We had a day trip to Amakusa driving from Kumamoto City towards Uto Peninsula. We dropped in at Misumi West Port, then crossing the Five Bridges of Amakusa and Sakitsu Chapel for sightseeing and arrived at Ushibuka. We thought it would be more exciting to go back to Kumamoto via Kagoshima Prefecture by ferry rather than returning on the same road. However, we just missed the ferry when we got to Ushibuka Port. There was another one hour until the next ferry, so we wondered around in Ushibuka Port and filled our stomachs at the same time.
Next to the ferry terminal is Kaisaikan a modern building with a restaurant, a café as well as shops where you can purchase local specialities from Amakusa. The ferry operator’s office, an information center and the exhibition room of Ushibuka Haiya Bridge is also located here. A spacious hall in the middle gives the place a feeling of light and space, which was decorated with koinobori carp banners as well as tairyobata or fisherman’s flags hanging from the ceiling as it was just after Children’s Day in May.
We then went upstairs and stood in front of the restaurant called “Umi no restaurant Aosa” and your attention was taken to the shimenawa new year charm at the entrance. This provincial custom dates back to Edo period in the 17th century, when the shogun oppressed Christians in Amakusa. The townsfolk was forced to declare their allegiance to Shintoism by decorating their front doors with shimenawa. As the name suggests, this restaurant is known for many kinds of seafood dishes.
Just behind Kaisaikan, you can see Ushibuka Haiya Bridge. This bridge is the longest in Kumamoto being 833 meters in length. Designed by Renzo Piano, an Italian architect whose brilliance can also be seen at the Pompidou Centre (Centre national d'art et de culture Georges-Pompidou) in Paris. This bridge features a beautiful curved overpass and it is particularly spectacular when lit up. The word “Haiya” on the other hand, comes from a local folk song called “haiyabushi”, being a modification of the phrase haya no kaze which in the local dialect means southern wind. In April each year the Ushibuka Haiya Festival is held which celebrates local folklore. Imagine the sight and sounds of over 5,000 dancers performing together in colourful local costumes.
Having enjoyed the meal and an insight into local folk culture, it is time to board the ferry. The crews is busily preparing for us to board the Daini Teanchou Maru a 53.35 meter ferry displacing 577 tonnes, taking us for a tour in the Yatsushiro Sea. Sit on top of the deck and be refreshed by the summer sea breeze and admire the beautiful view of wooded islands and the distant shore. The half hour ferry trip passes quickly as you chat in passenger cabin while enjoying a cup of tea.
Soon we disembark and are greeted by the words “Kagoshima Prefecture.” on the car navigation system. Nearby is a Michi no Eki or a roadside station, where you will find unique items and snacks that are very different to those in Kumamoto just across the bay, making for a great return trip.