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Thursday, June 13, 2013

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 9 Usa to Kitsuki

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 9, Monday February 18th
Usa to Kitsuki.

I came down to Kyushu to attend Shujo Onie, an unusual fire festival to mark the Lunar New Year held in a remote mountain temple up in the Kunisaki Peninsula.

I've been to the Kunisaki Peninsula many times, it's one of my favorite places in Japan. Known as the "Land That Time Forgot," Kunisaki is home to a large number of shrines and temples connected to a branch of Shugendo that flourished centuries ago and continues right up to the present.

Kunisaki Peninsula in the rain

Kunisaki has its own pilgrimage route, and until my visit yesterday to the Prefectural History Museum in Usa I had been unable to find a map of its route.

Last November I spent five days walking around and across the peninsula. My route today skirts the peninsula to the west and south and I have not been here before so I have high hopes that there will be much of interest in the shrines and temples along the route.

Unfortunately its raining. Not a downpour, but more than a drizzle, and after ten minutes my feet are wet. I stop in at a little village shrine. Whenever I am walking around Japan I stop in at shrines. They are oases. They are quiet, usually have a toilet, though often a fairly primitive one, and most importantly on a day like today they offer a respite from the rain.

Fortunately there are a lot of shrines along this valley so I only have to walk 10 minutes in the rain between each one then I can rest and dry off for twenty minutes.

All the shrines are Hachiman shrines, not surprising really seeing as how we are so close to Usa Hachimangu, the head shrines of all Hachiman shrines. My explorations of the shrines are fruitful.... I find quite a few unusual komainu, and at one shrine a faded photo of the Taisho Emperor and Empress. Several times an hour express trains rush by on their way to and from Beppu and Oita City. The slower local trains are few and far between.

By lunchtime I have covered little ground, less than 10km, but the rain stops though the clouds still cling to the mountainsides. I pick up the pace as I want to get to Kitsuki before dark if I can. I pass a couple of shrines that would involve a small detour, but do detour to visit a big shrine near Kitsuki Station.

View of Kitsuki Castle, Kunisaki, Kyushu

It's still more than 5km into Kitsuki and there are brief and intermittent showers when I finally get there. I had spent 2 nights in Kitsuki last November and was pleasantly surprised by the town. It is home to what is claimed to be the smallest castle in Japan, and a large samurai district and merchant district. It is one of the innumerable towns in Japan that call themselves "Little Kyoto".

On this visit I content myself just with a visit to Komyo-in, temple number 23 on the pilgrimage. It's a small temple built around a small cave in the cliff base. It was here back in November that I saw a group of white-clad pilgrims and then noticed the sign showing the pilgrimage route around Kyushu.

Back then my plan had been to walk the Chugoku 33 Kannon Pilgrimage next, but the possibility of exploring Kyushu was far more appealing so I decide to do this pilgrimage next. From here I crossed the wide river to my minshuku for the night with views back across the river to the town and castle.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu 8

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