My third and final visitor was my brother, Ian. He told me that of all the places in the world he wanted to visit, Japan topped the list. I was stymied by this statement of his, having never suspected such a love for Asia in my brother. I remained curious about his declaration only until he actually showed up and I discovered what it was all about. Cars! Ian loves vehicles with a passion, and has consistently loved them since he was old enough to say “car.” In Japan, two-thirds of his photos were of cars that he can’t see in the states.
I had to work during the weekdays, so our exploration was in the evening. Norm told us about a free shuttle bus that left from the train station and went to a hotel on the top of the hill looking out over Sasebo. The shuttle ran into the evening hours.
Ian and I walked from base to the train station, and were pleased to see Norm and his wife, Kiyomi, waiting for the same shuttle. They were having a business meeting over dinner at the Yumihari no Oka hotel restaurant. The shuttle stop is out on the street and marked only with a small metal sign, so their presence was reassuring to us that we had found the right place.
The bus took us on this fabulous narrow and winding road up the side of the mountain. I haven’t mentioned yet that in Japan, there are often two-way streets that are only wide enough to accommodate one vehicle. Motorists must always be ready for oncoming traffic, and be prepared to avoid a head on collision by pulling off to the side into a wide spot. The road up to the hotel was one such narrow road. The driver was obviously comfortable with his route, and powered up the steep slopes, zoomed around curves, turned the wheel to the left, the right, the left, braked, stepped on the gas and wound deftly between houses built right up to the edge of the paved road. The ride itself was part of the adventure!
At the hotel, Kiyomi explained to the extremely gracious attendants that we were there to take photos, and though we were not customers, they led us to a lovely balcony off the dining room. From there we had a stunning sunset view of the Sasebo Navy Base directly below us to the south, and of the 99 Islands (Kujukushima) to the west.
When we were done taking advantage of our hosts’ incredible balcony, they told us there was an observatory at the top of the mountain. Observatory turns out to mean, in Japan, a viewpoint.
We walked a short distance up to Saikai National Park where we were treated to a stunning 270 degree view of the city and ocean below. There is a nicely developed area with paths, information signs, and a roof. Over the western ledge, a wooden walking bridge out to another observation platform, led us to a wide vista. From there we could see the Kujukushima Islands that stretch out into the sea into a postcard-perfect scene. My camera was kind enough to lighten up the shot for me, pulling most available light into its lens and making the islands easier to see in the photos than was possible with our eyes.