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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 45 Yatsushiro to Matsubase

A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 45, Yatsushiro to Matsubase Friday November 29th, 2013

It's breezy with a partly cloudy sky as I set off and it promises to be a dry day. My first stop is the shinkansen station of Shin-Yatsushiro that is home to yet another of the Kumamoto Artpolis projects. Called the Kilali Monument, it is not really a building at all. Its is shaped like a small house with a pitched roof, but the roof and the walls have many rectangular holes cut out of them so it cannot function as a shelter.

Flat paddy fields in Kumamoto in November.

I guess it is sculpture. Interesting enough. I start to head north alongside the rail line that is straight for several kilometers. The land is flat and covered with paddies that run up to the hills to the east. I see something very strange.

It looks as if rice is being planted in the paddies. Some paddies have plants about a foot high and in others tractors are planting, but this makes no sense at the end of November!!! Rice is a hot weather crop.

I take several detours of the road to stop in at shrines, searching for interesting and unusual stories or art, and am rewarded at several shrines with quite unusual komainu, the Lion-dog guardian statues. Newer komainu are tending to be a standardized "national" design, but traditionally different areas and regions have had quite distinctive designs, and smaller shrines often have quite funky "folk" designs.

Brilliant yellow of a ginkgo tree in Kyushu.

As I pass through small settlements I hear the chakka-chakka-chakka-chakka of machinery in operation and passing by one building the doors are open and I can peer in and see what's going on and suddenly it becomes clear why I thought I was seeing rice being planted earlier.

The machinery operating in these little workshops I have been passing are weaving tatami, the rush flooring found in traditional Japanese rooms. The plants being transplanted into the paddies are “igusa”, the rush that tatami is made from. Apparently the Yatsushiro area is the main producer of tatami in Japan.

Feeling pleased that a mystery has been solved I carry on. There are a lot of small, local shrines. In some areas of Japan they are few and far between, but some areas seem to have a profusion. A legacy I think of early in the twentieth century when the government tried to close down local shrines and have the population worship at "national" shrines

Some areas, and I'm guessing this is one of them, resisted the policy. In this flat landscape and at this time of the year the shrines are also easy to spot from a distance. Most of them have a tall ginkgo tree, brilliant yellow right now, so an obvious landmark.

Shiranui Culture Plaza, Kumamoto Artpolis, Kyushu

It turns out to be a very pleasant day. The walking is flat, the weather is good, there are lots of interesting shrines, and the people I meet, often in the shrines, have been friendly. By lunchtime I reach the rather more urban outskirts of Uki city. Not really a city, but a collection of small towns collectively renamed a city. In the town center is a larger, grander shrine, and it is resplendent in crimson and golden foliage. A few kilometers west I come to the Shiranui Culture Plaza, another of the Artpolis projects

It's actually quite interesting. Basically a long rectangular box with a higher central section it is quite a classical form, both Japanese and western, but the facades are covered in white, horizontal slats which make it appear quite dynamic and vibrant. There are still a few hours of daylight left, but as I am more than halfway to Kumamoto where I will end this leg of my walk around Kyushu I decide to make today and tomorrow easy days and so stop for the night.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 44

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