Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Kagoshima Gurutsu Stamp Rally

The Kagoshima Gurutsu Stamp Rally is running from July 1 to Nov. 30, and is a travel promotion to get people to visit various locations around Kagoshima City. There are stamp points at 28 locations, but the prize sheet is set up as a tic-tac-toe board with 9 district names (the Chuu-ou area contains 5 stamp points - Kagoshima Art Museum, the Marchen Fairy Tale Museum, The Mirai-Kan, the Aquarium and the Commerce Center in the I'm building). For each straight line of stamps (vertical, horizontal, diagonal) you get a shot at a better prize. 1 line is a coupon for $10 worth of books. 2, 3 and 5 lines are vouchers for local products ($15, $25 and $50 each). 8 lines has shots at 2 prizes - a $200 or a $400 travel voucher. Only one entry per person. There's 120 total book coupons, thirty $15 vouchers, three $200 travel vouchers and one $400 voucher. Drawings to be held on Dec. 9.

Because I don't have a car, and the stamp points are spread out over something like a 25 mile area, my plan was to visit only places right next to train stations if possible, and if not, then to minimize bus travel in order to keep the costs down. After all, even if I win a $25 package of local food, there's no point if I have to spend $100 on travel to do it. The first few locations were reached on days with bad weather and I didn't bother trying to take photos. But, you can see the spots in the stamp rally PDF. The below points marked with (F) were ones I could easily walk to. For (T), I could take the train and the destination points were then within a 20-minute walk from the station. But with (C), I teamed up with two of my students for a 3-hour tour, on Oct. 9, of the northern part of the city, in exchange for a free English lesson.

The following list is in the order given in the stamp book, which is essentially from north to south, east to west, with Yoshida and Kouriyama being equally northern but Kouriyama is farther to the west.

Yoshida - (C) The basic idea of the car trip was to just form an inverted "U" shape going up from Kagoshima-chuo station northeast, head west and then come back down, hitting 4 of the places closest to the "U" center. These were all spots that are unreachable by train. Total trip time was 3 hours, including a spare pickup at Rarara, and a few minutes sightseeing at each spot. We decided to visit the Miyano-Urachou Fureaikan, a rural grocery store and garden supplies shop for the Yoshia area stamp. This was the second stop on the "U", and as we got inside to look around the store, one of the staff was just setting out some baked sweet potato bread rings, for 100 yen each. Made a really nice breakfast snack. But, the area itself, back in at the top of some hills, didn't have much to look at.

Yoshino - (C) The Senior Citizen's Center was the first stop on the "U", and we arrived just before it opened at 9:00 AM. There's a park with a statue at the top of a small hill, and in trying to find the park, we encountered some junior high students in front of a shrine practicing their lines for a school play. One of the students guided us to the top of the hill, and ended up participating in the free English lesson. The statue seems to be based on a local folk tale about a trickster fox that changes into a human to prank a samurai, then when the samurai catches it and prepares to kill it, a second fox shows up to pretend to be the guy's father to save its friend. The hill does look out and down over the city, but the air was really hazy and made for a lousy photo. The drive out was only 15 minutes, so we're probably less than 10 miles from Chuo-station.

Sakura-jma - (F/ferry) It's 160 yen ($2 USD) just to take the ferry one-way to the island. Fortunately, the closest point is the Visitors Center, about a 10 minute walk from the pier. The center has a small gift shop, a volcanic museum, and a theater for showing a film about the volcano. Outside is a hot spa foot bath and a nice view of the bay. When the wind isn't blowing ash this way, it's a really nice place to relax and enjoy the view.

Kouriyama - (C) We made our third and fourth car stops here. Our driver had made a practice run of the route the day before, and picked up all four stamps at that time. So, for the second time through, she decided to stop at Hanao Shrine instead of Rarara. It's a nice, pretty little building set back in with some small rice paddies, surrounded by trees along one hill. Looked like there might be some hiking trails up into the hill, too. The only problem was that there weren't many signs pointing to the shrine so we got a little lost, and the trail leading to the parking lot is really long and barely wide enough for a subcompact car. It's a nice place to visit if you live nearby and want some exercise and fresh air.

Very near by the shrine is Superland Rarara, an exercise and sports complex. Our driver wanted to stop here as well, although we didn't actually need the extra stamp. Lots of tennis courts and outdoor activity areas. Not a lot to look at scenery-wise, though.

Chuu-Ou - (F) This one is kind of a toss up. The Mirai-Kan is the environmental center halfway between me and Tecc Land, and I go out there weekly to pick up cheap toilet paper and tissues. And, the Commerce Center in the I'm building is near the Tenmonkan shopping district, next door to the Book Off used manga shop. But, the Kagoshima Art Museum is along the way to the International Center where I teach my private English lessons. So, I picked the stamp from the first building I passed as the first one for the sheet - in the Art museum, located at the information desk in the front lobby. (Actually, I've been to all 5 of the Chuu-ou stamp points many times since coming here.)

Ishiki - (C) On the way back toward the city center at the end of the "U" route car trip, we visited the Kagoshima Kenkou no Mori Koen, another sports gym up in the hills, surrounded by a small park. The big room inside the building just past the reception desk is a gym that holds 8-10 badminton courts. Outside, there's a big children's play area, garden, and a man-made waterfall. The end of the pool at the top of the falls overlooks the city. Again, the air was too hazy to make for a good photo of the city. The one other passenger in the car for this trip said that he and his friends often come out here on the weekends to play badminton. It's a nice area, and easy to get to by car. It's also not that far away from the Nakamura Bronze Statue museum. Finally, we started back to Kagoshima-chuo station to wrap up the trip. However, within a couple of minutes we'd passed under a bridge which turned out to be the expressway out at the end of the street running from my apartment. Pretty quickly I recognized it as the area I'd walked out to once when I first got here, past the Arena and yet another sports club complex (I'd turned around on my walk at the expressway bridge). It took me over an hour to walk from the apartment to the expressway, yet we'd be back in 5 minutes by car. Except that I needed to do some shopping at, and the first red light we had to stop at was just 2 blocks from the store across the river. All this means that I could easily have gotten to Kenkou no Mori park on my own if I'd had a bike. Sigh.

Taniyama - (T) This one was actually kind of a pain. On the map, Jigenji Park looked to be closest to Sakanoue station on the JR line running south from Kagoshima-chuo station, and about halfway towards the Kiire point. So, my plan was to ride out to Kiire, get that stamp, then come back to Sakanoue and get out and walk to the park (if I had time, I'd try getting to Matsumoto before closing time at 5 PM for a third stamp). But, when I got to Sakanoue, the station manager told me that I should have continued to Jigenji station. Since the trains only run once every 30 minutes, and it's only 2 kilometers between stations, I figured that I'd walk anyway. He gave me some convoluted directions, and after about a kilometer I discovered the problem - there's a big valley in the middle and the tracks run west away from the road. Plus, none of the streets going through the hills connect with each other. So, yeah, I blew an extra thirty minutes by getting lost. Finally, as I was trudging up a steep hill, I got to a bus stop/car parking area with a sign advertising Somen Nagashi - a style of cold noodles served from a water slide running in front of the diners. Everyone tries to grab the noodles with chopsticks before it slides past them. Also on the sign was the name "Jigenji Park". A long set of stone steps lead down the hill into the valley, and the restaurant is just a few feet farther on, with the stamp point close to the restaurant entrance. It's a really nice park, with lots of tree shade from the summer sun. But the menu prices were a bit steep for my wallet, and I quickly returned to the street. Another 20 minutes later and I was at Jigenji station. A 20 minute wait for the train and a 20 minute ride back to Kagoshima-chuo station. (Note that close to the Somen Nagashi bus stop is the entrance to the Taniyama shrine at the top of another hill, and the Kagoshima Archeology Museum.)

Matsumoto - (T) I did this one kind of out of order. After visiting Kiire and Jigenji, my thought was that I could go back to Kagoshima-chuo station, change trains, and ride west out 2 stops to get to the Nakamura Museum on the same day. But, it was close to 4 PM on Sunday, and the place would close at 5. It looked to be a 20 minute walk from the Kami Ijuin station and my odds of getting there on time were low, so I put it off. Normally, museums are closed on Mondays, but open if Monday is a national holiday (which it was on Sept. 19). The following day, I wanted to go to Nakamura, but there were typhoon warnings and it rained that morning. The sky cleared up around noon, so I took a chance. Again, the trains only run every 30 minutes, and it's a 20 minute ride through tunnels into the hills for 220 yen one way. At Kami Ijuin, the station master pointed in one direction, saying "that's where you want to be". He then pointed in the opposite direction and said "the bridge over the tracks and across the valley to the highway is that way 1 kilometer. Setting out, I was about 2 blocks up the hill when the drizzle started. 5 minutes later it was a full-on downpour (no typhoon-level winds though). I did bring an umbrella and a rain coat, but I was still soaked before I got to the bridge. I thought I could take a short cut across the valley, but I was wrong, adding another 15 minutes and 20 gallons of water over my shoes, to my walk. Finally, I got to the museum after about 40 minutes, and was cold enough to decide to buy a 500 yen ticket to go inside and dry off. Turns out that Shinya Nakamura is an artist that specializes in bronze statues, and I've seen some of his works before. Primarily the tribute to the Satsuma students outside of the Kagoshima-chuo station, and a memorial to the war dead at the Stone Bridge Park at Gion-no-su. He's got some very spectacular pieces on display in the museum and it is worth visiting if you're in the area. Returning back outside, the rain was tapering off, and was completely over when I got to Kagoshima-chuo station just in time to let me get a face-full of volcano ash from Sakura-jima.

Kiire - (T) This was the easiest stamp to get, the third one chronologically, and the first one when I started taking the trains. Kiire is 40 minutes south of Kagoshima by train and the stamp is right inside the Kiire station. Fortunately, I didn't have to exit the building and was able to double-back to Sakanoue on the same ticket, saving myself about $4 on the trip. As it was, the ticket cost $2.50 one way. Kiire is a tiny station, with an attendant standing by to take your tickets from you. No automation here.

In chronological order, I visited:
1) the Kagoshima Art Museum
2) Sakura-jima Visitor Center
3) Kiire Station
4) Jigenji Park Soumen Nagashi
5) Nakamura Bronze Museum
6) The Senior Center
7) Miyano-Urachou Fureaikan
8) Hanao Shrine and Superland Rarara
9) Kagoshima Kenkou no Mori Koen

I spent probably $15-$20 on train and ferry tickets, and the Nakamura Museum fee. I don't know if the 8-point rally applications are eligible for the lower-level prizes or not. And I don't know how many people I'm competing against for at the 8-point level. At least the two others that had been in the car with me. The drawing will be in Dec. If I'm eligible for the lower prizes, then I'll break even or be slightly ahead with one of the 20 vouchers for 2500 or 5000 yen of local Kagoshima goods. If not, then maybe I'll hit the big time with one of the three $200 trip vouchers or the one $400 trip voucher (although my luck is rotten at these kinds of drawings) and I'll probably not win anything.

From a sightseeing viewpoint, the Kagoshima Art museum, the Sakurajima visitor center, Jigenji Park and the Nakamura museum are all well worth going to. And the Miyano-Urachou Fureaikan has great sweet potato bread if you're hungry.

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