby league and when I asked him about Australia’s chances in this World Cup, he was pretty damning. He told us that the Aussie team was badly coached and was packed full of ‘tweed wearing public school boys’. He said categorically that if Australia played England in the quarter finals, England would win by a considerable margin. We parted as friends and shared plenty of laughs. You just new you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of Mick, ever.
And so another great day and night in this wonderfully weird and quiet town full of bizarre surprises drew to an end.
But we were on a roll now and in danger of setting a new world record of consecutive nights in the same bed! Tomorrow, Tuesday would be our record breaking third night in the same place. We decided to take the air and head to the Takasakiyama monkey sanctuary down the coast. Against all my better instincts, this place turned out to be pretty cool with two groups of monkeys numbering around 800 each taking turns to come down from the hills and get a free feed and observe us humans. The monkeys were well looked after and rules of engagement for human visitors were strict and for good reason. We spent hours there and the time did not drag. After the crazy schedule we had, we were grateful for some tranquil down time.
We just missed the famous Beppu hot sand bath by about 10 minutes, which was a shame given it was a lovely evening but we resolved to revisit the next day, which was match day. Wales vs Fiji.