Yes, the area was invaded by the Mongols in 1274. Yes, there are the ruins of the 1603 Fukuoka Castle. And, true enough, we are staying in the very traditional Ryokan Kashima Honkan, a delightfully creaky old building.
But this is a back story quickly lost among the sleek towers of the city. This is Japan’s fifth largest city. It’s the place to come if you are a start-up company. The buildings are shiny, modern, new and Western. It’s a place to shop, to eat, to have fun.
Our cruise ship slowly makes its way through Nagasaki harbour. Under the delicate spans of a cable-stayed bridge. Past Mitsubishi dry docks, busily fitting a new cruise ship. Past Catholic churches, their bright white walls and spires set against the dark greens of steep forested slopes. And onto the open sea.
We navigate around numerous uninhabited islands until one – our destination – appears on the watery horizon. A long, grey form crusted with ruins. From this distance it looks like a battleship and, indeed, it is locally known as Battleship Island, Gunkanjima. It’s real name is Hashima and the reason we and a boat full of other tourists are coming here is because of Hashima’s industrial history. (more…)
It is fair to say that most people recognize Nagasaki as the site of one of only two nuclear bombs ever dropped on a civilian population. As significant as that event was, as relevant as it may be today given the nuclear threat posed by North Korea, I will leave that for my next post. That devastating attack was simply the most recent in a lengthy history of international confrontation and intrigue that has shaped the city of Nagasaki.
That history is evident as soon as Gail and I cross the threshold of the Dormy Inn to explore the city. Tucked in between the city’s concrete post-World War II towers are streets foreign to the Japan with which we have become accustomed. Just across a small canal from our hotel is the gateway to Chinatown, home to Chinese traders from the 15th to 19th Centuries. Not much further down that canal is Dejima, an artificial, fan-shaped island built by the Japanese in 1636 to house – or, more pointedly, isolate and contain – the Portuguese, then once they were expelled, the Dutch East India Company. (more…)
It’s about 6:30 in the morning as we wearily board the ferry that will transport us from Yawatahama Port on the island of Shikoku to Beppu on the island of Kyushu. Three hours to contemplate the walking journey we are leaving behind. Three hours to plan for our upcoming city tours: Beppu, Nagasaki, Fukuoka, Hiroshima and nearby Miyajima and finally Tokyo.
The conditions could not be better for our crossing. The waters of the Bungo Channel are glassy smooth. The sun rises over the hills of Shikoku, revealing a cloudless, deep blue sky. Small islands, tiny fishing boats, large cargo freighters come and go. Eventually, the Beppu skyline appears on the horizon.
Today’s journey has one goal: to get us to Nagasaki on the other side of Kyushu. Happily and conveniently, Beppu lies along that path. Beppu is most notable for its geothermal hot spots. Eight of them to be exact, colloquially known as the eight hells of Beppu. Far from hellish, the town is very resort-oriented, sporting many hot baths, sand baths and onsens. (more…)
Today’s walk will be bittersweet. An easy 20 kilometers from now we will reach Ōzu, the endpoint of our springtime walk along the Henro-michi.
After a good Japanese-style breakfast, Gail and I set off from Matsu-ya, our business hotel in Unomachi. Budget-conscious Simon has foregone the expense of a hotel meal and is already on his way to his morning fast food fix at a Lawson’s convenience store.
The pilgrimage route takes us down the quiet streets of Unomachi, then Uwa. Or so we think. There is little definition, few clear boundaries and, it seems, no signage to tell us when we leave one community and enter another. But that is not unusual here on Shikoku. Streets just flow like a river from town to town, merge into rice paddies and cross forested valley floors, only to re-emerge in another community. (more…)
It’s been some time since my last post from Japan. Much has happened since then.
Gail and I successfully completed our planned walk across Shikoku, as well as a tour by train to various Japan cities: Beppu, Nagasaki, Fukuoka, Hiroshima and Tokyo. And now we’re back in Winnipeg.
While we were enjoying our long days of walking and exploring Japan’s great cities, posts to WalkClickMake suffered. That will be remedied in the coming weeks. So stay tuned for more posts on our journey beyond Kochi City.
Meanwhile, here is a picture of Gail and me, taken by Simon, our German walking companion. We are standing in a square fronting the Ōzu train station, which marked the end of our Henro-michi pilgrimage adventure on the island of Shikoku, at least for this trip. From here we travelled by train to the port city of Yawatahama and then, by ferry, to Kyushu, Japan’s third largest island.