Roads less travelled in Kyushu and Honshu

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April 16th 2018
Published: April 16th 2018
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Beautiful peonies at Yuushien Gardens
After Nagasaki we entered uncharted territory as we travelled across Northern Kyushu. Col, Hide and I had never been ther but luckily for us Daisuke had. Because a cyclone last year took out a major bridge along the train route to Hita we had a coach take us the last couple of hours. That turned into an advantage as we detoured into the mounains to visit the tiny pottery town of Onta. Only 11 families live there and they all create Ontayaki pottery using age old methods. The local clay is crushed by a large water driven hammer before being soaked into slurry. The kneaded and wedged clay is thrown using a foot wheel to make everyday wares with simple clay and glaze finishes. The pots are dried outside on batterns and fired in a traditional hill or anagama

We all felt that we had stepped back to an earlier era as we wandered down the quiet streets hearing only the thump, thump of the hammers, exploring the different kilns, watching potters throw pots and bowls and visiting each family shop. Onta is still recovering from cyclone damage and a bus load of eager Australian shoppers was most likely appreciated.

Hita itself was a lovely surprise with its fabulous float museum filled with massive top heavy floats that are used annually for a festival. Our onsen on the riverbank had a roof top outdoor bath which was well used that night. This town deserves more than one night stay as some complained they didn't have time to visit the brewery or to find the shops!

The next day we used the coach to explore the remote Kunisaki Peninsula, one of the most important ancient religious areas of Japan, reminiscent of the Kumono Kodo pilgrim route we visited last time, and so far thankfully undiscovered by tourists. Katsuki samurai town took its toll on some knees as we climbed up and down 100 stairs to see a tiny castle perched in a perfect defensive position over the Seto Sea and river inlet and then walked the slopes of the old town. Before we left icecreams and coffee fixed both knees and spirits.

The 1100 year old Futiji Temple in the mountains was simple, serene and surrounded by natural beauty. The syncretism of Shinto, Buddhism and ancient mountain religions, a feature of Kunisaki, was explained by the young monk who is in training to take over from his father. He had lived in Australia as a chef and to entice him home his father built a restaurant and ryokan next the the temple. We had "oishii" cold soba noodles there before he went with us up to the Temple to talk about it's construction, history and importance as the oldest wooden building on Kyushu and its Amida Buddha.

Futagogi Temple is near the highest peak on the peninsula in a magnificent setting and again the monk very generously took time to talk to us about the culture and religion. Some hardy souls climbed to the top to see the Kannon Bodhisattva with its 1000 arms whilst others wandered, photographed the views and took in the serene beauty. After a night at an old fashioned beach side hotel where we could walk on the beach we went to Usa Jingu, the 8th century head of 44 000 Hachiman Shinto shrines in Japan. A feast of vermilion greeted us as we followed Shinto practice to pray for good fortune.

A longish days travel by bus and train back onto Honshu, to get to Matsue on the Sea of Japan coast, was made longer by track work on a section of track where an earthquake had struck a few days earlier. This meant a transfer to a crowded bus for three hours. Reminiscent of NSW rail travel woes between Sydney and Newcastle!

Matsue, a small city situated between two lakes, had a local bus that made getting around to see the town sights easy. However a boat ride along the town canals caused mirth and quite a bit of discomfort when we had to crawl onto the floor of the boat first and almost lie right down to get under some bridges. Our next water adventure was equally uncomfotable as our sunset cruise on the lake was in strong winds and a high swell and so only a few saw the sunset at all.

Without doubt the highlights of Matsue the next day were Adachi (the no 1 garden in Japan for 15 years), Yuushien (famous for its peonies but also wonderful plate sized tulips and lush moss gardens) and Vogel (indescribable hanging gardens, spectacular owl show and a bird zoo) Gardens. Each was very different but all were equally interesting. The photographers had a field day.

Another day of travel by 4 different medium to small 1 carriage trains took us to Amanohashidate, one of the three recognised most beautiful spots in Japan. As Hide says Japanese like to declare the best three gardens, views etc. We have seen 2 of the 3 this trip he sid we have to come back for the 3rd one...

The weather was deteriorating due to a gale moving up the coast but held off long enough for us to go up by chairlift or monorail to see the view from the top of the mountain. Some looked between their legs to get the upside down view that apparently resembles a dragon!

A quick change of plans the next day due to the poor weather when we cancelled a boat trip at Ine (twice burnt...) saw us reach Kanazawa, one of our favourite cities, early enought to go to Kenrokuen, the 21 Century Museum with time to do the shops. Last call for the day was the Toyama Glass Art Museum where we marvelled at the building and the Dale Chihuly work on display. Thanks to Hide, Alison, Maria and Monica whise photos are included.

One more post to come about our extra special Alpine adventure and the last couple of days in Japan.

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