Saturday, March 6, 2021

Matsubase Shrine


Matsubase is a small town in Kumamoto that I reached in the afternoon of my 45th day walking around Kyushu. Matsubase Shrine is the main shrine in the centre of town.

Known through most of history as Matsubase Gongen, the shrine now enshrines Izanami, Hayatamao, and Kotosakano.

The gingko trees and a few maple were nice with their color, but the most impressive tree was a giant camphor tree said to be over 800 years old. Camphor trees seem to be the sacred tree of choice at shrines in Kyushu.

Not far from the shrine was the next building in the Kumamoto Artpolis project for me to check out......

Thursday, March 4, 2021

A Couple of Mysteries Solved


Heading north through the paddies north of Yatsushiro I was surprised to see tractors planting in flooded paddies. I had read that in the far south of Kyushu some places were able to squeeze two crops of rice a year because it was so warm, but late November seemed a weird time to be planting.

Later, a closer look at some paddies and it sure didn't look like any kind of rice i had seen before. Another mystery was that as I walked through each small settlement scattered across the plain there was the incessant clatter of machinery coming from farm buildings.

I was finally able to peer inside one of these buildings and suddenly all became clear. It was not rice being grown around here but a plant called Igusa, a kind of rush-grass, and the material that makes the mats that cover tatami flooring.

The area around Yatsushiro has been growing Igusa for 500 years and is now the main source for the material domestically. I have seen a few, small tatami workshops, and there are some high-end manufacturers, but most tatami in Japan now is mass-produced in Chima.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Curious Komainu


While heading north across the coastal plain north of Yatsushiro I stopped in at about a dozen small shrines. They were mostly very small, local shrines, none of them famous. As usual when visiting shrines I look around for anything unusual or out of the ordinary. As always I am looking for diversity. What I did discover were these curious Komainu that shared some stylistic similarity with each other but were quite different from other styles I have seen.

The first is a wooden komainu inside a zuijinmon. Wooden komainu were the original style and can still be found inside gates or inside shrines buildings. The other 4 photos are two pairs I found at two different shrines.

Unusually the first pair both seem to have closed mouths. One of each of the two pairs were raised up on their front legs, the other laying down..

Over the twenty years I have been visiting shrines I have seen a lot of new komainu placed in shrines. mostly they are of one specific design and so are exactly the same from one end of the country to the other. It saddens me that diversity is being lost, slowly but surely, to be replaced with national homogenity.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Yatsushiro Monument Kilali

Day 45 of my first walk around Kyushu and it's time to head north out of yatsushiro towards Kumamoto City. My first stop is the Shinkansen station a little outside thye city, Shin Yatsushiro Station.

Standing in front of the station on the east side is Monument Kilali, a project of Kumamoto Artpolis.

It looks quite flimsy and is roughly the size and shape of a small house. Its not a building, though I guess it could be called a shelter. It seems to be made of steel but in fact is made of thin sheets of concrete.

It was built in 2004 and designed by the young architect Kumiko Inui. I liked it

Friday, February 26, 2021

Historic Streetscape of Takehara


Takehara is a small town on the coast of Hiroshima, east of Hiroshima City. It flourished as a port in Medieval japan when the Inland Sea was the main transportation route.

In the Edo Period, it prospered as a salt production centre, with tons of salt being exported, mostly to Edo. An old area of the town with merchant houses, warehouses, and the inevitable sake breweries is one of the Historic Preservation Districts.

It is in the Top 100 Most Scenic Towns in Japan, and also one of many small towns that advertise themselves as "Little Kyoto", something I would consider a warning rather than a recommendation.

Some of the buildings are open to the public and I will post on them later. In the last couple of years the town has become more well known due to the so-called "rabbit Island" which lies within its city limits.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Hateiji Temple 5 on the Iwami Kannon Pilgrimage


Hateiji Temple was rather curious. On the one hand it appeared deserted and unused, but on the other there was a recently maintained gate with some striking Nio statues.

Other than the nio, and a small bell tower there was nothing else in the grounds. It was however home to a bustling kindergarten. I have seen quite a few smaller temples and shrines that have leased or rented some of their grounds to such establishments. In cities, they often become car parks.

The Nio were quite remarkable and suggested that in earlier times the temple was more important and prosperous. Above the entrance to the main hall the signboard displayed the temple's "mountain name", possibly Toraisan, though I am informed it uses an obscure kanji character.

The paper nameslips attached to the building suggest that this was one of the temples on the original Iwami kannon Pilgrimage that started in nearby Iwami Ginzan. A list of the original pilgrimage temples included more than a third that no longer exist, probably destroyed in the anti-Buddhist violence of early Meiji.

This "new" Iwami pilgrimage I am following starts in Oda City and I am getting close to the end of my third day walking it. This newer pilgrimage is called Iwami Mandala Pilgrimage, and though it has 33 main temples, there are a rather large number of "extra" temples.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Historic streets of Kiragawa


Kiragawa is a small port on the west side of the Muroto Peninsula in Kochi on Shikoku. If you are following the Shikoku pilgrimage in the standard clockwise direction you reach Kiragawa after visiting Kongochoji Temple.

Kiragawa is one of the featured sites of the UNESCO Geopark of Cape Muroto, but before that it was registered as  a historic preservation district.

One of the notable features of the architecture is the lines of rooftiles embedded in the plaster walls to help shed water on this storm-lashed coastline.

The port gre to prominence in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by exporting lumber and a particular type of charcoal called Tosa Binchotan. Still made today, it is made from a type of oak and has a metallic ring when struck. Its main feature is that it is odorless and so great for barbecuing.

There are about 120 of these preservation districts throughout Japan, and while some are very touristy and disneyfied, i find the less visited sites like Kiragawa more appealing. A longer guide to Kiragawa I wrote can be found here.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Yama Shrine


After leaving Fuki-ji temple, the oldest wooden building in Kyushu and a fairly major tourists site, I carried on up the narrow, mountain road upon which vehicular traffic had ceased passing me. On this, my first day embarked upon the Kyushu Fudo Myo Pilgrimage I was following the Kunisaki Hanto Minemichi Long Trail which roughly followed the route of the ancient Kunisaki pilgrimage.

The road crossed over a ridge and dropped down into the next of the 28 valleys that radiate out from the centre of the peninsula. 28 "chapters" of the Lotus Sutra, the Buddhist text that the pilgrimage maps. I arrive at the entrance to Yama Shrine.... simply named Mountain Shrine.

Over the years, as I have wandered the back roads of rural Japan I have noticed that some regions have very few shrines, and other areas have huge number of shrines. Kunisaki is one of the latter. Yama Shrine is quite crude and ridimentary. No fancy carvings nor elaborate structures. More like a simple mountain hut.

Like many shrines in the region is does however have a pair of stone Nio, the Buddhist guardians that are often found at temples. In 1868 the government officially separated Buddhism and "shinto" and elements such as Nio were removed from shrines. Apparently, the memo never reached Kunisaki. It has sometimes been referred to The Land That Time Forgot, as like my own home region of Iwami, traditions were not so radically reinvented.

There are said to be more than 32,000 stone statues of various sizes throughout the peninsula, one for each kanji character that comprises the Lotus Sutra.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Itohara Residence Garden


The Itohara family were high-ranking samurai who were vassals of the Matsue Domain. They were among a groupf of such families who controlled the production of iron deep in the Chugoku Mountains in Okuizumo.

The Daimyo would stay in their residence while inspecting his territory, so the mansion and garden had to be of the highest standard. The formal garden attached to the residence is in Izumo style, and one of its features are the stone paths made with rounded and rectangular stones.

The house is still lived in by descendants of the family so is not open to the public, though the garden is.

There is also a less formal woodland garden planted with more than 300 species of flowers, grasses, and shrubs, that can be strolled around and a large museum devoted to iron production and tatara, the kind of forge used to smelt iron sand.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Ryukoji Temple 41 on the Shikoku Pilgrimage


Ryukoji Temple is one of several temples on the famous Shikoku Pilgrimage that were not established until late in the 19th century.

According to the legend, Kobo Daishi encountered an old man carrying rice near here and took him to be a manifestation of Inari Daimyojin, the rice god, and so established an Inari shrine here. The shrine still exists further up the hillside from Ryukoji.

In 1868 the new Japanese government set about rewriting the religious landscape of Japan and "separated" Buddhism and "shinto" and so Ryukoji was established.

Enshrined here is a "hidden" 11-faced Kannon and the temple just consists of the small main hall and the daishido. There are a few unusual sculptures made from strangely twisted pieces of natural wood, and also statues of the Seven Lucky Gods.