A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 54, Hita to Kamiura
Friday January 3rd 2014
Back on the trail after a week at home I am pleased to find the Kyushu weather warmer and sunnier than before. The first few hours on my walk westward out of Hita were pretty uneventful as I maintained a fast pace because I was backtracking where I had walked last.
Once the valley opened up I was into new territory and my first stop was Eso Hachimangu. Being New Year, the shrine was decked out with banners and there were lots of visitors making their hatsumode, first shrine visit of the year.
On the hill above the shrine is the spot where Empress Saimei was temporarily interred following her death nearby in 661. She was in Kyushu leading a military campaign to Korea to help her allies/relatives in Paekche in a war against Silla.
This war does not get mentioned much in Japan because it was a crushing defeat by a smaller force of Tang China and Silla. On the hillside there is also a reconstruction of a water clock supposedly invented by her son, the Emperor Tenchi.
Part of my fascination with visiting shrines is to pick up such historical information. The river plain on this bank is much wider than on the southern bank and so I am able to keep off the main road and cut across countryside. I stop in at a small park that has replicas of three waterwheels. Apparently they were built in the 18th century and are believed to be the only such wheels in Japan that were used for lifting water for irrigation purposes.
The design of the local manhole covers show them. Manhole covers in Japan are a great way to learn about local features. I carry on across country towards the first pilgrimage temple of the day, stopping in at small village shrine along the way. They all have their banners flying, but there are no people visiting
Many of the shrines claim to be spots connected to Empress Saimei. I come into a small town where I expect to find the temple and there is no temple to be found. I used to navigate by printing out sections of map onto paper, but since getting my tablet I have been entering in the addresses of the temples and using GPS and at some point I must have entered wrong data because upon checking in the small guidebook I have for the pilgrimage I learn that the temple, Nanrinji, number 6 on the pilgrimage, is about 5 kilometers away in towards the mountains.
Today was going to be a fairly short one, but now with an extra 10km to walk it will turn out to be a long one. I navigate my way through a maze of small country lanes. On the plus side I get to explore a few more shrines. While on the last road that should lead me to the temple a car stops and the shaven-headed old man driving asks if I am heading to the temple. He is the priest out on an errand and wants to know if I need a stamp for my nokyo, the stamp book that holds stamps from each temple visited. I explain that I don't have a nokyo so he is relieved to not have to turn round and go back to the temple.
The stamps only cost 300 yen, but with over a hundred temples to visit the money spent would be the equivalent of a week's lodgings so I decided that was a better use of my limited funds. I know whether I have visited a temple or not - I don't need proof.
The temple itself was quite pleasant when I got there, at the end of the road nestled against the hills. There was a lot of nice statues and, knowing there was no-one home, I peeked around the back and found a nice little temple garden.
I backtrack south and then head directly west across a wide expanse of flat paddy land. The road runs straight for several kilometers at a time. I stop in at several more small shrines. At one a couple of young mothers with children are visiting. The children become quiet and huddle around their mothers as I approach.
Foreigners are still feared by little children in many places in Japan. The sun is almost down as I reach Joshin-in, temple 90. It is a curious place looking more like a house with a garden of Buddhist statues than a temple. I had hoped to reach the next temple a few kilometers north of here but my unplanned detour has made it too late so I leave it for tomorrow and catch a train south into Kurume for the night.
A Walk Around Kyushu Day 53
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