The Bible for any bike trip in Japan is the guidebook “Touring Wave” by Shobunsha Publications. With detailed info on hot springs, campgrounds and roadways, this treasure chest of touring info allows you to enjoy exploring the unknown with just a map in your hand.
Miho, my trusty sidekick, and I had turned to the page describing the route from Kagoshima to Kumamoto and had run across the description of Tsunagi Hot Springs having “views from the outdoor baths of the Shiranuikai Sea.”
Our trip thus far had provided daily sightings of the cherry blossoms in bloom; however, upon landing on Kyushu we found the buds still hardened themselves against cold gusts of wind. The flickering of hibernating flower petals would soon herald the awakening of spring.
We put power to the pedals and pushed on with thoughts of Tsunagi’s ocean scenery and hanami (cherry blossom viewing) in our minds.
Unfortunately, as we approached the hot spring no lights welcomed our arrival; the onsen was closed for the day. It’s bound to happen when traveling by map, and we had almost given up on our stay at Tsunagi when one of the cleaning ladies passed by.
The sight of two sweat-drenched bikers stopped her in her tracks and, with no small amount of pity, she offered, “If it’s just a shower, I can let you in.” We took her up on her hospitality and washed in the empty bathhouse. Then we came upon a suitable grove of cherry trees behind a nearby souvenir shop.
The grass we found was perfect for hanami, and with the kind permission from the shop owners, we pitched our tent in front of the trees.
Of course, to enjoy hanami properly you’ve got to have something to drink, so we raced over the hill in search of a liquor store. The hospitable store owner threw in some towels emblazoned with the store name as thanks for the copious amounts of beer we bought.
As we made our way back to camp, the sun was slowly passing below the horizon and, upon arriving at the cherry trees, we were delighted to see them lit up for the evening. A quaint and aged stone bridge nearby arched across the cobblestone riverbed, the scene glowing in the orange lights.
An image of a scholar from the Meiji Era dressed in his hakama (Japanese formal attire for men) walking across the bridge came to mind as if it were a picture in sepia tones—truly a magical scene.
Our private hanami was possible because the hot spring was closed for the day. Although we were not able to enjoy the soothing baths, the kindness of many townspeople marked the day. As the beer began to take affect, we climbed into the tent and gazed at the silhouettes of flower petals as they danced upon the tent.
Surrounded by these enormous cherry trees, we thought about how we were gazing on the same sakura as many generations before us as we drifted off into the world of dreams.