Thursday, February 08, 2007

Sanko-Mura/ 三光

(Better know a city)

For a variety of reasons, I’m starting this project close to home with cities I’m already very familiar with. Sanko-Mura (now technically part of Nakatsu because of the Gappei, but according to my rules I’m counting it as a separate city) sticks out in my mind for a variety of reasons.

1. Mike, the very vocal American JET who used to live there during my first two years in Japan. Since “Mura” means village, he would complain always complain about being stuck out in the inaka (Japanese countryside). Ryan and I would frequently play inaka one-ups-man-ship with him. “At least you guys are in a town,” he would say. “I’m the only JET around here stuck in a village.”
“Yeah, okay, technically you’re in a village,” we would respond. “But you’re right on the doorstep of both Usa and Nakatsu. You’re a lot closer to the action than we are. In Ajimu we’re in a small town surrounded by other small towns.” (In the end, the question of who was more out in the inaka was never satisfactorily decided.)

Also Mike was memorably for the big JET parties he used to throw in Sanko-Mura. And the police who would invariably come and break up his parties everytime. And then Mike would have to make the apology rounds.
2. Sanko-Mura has become the location of the infamous “Concert on the Rock”, which Eion and a couple of the other musically inclined foreigners around the area organized a few years ago, and have kept going ever since. (It even has a wikipedia article now).

3. Lastly, but most importantly, Sanko-Mura is the location of Mount Hachimen, which is a big old mountain with a lot of good hiking. Also, during the war, an American fighter plane crashed there. What that plane was doing so far out in the countryside I’ve never been able to figure out, but I guess during the last stages of the war all of Japan was subject to saturation bombing, even the inaka. (There are some wooden temples out in the Kunisaki peninsula, another inaka place, which also have damage from the bombing).

After the war, a peace park was built on the mountain with a memorial to the soldiers who died there. There is a plane preserved on the side of the mountain, not the same one that crashed I think but perhaps a similar model, and also a map of which state each of the US soldiers were from. I often look at this map and think about how funny life is. When these soldiers were growing up in the 20s and 30s, I’m sure they had no idea that one day a memorial would stand to them in the middle of nowhere in the Japanese countryside.

But as touching as this peace memorial is, the real attraction is the Buddhist garden neighboring it. Words don’t really do it justice, but it’s a garden of various flowers and bushes together with Buddhist images. What makes this place amazing is that it’s built on the side of the mountain, so you walk up from one level to the next. The river also flows through it.

When a Japanese friend took me here during my first year in Japan, I thought it was the most beautiful place I had ever been in my life. I thought I was in some sort of “Secret Garden” type Hollywood movie. But that being said, timing is very important. The first time I went here it was in the Spring. Most of the flowers were in full bloom, and there was a lot of mist in the air which for some reason always seems to add a lot of beauty to Japanese nature scenes. If you come here during the heat of mid-summer, it’s not near as impressive. Nor if you come, like I did today, in the winter when most of the plants are dead.

(When Brett came to Japan I took him here, and we were fortunate to catch it on a rainy spring day. Because of the rain we didn’t take the video camera out, but I think Brett got a couple of good still pictures which he might show you if you ask him.)

However, having seen this park on a good day, I don’t bother too much with it on a bad day. I just climbed quickly through it. Behind it is the amphitheater and open ground used for “Concert on the Rock”. In summer this area is also used for camping. I detoured here a bit to check out some of the trails through the tourist gardens, but nothing was in bloom.

My primary objective for the day was to climb up Mount Hachimen itself. Although why I wanted to climb up I really couldn't say, because I’ve already made the climb several times before, and it’s possible to drive up.

In the end, if the cliché can be excused, I’m the kind of person who has to hike up a mountain because it is there. Although when I was halfway up and huffing and puffing I asked myself, like I do every time, why I was doing this again.

Despite a delayed start on the day, I made it to the top of Mount Hachimen shortly after noon. On a clear day you can see all the way across Nakatsu and to the ocean, but today was not a clear day, and so aside from some of the neighborhoods directly below Mount Hachimen the view was a bit lacking.

Once at the top, I did some more hiking around. I used to come up here occasionally with a crazy Canadian friend who had to explore every bit of the mountain. There is a lake at the top of the mountain that I my Canadian friend used to love exploring. I had always been content to admire it from a distance, but I today I suddenly felt I should hike down to the water and have a look around.

My first attempts caused me to turn back because of the thick underbrush, but following the road for a little bit I found that there was indeed an access point down to the lake. And then even a trail that went around the lake, which I spent some time hiking around. The lake, like any lake at the top of a mountain, was absolutely gorgeous, and the water was very clear and unpolluted.

On the other side of the lake, I saw there was a path going up to the other side of the mountain, and I spent a good hour hiking around there. Part of me thought I should return to Sanko-Mura and do some walking around the town so I could report on that, but in the end I decided that if I was happy hiking around the mountain, that would be good enough.

The long walk back is always the same amount of time but not quite as interesting. By the time I got back to my car at the bottom it was after 4.

In the remaining time, I made an attempt to see some of the other parts of Sanko that I hadn’t been to. There was a “Flower Road Park”. It was advertised as kind of a petting zoo for dogs and cats, which doesn’t sound that exciting, but I went to check it out anyway. I had often seen signs for it from the main road, and sometimes advertisements in pamphlets, but when I actually got up to the place there was nobody there and I had a feeling like I wasn’t supposed to be there. Maybe it’s closed for the winter. There were several dogs barking at me, so I don’t think it’s completely abandoned.

I drove around trying to find signs for other attractions, but, as I find often happens in Oita, a lot of these signs don’t really lead anywhere. I followed a couple signs for parks up through mountain roads only to hit dead ends.

So, I decided to call it an early day. But not before going to the famous Onsen (naked bath) in Sanko-Mura.

If you like Onsen’s (and if you’ve been in Japan long enough you will. Once you get over the naked part, it’s just like hot-tubbing) the onsen in Sanko Mura is great. It has several different pools, and an indoor and outdoor part as well, so if the weather is nice you can go out and look at the stars. And it’s in right on the side of the mountain so you have a great scenic view.

I’ve been there many times before, but always with other people. I was tired enough from hiking that I decided to go by myself, but without a friend to keep you company its kind of boring to just sit in the tub alone. Plus as a lone foreigner I really stick out. With a friend I don’t feel so out of place, but by myself I get really sensitive to all the stares from the old Japanese men, so I didn’t stay too long.

On a different trip to Hachimensan, a friend took these pictures on her camera.  I am posting them here.

Brutus (Welsh: Bryttys), a descendant of the Trojan hero Aeneas, was known in medieval British legend as the eponymous founder and first king of Britain. The Historia Britonum states that "The island of Britain derives its name from Brutus, a Roman consul" who conquered both Spain and Britain. A more detailed story, set before the foundation of Rome, follows, in which Brutus is the grandson or great grandson of Aeneas.

Link of the Day
In the office the other day someone had posted a copy of "you know you've been in Japan too long when..." I thought it was pretty funny. Some of these jokes maybe you have to have been to japan to understand, but to the rest of you I'm sure it can at least offer some insight into the madness.

It turns out however on the internet there are several different lists.

And then this one. (and probably more, but I'll stop here).


Anonymous said...

Was doing a little memory searching and saw your blog about Mount Hachimen. I was chosen to be the sailor to represent the U.S. Navy and the State of Illinois at the dedication of the new Mount Hachimen Peace memorial in early 1971. I was stationed near Fukuoka at the time and remember each of us who represented the branches of the U.S. Services and states of the airmen that died stayed with a local family. I remember I stayed with a man that owned a noodle factory and was active in the local service club where we had our memorial dinner the night of the dedication. You mentioned the stone map of the U.S. Within the map where stones from the states from which the airmen that died were from. At the dedication some of the states stones had yet to arrive so were empty initially. I have lots of photos somewhere of the dedication. Was great to see the your blog. picson66 at yahoo dot com.

B-W said...

Hi - This is going to seem really random but I just came across your post through a Google search.
I visited this Peace Park in 1999 while a JET in Saga-ken. My father knew about it from his friend whose brother was one of the soldiers memorialized. Since then, my dad has been researching and making contacts with others who are interested. We took pictures of the Peace Park and took video of the museum when we were there in 1999. Getting in the museum was funny. Our Japanese was limited (as most ALTs) but the man we approached took us around the village until he found someone with a key. From there, we were given free rein (you can picture this I'm sure). However, we did not take any pictures of the photos hanging on the wall. My dad has been trying to make contact with someone who could do that for him. If you know anyone, please contact me at (

Susan Berg-Williams