About two months ago I saw a post on the Miyazaki JETs and Friends Facebook group about a free tour to Nichinan. Nichinan is in southern Miyazaki and is about 3 hours away from me by train. I’ve always meant to go (especially since I’ve heard they have some of the best beaches for summer swimming), but I’ve never had the chance. It’s far from me and the train is expensive. So when I saw the post about an all expenses included tour, I jumped on it. I sent in an email saying I was interested only a minute or two after it was posted.
The deal was as follows: the Nichinan tourism/ cruise department was doing a trial run for the tour they wanted to offer for people visiting on cruise ships. They had done two previous runs, but both had been just for Asians (which is primarily who comes on cruises to Nichinan). This one would be for Westerners and Middle Easterners. All we had to do to participate was provide feedback throughout the trip and get ourselves to Miyazaki Station at 9:30 on Saturday morning.
Since the rest of the tour was free, I decided to splurge a bit and take the express train on Saturday morning. I have been trying to restrict myself to the local trains whenever possible, but I often don’t have the willpower to sit at the station for another 30 minutes when all I want to do is get where I’m going.
Twenty of us met up at Miyazaki Station and climbed aboard what is easily the classiest bus I’ve been on. Not only was there thick red carpet, but wall sconces and chandeliers. (Never mind that the bus had clearly seen better days.) We were all given clipboards and surveys to complete throughout the two-day tour.
From there we had an hour long ride to our first stop in Aburatsu. The area known as Nichinan City is divided into many different parts or neighborhoods. At one point, each of these parts was its own town, but like many areas in Japan, smaller towns were glued together to make a larger “city.” In Aburatsu we were taken on a walking tour of the area. Though our tour guide for that part was incredibly friendly, the tour was a little lacking. It was hard to hear what he was saying most of the time and there were none of the stories and legends that make a tour really engaging. I ended up playing Ingress for most of the tour and taking a lot of pictures.
Between the tour and lunch we were taken to Aburatsu’s shopping arcade, a covered street that is mostly for pedestrian traffic, though cars do occasionally go through them. I forgot to take a picture of it, but the city is doing a lot of work to revamp and redevelop that area. There was a small part of the shopping arcade that was called something like, “Container Garden.” Shipping containers had been repurposed as small shops. The whole area looked a lot more urban and trendy than you would expect to find somewhere in Miyazaki.
Once that was finished, we headed to our first meal of the tour. Lunch was at a really cool restaurant that was made from two houses that had been joined together. We had all selected our meal ahead of time, so all dietary restrictions were taken care of. In fact, I was incredibly impressed with how far the people planning the tour went to make sure everything was safe, especially for the members of the tour who kept Halal. I chose chicken nanban, the dish Miyazaki is known for, because I always like it. I have yet to eat at a restaurant that is able to make it taste bad. (As with all the meals on the trip, the food was delicious.)
After lunch, we had a ride on the Marine Viewer Nango, a boat with an observation deck below the water. The view wasn’t crystal clear, but it was still very cool to be able to see below the water like that. I’m sure in the summer the area would be great for snorkeling. I was just happy to be on a boat. Feeling the wind in my face and the smell of water always puts me into a nearly meditative calm.
Next we were supposed to go to a large highway rest stop, but some people made a bit of a fuss about not being able to see the replica Easter Island heads that Nichinan is known for, so the tour guides were incredibly accommodating and took us there instead. I was actually a little bummed about the change. While a rest stop might not seem like a good place to go on a tour, Miyazaki’s rest stops are always filled with cute shops that have great local snacks and souvenirs. A lot of the coastal ones have great views too.
Still, I can finally say that I have been to Nichinan’s Sun Messa, and I have the pictures to prove it.
From there we went to the hotel. I thought we would have to share rooms or something. It was a free tour, after all. But, no, Nichinan’s city hall managed to get everyone but the couples their own single rooms. The hotel was old and worn, but it was as clean as Japanese business hotels always are. Japanese business hotels are great for traveling cheaply. They are perfect for when you want a place to sleep and your own bathroom, and nothing more.
Before dinner we walked over to some office building (maybe it was city hall? Not really sure). We sat in a conference room and heard a short presentation on the types of cruises that visit Nichinan every year. Overall the cruises are from Asia, but there are one or two that come from Canada. We discussed what city hall should and should not change about the tour we were on. Our work done, we headed on to dinner.
Dinner was delicious, but a little bit socially taxing for me. The people who dietary restrictions had to sit together at their own table, so I wasn’t able to sit with my friends. The people I was sitting with were very polite, but I ran out of my talking points fairly quickly. After trying a few times to restart the conversation with questions, I soon depleted my social energy reserves and let the table lapse into silence.
At least the food was good.
Once dinner was finished we all walked back to the hotel. A small group of us met up in the hotel lobby around 9 and headed to a bar that the CIR, Michael, knew about. I don’t normally like drinking, but it was a small group and I had a great time. By the time I got back to the hotel, though, it was around 12:30. I may have mentioned it before, but I am definitely not a night owl. 12:30 for normal people is like 4 am for me. I was amazed that I was still on my feet at that point.
I took a quick shower and collapsed into bed, too tired to care that my pillow was the bean-filled kind that I have come to associate with most travel experiences in Japan.