Famous Battle of two great Swordmen
Musashi's most well known duel was in 1612. It was suppose to take place at 8 o'clock in the morning on a small island near Shimonoseki. But Musashi was late. Waiting for the sun to raise for his advantage, he even finished a drawing before entering the small ferry boat that brought him over to the island. Did he helped the poor boy who was struggling with the boat against the strong current? No! Meanwhile he cut out of an old wooden oar a sword, so long that it could take on the famous long blade of Kojiro. As soon as they reached the island, Musashi jumped out of the boat rushed towards his opponent. Kojiro who had been waiting for hours was very angry. He quickly drew his fine blade and made the first cut. He missed. Only a piece of Musashi's cloth was still sticking on his blade, as the big wooden oar came crushing down from up above.
This was the end...
Unkai, the female Buddha volcanos
Five peaks visible from a certain angle are reminiscent of a sleeping woman, and you don't want this woman to wake up because she might blow her top! Each of the five peaks are extinct volcanos but still located in a very active caldera! This is really spectacular in the mornign when the peaks are shrouded in mist.
- National/State Park
Noh Theater, in Suizenji Jojuen Garden
No Theater is a stage performs the No which is a major form of classical Japanese musical drama that has been performed since the 14th century.
[Back to Suizenji Jojuen Garden]
Visit the International Centre in Kumamoto City
Wifi is hard to find in Japan--not even your trusty Macdonalds outlet in Kumamoto provides Wifi. Hence, the International Centre in Kumamoto City which is incidentally located very near Kumamoto Castle solves your Internet woes by enabling you to use one of their three computers with free internet access. What's more, the counter staff speak English fluently, so they have inadvertently become my travel guides as I often pop up by the counter and ask them for directions to various interesting sights in Kumamoto Prefecture.
But the availability of free internet and friendly English-speaking Japanese is not the main reason why you should pay the Centre a visit. The International Centre promotes cultural exchange between the locals and foreigners and its pool of dedicated volunteers work very hard to organise events periodically aimed at helping foreigners gain a better understanding of Japanese culture. In the 8 months I have been here, I have participated in a sushi-making party, a tea ceremony and of course, a kimono-wearing occasion. Interesting, fun events that enabled me to mingle spontaneously with locals and foreigners alike.
So, if you have the chance to visit Kumamoto, just turn up at the tourist counter and ask the staff if there are any events planned for that day/weekend. Sign up on the spot and voila! you gain a couple of precious hours in which you can take things easy and learn more about Japanese culture
Gohyaku Rakan or the 500 Disciples of Buddha
These were carved over a 24 year period. It is on a hill overlooking the city. A very peaceful place to relax and reflect. The Reigando Cave is in the same area. This is where many great minds of ancient Japan secluded themselves, including Musashi Miyamoto, who wrote 'The Book of the Five Rings.'
- Arts and Culture
MOUNT ASO: World's largest caldera! Circumference = 130 km (80 mi). Basically this is a series of 5 volcanic cones of which Mount Nakadake is still active. Hot springs abound in this area & a cable car runs to the top of Mt. Nakadake. Well, unfortunately, the cable car was not functioning the day we were there. So, I didn't get to see the fuming crater! But, may be it's a good excuse to come back? ;-)
Photo Credit: Postcard.
Shinto torchlight ritual at Aso shrine
The Aso fire festival might have been designed to express prayers for a bountiful harvest but it also serves another useful purpose for the visiting tourist: to provide some much-needed warmth in this awkward transition from winter to spring when Japan still startles you with her bitter and strong gusts of wind. Which is beyond awesome in my books.
One of the festivities includes the Hifuri Shinji (Shinto torchlight ritual) held in mid-March at Aso Shrine. This ritual started at 6pm this year but if you are arriving by car, it would be a good idea if you come by 2-3 hours earlier so that you can find parking space. Yes, it is that highly anticipated. Plus, it wouldn't hurt to take your time to visit the exquisite shrine itself (which is another tip for another time). Heh.
So, what is the Hifuri Shinji? Essentially, you set fire to a pile of pine and swing it over your head. Around you are many, many people doing the same thing--the concept of personal space is barely adhered to since almost everyone wants to have a piece of the fun. Yes, anyone can join in the festivity. Hence, any reason to play with fire is always cool in my books, even if I am no aspiring pyromaniac. LOL.
Don't get too engrossed with the swinging though. Later on during the night, a group of Shinto priests appeared out of Aso Shrine and walked briskly through the stretch of people swinging these pine piles over their heads. If I am not mistaken, these burning pine piles serve as illumination for the Gods as they walk alongside the priests.
I also enjoyed a kick-ass taiko drumming performance in front of the entrance of the shrine. All in all, one of the best festivals I have had the opportunity to observe (and participate in!) in Japan
Roast your own mochi
Kumamoto was formerly known as the Fire Nation (Hi no Kuni), an apt moniker to describe the warm nature of people in Kumamoto. This is illustrated by how the farmers at Tomonji Area in Yoshino on Mt Kimpo organise four agricultural events every year. Heck, they even provide a free lunch! Their hospitality is incredible.
On Jan 14th, I had the opportunity to take part in a mochi-making event that these farmers organised. Mochi refers to rice cake and is made when one puts sticky rice into a wooden container while his partner pounds it with a wooden mallet. Hitting with the wooden mallet was hard work but hey, one has got to work for his lunch. Literally. It was cool that gratification came early, for as soon as the pounding was done, it was brought to another group of people who proceeded to mash it into small rice cakes and even insert fillings such as red bean paste and natto. We could then eat them on the spot!
And this is even before the real fun started. After tying our mochi to bamboo sticks, we were ready to roast them over the fire set up to start off the dondo yaki--a ritual to send off the Toshigami to the heavens. It is said that this Toshigami rises up along with the ashes and smoke as the fire burns. This fire, incidentally, was started by the local volunteer fire bridgade. A fire bridgade that STARTS fires? Sign me up for it already!
Yup, roasting marshmallows over a campfire now seems mildly uninteresting after I have taken part in a dondo yaki, especially so when many people were roasting their mochi together at the same time. It was nice to feel part of something bigger. Heh.
P.S: If you know that you will be in Kumamoto on the 14th-15th of January, send me a private message in December and I'll see if I can register you for this interesting event.
P.P.S: Check this out for a more comprehensive account of dondo yaki:
Visit Shimabara! The city lies...
Visit Shimabara! The city lies actually in Nagasaki prefecture and is far by road, but you can take a ferry ship from Kumamoto port and reach the city within one hour.
The city has lot of sights and is a great one-day escape!!
Ever heard about the 'Minamata...
Ever heard about the 'Minamata disease'?? In the city of Minamata (Kumamoto prefecture), the local chemical industry released mercury containing waste into the sea; the metal accumulated in the local fishes and, as fish is 'the' food for japanese, poisoned the locals.
This sad story makes it worthwhile to visit the city of Minamata, e.g. checking out the related museum. There is also a bamboo garden there.
To visit a mountain temple,...
To visit a mountain temple, one has to climb 3333 steps somewhere within Kumamoto prefecture. Note - this is NOT a simple walk in the park, so come prepared for a sweating 2-hours excercise!!
The good news is - the local town has an 'onsen' (hot spring) bath house, so after you are down, you can (and probably have to) relax.......
Musashi's wooden oar
You can find the weapons of Musashi and Kojiro in the Shimada Art Museum.
It is not very far off from Kumamoto-jo... I walked.
Kojiros fine Long-Blade
The museum is just a small place, but well worth visiting, if you are interested in the samurai history of Japan.
Izumi Shinto Shrine, in Suizenji Jojuen Garden
[Back to Suizenji Jojuen Garden]
Statue of Tadayoshi Hosokawa
[Back to Suizenji Jojuen Garden]
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