Japan (March 29 - April 8, 2017): Kagoshima, Kumamoto, and Fukuoka


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Kagoshima is Japan′s southernmost large city. It is located in the northeastern side of the Satsuma Peninsula, on the shore of the Kinko Bay. It faces Sakurajima, an active volcano (1117m) towering on the other side of the bay.


View of Sakurajima (toward the east) from Kagoshima′s harbor.


Streets in Kagoshima: Daimonguchi Dori (first photo below) and Tenmonkan Dori (next two photos).



Bronze statues of children playing on the Tenmonkan Densha Dori bridge across the Kotsuki river.


Stone turtle and cow in the precinct of the Iso Tenjin Sugahara shrine, located north of Kagoshima on the Kinko Bay, 600m south of the main gate of Sengan-en (see below).


Located 6km north-east of the Kagoshima Chuo railway station, Sengan-en is the second residence of the Shimazu clan that ruled the fiefs of Satsuma, Osumi and Hyuga for about 700 years from the end of the 12th century. It was built in 1658 by the 19th lord of the clan, Matsuhisa. Adjacent to the Sengan-en residence is the site of the Shuseikan project, an important industrial complex launched in 1851 by the 28th lord of the Shimazu clan, Nariakira, to modernize and strengthen Japan′s economy and military.


Left: the Shimazu clan mon (emblem) cut in stone. Right: Shimazu Nariakira.


Main gate of the Sengan-en residence and gardens. Note the ubiquity of the Shimazu clan mon.



The vermillion tin-roofed gate that gives access to the residence proper. In fact, this gate was the main gate until the end of the 19th century.


Partial view of the residence and its surrounding garden.


Tsurugane shrine in Sengan-en, where the successive lords of Shimazu are enshrined, along with Kamejuhime, the Goddess of Beauty.




Oniwa shrine.


In the Sengan-en gardens.




A small, but unusual monument: this is the ″burial site″ (created by the 27th lord) of all the no-longer-usable writing brushes used by members of the Sengan-en residence. A stone in the shape of a writing brush (now broken) used to stand above the tortoise-shaped base.


Views from the Shusendai viewpoint (in the upper part of the Sengan-en gardens): Sakurajima in the first photo below and part of Kagoshima in the second photo.





Kumamoto is famous for its castle, considered one of the three best in Japan, along with those of Himeji and Matsumoto. However, already a reconstruction, the castle has been severely damaged by a powerful earthquake in April 2016. Full restoration is expected to take two decades.






Statue of Kato Kiyomasa (1562-1611). Following the battle of Sekigahara (1600) he became lord of the Higo Province, renamed the Kumamoto Prefecture after the abolition of the feudal system. In 1607 he built the Kumamoto castle.



Statue of Tani Tateki (1837-1911). As a general in the Imperial Japanese Army he helped suppress samurai uprisings in Kyushu. During the Satsuma Rebellion he withheld a 52-day siege in the Kumamoto castle (1877) and eventually defeated Saigo Takamori, who is remembered as the ″Last Samourai″.




Cherry blossom, in and around Tenjin Central Park, along the Yakuin Shinkawa river.






Tochoji temple. This temple is the oldest Buddhist temple of the Shingon sect in Kyushu.


Cherry blossom in the temple.


Five-story, 23m-high pagoda of the temple.


Kushida shrine. This Shinto shrine, said to have been founded in 757, enshrines guardian deities of Hakata (eastern half of Fukuoka). It is the starting point of the ″Hakata Gion Yamakasa″ summer festival believed to have originated in the mid-thirteen century to get protection from the plague epidemic. During this festival highly decorated Yamakusas (over 10m-tall floats) are carried throughout town.




The yamakasa created by the Kushida shrine for the last festival is exhibited for one year and then replaced by the new one.


Sumiyoshi shrine. This temple is the first Sumiyoshi shrine of approximately 2000 that now exist in Japan. In addition to be the god of culture, fortune, prophecy, and fishery, Sumiyoshi is also worshiped as the god of the sport of Sumo, which was originally practiced as a Shinto ritual.


Entrance to the main shrine.


Main shrine.


Statue of an ancient Sumo wrestler on the right side of the shrine.


Secondary shrine in the precinct.


Pathway of torii gates.


Nanzo-in temple. This Buddhist temple of the Shingon sect is set in a forest adjacent to the village of Sasaguri, approximately 20km northwest of the center of Fukuoka. It is easily accessible by train from the Hakata station. Although it is most notable for its 41m-long, 11m-high, bronze statue of a reclining Buddha (completed in September 1995), said to be the largest in the world, it reserves other surprises, in particular large assemblies of unworldly statues scattered along forest trails.


The statue of the reclining Buddha, with hundreds of urns in front of it.






Some of the numerous smaller statues, lined along the reclining Buddha behind the urns.




Statues along the winding forest trails of the temple. Some are more or less traditional...


[The colored statue on the right represents King Acala, known in Japan as Fudo Myo-o, a powerful deity who liberates us from suffering through self-control.]


...but these collections of stone statues have an unworldly beauty. No two have the same body posture, or the same face. These statues, called ″rakans″, represent disciples of Buddha who have achieved a state of liberation close to full enlightenment.





Dazaifu. As the former governmental center of Kyushu, Dazaifu is an important historical site. Located 18km southwest of the center of Fukuoka it is easily accessible by train from the Tenji station. I visited it on a rainy Saturday. It was crowded with many Japanese visitors.


In the Tenjin-sama street that leads to the Kyushu National Museum and the Dazaifu Tenmangu shrine.


Main gate of the courtyard of the Dazaifu Tenmangu shrine.



Dazaifu Tenmangu shrine.


Ceremony in the shrine.



Cow/ox statues in the shrine′s courtyard.


Backside of the shrine.


Couple of camphor trees behind the shrine. They are said to be over 1000 years old.


Torii gate on the way to the Tenkai Inari shrine.


Tenkai Inari shrine, located on a small hill 300m northeast of the Dazaifu Tenmangu shrine. It is the oldest Shinto shrine to worship the god Inari in Kyushu.




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