Thursday, November 21, 2013

Why Nakatsu?

 (Nakatsu Castle)
My new home, Nakatsu.

(View of the middle of the city from the castle.)

(View towards the ocean from the castle. My apartment is probably in the very center of the picture, but of course you can't see it.)


Good question. I'll start from the beginning.

Disclaimer 1: This is a bit of a long post with lots of various information about different locations in Kyushu. If you've got a map out and ready to learn about the island through the filter of my mind amidst the move, then read on! If not, at least check out the pics of the area below.

The company I work for has positions all over the counrty excepting Tokyo City and Okinawa. I wanted a drastic change of Toyama, which would preferably take me to another island. Hokkaido seemed a bit too separated, and too cold for my current moods. Shikoku looked great, but maybe it was a bit too country, even for me. I've had strange callings to Kyushu, and being the furthest south, it would be a huge separation from what I've known of Japan while still having loads of interesting new places. In fact, it kind of started as wanting to travel around Kyushu, but from Toyama it's incredibly expensive and time consuming, so I thought I might as well live there.

Interesting mountains, old culture, warmer temperatures, lots of countryside, proximity to Shikoku, interesting mountains, separated from the mainstream, and lots of martial arts. This is what comes to mind when I think of Kyushu.

Initially I had a lot of room to decide where in Kyushu I wanted to go. Basically, there are a set number of positions in each area, so if someone leaves, I would be able to replace them. Knowing that, I had been in contact with the main gaijin in the company working together trying to find the right time and place.

In Kyushu, there are seven prefectures: Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki, Oita, Kumamoto, Miyazaki, and Kagoshima. That's quite an area to choose from, so where in Kyushu did I want to go?

First of all, I didn't want to live in a big city ... or anything remotely close to being a big city. That poses a bit of a problem because most positions in the company are in the big cities. Often, most teachers will be located in the biggest city and then maybe a few others in the next biggest. Fukuoka Prefecture has the biggest city in Kyushu, Fukuoka City (aka Hakata), and its size seemed to dominate most of the prefecture, so that ruled Fukuoka out.

Nagasaki seemed a bit too disconnected, dominated by the city, and also home to a large American military base in Sasebo ... so I said no Nagasaki.

Saga lies between Fukuoka and Nagasaki, is small, doesn't have any famous mountains, and it didn't have anything to pull my interest when investigating, so no Saga.

Further south is where I started to get more interested. Basically I was most interested in the three prefectures in the middle of Kyushu, Oita, Kumamoto, and Miyazaki.

(View from my apartment balcony: left side. In the middle looming in the distance is the one of the most famous mountains in Oita, Yufuin-dake.)
Kumamoto seemed to be the heart of Kyushu in a lot of ways, which was the biggest draw for me at first. It is rich with traditional culture, seen most obviously by its famous castle, and so it would seem to have a lot of martial arts as well. It has the most famous mountains in Kyushu, most notably Mt. Aso, and also some interesting looking islands just off its coast. It also lies right in the middle of the shinkansen line connecting Fukuoka and Kagoshima which would make it relatively convenient for trasnportation within the area. The city also seemed to have a strong culture of its own, but it definitely is considered a big city, which is not what I wanted. At the moment there are no positions outside of Kumamoto City, which would mean I would have to live there. In the end I didn't choose Kumamoto, but I'm dying to get there and see if I made a mistake or not. Plus, its famous for horse sushi. Whatever area is famous for eating horse has my male agro attention.

Miyazaki certainly seemed to have a feel of its own. Famous for beaches, surfing, and being very small town, I was really drawn to this place. For the beaches and countryside, Satomi was most interested in this place as well, which weighs considerably in the decision making process. The downsides were that is very separated from the rest of Kyushu, and Japan as a whole, doesn't have a big city to escape to if I wanted, and may have the least amount of chances for Budo. Also, it can get hit pretty hard by typhoons, which is not something I was excited about. This is definitely a place I'm looking forward to visiting though.

Oita seemed like the best fit in a lot of ways. It was centrally located between the biggest city in Kyushu, Fukuoka, had Miyazaki Prefecture just to the south, its closest to Shikoku Island which I still want to visit, and backed by the big mountains that are shared with Kumamoto. It's definitely small town, and also holds possibly the biggest draw of all: its considered THE place for onsen in Japan, which is a huge priority for me.

(View from my apartment balcony: middle. The mountain towards the right is probably the most iconic of the area, Hachimenzan.)
Furthest to the south lies Kagoshima. Interestingly enough its the only place I had been to in Kyushu when I took a trip to the amazing island of Yakushima about three years ago. It certainly has a strong characteristic of its own, and I found the city captivating when I went. If I was looking to be separated from all else in the warmest place possible with a colorful culture, Kagoshima was it. But, all positions open were located only in the big city of Kagoshima itself which was a big drawback. Kagoshima's poster image is always that of the giant volcanic island of Sakurajima, which is in fact super impressive when seen in real life, but it seemed to be the only thing I ever saw in pictures of Kagoshima, which made me think it would get old quick. It's also notorious for erupting, sheeting the city in ash.

So basically it was like this: no Fukuoka, Saga, or Nagasaki ... maybe Kagoshima ... definitely interested in Oita, Kumamoto, and Miyazaki.

In the end, it really came down to time and locations.

I was told Miyazaki would never be open because there are only three gaijin down there, and they're all married, settled, and avid surfers who will never leave.

Kagoshima was open in December, in a way it was perfect timing, but it seemed too separated, too dominated by Sakurajima, too big of a city, and without enough mountains (though some of the coolest looking mountains around in Kirishima lie on the border of Miyazaki).

Kumamoto was a huge draw, but I would have to wait through the winter to potential openings in March or April ... which was just too long to wait, and I'd probably be in the city.

(View from my apartment balcony: right. Sunset over mountains in Fukuoka Prefecture, Inugatake. And the construction that started a week after I moved in.)
So in Oita, there is a town called Nakatsu. It seemed the perfect size being a small to medium city (80,000 people) which means it would have all the necessaries without congested populations and traffic. It lies in a string of small towns right on the ocean geographically between the cities of Fukuoka and Oita City, which means weekend trips to either wouldn't be a big deal. Its famous for history (a big castle, and home of the guy who's on the 10,000 yen bill, Yukichi Fukuzawa) and has famous natural spots inland towards the mountains. The drawbacks were that is was farther north than I imagined being, and not the closest to the bigger moutains. Other than kyudo, I'm not sure about finding other martial arts. Also, for better for worse, it came abruptly forcing a fairly hasty decision, which would get me there in the Fall.

After waiting and planning and thinking for so long, it just couldn't have been drawn out any further, and considering all the above info, the decision was made: Nakatsu in the Fall.

Disclaimer 2: All of this research and mind wandering was done without ever being to Kyushu other than Kagoshima City and it's small island Yakushima. Simply ruling out places like Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki, and Kagoshima was less about criticising and falsely judging, and more about just trying to find out what would be the best option for me. I feel as though I will have to do justice to these other prefectures by going to them all and seeing for myself. Furthermore, I find Japan an extremely difficult place to define, all its sights included, as so much of it is defined by how in depth you'll go to each area. Toyama is a great example of this. If you look in the Lonely Planet travel guide you'll find a measely two pages for the prefecture. One of them describes the depressing atmosphere of the city and lack of interesting sites, and then one page for the Alpen Route across the moutains, which is very amazing. Considering that, I lived there for four years and truly consider it my second home. It's unbelievably interesting, and not just beacuse of the mountains. I will always hold the possiblity in my mind of returning to Toyama, which is in fact a huge reality since Satomi's family and home are there. So, it's all good or crappy everywhere in Japan depending on your disposition.

(Towards the mountains in Nakatsu.)
OK, so I finally get to Nakatsu, and I think we're all a bit worn out here, so maybe it's a good place to stop. However, I don't envision writing another general piece on this town where I live and want you readers to have an idea of what it's like, so I'll quickly mention a few of the points I want to convey.

-I really like it.

-It is big enough to have all of the conveniences I need (aside from a movie theater) while being small enough to avoid the undesirables of the big city.

-At first glance it might not be as interesting as it looks when researching.

-The castle is super cool, but the inside is completely redone and disappointing. I'll look forward to events they have there, or light ups, or the sakura blossoming.

-It is even more isolated from the rest of Oita Prefecture than I imagined, which means Oita City, the most famous of onsen, and big mountains are more of a hassle to get to than I imagined.

-Fukuoka City is way further than I imagined, but instead of that, Kita Kyushu City is the closest big city to the north, and is actually pretty interesting.

-As for this region, it really doesn't feel like Oita Prefecture. Nakatsu City being on the border of Fukuoka Prefecture, I can ride my bike for five minutes, cross a river, and I'm there. In the past this was an area connected to Kita Kyushu, and it has that feel today.

-My apartment is not huge, but absolutley perfect, located next to the ocean and a bit isolated from the main part of town. It can be my perfect haven away from it all, and I so much look forward to making this a home with Satomi.

-A week after moving in, they started construction on another apartment right in front of this one, which I was absolutley-super-hair raising pissed about, but am coming to terms with day by day. Now I understand why they were giving a huge discount on the initial key money. Thanks guy who showed me the apartment, kinda wish you had told me about this ... f%#$"#g salesmen.

-I have a fully operating TV for the first time in 10 years.

-I have a bed for the first time in 4 years.

-The mountains aren't so big, but really funny shaped ... lots of cones.

-There's lots of old people here ... I mean even more than Toyama.

-There's lots of motorcycles and yanki punk kids, which is kind of cool, but also kind of annoying.

I think that's about it.

Welcome to my new base in Nakatsu, from which all will begin.

(Inside of the Nakatsu Kyudo Dojo.)


  1. Kita-Kyushu is famous for yakuza, just so you know ;)
    We see Yufudake every morning when we walk the dogs; we must be looking at it from opposite sides! It's only about 40 minutes from Nakatsu to Beppu if you take the express, so it shouldn't be too much of a pain if you fancy a special weekend onsen. We have some good swimming beaches too, for summer. I have to confess that I have never been to Nakatsu but I really love Oita in general and I hope you and your lady will too :)

  2. I'm sure you'll like it. I've tabled my own move to Kunisaki for a few years, but plan to visit often as I have many friends down that way. (If you are looking for interesting folks to hang out with...) To me, Kunisaki feels like a home away from home, a home I've never lived in.

    On another note, I've tried to send you a number of emails, but am not sure if you got them. your mails to me rarely make it through my spam filter. have you gotten any mails from me?

    1. Damn dude! I wish I would have checked this comment earlier, sorry about the delay. I haven't gotten an mails from you at all. Maybe you could try one more time, , and I'll keep a look out for your email. Maybe after you send it you could leave a comment on my latest post just to let me know?