Thursday, September 19, 2019

Kirishima Mask Museum

Being a mask maker myself, I have a great interest in masks and am always on the lookout for them on my walks. Ive visited a few small mask museums, ut the absolute best was in Kirishima.

Located close to the entrance to Kirishima Jingu Shrine up in the mountains of Kagoshima, it called itself Kirishima Tengu-kan, and there were plenty of tengu masks on display, but there were also hundreds and hundreds of other masks from all over Japan.

There were Noh masks, Kagura masks, new masks, old masks, and I even found some examples of my local Iwami Kagura masks. Apparently, it was the private collection of a local man.

Most of the masks were Japanese, but there were also collections from Africa and Asia. A delightful surprise and not a well known place, well worth stopping by if you are in the area.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Not the Village of Dolls

On my first day walking the Kyushu Fudo Myo Pilgrimage I left Taizoji Temple and the Kumano Magabutsu and started north along the road. The first few days of the pilgrimage I was going to be roughly following the old shugendo pilgrimage route around the Kunisaki Peninsula. Not far along the road I came across these figures by the side of the road dressed as pilgrims.

I thought the figures were just connected to the pilgrimage, but then a bit further up the road I spied this female figure with an old couple back at the abandoned building.

The group of skiers made it clear that these were another example of the kinds of "dolls" that are appearing all around Japan in depopulated areas, the most famous of which is Nagoro in Tokushima that has received masses of international media attention.

While Nagoro is the most famous, I have seen such figures in amny places on my walks around the hinterland. They have been developed out of scarecrows. I remember about 18 years ago walking in the mountains in my home area and coming across a big group of brightly decorated figures in some small rice paddies by the side of the road. It was called a scarecrow festival.

Friday, September 13, 2019

An Icon of Metabolism: The Miyakonojo Civic Center

While in Miyakonojo I stopped by a strange piece of architecture, the Miyakonojo Civic Center.

It was built in 1966 and was designed by architect Kiyonori Kikutake.

Kikutake was part of an architectural movement called Metabolism that operated in the 1950's and 60's, and was almost a purely Japanese movement. It claimed to be a reaction to Western modern architecture that it said was too much based on the machine.

Quite a few of the top architects of late 20th Century Japan were part of, or influenced by, Metabolism, but in reality not a lot got built, rather utopian designs for cities and towns were the main focus.

World Expo 70 in Osaka was perhaps the peak of metabolism with many of the architects and designs being featured there.

I'm sure that when it was constructed, with fresh white concrete, it must have looked quite impressive.......

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Shitennoji Temple

Shintennoji Temple is one of the oldest temples in Japan, having been established in 593, and is located in Osaka, a place not too many associates with ancient Japan, but which was the capital for a while.

According to the legend, it was Shotoku Taishi who established the temple, although there is a lot of scholarship that suggests much of the myth and lore of Shotoku Taishi was made up long after his death. What is clear, however, is that it was builders from the Korean Peninsula that constructed the temple and that it was descendants of Korean immigrants that were settled in the area of what is now Osaka.

Though rebuilt many, many times over the centuries, the original design is somewhat adhered to. It is a large complex with many buildings and also gardens. Shitenno are the 4 Heavenly Kings who guard the Buddhist world.

I was here for the first time as Shinteenoji is the first temple on the Kinki Fudo Myo Pilgrimage

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Tanokami, Eggs, A Church, a Giant Torii, & A Dragon

On the 26th day of my first walk around Kyushu I headed directly north from Shibushi towards Miyakonojo where I had a room for the night. As usual I stopped in at any shrines I passed, and after leaving one that was down a track I noticed a statue in the corner of a rice paddy.

This turned out to be a statue of Tanokami, the god of the rice paddies, and though I had come across this kami before, this was the first time I had seen one in statue form. I had heard that southern Kyushu had plenty of these statues and hoped to find lots more over the next week or so.

One thing Japan is renowned for is the huge number of vending machines, and in the countryside you can find some strange ones. Vending machines for fresh eggs are actually not all that unusual.

Walking through the outskirts of Miyakonojo I came across this church. It's a real church, a Catholic one built in 1933, not a fake wedding chapel, which incidentally I saw a little later. The fake wedding chapels are usually much bigger and grander, with plenty of soaring spires and elaborate gothic decorations.....

After checking in to my room I went for a walk and couldn't miss a huge torii straddling the road. This led to the towns main shrine set in a big park. Kamibashiragu Shrine seems to be connected to the arrival of the Shimazu Clan in southern Kyushu, though now it has plenty of imperial kami enshrined.

Monday, September 2, 2019

When a Tree is a Shrine. Oyama Shrine on Dogo

That a natural phenomenon or an object like a mountain, a rock, a spring, or waterfall could be sacred  or home to something sacred is not at all uniquely Japanese, but a fairly universal occurance. However such things are commonly found throughout Japan. This is Oyama Shrine in the mountains of Dogo, the largest of the Oki Islands that are part of Shimane.

There is a torii and a couple of lanterns, but no buildings. The shrine is a giant tree. It is a sugi, commonly called Japanese Cedar but it is not actually a cedar. It is estimated to be over 800 years old.

In April villagers from Fuso, a fishing village on the coast at the base of the mountains, come here with a long vine and wrap it around the base of the tree seven and a half times. I am unsure if there is a significance to that number. Ritual objects that carry prayers and requests are then inserted into the wrapped vine.

There are quite a few sacred trees on Dogo, a nearby one being the Chichi Sugi. Being remote and isolated the Oki Islands have kept a lot of traditions.

To get a sense of the size of the tree you could see the cover photo on my facebook page

Friday, August 30, 2019

Finding Accommodation Bargains

When I am walking around Japan I am on a serious budget. For accommodation, I often sleep out, called nojuku in Japanese. Under bridges, in bus shelters, shrines, etc, I settle in after dark and leave before light. Sometimes I want or need to pay for a room, and I will always try and find the cheapest option. Because I'm walking I don"t have a lot of leeway with location, so choices are often limited.

I primarily use two methods to find a room in advance, one is to use Rakuten, the Japanese shopping site that has a much wider range of accommodation establishments than the other hotel booking sites, and more importantly in the remoter areas where I usually travel. Often, if you look carefully into the details you can find special deals, maybe for specific dates or if a place has recently changed ownership etc. A case in point is Guesthouse Suzukaze near Shibushi in southern Kyushu.

It is among a group of new houses that were purpose-built as guesthouses. There is a hot spring nearby that has no accommodations. They were advertising a room for one without meals, sudomari in Japanese, for 3,500 yen. Not a bad price, but they offered a reduction for people traveling by cycle, AND a huge reduction for anyone who was walking, a price of just 1,000 yen. The owner had spent a lot of time backpacking around the world and wanted to offer help to similar souls.

For that price, I got a six-tatami room with AC and wifi, with a shower room next door. However, the owner was really into chatting so gave me a couple of cans of beer to drink while chatting. He also drove me a few miles to visit a shrine as I had expressed interest in such things. Next morning he gave me some toast and eggs with coffee. Not a bad 1,000 yen.

The other method I am fond of is googlemaps. If you zoom in then obviously more details emerge, and this way I have found many small, independent places that have limited web presence. While searching around Ajimu in the middle of Oita Prefecture I came across Musica B&B. It seemed to be an eatery housed in a barn. By typing the name into google and searching I found a bunch of blogs that talked about the place. It is primarily an eatery that offers big, tasty meals at low prices, but is also a Rider House.

I had never heard of a Rider House before, but apparently, there are quite a few scattered around japan offering budget accommodation to people traveling by motorbike. I phoned them up and booked one night for 3,500 yen including two meals!! The cafe was closed that day but the elderly couple opened it up just for me. They fired up one of the pot-bellied woodstoves that heated the cavernous and very funky interior. Dinner was tasty and filling and came with a couple of free beers. Both the husband and wife had their evening meal with me and were very chatty and inquisitive. Breakfast next morning was also substantial.

I slept in a large room that had a heated carpet. There was wifi, TV and a computer to use. The walls were covered with flyers for other rider houses around the country and snapshots of previous gusts and their bikes.

If you are willing to do some searching, there are still amazing deals to be found with older, independent businesses that go way beyond the robotic hospitality that is the norm.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

The Start of the Saigoku Pilgrimage

Saturday, March 5th, 2016 and I leave Seiganto-ji, the first temple on the Saigoku Pilgrimage. It was not originally the first temple. That was, I believe, Hasedera up in Nara, but I'm guessing because of the popularity of the pilgrimages to Kumano it was changed.

The first 8 days or so of the Saigoku Pilgrimage follows the same route as some of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage routes, and this section from Nachi up to Homgu is called the Nakahechi From the temple stone steps climb up through the forest.

After a while it opens up and become Nachi Kogen Park and it's possible to look down over Nachi and further south. Just as I'm leaving the park I meet a young Frenchman walking in the opposite direction. He has come from Tanabe, where most people start, and after Nachi he will walk the Iseji route up the coast. He complained about the paucity of places to sleep out on the route, having spent a rainy night in the disabled toilets of a park on his first night out.

He was the last person I saw that day. The path continued to climb through the forest and from the site of a former teahouse there are even more expansive views. When the Kumano Kodo was a popular pilgrimage route there were many teahouses along the way offering refreshments and respite for pilgrims, but now they almost all just marked by a sign.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

A Walk Along the Japan Sea Coast part 4 No-Name Cove

Leaving Shiota I walk through the tunnel that carries route 9. The "sidewalk" is about 20 cms wide. Fortunately, they have opened a new By-Pass and the traffic through the tunnel has been reduced by about 95% so it was not so dangerous. Immediately after the tunnel is a small cove down below. There appears to be a path, used by fishermen I suspect, but it is well overgrown so I give it a miss.

The road winds and climbs and at the pass, a small lane leads off. There are no signs. The road winds down to a small car park and a wonderful little cove. No maps have a name for this place but it seems to be an official swimming spot. there is a little toilet and also a shower. The flag is flying saying no swimming today.

The tide is high and the onshore wind makes the sea rough, but a half dozen or so surfers are out. There are a bunch of small boathouses though I have never ever seen a boat on the water. I think they may belong to pleasure fisherpersons.

I get my feet wet scrambling over the rocks and pass through a couple of small beaches, but at the final rocky outcropping the sea is too high and I can't get through to Asari Beach, so climb back up to the road and head home. Years ago we were here when the sea was much calmer and the tide lower,  and we were able to get through. Some pics of that can be seen here on my Marine Day post.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

A Walk Along the Japan Sea Coast part 3 Shiota

I suspect the fishing harbour at Watazu was busier in days gone by. It was big enough to have an ice-making facility, though it is possible that it was used by all the small fishing boats that come out of Gotsu around the corner on the banks of the river as I don't think there is an icemaking facility there.

Leaving the harbour there is then about 900 meters of narrow beach with the almost obligatory lines of concrete tetrapods just offshore.

Ahead is a headland that offers no possibility of walking around. The sand is piled high behind the beach, naturally as far as I can tell, and this embankment offers protection for the hamlet of Shiota in the hollow behind it.

Shiota, like my hamlet, is not a place anyone passes through. You either pass  by it, or go into. it. The lanes are narrow and most of the houses are older.

Route 9 and the Sanin rail line pass by somewhat enclosing Shiota before both of these main transportation arteries punch through the headland with tunnels. In the old days the Sanin -do, the ancient highway, passed over the hills a little inland from here.

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