The van pulls over next to me in the parking lot, where I'm struggling to balance on my friend's mamachari bike, plagued as it is with an eternally flat back tire. I'm sweating from the bike ride. Even the cool breeze coming from the river hadn't stopped the heat or the dense humidity of Japanese summers. The van rolls down a window slowly. It's the landlord of the apartment, who I had met at an Italian restaurant the night before.
"Is Hester at work? You seem lonely." She's right on both accounts. She tuts loudly, then extends an invitation to me; she's just about to head out to the local supermarket, which is filled with local produce like dekopon citrus and Kumamon omiyage, and would be pleased if I came along. Without thinking, I escape into the sanctuary of A/C and reliable transportation. By the time we leave the supermarket, she's purchased me local ice cream, a blend of orange and chocolate, and given me a reusable bag to replace the sad excuse for one mine has become.
Her hospitality is not the exception in Ashikita; it's the norm. The owner of the sento my friend Hester frequents chased me down after our bath to hand me a package of local snacks and senbei rice crackers. A kind family shares their supplies with me at the beach, which is mostly deserted after the peak of swimming season. Everywhere I go, whether shore, mountain or hot spring, is overflowing with this same type of goodwill.
Ashikita is not at the top of any Japan itinerary. It's not even at the top of a Kumamoto itinerary. Despite this, the region is full of idyllic, untapped potential for travel and friendly locals willing to help out at every location.
About 1 hour by car from Kumamoto City or 1.5 hours from Kumamoto Station on the JR Kagoshima and the Hisatsu Orange Railway Lines.
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