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Monday, May 19, 2014

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 33 Ibusuki To Ei

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 33
Kagoshima to Ibusuki
Friday August 2nd, 2013

I head off from Ibusuki as the sun just rises above the horizon and bathes the land in gold. The road at first heads up a gentle but long slope and as it tops out it turns and faces west in the distance I get my first glimpse of the landmark that will dominate the day, Mount Kaimondake.

Mount Kaimondake, Satsuma Fuji, Japan

Almost perfectly conical, the 924 meter high volcano is for obvious reasons known as the Fuji of Satsuma, and though it is not that high, its position, all alone at the edge of the sea, makes it quite dramatic.

I had toyed with the idea of climbing it and sleeping out on top, expecting that the sunset and sunrise views would be awesome, but in the end decided that a 900 meter climb with heavy pack in the heat of the summer would be a price too high to pay.

At Nishioyama I take a small detour off the road to visit Nishioyama Station, the southernmost railway station in Japan. In English we would call it a halt, not a station, as there are no buildings, but across the street is a small shop which sells souvenirs, including postcards that can be posted in the bright yellow postbox.

It is surprisingly busy considering there are only a handful of trains a day, While I'm sitting in the shade enjoying a cool drink half a dozen cars turn up and the visitors spend a few minutes having their photo taken against the station sign before heading off to their next sight.

It's also the southernmost point of my walk around Kyushu. Not yet halfway in distance to cover, but a milestone nonetheless. I have walked down the eastern side, and now I must head up the western coast, which is much more convoluted and wiggly.

By early afternoon I reach the town of Kaimon, as close as I'm going to get to the mountain itself. I head to Hirasaki Shrine, a group of vermillion buildings inside a dark grove of old, tall trees. This was the highest ranked shrine in Satsuma Province, the Ichinomiya, and the shrine is dedicated to Amaterasu, the sun goddess, which is actually kind of unusual.

Wooden Japanese masks, Kyushu

Though modern Shinto claims Amaterasu to be the highest of all the kami, there are actually very few shrines to her, her pre-eminence being a modern idea nurtured in the pre-war State Shinto. The shrine has a treasure house and I am delighted to discover a big collection of old, wooden masks. In one of the shrines ancillary buildings I can see more, newer masks, and I ask the priest in the room who is in the room changing into robes for a ceremony if I can come in a photograph them. He agrees.

From here the coast road turns and heads north so I have Kaimondake at my back. By late afternoon I arrive in Ei where I have a room booked at a guest house. I am the only guest. After a change of clothes and an hour of air-conditioning I buy some beers and head down the the beach to watch the sunset. The sky is cloudless, but down at the end of the land Kaimondake is capped with a single cloud, draped over the summit.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 32

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