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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 75 Chikuzenmaebaru to Imajuku Part II

A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 75, Thursday March 27th, 2014
Chikuzenmaebaru to Imajuku, Part 2

My route across the wide, flat valley will zigzag as I want to visit as many of the shrines scattered between the rice paddies as I can. None of them are major shrines, just small local shrines, and the chances are that most will have nothing unusual in them, but every now and then I find a shrine with something interesting: a mask, an unusual komainu, a tidbit of local history, and so on, that I find it worthwhile visiting every shrine I can.

There seems to be more shrines than usual in this wide valley, possibly related to the fact that this was one of the first areas settled by the immigrant Japanese and was a powerful kingdom in ancient times before the creation of the country "Japan."

I stop in at several shrines, pleasant enough, but nothing noteworthy. I also pass numerous cherry trees in full bloom. Coming into the village of Ito I stop in at a Sumiyoshi Shrine.

Cherry trees in full bloom, Imajuku, Kyushu.

Right next door is a massive, about 50 meters square, steel frame suspended off the ground by steel and granite pillars. Growing all over the frame is a vine which I am guessing is wisteria, though this early in the year there is no sign of leaf or flower.

Surrounding the area are lines of Buddhist statues. Now I head down the middle of the valley and in the next settlement spy another shrine. I have gotten quite good at seeing where shrines are at a distance. They will often be set in a grove of trees that are much taller, hence older, than what is surrounding them. This shrine is called Sazare Ishi Shrine, which means "pebble rock." Sazareishi is a "conglomerate" - a sedimentary rock that cements pebbles together by pressure. It is most famously known in Japan in a line from Kimigayo, the national anthem:

May your reign
Continue for a thousand, eight thousand generations,
Until the pebbles
Grow into boulders
Lush with moss

I've seen quite a few at other shrines around the country, usually encircled by a shimenawa, but I look around but cannot find the stone. A few kilometers further on, in the middle of the valley, I come to the place I have been aiming for, the Ito Historical Museum, a four or five storey building quite out of place in this area of farms and paddies.

In ancient Japan, bronze mirrors were symbols of power. Probably the most well known example are the 100 mirrors given to the legendary Queen Himiko by the Chinese Emperor. Obviously the more mirrors you possessed, the more important you were.

Bronze mirror, Ito Historical Museum, Kyushu, Japan.

The Ito Historical Museum exhibits artifacts dug up from the grave of the local "king" Hirabaru. It included the biggest mirror ever found in Japan, and 40 other mirrors, the largest number ever discovered in a single gravesite until a bigger hoard found a few years ago near Nara.

Its a fairly "dry" museum but I'm glad to have visited. On down the valley.... more cherry blossoms... more shrines.... and then I reach the shore of Imazu Bay. Land reclamation has pushed the land out into what was once water and this section of the bay is almost enclosed like a lagoon.

The next temple, number 83, Seigan-ji, lies at the base of a hill on the other side. As I get closer its not hard to see the temple as the grounds have ample cherry trees in full bloom. The temple is an uninspiring, concrete building, but steps lead up to a shrine and then on up to another shrine and a Bishamon Hall on top of the hill.

Neither structure has anything of interest, but the views made the climb worth while, across the water to Nokonoshima Island and Shika Island in one direction and west towards the peninsula in the other. Back down I head towards the bridge that crosses the narrow entrance to the bay, stopping in at a shrine along the way.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 75 Chikuzenmaebaru to Imajuku Part II.

From the bridge I can see the distant skyline of Fukuoka with the distinctive profile of Fukuoka Tower clearly visible. Heading towards Imajuku Station I pass a most curious roadside shrine that is certainly not Japanese. The main statue is a big, fat, Frog God of some kind, and flanking it are two guardian statues that are extremely grotesque. Behind, a long, curved pole has some kind of decorations hanging from it. I am guessing it is Indonesian or Balinese, though I have never been to those places. I cannot imagine why it is here. At Imajuku I catch a train into Hakata and my hotel. I had hoped to get all the way in on foot but the day just didn't have enough hours.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 75 Part I

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