A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 56, Kurume to Saga
Sunday January 5th 2014
This will be the last day where I base myself in Kurume, and interesting town that I had never heard of before coming here but which has been my home away from home as I have explored the region. As I am walking across the bridge to Nagatoishi on the north side of the river the sun comes up behind me.
I find the first temple, Dainichi-ji, easily enough and it is yet another structure indistinguishable from a house. The ground floor is two open car parking spaces, the second containing some statues and the entrance to the stairs that I presume lead up to the "main hall."
There is no reason why a temple must conform to a pre-determined idea of what a temple should look like, but it is disappointing nonetheless. It is also a little too early in the morning to ring the bell and go in so I pay my respects to the statues at the entrance and head off. Nearby I find a small Buddhist temple/chapel with a lot of activity going on. Obviously a festival will be soon taking place.
Under cover is a small statue of Kannon, but surrounding it are dozens and dozens of small figures: some Jizo, some of the 7 Lucky Gods, Daruma, cats, dolls, children's toys, a huge diversity of traditional and pop figures.
I love these eclectic collections. A little further and I come to Chiriku Hachimangu Shrine. At the top of a flight of stone steps, as shrines so often are, when I reach the top I can see dozens of pairs of shoes laid out in front. A ceremony is going on. The shrine itself is fairly austere, as Hachiman shrines often are.
This is one of half a dozen major Hachiman shrines across Kyushu that date back centuries before the Hachiman cult took hold and spread on the main island of Honshu to become the most common shrine across Japan (according to one way of measuring it). It was a Kyushu based cult first.
From here I cut across country stopping in at shrines along the way. It's flat and agricultural, though the settlements are closer together. I reach the main road, Route 34, and a few hundred meters later reach the next temple, number 6, Ryuo-in.
Ryuo-in is a large temple, and very busy, though the main hall does not look like a traditional temple. Rectilinear with walls that slope inwards, the whole building is clad in red tile and is mostly windowless. It looks like a small town hall or library built in the early 1970's.
There is a smaller hall, white concrete and also non-traditional, and an Inari Shrine with a "tunnel" of vermillion torii, but the nicest thing, for me, is the large statue of Fudo Myo in bright primary colors.
Fudo Myo is the honzon (main deity) of this temple. From here it is now a straight shot into Saga and my hotel for the night and the end of this leg of my walk.
It's a busy road and not much fun walking as I am bothered by the noise. The noise of urban Japan is perhaps the thing that bothers me most. I can't get used to it. So much traffic. Even a short break sitting on the steps of a shrine set back from the road 100 meters offers some relief. I pass by the entrance to Yoshinogari, the huge archeological site that was once thought to be the home of the legendary Himiko, "Queen of Yamatai."
I had been here once some years ago and this time decided to press on and use the remaining daylight to explore Saga, somewhere I haven't been. I find my hotel, the Saga City Hotel, near the station and am able to leave my pack while I head off to explore the castle ruins.
Saga Castle has a huge moat and some walls, a reconstructed gate, but most impressive is the reconstructed “palace”. Best of all, entrance is free. There are women dressed in kimono everywhere. Inside in the very long main reception room I found out why. There is going to be a performance. The floor is covered with 40 to 50 Kotos, the traditional stringed instrument, and these are what the kimono clad women, of all ages, are here to play.
Against the back wall a line of seats with men in tuxedos and bow ties holding shakuhachis. Gender roles are quite distinct. The concert is free, and I would like to stay and watch, but the start is still an hour away and the sun is low so I decide instead to do some more exploring.
On my way back to the hotel I walk through the grounds of Saga Shrine, and there are still lines of people queuing up for hatsumode, the first shrine visit of the year, even though it is January 5th.
Tomorrow I head back home and will return in February for the next leg. At a very rough estimate I have walked 1,520 kilometers, already more than the famed Shikoku Pilgrimage, and there is still much of Saga Prefecture, all of Nagasaki Prefecture, and then back into Fukuoka Prefecture before I finish.
A Walk Around Kyushu Day 55
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