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Saturday, January 17, 2015

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 52 Mii to Chikugoyoshii

A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 52, Mii to Chikugoyoshii
Tuesday December 24th 2013

It's a chilly morning with frost in the shadows but with clear skies as I head off up the wide Chikugo River Valley. The road heads towards Hita just across the border in Oita, and it was a major trade route.

The first noticeable thing I encounter are the roadside Ebisu statues. With his beaming smile, holding a Sea Bream under his arm and often with a fishing rod in his right hand, Ebisu is the patron deity of fishermen. There is hardly a fishing village anywhere in Japan that does not have a small Ebisu shrine at the harbour, but he is also one of the Shichifukujin, the 7 Lucky Gods of Japan, although the only one who is considered native Japanese.

Ebisu statue in Kyushu, Japan.

Whatever the reason, this area has a special affection for Ebisu and there is one every few hundred meters along the road, each one different. There are also quite a lot of small shrines, none of them spectacular, but often with distinctive komainu, and also a small Ebisu shrine.

I don't remember ever having seen so many Ebisu in one area before. Continuing on along the road, my eyes peeled for the next Ebisu, I notice that the fields are mostly doing some form of horticulture rather than agriculture. There are some paddies with rice stubble, but most of the other seem to be growing some sort of flowers or shrubs or tree seedlings. Curious, something to research later.

As I approach Tanushimaru I come to another local obsession - Kappa. Often called "water sprites" in English, Kappa are a mythical creature that appear in folk stories and legends all over Japan, though some areas, obviously this being one, celebrate them.

Kappa statue, Kyushu, Japan.

Here they adorn the manhole covers, every bridge across the small river running through the town has a pair on it, and small statues can be found everywhere. The main building of the local railway station is also built in the shape of a Kappa head. There are also lots of Ebisu.

I go looking for the next temple on the pilgrimage, number 5, Taishi-ji. I think I've found it, a rather grand looking temple behind high walls, but it turns out not to be it. The temple I want is right behind it and is much smaller, but there is no direct way to get to it. I must backtrack and navigate the maze of narrow streets that is the old part of any Japanese town.

Taishi-ji is much smaller and poorer, though it does have a fine Fudo Myo-O statue in the grounds like so many of the temples on this Shingon pilgrimage. I carry on east and at a small shrine on the way out of town I discover a phallic fertility stone. One more positive in a day that has been far more interesting than I had expected.

At Yoshii I take the train back into Kurume. Yoshii has some streets of Edo-Period storehouses but I will explore those when I come back here tomorrow. Back in Kurume I forgo the Japanese tradition of eating Kentucky Fried Chicken on Christmas Eve.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 51

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