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Friday, June 06, 2014

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 34 Ei to Chiran

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 34
Ei to Chiran
Saturday August 3rd, 2013

I'm up and out the door while it is still dark. Its more than 30km to where I have a room booked for the night and by the middle of the day I know I will be slowing down due to the heat.

The main road is pretty quiet but as it turns to the west the sky is lightening and the traffic picks up. For some hours my route is pretty much directly west towards Makurazaki. To the south the horizon is still dominated by the distinctive outline of Mount Kaimondake.

Daikokuji Temple, Kagoshima, Japan

The morning is mostly uneventful and once I reach Shirasawa I leave the coast road and head inland towards Mt. Kunimi. There are dozens and dozens of mountains named Kunimi in Japan. The name means "view the land," so it's not really surprising.

On the slopes of this one is a fairly new temple, Daikokuji, number 97 on this pilgrimage. As I climb the approach road I pass a large, brightly painted Buddhist statue, and then a little later another half-completed one. They are not made by "artists" - as in elite fine art, rather they are "folk" art - which I find a somewhat denigrating term.

When I reach the gate I am met by a young woman with a shaved head, a nun I presume, who seems surprised that anyone would walk this pilgrimage route. In the grounds of the temple I see many more brightly painted statues, more than 100 in total, but the most surprising thing is that there are lots of people here.

It's an active temple, something quite unusual. So much temple Buddhism in Japan now is purely concerned with "funeral Buddhism," but here are people still engaged in Buddhist practice.

From here the next pilgrimage temple is almost directly north, near the coast, but I want to visit Chiran in the middle of the Satsuma Peninsula, so head off in that direction.

From this high up I can make out a large island on the hazy horizon that looks like it should be Yakushima Island. The area around here is a big tea growing area.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 34 Ei to Chiran

Tea is grown most places in Japan, but everywhere I've seen it it has been small scale and not mechanized, but here the fields of tea are huge, and dotted with tall poles with fans on top, I presume to move the air and stop frost on the coldest days of the year much like citrus orchards. It seems the harvesting is done mechanically with strange looking machines.

I pass through a village and stop at a little village store. The shelves were mostly empty. Probably the only things in stock are what the owners friends buy. I find a chocolate bar - I dare not look at the expiry date - I am sure the shop does not make any money. There are no other stores nearby, nor convenience stores, but nowadays most people have cars and do their shopping in towns.

I suspect the very old lady who served me is the owner and she has probably ran the shop her whole life. I go outside and get a cold drink from the vending machine and squat down in the shade. She comes out of the shop with a small chair and insists I use it.

As I approach Chiran the sides of the road are lined with stone lanterns, one for each of the kamikaze pilots from the Chiran airfield that died. The museum to the Special Attack Squadron is one of the reasons I wanted to visit Chiran. I wanted to see how the question of war memory is handled there.

There are a lot of places that glorify the war, and a few that are critical of it. It turns out, in my opinion, this place glorifies it. Lots of national flags, and no mention at all of what a senseless and useless waste of life it all was. Quite a disturbing and depressing place. I am glad to leave the museum and get into town and an air-conditioned room and the chance to do some laundry.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 33

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