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Monday, June 16, 2014

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 35 Chiran to Minami Satsuma

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 35
Ei to Chiran
Sunday August 4th, 2013

It's an overcast day as I head off. My first stop is to explore the gardens in Chiran's samurai district, 7 small zen-style gardens in private houses. It's not yet 7am, and the gardens don't open until 9.

The atmospheric old street lined with stone walls is deserted, and I am delighted to discover that the houses with the gardens don't actually have gates or doors that need opening, so I can just step inside and take some pictures without paying the entrance fee.

Samurai district in Kaseda
Samurai district in Kaseda
On my way out of Chiran town I stop in at the main shrine at the edge of town. It's interesting enough, but then in a building alongside the irrigation canal that runs along the edge of the shrine grounds I discover something completely unexpected, karakuri ningyo, mechanical dolls.

Produced since the 17th century, these dolls, sometimes powered by springs, sometimes clockwork, were very popular. What we have here at this shrine is a whole animated tableau of demons and characters in a landscape, and what is most interesting of all is that it is powered by water.

Behind the building is a small waterwheel in the irrigation channel that powers the whole thing. Unfortunately it is only activated once a year. I head off towards the coast and Minami Satsuma, my destination for the day. I do not have any expectations of seeing much interesting today. I did some research before I left, studying maps, googling, etc and there seems to be little of note until I reach Minami Satsuma.

As I approach Kawanabe, the only town of any size on the route, the maps shows a sharp dog leg ahead so I decide to take the diagonal and cut across through the low lying area of rice paddies, and I'm glad I did.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 35 Chiran to Minami Satsuma

Approaching the edge of town I discovered a most unusual building. It's a big barn, constructed out of huge logs, but not straight logs, rather gnarly and twisted. Not only that, but the huge root balls are left. Some of the "posts" holding up the building are almost 2 meters wide. It look as if a giant has ripped out ancient trees from a primeval forest and crudely stacked them to make a shelter.

Many small roofs have been built overlapping each other. I really have never seen anything like it and try to imagine how it was built. To say it was quirky would be an understatement.

I carry on down the road towards Kaseda, the name of the town that the modern administrative city of Minami Satsuma is centered on. I stop in at a uniquely Japanese vending experience, a roadside collection of machines selling sex dvds, dildos, lingeries, etc.

Sex DVD vending machine

Often these places will be found near rural love hotels, but I've seen none of those today. Hidden behind corrugated steel walls, lights flicker on as you enter the darkness. I find it hard to believe that in this day and age of easy internet access such places can make a profit, but I've seen enough of them to suggest that they do.

It's early afternoon when I get into Kaseda so as I have time I head south to visit the old samurai district. Like Chiran, it was one of the samurai settlements scattered all over the domain in flagrant violation of the Tokugawa edicts stipulating that all samurai must reside in the single domainal castle town.

Unlike Chiran there is not too much to see, some walls, gates, a statue or two. Across the main road is a big shrine. Sitting around a picnic table in the park next door is a group of retired gentlemen wearing armbands.

They give me some pamphlets. The shrine enshrines Shimazu Tadayoshi, a 16th century daimyo who retired to Kaseda. He is remembered as one of the great Shimazu lords, and the wooded, hillside park next to the shrine has a series of his poems carved in stone monuments.

I chat with the old guys, who are members of some sort of Tadayoshi appreciation and promotion society, before wandering into the sedate downtown area to find my hotel. Also like Chiran, Kaseda was home to a kamikaze air base, but the museum for it is a little too far out of town for me to get to.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 34

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