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Monday, November 03, 2014

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 44 Setoishi to Yatsushiro

A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 44, Setoishi to Yatsushiro Thursday November 28th, 2013

It's overcast as I take an early train out of Yatsushiro and head back up the Kumagawa River to where I took the train yesterday. I start to walk back down the valley towards Yatsushiro. Soon the road crosses over to the other bank. There is more traffic and the valley starts to widen.

The villages are bigger so I can get off the main road and walk through the quieter villages instead, stopping in at shrines. As I get closer to the coast the river swings to the right and in the distance I can see Yatsushiro with its smokestacks spewing smoke.

Yatsushiro smoke stacks

The town is dominated by the huge paper factory. Instead of following the river into the city center I head right along the edge of the hills towards the major shrine of the area, now called Yatsushiro Shrine.

Down a side street I spot a series of vermillion tori, a good indicator of an Inari Shrine, and next to the shrine entrance what looks like an old temple. I explore the temple first. The buildings are all low, and the grounds are covered in moss.

There is no-one around. Behind some buildings I find a small garden with maple leaves still in full autumn display. I then head up the steep steps to the Inari shrine. From the main hall of the shrine a path leads back into the forest and exploring further I find several more smaller Inari shrines scattered along the path.

Full fall colors in a Japanese shrine

I carry on towards the Yatsushiro Shrine. Unusually for Japan the road is dead straight. I stop in at a little "mom and pop" store. I try to patronize such little shops whenever I pass them They are disappearing fast under the onslaught of "Konbinis", which are certainly convenient, but I really don't like being served by robots.

I buy a bag of potato chips and a bar of chocolate for my lunch and it starts to rain. The woman shop-owner invites me to take a seat and offers me a cup of hot green tea, and we chat about what I'm doing. The rain stops and I continue on but just as I arrive at the shrine it starts to rain again so I take shelter under the gate and watch as a priest with an umbrella finishes off a "traffic safety" blessing on a small car.

The shrine was originally called Myoken Shrine, and the big matsuri they hold here in the summer is still called Myoken Matsuri, but being a Buddhist term, Myoken had to be replaced by a new name when the government forcibly separated Buddhism and Shinto. One of the shrine buildings has many of the highly decorated figures: horses, dragons, etc from the matsuri on display.

Decorated horses in a shrine

It stops raining and I now head into the town center. It is showering off and on, and if a bus comes by I plan on taking it, but I am in the town before that happens and head to the next pilgrimage temple, Hakuunzanioji, a small urban temple with an unusual pair of stone Nio.

From here its only a five minute walk to Yatsushiro Castle, or rather, what is left of it. There is a moat with stone walls, but all the structures that once stood have long been demolished and replaced by a shrine.

Though I am in the middle of the town, everything west and north of here was once the sea. Modern land reclamation has extended Yatsushiro several kilometers out into the bay. Across from the castle is the Yatsushiro Municipal Museum, another of the pieces of architecture of the Artpolis project.

It was designed by Toyo Ito, and I must admit I was a little disappointed by it. Perhaps the overcast and rainy weather played a part. A few minutes away is the last tourist attraction on my list, the Shohinken, an unusual 2 storey "Tea House" with a stroll garden built in the early part of the Edo Period.

Unfortunately the house itself cannot be entered, but the garden is pleasant enough. It is said that summer is the best time to view the garden. And that's me for the day, time to head back to my room. I had possibly wanted to visit another Toyo Ito building, a new fires station, but it would be a 4 or 5 kilometer walk and the grayness of day is a disincentive.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 43

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