A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 62, Shimabara to Obama
Thursday February 20th 2014
I'm up early to another fine day with clear blue skies, though the peak of Mount Unzen is draped with a cap of clouds clinging to the snow. I will be passing over that range today so I set off early.
First I head a little south to the Unzen Disaster Memorial Museum that commemorates the most recent eruption of Unzen back in 1996. I had been here before, and it is way too early for it to be open, but near the museum proper is another site that I had missed before.
Many of the houses that were buried under the mudslide are on display, some outdoors, some in a covered building. They actually look very weird because they have no damages, they are just buried with roofs and telegraph poles sticking out. Apparently the mud flow, formed out of a mixture of ash and the extra runoff from heavy rains falling on the fresh lava, was only moving at a slow rate by the time it got here to the coast so people were able to evacuate slowly and safely, and the force of the flow was not strong enough to demolish the houses, just engulf them. All a bit surreal.
I now cut inland and head towards the mountains. For the first few hours it's a fairly gentle slope until I reach Ryusho-ji, the 64th temple of the pilgrimage, and the reason for coming down onto the Shimabara Peninsula. Towering over the entrance to the temple is a huge statue, brightly colored statue of Fudo Myo-O, and the main temple building is completely covered in blue tarps hiding the reconstruction.
Piles of new roof tiles are stacked by the temple office. For a donation towards the rebuilding you can have your name etched into a tile. From the temple the road starts to become steep and then starts to wind itself into switchbacks. In the shadows piles of snow remain unmelted and the temperature drops.
There is no sidewalk and a fair bit of traffic so that adds to the lack of fun in this part of the walk. Eventually I cross over the pass and start to drop into Unzen Hot Spring, a small resort little more than one street. Steam rises all around with the unmistakeable odor of rotten eggs. Even though it is out of season and most of the resort hotels seem closed up for the winter I find a bakery and settle in for a top up of caffeine and calories.
Rejuvenated and rested I wander and find a boardwalk that meanders through the steaming and bubbling pools that have dozens of pipes snaking away from them to the hotels. The smell does not get any more pleasant. There may be more to see in the town but I need to get going as I am only a little over halfway to my destination, though it should be all downhill from now on to the shore of Tachibana Bay.
It turns out that the western slope of Unzen is much steeper than the eastern. There is no gentler slope as it gets further down, it is switchbacks all the way. I soon catch glimpses of Tachibana Bay through the trees, and there is less traffic on this side, so its a very pleasant walk. About three quarters of the way down I pass through a small settlement, the first since leaving the top. Some of the residents are out playing gateball, a Japanese variation on croquet and very popular with retirees.
A little further and I come to something quite unexpected and not marked on my map, some sort of a miniature religious theme park. There are no religious buildings, just a small tea room, but scattered around the grounds is a veritable who's who of popular Japanese deities.
There are large statues of the Seven Lucky Gods, an Amida Buddha, several Kannon, a dragon holding a giant golden sphere, a Fudo MyoO, a kappa, a giant red Tengu mask, a small Inari shrine, and several others.
20 minutes later I reach the coast and find my room for the night, a traditional onsen ryokan that has seen better days but is priced for my budget. I think I am the only guest as it is out of season. In the last rays of the setting sun I explore the onsen resort town of Obama. The most notable feature is the longest foot bath in Japan. 110 meters long, one meter for each degree of water temperature. I soak my feet for a while before heading back to my room. The ryokan has recently refurbished the rotenburo, the outdoor bath, and I have the whole place to myself.
A Walk Around Kyushu Day 61
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