A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 50, Arao to Hainuzuka
Sunday December 22nd, 2013
It's very foggy as I leave Arao and head north. Before too long I leave Kumamoto and enter into the southern part of Fukuoka, known as Chikugo, the old name of the province.
This used to be a major coal mining area, though there is absolutely no sign of it anymore. They didn't run out of coal, there is still plenty under the ground, rather the government chose to shut down the industry because at the time oil was cheaper to import. Same reason why so much wood is imported in this 70% forested country. Pure economics, which turned this area into one of the poorest in the nation.
The fog stays thick, but as the morning progresses it becomes brighter. It makes the shrines I visit very atmospheric, with tall trees disappearing into the white. They are interesting shrines too, with very funky, brightly painted komainu sharing the gates with zuijin. In general I have been impressed with the shrines in Kumamoto and in fact in Kyushu overall. There are some areas of Japan where the shrines are few and far between and seem to be little visited or used, but not in Kyushu.
Eventually the fog is burned off to reveal a clear blue sky. By lunchtime I get to the one pilgrimage temple I plan on visiting today. Number 59, Komyoji, seems to be a fairly old temple, though there is a concrete treasure house. There is a lot of statuary including a fine pair of Nio in the gate, but the temple is slap bang in the middle of a brand new housing estate.
A few hundred meters away is a brand new Kyushu Shinkansen station, Shinfunayago, and like the housing development there seems to be no basis for it as there are no large towns nearby, but maybe it is part of some development plan.
On the other side of the station is a structure I had been looking forward to visiting. I had caught glimpses of it as I passed through on the train before.
It's called the Kyushu Geibunkan, and is a culture center/ museum and gallery complex. The architecture is fascinating to me. The building is mostly a hodge-podge collection of roofs, none of them symmetrical, with many of them almost reaching the ground. Like the walls of the buildings, these roofs are made of a variety of materials. Quite a striking effect and I like it. There are also a couple of studio/gallery annexes, also in quite different styles, so there is plenty for me to run around and photograph. I forgo paying the entrance fee to see what the museum has to offer as I still have some distance to cover today.
A little way north of the shinkansen station I veer off the main road and head into Mizuta. There is a shrine here I want to visit, Koinoki Shrine. It's a subordinate shrine in the grounds of Mizuta Tenmangu, a stately shrine with cedar bark roof enshrining Sugawara Michizane, now known as the patron kami of success in education.
Located behind the main shrine, Koinoki Shrine is festooned with hearts and with lots of pink! This is a "Love Shrine" where people, mostly young and female, come to pray for success in finding a lover or husband. It's not the only shrine of this kind in Japan, but the local people are actively promoting it in these times of falling marriage and birth rates.
If I was younger and single I know where I would be spending time hanging out. From the next station I take a train north into Kurume where I will be basing myself for a few days as I walk the convoluted route the pilgrimage now takes.
A Walk Around Kyushu Day 49
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