Thursday, May 13, 2021

A Short Guide to Yamaga

 

Sakura-yu is a public hot spring in the town of Yamaga, a little north of Kumamoto City. It was originally built as a teahouse for the local Hosokawa lord about 380 years ago, but in 1868 was turned into a public hot spring.


Yamaga lies on the banks of the Kikuchi River. The fertile river basin has been a major rice-growing region since ancient times and Yamaga grew as a merchant town with the trade of rice which was shipped downriver to market. There are several hot spring hotels and guesthouses along the bank of the river.


The most famous festival in Yamaga is the lantern Festival where women dance with paper lanterns on their heads. These are not the usual simple lanterns you see at festivals and outside businesses but look like the ornate, metal lanterns you see at temples and such. The surprising thing is they are made of paper. 


As I mostly explore Japan on foot I am always pleased to find the free foot-baths at many hot spring towns. The one in Yamaga was perhaps the nicest I have seen,


The paper lanterns, as well as umbrellas, are a major art of the town. At the main shrine in the town there is a museum about the lanterns and the festival, and in town there is also a "Folk" museum devoted to them.


The town is one of the many small towns scattered around Japan that use the nickname "Little Kyoto", but in my opinion, it is not apt as the inhabitants were friendly and unpretentious. As well as the trade on the river the town also lies on the main road that connected Kumamoto with Kokura, and plenty of traditional architecture remains.


The town's charm is I think aided by the fact that Yamaga is not on a rail line so is a little harder to visit than the most popular places. More details can be found in my related posts on Kongoji Temple, the most interesting temple in the town and one sire said to be the origin of the lantern festival, the Yachiyo0za Kabuki Theatre, a huge traditional theatre open to the public, Omiya Shrine, another site claiming the origin of the lantern festival, and the Buzen Kaido, the old thoroughfare lined with traditional architecture.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Buzen Kaido in Yamaga

 


Buzen was the histoical name for a small province in the north of Kyushu, and the Buen kaido was a "road" that connected the south of Kyushu with the north and from there on to the rest of japan, specifically Osaka and Kyoto.


Yamaga lay on this road and the old main street of the town is called Buzen Kaido. It is lined with historical shops and businesses, noticeably the obligatory sake brewery. One of the sake breweries has a nice museum devoted to historical things.


It is similar to many preservation districts around the country but is not registered as such. As far as I can make out Kumamoto has no preservation districts at all.


I visited very early in the mprn9ng on my way out of town and was surprised that a few shops were already open.


Like other small towns that claim to be "Little Kyoto's", it is possible to rent kimonos for memorable photo shoots around the town.


Saturday, May 8, 2021

Omiya Shrine Yamaga

 


The main shrine in the town of Yamaga in Kumamoto is called Omiya Shrine, and as such has fairly large grounds with lots of smaller sub-shrines within it, however, the main kami is intriguing.


It enshrines the "person" who is now known as Emperor Keiko, the 12th emperor in the "official" genealogy. He is considered legendary, rather than historical or mythical. The first ten are considered mythical, but that doesnt stop them being promoted as historical . The person they now call Emperor Keioko may possibly have existed but cannot be verified.


According to the legend, he was more than 10 foot tall, lived to be 143 years old, and had 80 children. Probably his most famous son is known as Yamato Takeru, and according to the Kojiki his father sent him to Kyushu to suppress "rebellious" tribes, something he did also in Izumo and eastern Japan. This process of Yamato rulers extending their power across the main Japanese islands was occurring during the 4th century and continued for many more centuries. It was certainly not happening 2,000 years ago as the myths and nationalists would have it.


One version of the story has Keiko coming to Kyushu himself and his eshrinement here is based on that version. The shrine has an unusual building with what looks like a bell tower..... from a time perhaps when temples and shrines were more closely related?


The shrine is the home to the towns most famous festival, the Yamaga Lantern Festival, and there is a museum devoted to the subject.


Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Yachiyo-za Theatre

 

Yachiyo-za is a traditional type of theatre that is located in the hot spring resort town of Yamaga, not far from Kumamoto City.


The ceiling is completely covered with advertisments, a tradition dating back to the Edo Period.


The theatre was built in 1910 and is now registered as an Important Cultural Property. Kabuiki and other types of performances are still held today, but during times of no performaces the theatre is open to visitors.


There is a small museum displaying costumes, props, playbills etc as well as an old projectore used to show movies.


Visitors are free to explore everywhere, including under the stage which has the human-powered rotating stage mechanism.


As Kabuki theaters go it is quite large, seating more than 1,200 people. By the 1980's it was long abandoned and derelict but it was decided to renovate rather than demolish.


Monday, May 3, 2021

Kongojoji Temple 100 on the Kyushu Pilgrimage

 


Probably the most famous part of Kongojoji Temple in Yamaga, Kumamoto is the circular stone gate.  Built in 1804 by a mason called Kikuchi, it uses the technology used to construct what are called "spectacles bridges" in Japan. It is nowadays touted as a "marriage power spot"


According to legend the temple was founded by Kukai himself who reputedly spent nine days here. It is a Shingon temple, as are all the temples on this pilgrimage, and the honzon is a Yakushi Nyorai.


There is a renovated Kannon-do (bottom photo) that I believe is the focus of the pilgrimage, and there were plenty of Kannon statues around.


In the 15th century, the local hot spring suddenly stopped, and a priest at the temple is credited with performing ceremonies that caused it to start up again. Paper lanterns donated after the event became the basis for the town's  famous lantern festival.


Saturday, May 1, 2021

Santoka Taneda and Midorikannonzuisenji Temple

 

This is a statues of Santoka Taneda (1882-1940 ) a famous poet of the early 20th century who is well known as much for his lifestyle as his poetry. The statue is in the grounds of a small Zen temple just north of Kumamoto.


I came across the temple by chance. Day 47 of my walk along the Kyushu pilgrimage found me heading north out of Kumamoto City to the next temple in Yamaga. I came across a statue of Fudo Myo at the base of a set of very steep, narrow, and overgrown steps that led up the hill////


It is a quite small Soto temple but with quite a lot of statuary around. Santoka had made what many believed was a suicide attempt by stepping in front of a train in Kumamoto. He recuperated at a nearby zen temple and was obviously attracted to something because a year later he was ordained as a Zen priest.


He then spent a year as a caretaker here at Midorikannonzuisenji before heading off on his famous walks around Japan.


Zuisenji is a larger temple a little lower down the hill, and this was the Kannon -do of the temple. I believe these are rakan statues, but, as usual, might be mistaken.


I am fairly certain this is a Kannon.


These two more colorful statues were, I believe, connected to a shrine just above the kannondo. They do have somewhat of a kami statue feel to them, but I have no idea. Maybe a reader does?


The temple is popular for fans of Santoka, and is also known for its autumn colors. A short haiku by Santoka can be found here.


Bato Kannon, the Horsehead Kannon, popular among livestock raisers as well as samurai. 


There were a couple of statues of Ebisu.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Izumo Folkcrafts Museum

 


The Izumo Folkcrafts Museum is located not far from Nishi Izumo Station and is located in the grounds of what was a wealthy farming families estate. I have to admit that I lived here 18 years before I finally got around to visiting, but was pleasantly surprised.


The main display is in a former granary that has had a small second floor added. Mostly from Izuo but also from further afield, there is a lot of ceramics but also textiles, lacquerware, woodwork, and other crafts.


A second building, a former timber warehouse, displays contemporary mingei, again with a heavy emphasis on ceramics. Outside this building is a display of farming implements and straw raincoats, hats etc.


In the gatehouse is a small shop selling a selection of crafts made in the region. Worth a visit if yu are into mingei.


Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Anrakuji Revisited

 

Anrakuji is temple number 6 on the famous Shikoku pilgrimage known as Ohenro. I had visited many years previously while walking that pilgrimage, but this time it was the second day of my walk along the Shikoku Fudo Myo-O pilgrimage.


It is not a part of that pilgrimage, but the first day and half of the Fuso pilgrimage folows roughy the same route as the Ohenro so I took the opportunity to revisit any temples and shrines I passed. For some pilgrims the main focus is on visiting the @ilgrimage temples, but for me the space between temples was just as important and I visited every shrine and temple I passed. In fact on the Ohenro I visited many times more shrines than temples.


It was very early in the morning and no-one was about. The honzon, pictured in the first photo, is a Yuakushi Nyorai, supposedly carved by Kukai himself. The temple is also known for the shrine and pond dedicated to Benzaiten, and there is also a nice pagoda.


Later on this second day the Ohenro route heads south and crosses the river, but the Fudo pilgrimage route continues to head upriver for a few more days.