[From January Issue 2013]
Miyazaki Prefecture is located in the southeastern part of the Kyushu region. With its mild climate, Miyazaki was a mecca once for honeymooning couples. Now it’s a mecca for surfers and from spring to autumn a number of surfing competitions are held in the prefecture. There are even people who move there just to go surfing. Miyazaki is also known for being the location of training camps for professional baseball and soccer teams and there are tours that show visitors round these camps.
Palm trees, such as the Phoenix and Washington Palms, are the symbol of Miyazaki. Washington Palms can often be seen lining the road and grow to about 25 meters tall. Able to withstand strong winds, these trees rarely break, but withered leaves are regularly removed by crews using cranes so that they will not fall and harm pedestrians.
To enjoy a day out in Miyazaki, it’s a good idea to go on a sightseeing bus tour. On Saturdays, Sundays and national holidays, a tour, titled “Nichinan-kaigan Coast and Obi, Kyushu’s little Kyoto,” runs along the shore, stopping at places of interest. Although there is no English-speaking guide on board, you can still enjoy the tour by obtaining a pamphlet written in English, Chinese or Korean in advance.
The first place the bus stops at is Aoshima. Although it’s a small island of about 1.5 kilometers in circumference, there are 27 kinds of subtropical plants growing there. The island is surrounded by undulating rocks called “the Demon’s Washboard.” Having been eroded by the waves for a long time, only hard layers of sandstone that resemble a pile of planks have been left behind. When the tide is out, you can often find small crabs and shellfish moving about on the Demon’s Washboard. What looks like a sandy beach is actually made up of seashells.
It is said that the “Kojiki” (Records of Ancient Matters) is Japan’s oldest history book, and that about two thirds of the places featured in the book are in Miyazaki Prefecture. In the Kojiki, Aoshima Shrine on Aoshima Island is the place where the love story between Yamasachihiko and Princess Toyotama takes place, and thus is a shrine to the god of marriage.
About a ten-minute drive from Aoshima is Horikiri-toge Pass. Nearby is Phoenix, a rest stop which sells local specialty products, including soft-serve ice cream with such special local flavors as ashitaba (a herb of the parsley family), mango, lobster and hyuuganatsu (a citrus fruit similar to a tangerine). There you can enjoy views of the Pacific Ocean stretching out endlessly before you and the Nichinan Phoenix Road, which has been chosen as one of the 100 best roads in Japan.
Continuing on your journey you come to Udo-jingu Shrine, which enshrines Ugaya Fukiaezuno Mikoto. This is where Prince Toyotama gave birth to Ugaya Fukiaezuno Mikoto. The main shrine is inside a cave. When you visit, you must try your hand at undama-nage (throwing a lucky ball). Aiming for the kame ishi (turtle stone) throw the undama – a ceramic ball about two centimeters in diameter – with your left hand if you are a man and with your right hand if you are a woman. It costs 100 yen for five balls. It is said that if a ball goes into a hole in the stone, your wish will come true. Undama balls are made by hand by local elementary and middle school students.
The last stop is Obi. This is called “Kyushu’s little Kyoto,” characterized by streets of old stone walled houses where samurai used to live. You can tour the residence and garden of the ITO family, who served under Shogun TOYOTOMI Hideyoshi. Visitors really ought to try eating obi-ten and atsuyaki-tamago. Obi-ten is deep-fried fish paste, and atsuyaki-tamago (a thick omelet) is as soft and fluffy as a custard pudding.
The bus mainly runs along Nichinan-kaigan Coast, allowing you to enjoy views of the sea. At the high of its popularity, in the 1960s and 1970s 370,000 pairs of newlyweds visited Miyazaki’s coast annually. Ninety-five buses ran along the route per day. All this started in 1960, when SHIMAZU Takako, the fifth daughter of Emperor Showa, went to Miyazaki on her honeymoon. Two years later, the then crown prince and crown princess, who had just got married, also visited Miyazaki, feeding the trend.
Other unique tourist spots include Sunmesse Nichinan and Heiwadai Park. You can see moai statues from Easter Island at Sunmesse Nichinan, the only place in the world where the statues were allowed to be replicated by the Chilean government. It also houses an animal farm, and “the Bell that Gives Thanks to the Earth,” the first structure to be built with funds donated by top officials from religious organizations from around the world, including Christian and Buddhist sects.
Heiwadai Park is a relaxing place for the citizens of Miyazaki and its symbol is a 37-meter-high tower. In a plaza within the park is a stone platform, if you stand on top of it and clap your hands, the sound echoes against the tower. The starting point of the second leg of the torch relay for the Tokyo Olympics 1964 was in Heiwadai Park and the torch used then still remains there. Next to the park is Haniwa-en Garden, where you can enjoy looking at the expressions on the faces of haniwa (ancient clay figures).
Miyazaki is famous for its mangoes and hyuuganatsu, and there are also a number of sweets made using these fruits. Famous local dishes include hiyajiru, nikumaki-onigiri (rice balls wrapped with slices of meat), chicken nanban (fried chicken with vinegar and tartar sauce), miyazaki-jitokko (a local variety of chicken) and Miyazaki beef. These days, many sweet shops produce cheese manjuu (buns stuffed with cheese instead of bean paste), which are popular as souvenirs.
It takes one hour and 40 minutes to fly from Haneda Airport in Tokyo to Miyazaki Airport. On the rooftop of Miyazaki Airport, there is a plane on display which you can actually climb inside, which was used for training purposes by the Civil Aviation College. This plane was able to avoid being damaged by the tsunami on the day of the Great East Japan Earthquake, as it was flying over Sendai for training.