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Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 3 Sasaguri

A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 3, December 27th, 2012

The sky is clear but in the shadow of the mountains the sun cannot yet reach the valley floor to melt the ice and frost as I walk through Sasaguri and head towards my first stop of the day, Nanzoin Temple.

A Walk Around Kyushu, Japan

It's not part of the pilgrimage I'm walking but I've read that is is claimed to be home to the largest bronze statue in the world, so a must-see for me. Its still a long time to opening when I arrive but as there is no closed gate I wander in and explore and I have the place to myself.

There is a lot to explore as it is quite a large complex, with grottoes and tunnels and hundreds of statues including a huge and colorful Fudo Myo-o. Eventually I find the Reclining Buddha, 41 meters in length and weighing 300 tons, it really is quite impressive. I debate whether to wait for the sun to peek around the corner and shine on the statue itself for the dramatic photo it would make, but decide to head off and as I leave the staff of the temple and the first tourists start to arrive.

I have a hotel booked in Iizuka tonight and yesterday's detour to the top of the mountain has put me behind schedule so I set a brisk pace and follow the main road. Normally I would take the smaller roads that pass through the villages, rather than the more heavily trafficked main roads that now bypass the villages, but not today.

After a few hours I descend into the wide valley of the Onga River which I cross to reach the first of the pilgrimage temples I will visit today, #93 Shoho-ji and here I meet the young priest.

Young Japanese priest, Fukuoka, Kyushu, Japan

Like policemen, it seems to me that priests are getting younger and younger. He offers me a tea and we sit on the temple steps and chat. He, like myself, has walked the Shikoku Pilgrimage and so we have a connection, but more interesting is that he tells me that his father who is the priest at temple#3 back in Fukuoka has walked this Kyushu pilgrimage and did it in 65 days. This is the first time I had heard of anyone walking this pilgrimage.

I now head north towards the town of Iizuka, once one of 26 post stations on the Nagasaki Kaido, the main road of Kyushu during the Edo period. Along this way passed all the southern Kyushu daimyo on their way to Edo as well as the Dutch merchants from Nagasaki. The road ended in Kokura in Kitakyushu and is now marked with a memorial bridge in front of the ultra modern Riverwalk Complex.

At Temple #11, Myokan-ji, I am surprised to find a nice karesansui, the dry, raked gravel and rock garden most often associated with Zen, but this, like all 108 sites on the pilgrimage, is a Shingon temple.

In the main shrine of the town I step in to a hive of activity. The grounds are filled with vans and trucks and dozens of stalls are being set up in preparation for the New Year when the shrine will get more visitors than all of the other days of the year combined. As well as the stalls there are lights being strung, banners hung, awnings erected, and signs posted.

There is one more stop before I reach my hotel, the Kaho Gekijyo Kabuki Theater, a fine example of a Taisho Period theater and the last one still operating in the region, where once were 48 catering to the coal miners, who worked the Chikuho coalfield. Chikuho coalfield was the richest in Japan and the reason why Japan's steel industry began in nearby Kitakyushu. The theater is surprisingly interesting and for the 300 yen entrance fee visitors can wander throughout the building including backstage and below stage to see how the 16 meter diameter revolving stage was moved. Best of all, for me, was the display of props that included some nice old masks.

The sun has shone all day and it has been filled with a variety of things seen and learned. A good day.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu 2

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