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Saturday, June 22, 2013

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 10 Kitsuki to Beppu

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 10, Tuesday February 19th Kitsuki to Beppu

It's drizzling as I set off on my day's walk. Not enough to make walking miserable, but enough to take the fun out of it. My route takes me southwest, cross country towards Hiji on Beppu Bay, and the first few hours are uneventful until I reach the outskirts of Hiji where I join up with the main road and the increased traffic and noise is quite jarring.

I head into the old part of town and find temple 24, Rengeji. There is nothing of note there except a few interesting onigawara, the demon tiles that function in a similar way to the gargoyles of Europe.

Right next door however is a large shrine complex which is much more interesting. Before the government artificially separated Buddhism and kami in the early days of the Meiji Period this would have been one site.

It's still drizzling so I can't be bothered to make the short detour down to the harbor which is overlooked by the ruins of Hiji castle. A little to the west of Hiji I find a temple I have been wanting to visit for years, Sho'okuji. It was the family temple of the Kinoshitas, the lords of Hiji Domain for 16 generations, and it is home to what is claimed to be the largest cycad in Japan, but that's not my interest here, it's the garden, or possibly gardens, designed by Sesshu, in my opinion the greatest garden designer in Japanese history.

Largest cycad in Japan at Shokuji Temple

When I first came to Japan I lived for two years in Kyoto, home to many wonderful gardens, but at that time I had no interest in them until I saw Sesshu's garden at Ikoji in Masuda, Shimane.

Since then I have searched out his gardens whenever I could. On his return from China in 1469 he was based in this area before later moving to what is now Yamaguchi and then Shimane.

The old, shaven headed priest in the ticket booth took my entrance fee and scurried off ahead of me to open the treasure house through which you have to past to get to the garden at the rear. Though lacking the dramatic simplicity of later styles of garden I found it worth the visit, and the treasure house had a Sesshu painting as well. When I leave the temple the drizzle finally stops.

Beppu with steam from its hot springs

From here the road now hugs the coast and Beppu can be clearly seen laid out along the sweep of the bay, long and narrow edging up the slopes of the mountains. From a distance it looks like an industrial city with smoke rising from the town, except its not smoke but steam rising from the hot springs that the town is known for.

Beppu is a twentieth century resort, a creation of a modern tourist industry. Accessible by ferries from the major industrial areas of Honshu, Beppu's growth as a resort was largely the result of one man, Aburaya Kumahachi, whose fleet of buses that took visitors to the famed "Hells of Beppu", a series of foul-smelling, bubbling, sulfurous, hot springs up in the hills behind Beppu, used pretty young women as guide/commentators, the beginning of the now traditional practice.

My hotel for the night is right down at the southern end of the town near the main station, but for most of the way there I am able to walk on quieter roads that parallel the busy main road, and also where the local shrines can be found.

Temple 25 is somewhere down there, and it takes me a long time to find it as the area is a grid of narrow lanes, none of which have names or numbers. I pass it by several times as it looks hardly different from a residential house, and only by checking with the photo in my guide book can I be sure I've found it. My cheap business hotel, like so many hotels here, does not have bathrooms, only a communal onsen, on the top floor with views over the concrete roofscape of the town and the Beppu Tower, a 327 foot high steel lattice tower.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu 9

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