Saturday, February 22, 2020

Kabura-Sugi The Turnip Tree of Dogo

Kabura Sugi

This unusual tree is called Kabura Sugi and it can be found on Dogo, the largest of the Oki Islands in the Japan Sea off the coast of Shimane. Kabura is a kind of Japanese turnip-like vegetable with a round body with numerous stems rising vertically.

Kabura Sugi

This particular tree has 6 trunks and rises to about 42 meters. It is estimated to be about 600 years old.

Kabura Sugi

I believe it a species of cypress called Urasugi that is found on the slopes of the mountains on the island. It's more famous cousin found nearby is the Boob Cedar.

Kabura Sugi

Thursday, February 20, 2020



Sakurajima is the large volcano clearly visible across the water from Kagoshima City and a landmark of the area. It is the most active volcano in Japan with plumes of smoke and ash visible many times a year.


The name Sakurajima means "Cherry Blossom Island" though it is no longer an island. A major eruption in 1914 resulted in lava flows that connected the island to the mainland and so it is now a peninsula.


Visiting Sakurajima is one of the most popular activities for visitors to the area, and a constant stream of ferries shuttle back and forth from Kagoshima.


Obviously visitors are not allowed too close to the volcanoes but a small tour bus goes to an observation point so you can get a closer look.


A major eruption is expected within 30 years.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Gardens at Gokuraku-ji Temple

zen garden
Karesansui style Zen garden at Gokurakuji Temple in Kinosaki Onsen
Gokurakuji Temple, in a back street of the popular hot spring resort of Kinosaki Onsen, has some nice, small gardens, one of which is quite unusual.

zen garden panorama
Panoramic view of the gardens at Gokurakuji Temple in Kinosaki
Outside the temple gate is a small hillside garden with miniature waterfalls and a lot of statuary, but inside the gate the whole courtyard is given over to 2 karesansui dry gardens.

karesansui with 2 color gravel
Unusual 2 color raked gravel in the garden at Gokurakuji Temple
One of the gardens has raked gravel of two different colors, white, and grey, with theb two being separated by rooftiles set vertically. I can't remember ever having seen the two colors before like this, though using rooftiles to separate sections is fairly common in many types of garden.

Paths extend between the two gardens so they can be viewed from many different angles. The temple also offers zazen classes followed by green tea while viewing the gardens from inside the temple.

801 Kinosakicho Yushhima, Toyooka-shi, Hyogo 669-6101
Tel: 0796 32 2326

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Shiryokan Izushi History Museum


japanese traditional interior
The Shiryokan History Museum in Izushi housed in a traditional residence.
Izushi is a small castle town in northern Hyogo, now a part of Toyooka City. The old town contains about 50 acres of Preservation District for Groups of Traditional Buildings, and here is located the Shiryokan, the local history museum.

traditional genkan
Genkan entrance hall of a wealthy merchants house from the Edo Period
It's in an Edo Period residence of a wealthy merchant family, a cluster of connected buildings with lots of art and artifacts on display, but for me, it was the architecture itself, especially the interiors, that were the star of the show.

Irori and tokonoma
small irori in the floor with tokonoma behind
Spread over 2 floors, there is a veritable warren of rooms to explore filled with tatami, shoji, tokonoma, irori, fusuama, and all the traditional features of Japanese interiors. Somewhat unusual was the reddish hue of many of the walls, which comes from local clay.

Traditional chigai-dana shelving
Chigai-dana, traditional shoin-style shelving
A large storehouse also has displays of samurai weapons and armor.

Inside Izushi History Museum
sunlight through summer lattice windows cast strong shadows on tatami
Izushi History Museum
78 Izushicho Yoida, Toyooka-shi, Hyogo 668-0232
Tel: 0796-52-6556
Open 9:30am to 5pm every day except Tuesdays and over the new year
Entry 300yen for adults, 180 yen for kids

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Jizo Jaya Teahouse

Jizo Jaya Teahouse

Rest area at Jizo Jaya Teahouse
Rest area at Jizo Jaya Teahouse on the Kumano Kodo
Towards the end of my first day walking the Saigoku Pilgrimage, I reached the site of the former Jizo Jaya Teahouse. It is located about halfway along the Ogumotori-goe section of the Nakahechi Route of the Kumano Kodo. This first section of the Saigoku pilgrimage follows the Kumano Kodo route for a few days. During the previous few hours of climbing up through the forest I had passed signs indicating former sites of teahouses along the path, none of which still stand.

Rest area at Jizo Jaya Teahouse
The view from the rest area at Jizo Jaya Teahouse
These teahouse4s were not the rustic, but expensive, small rooms where the rich indulged their pretensions to sophistication by memorizing a complex set of minute rituals of the tea ceremony. Nor were they the tearooms of the pleasure districts of Edo Period Japan where sexual assignations took place, a foreunner of the Love Hotels of today. These teahouses were more akin to the service areas found along highways nowadays, places to rest, refuel, and replenish.

Jizo-do on the Kumano Kodo
Jizo-do at Jizo Jaya Teahouse rest area.
Now there is a covered rest area for shelter from the weather, toilets, and even a vending machine. A recently rebuilt Jizo-do houses a group of Jizo statues, and there is also a large, gravel floored structure which is open and also available to take shelter and rest.

Jizo Statues
Jizo statues along the Kumano Kodo
The trail had followed a forest road for a few k, though there was absolutely no traffic. In fact, I had not seen any other humans other than a solitary Frenchman since I left Seigantoji Temple at the start of my walk earlier in the day. This was an obvious place to stop for the night as there was nothing but forest for the next 10k or so. Most people nowadays have well-planned and organized schedules for their pilgrimages where nothing is left to chance and the unexpected is avoided. It is recommended that this section of the trail be started early so accommodation or transport can be reached easily. I prefer to carry a sleeping bag and enough food and drink so that I can wing it and take advantage of the unexpected adventures that offer themselves and so get to sleep rough a fair bit. Some of you, I hope, can appreciate that  the delights of sleeping out often outweigh the discomforts.

Rest area at Jizo Jaya Teahouse
Rest space for pilgrims and hikers along the Nakahechi Trail.

For as far as my ears could hear, and as far as my eyes could see, I was alone. Without a cellphone or other people I was free to immerse myself in the world and allow my usually chattering mind to continue its solo dance without distractions.

Buy dokudami tea from Japan

Monday, February 10, 2020

Mansion for Foreign Engineers in Kagoshima

Mansion for Foreign Engineers in Kagoshima

Ijinkan Foreigners mansion in Kagoshima
Ijinkan Foreign Engineers Residence in Kagoshima

Built in 1866 to house British engineers that were constructing a modern spinning mill as part of Satsuma Domains importation of Western technology, the Kyu Kagoshima Bosekisho Gishikan is usually known simply as Ijinkan. Since 2015 it has been a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Meiji Industrialization.

Ijinkan Foreigners mansion in Kagoshima
Ijinkan Foreigners mansion in Kagoshima

In 1862 an Englishman, Charles Lennox Richardson, had been cut down by Satsuma samurai for blocking the advance of their lords procession. Known as the Namamugi Incident after the village where the act occurred, the English demanded reparations and apologies, which they got from the Japanese government but which Satsuma absolutely refused. Consequently in 1863 a squadron of Royal Navy ships entered Kagoshima waters and bombarded the town. The town had been evacuated but there was plenty of material damage and a few Japanese were killed. More English were killed by the return fire, and both sides claimed victory.

Ijinkan Foreigners mansion in Kagoshima
The front porch of the Ijinkan in Kagoshima

The Satsuma, however, must have been impressed with the British because they very soon sent a group of students to England to study, even though this was illegal under Japanese law. They also sent samurai to purchase machinery and hire engineers to install the machinery and teach its use. It was for these engineers that the mansion was built.

Main hallway inside the Ijinkan Foreign Engineers mansion in Kagoshima
Main hallway inside the Ijinkan Foreign Engineers mansion in Kagoshima

Built in what would now be called "colonial" style, an English engineer oversaw construction, but it was built by Japanese carpenters and so includes elements of both cultures architectural elements. The inside has many displays and artifacts about this industrialisation process and the engineers and machinery. nearby is the Shuseikan, one of the stone built factories containing some of the machinery and more displays about the time. There are also a few other wooden, western-style houses in the vicinity like the former head office of the Serigano Gold Mine Comopany.

Former Office of the Serigano Gold Mine in Kagoshima
Former Office of the Serigano Gold Mine in Kagoshima


Saturday, February 8, 2020

Shodoshima Pilgrimage Temple 3 Kannonji

Shodoshima Pilgrimage Temple 3 Kannonji

Kannonji was the first  temple I visited on the Shodoshima Pilgrimage that was big enough to have a resident priest. What appeared to be varved dragons ran along the steps leading up to it.

Shodoshima Pilgrimage Temple 3 Kannonji

Legend has it that the temple was founded by Kobo Daishi himself, and the statue of 11-face Kannon is claimed to be his work. It is a "secret" Buddha and so cannot be seen by the public.


Like many of the temples on the pilgrimage there is a statue of Kobo Daishi. The Onigawara tiles were also in a style I don't remember seeing before.

Roof tile

The okunoin, inner sanctuary, of the temple is in the cliffs on the mountaintop behind, not far from temples 1 and 2. The old priest came out to greet me and we chatted for a while and he showed me to rout to follow. I would meet him again later up at temple 1

Shodoshima Pilgrimage Temple 3 Kannonji

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Cat Shrine

Cat Shrine

Cat Shrine ema

Nekogami Shrine is located in the grounds of Sengan-en gardens in Kagoshima and was moved to this location when the Shimazu family moved into their summer villa here after 1868.


The story is that the 17th Shimazu lord took seven cats with him when he took part in Hideyoshi's invasion of Korea in 1592. The legend says that the cats were used as timekeepers on the journey as time could be told by the dilation of their pupils in the sunlight, but I would take that story with many pinches of salt.

Cat Shrine

On his return to Japan only two cats had survived and so in 1602  he enshrined them in Nekogami Shrine. It is now a hugely popular spot for cat lovers who leave ema votive plaques to memorialize cats who have died and also to pray for the health of living cats.

Cat Shrine

Cat Shrine

Purchase a selection of ema from GoodsFromJapan

Monday, February 3, 2020

Chinowa at Okayama Shrine

Chinowa at Okayama Shrine

A chinowa is a ring made out of a kind of reed/grass that can be found at shrines and is used as a form of purification. You pass through the hoop 3 times to cleanse yourself of sin and pollution.

Traditionally they were set up for the last days of the 6th lunar month, though nowadays they can be found at various times. Their legendary origin is attributed to Susano, the mythical founder of the Izumo culture and polity.

I encountered this one on July 25th at the entrance to Okayama Shrine in downtown Okayama City. Believed to have been founded in the 9th Century, the shrine was located across the river where Okayama Castle now stands and was moved here when the castle was constructed.

Over the years it has accumulated various kami and there are also various sub-shrines in the grounds. Like much of Okayama City it was destroyed by air raids back in the war and is now a modest concrete structure.

Chinowa at Okayama Shrine

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Sengan-en Gardens

Sengan-en was the summer estate and gardens of the Shimazu Clan who ruled over what is know called Kagoshima. It is located north of downtown Kagoshima and covers more than 12 acres.

It was built in the middle of the 17th Century and includes the main manor house and numerous other structures including a pavilion built by Ryukuan vassals. The large, park-like gardens were built in Chinese style and utilizes the "borrowed scenery" of the bay and the volcano Mount Sakurajima.

The Kyokusai garden features a meandering stream and this was the site of parties that involved poetry drinking games. A cup with sake would be placed at the top end of the stream and while it floated downstream a tanka poem need to be composed and read. Failure to do so meamnt the forfeit of having to drink the sake. Hardly an inducement for success I would have thought.

There are many other features including shrine, gates, lanterns etc, and here was where the Shimazu began their attempts to set up western industrial practices that are now World heritage Sites.