Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Ajimu /安心院

(Better Know a City)

Since I started this "Better Know a City" project it has been the source of some conflict between me and Shoko, who views it as a complete waste of time. Especially since I've decided to start close to home and work my way out, thus far I've only been visiting cities I'm already very familiar with (Himeshima Island being the only exception).

...Which brings me to Ajimu. After having lived in the city for 3 years as a JET from 2001-2004, there's no city in Japan I know better. And being an avid hiker, and having lots of time on my hands, I like to think I explored just about every nook and cranny this town has to offer during my time there.

Although I'm famous for my self-referential links on this blog, it would be impossible to link to every post mentioning Ajimu. During the first year I started this blog I was still living in the town, and almost every post was tangentially related to it. Also since I started up the Retrospection project all of my early e-mails from Japan are also about Ajimu.

However If I had to pick some Ajimu highlights from my blogging years, these would be it:

*Description of the night life (such as it is) in Ajimu,
*This monster e-mail I wrote describing everything to my successor Josh. (Josh in turn, rather than writing a new e-mail, forwarded it to his successor Chris when he was finishing. For all I know it's still being passed on from one Ajimu JET to another).
* A recounting of the Ajimu Tour Chris and I went on.

*Pictures of when Brett came to visit Ajimu,
*pictures from a summer outing with Leann and Amy,
...But actually, since I was a bit late to join up with the technology of using photos on this blog, much of the time I simply linked to other people's photos of Ajimu. Like this post which linked to all of Chris's photos.

However, despite having cited Ajimu ad nauseum in this blog, I decided it still needed to be visited officially to be included in my "Better know a city" collection. So, armed with Shoko's digital camera and my own video camera, I set out.

My comrade in arms with me this trip was Chris (otherwise known as Geos Chris) who worked at the local Geos school in Nakatsu. He's not to be confused with Ajimu Chris mentioned above, who was my successor's successor in Ajimu. (Do you ever think to yourself sometimes there are too many people in this world named Chris?) Geos Chris was leaving Japan in a few days, and wanted to go on one last adventure before he said good-bye to the area. I invited him for a day of hiking and sightseeing in Ajimu.

Our first stop was the cliffs of "Sen no Iwa". One of the locals once told me these cliff formations are from pre-historic times when all of the Ajimu basin used to be underwater. There's a hiking path going up between the cliffs and on the top there's a scenic look out platform where one can get a good view of Ajimu.

Next stop: the 5 Story Pagoda. The people of Ajimu are very proud of this Pagoda, although it always used to confuse me because the thing was only built in the 1980s. I mean, here you have a town that's literally thousands of years old, and their big tourist attraction is a Pagoda that's younger than I am.

However after going sight seeing in Kyoto, I can understand it a little better. These big kind of Pagoda's are famous in the Kyoto/Kansai area, but very rare down here in Kyushu.

According to local legend, this Pagoda was built by a local man who left Ajimu and went into the big city to find richness and success. As he got older he began to fear for his soul, and so he payed for this big pagoda and garden to be built back in his home town. (At least that's the story I was given.)

Next stop: Fukino Waterfall. One the way we stopped to look at some of the rice fields. This view of the rice fields cut into the mountains was always one of my favorite overlooks in Ajimu, but unfortunately the Japanese construction company can't seem to leave well enough alone. There's now power cables cutting across the view, which I believe is a new development since I was last there.

Compare with Amy's Photo here. (Sorry, I mean Leeann's Photo).

Next the actual Fukino Waterfall...

After which we got back into the car and drove around to the opposite mountain to view the same waterfall from a different vantage point.

Following that, we drove over to Tsubusa neighborhood in Ajimu. I tried to take one of my infamous short cuts through the mountains. A couple of wrong turns and a bit of back tracking later, we arrived in Tsubusa.

After a long morning of sight seeing and hiking, we were ready for some lunch. We stopped by the "Michi no Eki" (road station) in Tsubusa, which is in a scenic spot overlooking the Tsubusa river, and ordered some Curry rice for lunch.

When we went to the cash register to pay, one of the woman recognized me. "Don't you work at the junior high school?" she asked.
I should have said, "Yes, I used to. But that was over 3 years ago. Since then I went up to Gifu Prefecture for two years. Then I went back to America for 8 months. Then I came back to Japan because of my fiance and started working for Nova. But then they went bankrupted and right now I really don't know what I'm doing."
But somehow it just seemed a bit easier to answer, "Yes, yes I do." As lies go, it was probably harmless enough.
"My daughter attend the junior high school," she said. "Please continue to teach her well."
I nodded, and we left quickly before there were a lot of follow-up questions.

Next stop: Heaven and Hell

This is a circular tunnel carved into a mountain with various representations of the Buddhist hell in it. After completing the circuit, there is a vertical shaft you can climb up to get to the top, where many statues of heaven await. I always thought this place was really cool.

All the times past I've been to this place, it has been light by a series of light bulbs strung together through the cave. For whatever reason, today the light bulbs were out. We took out our cellphones and were able to navigate through using the pen light function, but as you can see it doesn't make great video.

Next stop: Higashishiya Waterfall.

-Another one of my favorite Waterfalls in Ajimu. (There are actually five waterfalls located in Ajimu, but the other 3 are not easily accessible. I once spent an afternoon on a mission determined to find and explore the other waterfalls, but it was a bit more of a bushwacking adventure since the trails leading to them had been neglected and overgrown. And then once you got to them, they weren't nearly as impressive as the two main waterfalls anyway).

Because this was always one of my favorite areas, I kept the video running during the whole walk up to the waterfall, not just the waterfall itself. It might have been slightly overkill, but oh well.

After the waterfall, we headed over to Sada stone circle. A Stonehenge like circle of standing stones. I've never been sure of its significance, but it seems to pop up on a lot of Ajimu pamphlets and posters. The real attraction of Sada stone circle though is not the stones, but the hike behind it.

It is quite a grueling hike. At the top there is a nice view, but the view is not near worth the effort involved. The only reason to hike this mountain is if you like hiking. Fortunately we did.

Unlike a lot of other trails which meander slowly back and forth up the mountain, this trail takes a fairly straight up approach. It gets pretty steep in a lot of places, and so there are a lot of ropes you can grab onto to help with the ascent. (I got a little bit of this on video, but for better or for worse the only time I turned on the video camera was at the early stages of the hike when it hadn't gotten really steep yet and the rope wasn't really necessary. That did change as we made our way up.)

After this, we went to the Ajimu Winery.
Sort of. This is Shoko's place of work, so it's a bit sensitive. She told me once it was okay to go there, but I shouldn't walk in looking grubby. After hiking around all morning, we looked grubby. So instead of going inside for the wine tasting (which I had very little interest in anyway) we just went to the top of the hill for another scenic look out.

The day was winding down now, but we still had a bit of time left to see some of the old stone Buddhas and grave sites. I'm told these are 1000 or 2000 years old (it depends on who I'm talking to). Regardless, these are pretty old, and I've always been surprised by how little the town seems to value this heritage. It's almost paved over by the road right above it.

The last time I was here it was slightly more accessible. This time they blocked off much of the path due to falling rocks (and the crumbling rocks are no doubt due partly to the road directly above).

And after the stone Buddhas, we decided to call it a day. We could have kept going. There were a few more temples I knew of and a few more scenic overlooks, but by and large we had hit all the main spots. Plus it was going on 5 o'clock, and we were both feeling like we had put in a good day.

I hope you enjoy all of these videos. Although I was recently viewing them, and it occurs to me I'm going to have to find a new way to start these out than saying, "OKAY, so..."
(HA! I said it first. You can't mock me for it now!)

Bonus: Additional pictures of Ajimu here:

Bonus Video:

Another Bonus Video: My Apartment in Ajimu (from when Brett visited Japan)

Another bonus video (also from when Brett visited Japan).  The first half of this video--the driving section--was driving through Ajimu, specifically the Sada neighborhood.

Link of the Day
Violence Against Women in the D. R. Congo: The Most Horrible Thing You Will Read Today — And, Unfortunately, Perhaps The Last You’ll Hear Of It For Weeks


inertbat said...

Nice videos and photos. I've never explored the Ajimu area but it seems worth a visit. How are things progressing with the company that offered to buy out NOVA? I met a guy named Jamie who used to work at Park Place. He said he didn't want to sign up with the new company until they had specific offers ready.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for your postings and videos about Ajimu. I was an ALT there in 2000 and it was great to read about your experiences. It brought alot of memories back. Really want an onsen!

Joel Swagman said...

2000 you say? I was there from 2001. I knew the names of the previous ALTs, even though I never met them. Are you Charlie by any chance?

in ate said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

That's me! I was there at the same time as your predecessor at the BoE. Impressed you stayed in Ajimu for 3 years! I have lots of great memories and some not so great ones but it was so beautiful round there.

Joel Swagman said...

Yeah, looking back I'm pretty amazed I stayed so long myself, but time actually seemed to go by very quickly. I felt like I was still getting settled in and then the first year was up. The second year also went by very quickly, and before I knew it I had been there 3 years. In retrospect maybe I stayed too long, but I enjoyed it at the time.
It is a very beautiful area, as you say. in fact, since I took all these pictures on a grey winter day, I don't think this post really even does it justice. I should have gone out sometime in the Spring to do take these photos.

Anonymous said...

I remember Spring and Autumn as particularly stunning. It was also by far the most pleasant time to be there as the temperature outside was almost exactly the same as it was inside due to the build of the housing!

Joel Swagman said...

For another view of Ajimu town, see here: