Friday, May 19, 2023

Takeo Onsen to Kashima. Day 58 Kyushu Pilgrimage


Sunday February 16th 2014

I head off in the dark as I have a long distance to cover before I reach the room I've booked in Kashima tonight. On the top of a hill to the south of the town I come to my first port of call, the Saga Prefecture Space & Science Museum. I have heard that it is quite good, but I am far too early to be able to go inside, and anyway, it is the architecture that interests me. Like so many of these provincial museums, the architects have indulged themselves and created a modernist collage of protruding shapes and geometric solids reminiscent of a Sci-Fi movie-rendered space structure, freed from gravity. I wander around and get some good shots from all angles before heading off.

 It's good to be off the main roads as I cut across the hills. No commercial properties at all, and very little traffic. I feel much more comfortable as this is the kind of country where I do most of my walking. I notice that a lot of fields have wheat growing in them. I do pass a huge quarry.

As usual, I stop in at the local shrines I pass. At one of them, Uchida Tenmangu, a ceremony is about to take place so I hang back a little. There is a priest and about 8 men, all of them dressed in everyday clothes, so they are not village “elders”. I have attended many village shrine ceremonies over the years, and it is always just men. I have yet to see a woman at such an event. A later shrine was Kifune Shrine in Kawanobori.

As I get close to Ureshino I reach a bigger road and pass under an expressway. I find the place I have been eagerly anticipating, the Ureshino Hihokan, which translates as“Museum of Hidden Treasures”, a euphemism for sex museum. It would be hard to know what it was if you didn't read Japanese, as there was not a lot of signage, the most visible thing being a large golden statue of the Buddhist deity Kannon (pictured in the 3rd photo) flanked by a pair of Nio which made the building appear to be some sort of religious structure. There used to be a lot more of these places, many, like this one, in hot spring resorts, but they are disappearing. This one will be closing next month so I was glad of the opportunity to visit. 

A few minutes after leaving the Hihokan I leave the main road and take a smaller road towards the coast. All morning I had been climbing slightly, but now the road starts to descend. I notice a lot of houses have thatched roofs, rather the thatched roofs that have been covered over with tin. I am not sure when they started to do that, and you will also sometimes see a thatched roof that has been covered in tile. I do see a couple with the thatch uncovered, and one is a very large house with relatively new thatch.


At the junction in the road that leads to Yoshida the bus stop is in the shape of a tea pot. Yoshida is known for its ceramics. Further down the road I stop in at a large shrine with interesting features and history.

As I reach the coastal plain I can see Kashima ahead, a decent-sized town by the look of it. There are two pilgrimage temples nearby as well as some other sites I want to see but the sun is low in the sky so I will leave them till tomorrow. My ryokan is south of the busy town centre, on the edge of the old town so I look for a supermarket to stock up on provisions as I have booked a room with no meals.

This final pic is of a piece of kote-e, plaster-relief near my ryokan in Kashima.

Details of the previous day of this walk can be found in Saga to Takeo Onsen Day 57

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Hatten Shrine


In the mountains of Saga, about halfway between Ureshino and Kashima, I came upon this quite impressive shrine with some intriguing history and architecture.

Now called Hatten Shrine, until the Meiji Period it was known as Hattengu Shrine, 8 Tengu Shrine. It is said the original was established in the mid-7th century as a centre for Shugendo, the eclectic mountain-worshiping religion that was very influential in historical Jaan.

The current shrine is said to have been re-established here at the base of the mountain in 1222. The stone bridge, the only example of this style of bridge in Saga from the Edo period, is commonly referred to as a "spectacles bridge" even though there is only one arch.

Very unique was the "triple torii", a torii with two smaller torii attached to either side. I have seen other examples of this style, notably around Miwa in Nara, but this one used square stone pillars rather than cylindrical.

The shrine is now famous for fire safety, and the primary kami is Hino Kagutsuchi, the kami of fire. Also enshrined is Susano'o and the 8 kami of Kagutsuchi. When Izanami gave birth to Kagutsuchi she suffered burns that killed her. Izanagi killed him and from his blood, 8 kami strongly associated with swords were born, and from other parts of his corpse, a further 8 kami associated with mountains were born.

It seems that one, or both, of these groups of 8 kami became associated with Tengu. It also seems that fire, mountains, and swords all were associated with the introduction of metalworking. That may be why Susano is the secondary kami here as he was strongly associated with the introduction of metalwork and swords. Or, when the shrine was renamed in Meiji there was also some rewriting of the kami enshrined, a not uncommon occurrence. 

Though supported by the local daimyo over the centuries, the shrine never received any national recognition.

The previous post on day 58 of my first Kyushu pilgrimage was the Ureshino Hihokan.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Ureshino Hihokan part 2


This is the second part of a post on the Ureshino Museum of Hidden Treasures, a curiously 1980s Japanese take on a sex museum. Once fairly common in hot spring resorts, most have now closed down. This one in Ureshino, Saga, in Kyushu, closed its doors in 2014. The first part focussed mostly on fertility shrines.

The largest display was this tableau supposedly representing a Roman orgy. Many of the tableaux were what was called "animatronic" back in the 80's, that is to say, they moved, usually by small electric motors. However, dwindling numbers of visitors have meant no budget to maintain the displays.

A curious one showed Superman engaged in love-making while suspended over a bed. He had bright red hair, I suspect to avoid lawsuits.

There was very much an atmosphere of "peep show". In this one a crab pulled off the towel covering a buxom beachgoer to reveal her genitals. Most curious was that pubic hair was visible, a major taboo in Japan at that time.

Some of the displays depicted obviously foreign figures, while others were very traditional Japanese.... a samurai making love with a woman, a young woman stepping out of a hot spring, a prostitute welcoming a customer,.... a young maiden bent over picking tea in the hillsides of Ureshino....

Sexuality, nudity, what constitutes the erotic and pornographic, are all very much cultural constructions that vary across different cultures, and what was on display here was a curious mix that reflected Japan in the 80s.

There was nothing particularly "seedy", in fact to my mind it was very kitschy.

Other unusual exhibits included a replica of a "telephone club", or terekura as they were known. Long before the advent of cell phones and the internet, terekura were found in the entertainment districts of Japanese cities, and in them male customers would pay for access to small booths with phones connected to women with a view to making arrangements to meet up.

The other curious exhibit was not really a replica, rather it was an actual branch of a local lingerie store.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Disappeared Japan 5 Ureshino Museum of Hidden Treasures part 1


Just after crossing from Takeo into Ureshino I reached the place I had made a 15 kilometers detour to see, the Ureshino Hihokan.

With a large, golden statue of Kannon, the "goddess of mercy", flanked by two Nio guardians, one might think it was a Buddhist temple..... the modern concrete structure certainly had elements of traditional architecture,....

But sitting to one side of the entrance was a 4 metre long wooden phallus that indicated the true content of the building.

A Hihokan is a "museum of hidden treasures", and is a euphemism for a kind of museum devoted to sex... Hihokan were mostly built in the 1980's, and are mostly associated with hot spring resorts which enjoyed a boom at that time. However, hihokan are disappearing as quickly as they appeared, and this one was due to close down a month after I visited.

Actually, a large part of the exhibits were religious in nature. Fertility shrines can still be found in Japan featuring phalli, although the number is much reduced from historical times and the introduction of "Victorian" prudishness.

There were many replicas of such shrines. I myself seek out these vestiges of traditional culture and am still finding them hidden away on my explorations around the backcountry of Japan. There are a couple of big ones that are very famous, but they are not really typical. The typical fertility shrine is quite small but well-visited. A few weeks earlier on this pilgrimage, I visited Shibatatehime Shrine in Kumamoto.

Praying for a baby is the most common point of many of these "fertility" shrines, but some exist for other reasons. Up near Matsue is one where the big wooden phallus was prayed to for the relief of sexually transmitted diseases. I recently revisited another in Fukuoka, a very popular shrine, that is famous for answering prayers for sexual "vigor". A kind of spiritual viagra if you will.

There were a few examples of Shunga on display. Shunga was erotic and pornographic woodblock prints that were enormously popular during the Edo Period but which were suppressed and ignored, in Japan at least, until relatively recently following the aforementioned adoption of Victorian prudishness in the Meiji Period.

There was a small display of a variety of sexual paraphernalia like chastity belts, bondage gear, sex toys, etc, but the most intriguing, and to my mind wonderfully kitsch, were the animatronic displays that no longer worked, which I will cover in the second part......

The previous post in this series on the Kyushu Pilgrimage was the nearby Kifune Shrine. The previous post in the series of Disappeared Japan was Space World.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Higashikawanobori Kifune Shrine


Kawanobori is the last settlement along the old Nagasaki Kaido in Takeo before it comes into Ureshino. In Higashikawanobori I was surprised to find a Kifune Shrine, a branch of the famous Kifune Shrine in the mountains north of Kyoto. Banners were raised telling that a matsuri was in session.

Kifune Shrine enshrines Tamayorihime, the mother of mythical emperor Jimmu, and is said to be a kami of water and rain, so it was not surprising that this Kifune Shrine backs onto the river rather than up against the mountainside like most shrines.

Architecturally it was almost identical to the previous shrine, Uchida Tenmangu,  with a pavillion-style main hall and also a large sacred Camphor tree. The ceiling of the main hall also was covered in small paintings.

The original Kifune Shrine near Kyoto is famous for two things. One is that it is considered the origin of ema, the votive plaques found at most shrines and some temples. According to the story, the Emperor used to donate a horse for sacrifice to the shrine, a white horse to pray for rain to stop, and a black horse to make rain. Later a painting of a horse was used, and these became what are now ema.

The other things strongly associated with Kifune Shrine is in many senses a kind of Japanese voodoo called Ushi no Toki Mairi which involves nailing a straw figure to a tree at the shrine. The story has complex roots but is mostly known through the Noh play Kanawa.

While I was visiting a ceremony was taking place. The men taking part were dressed in everyday work clothes so I suspect it was some kind of Spring agricultural ritual.

The previous post was on Uchida Tenmangu.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Uchida Tenmangu


Mid February, and the plum trees lining the approach to Uchida Tenmangu are about to burst into bloom. Tenmangu shrines often have plum trees as they were a favorite topic for ancient Japanese poets and scholars like Sugawara Michizane who is enshrined here.

The bamboo attached to the torii would have been fresh when put up for the new year. The torii are Hizen-style as this is still within what used to be Hizen. Uchida is a small settlement in between Takeo and Ureshino in Saga.

I am heading up the Rokkaku River along National Route 34 which roughly follows the old Nagasaki Kaido.

There is no info on the shrine, although there are a lot of Tenmangu shrines in this part of Kyushu. There is a massive old camphor tree that suggests that the shrine has been here for some centuries.. although the pavilion-style main building has been recently rebuilt. Its ceiling is covered in small square paintings, but its too dark to get a good photo.

I'm on day 58 of my walk along the Kyushu Pilgrimage, though I am making quite a detour in order to visit a site that will be closing down in a few weeks....

The previous post was the nearby Otsubo Quarry.