A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 18, Saturday March 23rd
Sotaro to Nobeoka
Once again I am up and out before light. The train I need to catch back up into the mountains where I finished walking yesterday leaves just after 6. If I miss it I have an 11 hour wait until the next one!
Today I will be walking downhill all the way..... my favorite kind of walking. Starting in Sotaro, the valley is narrow and steep and as it slowly becomes light it reveals a thick mist filling the valley.
After a while the valley widens enough to have two roads, one on each bank of the river, and whenever possible I take the narrower road with less traffic. I stop in and explore a few shrines. There seems to be quite a few. At times I can walk for most of the day without passing one, but sometimes they are more common.
Eventually the sun rise above the hilltop and shines through the mist, but there is no warmth, no yellow, only a cool blue like a full moon. Another river comes in and joins the one I am following and the valley is wider and the mist has burnt off to reveal blue skies.
A narrow concrete viaduct curves across the valley but is silent with no traffic. A new expressway not yet open. Even when it does open it will likely not have much traffic as most drivers won't pay the exorbitant tolls, but never mind, the construction companies will have made their money, some of which will find its way back into the coffers of the bureaucrats and politicians who authorized the construction in the first place.
At the next horseshoe bend in the river a long flight of stone steps lead up to a shrine on top of the hill. If I had a penny for every shrine step I had climbed I could probably retire. Fortunately I left my backpack at the hotel I will be returning to tonight so it's not such a bad climb.
From the top I look down on what is going to be the interchange for the new expressway and a little further downstream I have a good view of Mount Enodake, a flat topped granite mountain that was the site of the decisive battle of the Seinan War, sometimes known as the Satsuma Rebellion or Saigo's War.
In 1877 Saigo and three thousand troops were surrounded by 50,000 troops of the Imperial Army. To everyone's surprise Saigo was not captured, he managed to sneak out with a couple of hundred men, but without ammunition for their guns it was all over. He managed to make it back to Kagoshima where he famously committed suicide.
I turn in to the next village and visit the small museum in the old house that was the site of his encampment. It's dominated by a life-size tableau of Saigo and his lieutenants, and there are a couple of small rooms filled with old guns, uniforms, etc. Worth visiting if you are a Saigo fan I guess.
Behind the house is a small park with cherry trees and a trail that leads up to the top of the mountain and I'm surprised to read that up there is believed to be the tomb of Ninigi, the grandson of Amaterasu the Sun Goddess, and great grandfather of Jimmu, the mythical first emperor of Japan.
From here on into Nobeoka is uneventful. The road gradually widens out and fills with suburbs and traffic. It's only early afternoon when I get back to my hotel next to the station so I have plenty of time to visit the two temples that are part of the pilgrimage route, numbers 31 and 32.
The first is an uninspiring concrete structure in a quiet neighborhood, but the second was quite nice, on a wooded hill at the edge of town. I headed back towards the station and about halfway there was Nobeoka Castle hill located between two rivers. Only the stone walls and ramparts remain now, and like every castle ruin in Japan I have been too it has been planted with cherry trees.
Being a weekend, and being a sunny, warm day, the grounds of the castle were swarming with people. Dozens of blue tarps were already spread out on the ground, music was playing, and alcohol was being consumed. It's O-hanami.
On my way back to my hotel there is one more stop. On the hill behind the train station is the main shrine of the city, a Hachimangu, and above it on the hilltop a small temple with a big statue. It was once advertised as the biggest statue of Kobo Daishi in the world, but a few years ago a bigger one was built in Shikoku. Now it is having a face-lift and is encased in scaffolding so cannot be seen properly. A bit of a let down to end what has been a long and enjoyable day.
A Walk Around Kyushu 17
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