(Better Know a City)
February 16, 2009
Kitsuki is the next town up the coast from Hiji, on the Kunisaki peninsula. It's about an hour and a half from Nakatsu, so it was close to 9 by the time I arrived.
Driving into town, I saw several signs for Kitsuki castle, and historical Samurai houses. I wandered through the side streets for a while until I could find a parking lot, and then I got out of my car to take a look around.
In my JET days, I had spent some time on Kitsuki's beaches, but I had never explored the down town area. I didn't know there was so much history in Kitsuki, but most of the downtown area was made of old style buildings, and looked to be like an historical town.
I fished into my backpack to get out my camera and take some pictures of the Kitsuki streets. However, once I pulled out my digital camera, I discovered that I had left the battery back in the re-charger in my apartment. The camera had no power, and was completely useless. (You know, some days I could just shoot myself.)
The video camera did have a photo option on it, so fortunately I was able to use that as a back up. But unfortunately, the resolution and picture quality is a lot poorer. So you know how I'm always complaining on these "Better know a City" entries about how the pictures don't it justice? Just take that complaint and double it for this one.
Which is a pity, because Kitsuki was a really beautiful city. The downtown area was filled with old style Japanese buildings on rolling slopes, looking over the ocean with the a set of mountains right behind them. Like I said, some days I could just shoot myself.
For what it's worth, I did try and make up for the lack of quality with quantity. Because the low resolution pictures are easier to upload anyway, I just shot a ton of pictures. And, because there's no limit on uploading videos, I also tried to just keep the camera running as much as possible as well. Whether all the extra video ends up being watchable or not I leave to you to judge.
At first I wandered around a bit aimlessly through the historical streets. I came to a park overlooking the ocean, and wandered around there for a while taking some pictures.
There were a couple buildings in the middle of the park, and one of them turned out to be a museum. I had no idea what was inside the museum, but I had nothing else planned so I went up to the front desk and asked for one ticket.
The girl behind the counter asked if I wanted a ticket for the museum only, or if I wanted their ticket pack for the Hiina walking course, which included 4 other destinations. I wasn't sure if I was going to end up visiting all of these places, but the entire ticket pack was only 500 yen (about 5 dollars) so I decided to just splurge on the whole thing.
The museum was 3 stories, but each floor was only about the size of one room, so it was pretty small. And because I didn't understand most of the Japanese explaining each item, I didn't linger on anything and made short time of the whole place. There was a large diorama of what Kitsuki town looked like in the olden days, which was moderately interesting. And there were some dolls and figurines up on the 3rd floor (with a sign saying not to take any videos or photos, but since there was no one around I did anyway--10 more years in purgatory).
I was in and out of the museum in probably less than 10 minutes. But since I had paid only 500 yent, and since there were 4 other destinations on my ticket pack, I didn't feel obliged to linger.
After the museum, there was a walkway which sloped down the hill to the main road. And then on the other side of the road, another walkway leading up an opposite slope. I thought both of these slopes were quite scenic at the time, and tried to take some pictures. I later found out that these slopes have names, and are advertised on all of Kitsuki's tourist brochures (apparently I'm not the only one who thought they were scenic.) The one leading down from the museum was called Suyanosaka slope, and the one leading up the opposite hill was Ameyanosaka slope.
Suyanosaka slope was actually undergoing some construction work at the time. It didn't completely ruin the view, but it did mean I had to sidestep by a cement mixer and a few construction men.
As I walked past, I overheard one of them saying to his colleagues, "Look at how cool he looks! I don't know what it is, but foreigners just look cool, don't they? They have some sort of swagger in their walk that we Japanese people just don't have."
You got to love Japan. It's the only place a person like me could possibly be considered cool.
On the other side of the street was the opposite slope, the Ameyanosaka.
Once I went up the slope, I followed the street down until I came to one of the Samurai houses.
After quickly consulting my ticket pack, it turned out this was one of the places I had already bought admission to. So I figured I might as well go in and have a look around.
I handed in my ticket book at the booth. Just like at the museum, I was the only customer here, and the lady from the booth ran around to the front of the house and yelled out, "We've got a customer."
"Okay, I'm coming," came another voice.
The ticket lady directed me where to take my shows off, and while we waited for the guide, she showed me a diorama in the front of the house of what an old Japanese town used to look like.
The guide eventually showed up, and, as often happens in the countryside, the two of them were not exactly sure what to make of me.
"Are you an exchange student?"
"No, I'm an English teacher."
"But you speak Japanese so well. That's wonderful."
It's a very typical experience in Japan that any foreigner who manages to put together even the most elementary of Japanese sentences gets lavishly praised. I've put up with it a lot during my years in Japan, but it still embarrasses me somewhat.
Next they tried to explain the Samurai house to me, asking if I knew what a Samurai was. I answered yes, and they again praised my extensive knowledge of Japanese culture.
"The Daimyo... you know Daimyo (w), right? The Daimyo lived in Kitsuki castle. And this is the house of his number one Samurai, Ohara, who lived here near the end of the Edo Period (w). Do you know the Edo Period? You do? Wow, you're so great."
"Was he around during the Meiji Restoration?" I asked.
"Yes, he was, but he wasn't living here during that time. He was recalled to Kyoto during that period."
I was half tempted to show off what limited historical knowledge I had about the period by asking a lot more detailed questions about who this Samurai was, and which side of the Meiji restoration he supported. But then reason returned, and I decided that would just embarrass me further.
The tour guide was very kind, and showed me all around the house. "Since no one lives here anymore, the place has been turned into a museum," she explained.
There were various old things on display around the house. Old style hairpins and hair accessories (which, I was told, was not for the use of the Samurai, but possibly his wife). However more than anything, it appeared to be just a museum for Japanese dolls. Most of the rooms just consisted of rows of Japanese dolls. I suspected there was some sort of connection between Kitsuki and the Japanese Doll festival (W), but when I asked if there was any sort of big doll festival in Kitsuki, I was told that individuals decorated their homes with dolls, but there was no central event. "It's like the Christmas tree in America," the guide explained. "You all put one up in your own house, but you don't wander around looking at other Christmas trees from house to house."
Of slightly more interest to me than the dolls was the Samurai sword resting in an enclave the corner. The guide showed me how the length of the enclave was specifically designed to be the same length as the sword, so that even if the sword was unsheathed within the enclave no one would get hurt.
She then opened up the doors to show me the Japanese garden outside. I asked permission to take some photos,
and then she volunteered to take a photo of me using an old Samurai chair.
"Okay," I said. "Now, how does this work. Do I sit on it facing this way? Or facing backwards?"
She laughed at me, and explained that it wasn't meant to be sat on at all, but simply leaned against as an arm rest. (There were, apparently, no chairs in old Japan).
We went into another room of the house, and the guide made a big deal of showing me how the the ceiling was higher in one part. "This is so they could practice shooting arrows from inside the house," she explained.
"They practiced shooting arrows from inside the house?" I was already thinking that my mom would never have allowed that.
"Usually they practiced shooting arrows outside. But if it was windy, or rainy, or snowy, then they could practice from inside here. That's the Japanese samurai spirit. They never took a day off, even if the weather was bad."
I nodded approvingly at this amazing Japanese samurai spirit, although in my head I was thinking that I would have been more impressed if they had practiced outside in the snow and rain.
She showed me the bathtub next where the Samurai, in true Samurai spirit, would take cold baths everyday even in the middle of winter.
Next the kitchen, where she showed me how the smoke would rise up to the straw roof. The smoke would spread throughout the house, and act as natural protection against insects. (A question rose up in my head about the health dangers of breathing in all that smoke, but I swallowed the question back down again.)
She brought me into the storeroom outside, and showed me how, when she shut the door, a wooden plank would automatically fall down, keeping it locked from the outside. Then she showed me an old style key which you would fit through a hole and use to raise the plank of wood back open again. (It is pretty impressive sometimes how ingenious people were back then without all the benefit of today's modern technology.) Then she gave me the key and let me have a go at unlocking the door from the outside.
About this time the lady from the ticket booth came running over and said some more guests had just arrived. (Just when I was beginning to feel like I was the only tourist in Kitsuki). The guide ran over and immediately began explaining to them about the high ceiling and practicing archery from inside the house.
I was aware that I had already taken up a lot of the guide's time, but I wasn't sure if the polite thing to do now would be to quietly show myself out while she talked to the new guests, or if I should wait for a chance to thank her first, and then leave.
I waited a couple moments, and then snuck out. But as I was putting my shoes back on, she came around to the front of the house and I was able to thank her there.
When I walked outside, I saw that a couple of tour buses had arrived, which explained why the area had suddenly gotten busy. The drivers of the tour buses were walking back and forth in the outside garden, and we nodded to each other as I walked past.
I walked a little bit down the street where I discovered another Samurai house, Isoya house. Since my ticket packet also included admission to this house as well, I went in.
I didn't get nearly as much personal attention at this house as at the last house. The lady behind the ticket booth let me into the house and hurriedly opened a few doors so I could see the garden, and then ran back to greet the various old people on the bus tour. (The participants on a bus tour on a Monday afternoon are invariably almost all retirees.)
I was left to wander through the house mostly on my own.
In one room, however, I can across an elderly Japanese lady surrounding by little dolls, and working on stitching another doll together. I assumed she was part of the staff here, and tried to get some information about what was the history behind this Samurai house.
"What is this place?" I asked.
I had meant the Samurai house, but she assumed I was talking about all the dolls. "These are all Mataro Dolls," she said. "Do you know Mataro Dolls? There's a school in Oita dedicated to them."
After some further questions, I learned that Mataro was the name of someone who had invented a new style of Japanese dolls. He wasn't from Oita prefecture, but there was one school in Oita city that taught his method of doll manufacture.
This was all very intereting, but it wasn't what I wanted to find out. About this time the lady from the ticket both was passing throuhg, so I tried asking again. "About this house," I said, "who lived in this house."
"A Samurai did. He was the number one Samurai of this area."
"I thought the Ohara house was where the number one Samurai lived. Did he have two houses?"
"No, these houses weren't owned by individual people, they were the property of the feudal lord, and the top Samurai just happened to reside in them." This didn't completely answer my questions about who lived in what house, but I went along with it. They then began talking about Kitsuki's famous castle.
"Did you say you lived in Nakatsu?" one of them asked. "Nakatsu's got a castle as well."
"Yes, it does," I answered.
I didn't mean anything by that--- what I considered to be a standard reply. But they seemed a little taken aback by it, and laughed at this. "Yes it does, he says," one of them chuckled to the other.
I began to suspect that I had somehow committed another faux pas in the Japanese language. Perhaps it would have been much more polite of me to say something like, "Oh, really? Please tell me more?"
An older Japanese couple came through, and the ticket booth lady began showing them around the house. I tagged along for some of this to listen to an explanation. At the same time, a group of middle aged ladies sat down in the doll room to listen to the other woman talk about Mataro dolls.
I took some more pictures of the garden, and then moved on.
Continuing down the street was another famous slope, the Kanjobanosaka, which I followed down to the road.
At this point I began following signs towards Kitsuki's castle, since this seemed to be the main tourist destination everyone was talking about (and I had tickets for it in my pack anyway).
I didn't see any English signs or pamphlets on Kitsuki castle, so I never got to know what the real story was behind it. But I was pretty sure before I even got there that it wasn't the original castle. Japan has very few original castles in the whole country. Since they're made of wood, they have a way of burning down. Most of them burned down a long time ago, but if there were any left surviving by the time of the war, the saturation bombing took care of that.
Kitsuki Castle was obviously not real. It had modern tile floors and a modern staircase going up through it.
Like most rebuilt Japanese castles, the first few floors functioned as a sort of museum. I spent very little time on them, but the balcony on the 3rd floor offered a nice view and an opportunity for some pictures.
From the castle overlook, I could see a Mos Burger in the town down below. (Mos Burger (W) is a chain hamburger restaurant in Japan, and I'm always a sucker for the big name chain restaurants. It was about lunch time now, so I decided to go down and sort out something to eat.
I got a burger and a coffee, and sat in Mos Burger for a spell whilst reading my book.
After that I walked down to the river, and followed the walk along the river back toward the old historical district where my car was parked.
I spent some more time wandering around the historical district (Shiroshita) for a while. I poked my head into this temple and that temple, but didn't find anything interesting. I went by the town hall to see if I could get any tourist pamphlets on Kitsuki.
Kitsuki had one of the nicer town halls I've seen, located right in the middle of the Kitsuki's Castle Town. It was several stories, with a parking lot on the top story which gave a nice view of the town below.
I went through the town hall, and managed to pick up a couple of brochures. Then I went back onto the main street, where I took some video of the famous Japanese vending machines.
After this, I got into my car, and headed down the road to explore Kitsuki's beaches.
Back in my JET days, Heather from Kitsuki used to organize JET parties at Sumiyoshihama resort park. I headed out that way now.
I drove all the way to Sumiyoshihama resort park, and then turned back at the gate when I realized I had to pay an entrance fee.
I had, of course, paid this fee when I went to Sumiyoshihama as a Jet. I don't remember how much it was, but it must not have been too much because we all paid it without complaints.
But of course that had been in the middle of the summer when we spent the afternoon swimming on the beach and hanging out with friends. It seemed a little pointless to pay an entrance fee in the middle of February when I was here by myself. If I wanted to just walk up and down the beach for a while, I could find plenty of public beaches.
And so I did. A little bit further up the road I found Nata public beach, and parked my car in one of their empty parking lots.
Absolutely no one else was on this beach, and so I had it all to myself. I walked down the coast and back for about an hour, taking pictures, listening to the waves, watching my footprints, and picking up stuff and throwing it into the water. All the kind of stuff you do at the beach.
At one point I picked up a stick and absent mindedly swung it around for a while. I came to a bar of raised sand, and started hitting it with the stick in the same absent minded daze.
A clump of sand somehow got flicked up by the stick and landed on the back of my neck. I froze. It was still cold and the sand was packed, and it landed on my neck in several wet clumps. And for a second I had the illusion that I could just pick the sand off of my neck in clean lumps. But of course that didn't work. The sand broke apart and the more I tried to pick or brush it off, the more it collapsed into smaller and smaller pieces. I could already feel it sliding down the back of my shirt, and then I realized this was going to be bugging me for the rest of the day.
I got back in my car and drove down the road again. I saw a Joyfull, and since I always make it a point to stop whenever I see a Joyfull, I stopped here.
Once I sat down, I realized how tired I was from all the walking. I felt like dozing off in my seat, and so I drank several caffinated beverages from the drink bar to try and restore my energy. Caffiene is sometimes a poor substitute for rest, and all the drinks just make me feel worse, and slightly naseous, instead.
I looked at my map of Kitsuki to see if there was anything I had missed out on. The only thing still left that I could see was the Juouzo (Statues of 10 Kings). So I rustled up my energy and got back in the car for one more sight.
Once again, all the signs were in Japanese, so I never did find out what the significance of the 10 King Statues were. I think it was connected to Buddhism somehow.
It was a rather pleasant walk through the mountains though. And the drive up through the ricefields to get to the statues was very nice as well.
In addition to the statues, there was a small waterfall--if such a small trickle of water can be called a waterfall.
The trail continued for a ways along some farm land. And as the sun was just beginning to set, the whole area had a very pleasant glow, and I followed this trail until it ended.
At this point I returned to my car, and headed home.
Kitsuki Castle on Japan National Tourism Website,
Kitsuki Castle on Kyushu tourist,
Another travelogue of Kitsuki from NipponDAZE,
English tourist guide to Kitsuki with lots of pictures (although picutres of Yamaga and Ota Mura are mixed in--as this is post Gappei)
Kitsuki article in Meet Oita Net Magazine
Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky - Grand Imperial Strategy