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Monday, September 16, 2013

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 16 Tsukumi to Saiki

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 16, Thursday 21st March, 2013 Tsukumi to Saiki

Another beautiful day!... some clouds, but the sky is mostly deep blue. My route today will be east along the north coast of the peninsular that juts out towards Shikoku, then south along the coast to Saiki, the last big town in Oita before entering Miyazaki.

Down here in Kyushu its cherry blossom season, several weeks before my home area up on Honshu. The hillsides are mottled with color..., white, pink, orange.... These are yamazakura, the wild mountain cherry trees that were originally the subject of o-hanami.

In the earliest times the Japanese followed the Chinese tradition of viewing plum blossoms, but later switched to cherry. The cherry trees that now dominate Japanese towns are a modern species, mostly planted since the Meiji period and especially after World War II. Their white blooms are much shorter-lived than the older species. I much prefer the yamazakura.

Yamazakura in Kyushu

It is a very indented coastline, and I pass through many fishing villages. In Kamiura I come across my first big surprise, a meotoiwa.... a “husband and wife rocks”.... a pair of large rocks protruding from the sea joined by a shimenawa rope. The larger rock represents the husband, the smaller the wife. The most famous meotoiwa is on the coast near Ise, but I have seen four or five examples at other places.

Meotoiwa Kamiura Kyushu

It's a day of tunnels and Ebisu. The tunnels are short, often cutting through the headlands that jut out into the sea and separate each cove and bay. Almost every settlement has a small hokora, roadside shrine, to Ebisu, the patron kami of fisherman. Most of the hokora contain a wooden statue of Ebisu with a Sea Bream under his arm.

The main road passes through the middle of another cement factory, though this time much smaller than the complex in Tsukumi. On the other side I pass a tiny old lady riding a mobility cart.... both carts and little old ladies are very common in rural Japan..... She calls me over and hands me a few candies. Always a nice gesture.

I arrive in Saiki at the late afternoon. The station is here at the northern end of the town and I stop in at the Tourist Information Office. The gentleman running the place is very friendly and helpful and gives me a guide-map. The old part of town is further south on the bank of the Bando River, below where the ruins of the castle stand. On the way there I pass along "The Street of History and Literature", an old road running down to the castle gate.

A few stone walls, a temple or two, and an old house that was in former times the home of a writer I have never heard of. The castle is on top of the hill, and at the base is a reconstructed main gate and a museum, and the obligatory cherry trees.

It's actually quite busy. I was hoping to leave my pack down below while I walked up to the castle, but there is nowhere obvious to stash it. I sit and take a rest while having a drink and I watch a little old man limbering up and then start jogging up the hill. Walk up, look around, and walk back down he jogged up and down the hill four times. The view from the ruins was pretty impressive, down over the town and to the big island offshore. According to the old illustration of the castle reproduced on the signboard a good half of what is now Saiki used to be the sea.

Most Japanese coastal towns and cities have extended themselves seawards. Back down at the bottom it is a short walk into the town to today’s temple, number 30, Dainichiji. Pleasant enough, and I chat with the priest for a while before another short walk to where my minshuku for the night is.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu 15

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