Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Hiradoguchi to Imari. Day 69 walking around Kyushu


Friday March 21st, 2014. A walk from  Hiradoguchi Station to Imari Station

Today’s lengthy leg of my walk will include just one temple and other than that I have no idea of what I will see or encounter. Sometimes there are things marked on the maps that I know I will want to check out, but there are no tourist sites of any note in this section. The road is a standard, rural, 2 lane road not choked with traffic but not quiet.

I stop in at a few roadside shrines to see if there is anything to see. Before I started walking pilgrimage routes I used to walk around the countryside visiting shrines. In the truest sense of the word that was pilgrimage, but now when I walk the Buddhist pilgrimages it is still the shrines I pass along the way that interest me most. The road reaches the coast and passes by numerous small coves.

As I approach Matsuura I look down on a huge power station. Like many, it is fueled by coal, and even though Kyushu has reserves of coal in the ground, the domestic coal industry was closed down in the middle of the last century in favor of cheap oil imports. Now the coal is mostly imported from Australia, and there are acres and acres of coal laid out here in neat piles with conveyor belts and automatic chutes.

A little further towards the town I check for the local manholes. I make it a habit to check out the manhole covers in places I am visiting. They often have designs that feature things of local importance. Here in Matsuura the design features kangaroos, koalas, and the Australian flag. Matsuura is twinned with Mackay in Queensland, where the coal for the power station comes from. I get off the main road which bypasses the town and take the main road through the town. Like most rural towns it appears halfway to being a ghost town with half the commercial properties closed up. After Matsuura the road goes around a headland and there are great views out to a scattering of islands

 On the outskirts of the village of Imafuku I get off the main road and head towards today’s only pilgrimage temple. I pass a torii with steps leading up the hill, and as the temple is on the other side of the hill I presume that there will be a path from the shrine to the temple. There usually is as you often find a shrine and a temple right next to each other because they used to be just one place. Sure enough, the path up to the shrine and then the path from the shrine to the temple are lined with red-bibbed Buddhist statues. The shrine itself is just a simple wooden building with almost no ornamentation, more of a shed really, but the view over the rooftops of the village out to sea was worth the climb.

Temple 79, Zenpukuji, is a small, village temple, and there are a constant stream of people arriving and leaving. I suddenly remember that today is the spring equinox, a national holiday in Japan. The 7 days centering on the equinox is called higan, or Ohigan, and like Obon in the summer is a time for visiting the graves of your ancestors and for other acts of memorialization. The priests wife is busy flitting between the visitors and tidying up around the grounds so we just exchange polite greetings. The ceiling of the main hall has been repainted in the not-too-distant past. Each of the small wooden squares is painted with different flowers.

I head off down the coast which now veers towards the south. After a half hour of walking, I pass back into Saga Prefecture. The bay gradually narrows until Imari. Imari, like Arita is famous for ceramics, specifically porcelain, and on the main street leading to the station are a couple of huge porcelain figures.

The sun is setting when I reach the station but I find I have a little wait until my train to Sasebo so I wander near the station but there is little of interest other than a huge wedding chapel built in European style. The last two days have been long but at least by basing myself in Sasebo I have been able to leave my heavy pack there and just use a day pack. I'm sure that carrying a full pack I would not have been able to cover the distance I have.

Most of Day 68 was sent on Hirado Island, which I cover in this brief guide.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Sakura Shrine & Kojima Takanori


Sakura Shrine lies along the old Iumo Kaido to the west of what is now Tsuyama City. As I entered I got the feeling that this would turn out to be a "political" shrine from the early days of State Shinto.

I was right. It was established in 1869 and enshrined Emperor Go-Daigo and also Koji Takanori.

The new religion of State Shinto was an attempt to create a "unified nation" of Japan primarily through the symbol of the Imperial system. This was when lots of emperors had shrines built to them, and historians went through history looking for any figures or events that would contribute towards the narrative of an imperial tradition.

Go-Daigo was much revered during the Meiji period because in 1331 he attempted to overthrow the military government of the Kamakura Bafuku and  " restore" direct imperial rule. His plot was discovered and so was deposed and exiled to the Oki Islands.

The route of his journey to exile was along the Izumo Kaido and the military convoy escorting him stayed the night at the fortified residence of the military governor of the area, which is where Sakura Shrine was built.

Koji Takanori was loyal to Go-Daigo and hatched a plan to rescue him, however, his plan was not well thought out and most of his soldiers were scattered over a wide area, unsure of the route the convoy was taking.

Takanori was able to sneak into the property of the military governor, but with too few men was unable to execute any kind of rescue.

He did however carve a ten-character verse to Go-Daigo into the trunk of a cherry tree in the compound, hence the name Sakura shrine.

Like most of the state shinto shrines I found it rather sterile, though it is quite like a largish park. There are numerous shrines to Go-Daigo and also quite a few to Takanori scattered across Japan, but all of them date from the late 19th century.

This was day 5 of my walk along the Chugoku Kannon pilgrimage and the previous post was on Takano Shrine, the Ninomiya of the province.

Friday, April 12, 2024

Zenpukuji Temple 79 Kyushu pilgrimage


Zenukuji Temple is located in Imafuku, now part of Matsuubara City. It is the only Shingon temple in Imafuku and the only temple I visited on day 69 of my walk around Kyushu.

The temple has strong links with the Matsuura Clan after whom the city is named. The temple was established in 1335 as a Betto of Imamiya Shrine. 

The Imamiya Shrine enshrined the founder of the Matsuura Clan, and the temple was established as a place for the Buddhist priests who performed rituals at the shrine. . In the 17th century, the temple was moved to its current site from further inland.

The ceiling of the main hall had some beautiful ceiling paintings.

The honzon of the temple is a standing Amida Nyorai.

The main gate was relocated from a Tenmangu Shrine.

I arrived from the "back" way from the other side of the hill and through the neighbouring shrine.  88 statues with red bibs stood along the path.

At the base of the stairs running up to the main gate is an eclectic collection of small statues.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Sakurae Koinobori


Early May, 2013, and I start day 6 of my walk along the Kannon pilgrimage in the former province of Iwami, the Iwami Mandala Kannon. The last temple I visited was Senganji upriver in Kawamoto and the next two temples lie between it and my home so I decided to start out from my house and walk this section in reverse as it were.

The azaleas were starting to bloom and a few houses had koinobori carp streamers flying.

The colourful bridge that crosses the river between Tanijyugo, my village, and Kawado on the opposite bank, had recently had a new coat of paint.

Just upstream from the Kawado Bridge, two lines of koinobori are stretched across the river.

On the far bank is where the local suijin festival will take place on May 5th. A large Onusa, a purification wand, hangs over the river at this point to pacify the turbulent water deity.

The previous post in this series was Senganji Temple. Also please check out this post about the water deity Suijin.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Ikitsuki Giant Kannon


Japan is home to many monumental Buddhist statues, perhaps the most well-known being the one at Todaiji in Nara, though another in Kamakura is also very famous. The ones in Kamakura and Todaiji are quite old, the one in Nara dating all the way back to the 8th Century, however, the late 20th century and early 21st century saw many newer ones erected. like the enormous reclining Buddha in Sasaguri. 

The Bodhisattva Kannon, known to many as a "Goddess of mercy", has had numerous truly gigantic statues of her erected not just in Japan but also across East Asia. Many of these Giant Kannons are depicted standing and are constructed out of modern building materials rather than cast in bronze or carved in wood or stone. The one in Kurume is a good example, or the now demolished one on Awaji Island.

The Giant Kannon on Ikutsuki Island in Nagasaki is among Japan's largest seated bronze statues. It is also one of the least-known.

It stands 18 meters tall including the 3-meter pedestal. It weighs 150 tons. It was erected in 1990.

It was erected for World Peace, the spirits of mariners and fishermen, and to pray for the safety of the fishing boats embarking from the harbour below.

Underneath the statue is a small temple with a 1:10 scale replica of the statue, many other Kannon statues, and a fine pair of Nio guardians.

Ikitsuki Island is accessible via a bridge from Hirado Island which is itself accessible from the Nagasaki mainland. The previous post was a short guide to Hirado.

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Hirado, a Brief Guide.


Hirado is an island just off the coast of what is now Nagasaki prefecture, that though not so well known or visited was in historical times a major point of contact between Japan and the outside world.

Since 1977 a suspension bridge has connected the island to the mainland, but a small ferry also still runs across the 600-meter-wide strait and connects to the Tabirahiradoguchi station on the Matsuura Railways Nishikyushu Line, incidentally the westernmost railway station in Japan until the opening of the Okinawan Monorail. Buses from Hirado also connect with Sasebo.

The main town and harbour is quite picturesque and overlooked by Hirado Castle. The Union Jack fags are commemorating the 400th anniversary of the establishment of trade between Jaan and England in 1613. The man largely responsible for this was William Adams, the historical model for the fictional character in the novel and subsequent TV series Shogun. Adams spent the last 11 years of his life in Hirado. After a few years, the English gave up trade with Japan, ignoring Adam's advice, but gave Japan the sweet potato while here. Adams's grave, the site of his house, and the site of the English trading post are all well marked.

The Portuguese had been a presence in Hirado long before the English arrived. Portuguese traders arrived in 1549, and in 1550 the missionary Francies Xavier spent some time here. That is memorialized by the St. Francis Xavier Memorial Church on a hill overlooking the harbour. There are several other churches on the island as a reminder of the "Hidden Christians" who lived here during the Edo period. Following a fracas with local samurai that left 14 Portuguese dead, the Portuguese moved to what is now Nagasaki and were banned from Hirado

The Europeans with the biggest presence in Hirado were the Dutch. An accurate replica of their factory has been opened housing a museum. The Dutch arrived in 1609, the same time as William Adams, and stayed until 1641 until they were ordered to Dejima by the Shogunate. A monument has been erected to the Japanese wives and children of the Dutch traders who were exiled to Djakarta when the Dutch were moved to Dejima. A "Dutch Bridge"  that crosses to the former samurai district was not built until long after the Dutch had left Hirado.

Long before the Europeans arrived Hirado was an important point of contact with China. In the early 9th Century missions to and from China used Hirado. The most famous of these involved the monk Kobo Daishi, and the spot where he set sail is memorialized, and where he conducted a goma ceremony on his return from China is now the impressive Saikyoji Temple. In later centuries many other monks left and returned from China through Hirado, most famously Eisai, the introducer of Zen to Japan.

Hirado was controlled for almost a millennia by the Matsuura Clan. Though they never became one of the greater clans, they managed to keep control of Hirado. Involved in the defence of the area against the Mongol Invasion, they fought on the losing side at the Battle of Dannoura. Operating pretty much as pirates for some time, they also fought in Hideyoshi's invasion of Korea. Their former mansion above Hirado is now an excellent museum as is their castle overlooking the harbour.

Often overlooked by visitors, Hirado has plenty of interesting sites and is well worth a couple of days exploring. This was my second visit, while on Day 68 of my walk around Kyushu on the 108 temple Shingon pilgrimage.