A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 41, Yunomae to Hitoyoshi Monday November 25th, 2013
It's raining heavily when I wake in my womb-like sleeping compartment on the Taragi Blue Train. I've been lucky with the weather for the vast majority of the walk so far, but today starts with a downpour. I sit in the cafe area of the train and drink a couple of coffees to wait and see if it will ease up a bit. The next pilgrimage temple is just a couple of stops along the rail line at Yunomae.
By 8am, a couple of hours later than I would normally head off, I decide to take the train to Yunomae and see if the weather eases. Once I get to Yunomae its still raining, though not so heavy, so under cover of an umbrella I head next to the station to the Yunomae Cartoon Museum & Community Center. It is part of the Kumamoto Artpolis project to put interesting architecture around the prefecture. Its raison d'etre is that a local man, Ryosuke Nasu, was political cartoonist.
The buildings are interesting enough, though the rain does not show the architecture off. Back at the station I peruse the noticeboards. Local railway stations will usually have information on local attractions, and I find a photo of something I'm very interested in, a Fertility Shrine.
I check with a taxi driver outside the station and he tells me its about eight kilometers away. Damn!! A 16km round trip is a bit far for me to fit in, as I am already behind schedule on the day, so I add the shrine to the list of places to visit when next I come back this way.
The rain becomes intermittent so with umbrella up I head towards the next temple. On the way out of the village I stop in at a little Buddhist "chapel". It is a Daishi-do, venerating Kobo Daishi, and it is only just standing. It's a thatched building and it's leaning and twisted and looks like it won't last much longer.
I cross over the river, the Kumagawa. This is as far upstream as I will go. Three days walk down the river is Yatsushiro where I should be in four days time. I find the temple, Shozen-in, and unusually there are a pair of cat statues guarding the entrance, not lion-dogs (komainu), not foxes (kitsune), but cats.
Apparently there are quite a few temples and shrines around Japan that venerate particular, historical, cats. The main building of the temple is fairly plain and typical, but next to it is a little jewel. The wood is black, and the roof is thatched, but the complicated woodwork of the eaves is covered in brightly painted, colorful carvings. It's obviously been recently renovated and refurbished and the sign informs me it is from early in the Edo Period.
The rain has stopped completely now so I start off down the valley, taking the minor road along the northern side. After a couple of kilometers there is a barrier across the road and road closed signs. I momentarily hesitate.
It is a ways back to the last bridge over the river if I backtrack, but as is usual in situations like this I presume the road is closed to vehicles but on foot I should be able to get through. For a couple of miles there is nothing - no houses or structures, just the narrow road with river on one side and steep forested hillside on the other.
When I do reach the reason for the road closure it is as I had expected, just a bit of ditch digging on the edge of a village so I can walk through with no problem.
In the village I come across another gem. A very elegant temple. It's very simple, a small wooden rectangle with a large thatched roof overhanging on all sides. It reminds me of Fukuji, the oldest wooden building in Japan up in Oita.
The interior of the temple is also extremely simple in plan, design, and decoration. My resolve to come back and explore this area further is strengthened.
A little further along the road I detour back towards Taragi. In the train last night I saw a photo of the shrine and decided it was worth a visit. The shrine is fronted by a big thatched gate holding a pair of Nio, the statues normally found at temples.
Nio were widespread at shrines until the late 19th century when the government artificially separated the Buddhas and Kami. Up in the Kunisaki Peninsula of Oita nio are still commonplace, but elsewhere not so.
For the rest of the day I haul ass for Hitoyoshi. I'm behind schedule so I do not allow myself to be tempted by diversions. Fortunately the weather is steadily improving. There is a little light left as I come into the town so I make a very quick visit to the major shrine and tourist attraction of the town, Aoi Aso Shrine.
Aoi Aso Shrine too has a thatched gate and one thatched building. Across the road is one of the pilgrimage temples so I make a quick visit there before heading off to find my room. There are three more pilgrimage temples nearby so I will base myself here for a few days.
A Walk Around Kyushu Day 40
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