2014
06.03

SYNOPSIS:  An excursion to the tranquil spot of 59 stone Buddhas.  Where the spiritual and the natural world meet; where the past still shines through to the present.  My fist hitch-hiking experience in Japan — it worked!

Since 1995 this area has been declared a Japanese National Treasure.  The Japanese are amazing in actively classifying all of their cultural heritage.  They now have thousands of national treasures.  Even people, living people, can be national treasures if they possess for example, unique skills.  When I read back home that there is a little town where, unique in all of Japan, 59 stone Buddhas are preserved, I put it on the “must do” list.

A local commuter train took me there:  Usuki.  I would have loved to stay in Usuki, but aside from the big hotel which did not look appealing, the six Bed and Breakfast places which were mentioned in one of my books could not be found anywhere online.  So I missed out; and so did they, for that matter.  But frankly, in Japan, nobody depends on foreign tourists.  It’s the Japanese themselves who are the active tourists and that in large numbers.

Every couple of hours a bus leaves at the railroad station, which will take people like me to the site which is about 10 km away, about 5 km outside of town.  My railroad pass covered the fare!

I am not the stylistic expert to distinguish carvings from the Heian Period (794-1185) and the Kamakura Period (1185-1333), but it is clear, that all of these carvings are old and they are authentic dating back to these two eras.  Restoration in the sense of preservation has been done: canopies have been built, mountains have been drained away from the statues to prevent water damage, and moss has been removed.  In one case, even a severed head was put back on.  But these figures sit there as they have for hundreds of years.  I spent a long time there, just looking, sitting, photographing.  It was so quiet, peaceful, beautiful and tranquil here.  You just had to smell the roses.

In between tour groups — all small guided Japanese groups and one group of ignorant Canadian women traveling on their own who wanted to “wake up the gods by clapping” here — which is a complete mixup of Shinto and Buddhist practices and indicated the abyss of ignorance with which they came — I often was alone.  I very much regretted that all the information, lots of it, was in Japanese only.  But it goes to show how few foreign visitors there really are.

Most people leave after they have walked the relatively small circle road that contains the Buddhas. But the map also indicates a few other worthwhile spots in town which I visited, completely in solitude: a small well where a princess of the olden days washed her face only to discover that it erased an ugly mark — from here on out she was renowned for her beauty and the well became famous.  A look into the murky water of the well made me change my mind to follow suit.  I will forgo the claim, too.

Two stone guardian figures curiously buried up to their waist in front of a Buddhist temple, a stone bell and some patron figures for the stone Buddha were also on the list.  I took them all in along with the songs of the birds and the sight of a field of blooming poppy seeds.

I knew the bus only came about every two hours, but I did not look at the clock.  By the time I was done, I had missed one bus in between and would have to wait for 1.5 hours for the next one.  I gave it a chance and walked to the main road trying to hitchhike.  I am not even sure if holding out your thumb is a universal language.  So, I used the waving down your hand signal which is used for buses in Japan.  After many people passed me, a guy in a little pickup truck stopped!  I was so pleased.  I should have tried that in Okinawa.  But to be honest, it feels completely out of place here.  But I might have to resort to it again.  1.5 hours — I was not about to waste that.

With that much time saved, I asked to be dropped off at the outskirts of town where a unique 3-storied pagoda stood; one of only two in Kyushu from the Edo Period, I had read about.  And from there I walked through town only to discover the most charming old small town I could have imagined.  This was really a quaint place in which some of the streets looked like they came right from the 17th or 18th centuries.

Temples, cemeteries, old villas, wells, stairs, walls.  An enchanted paradise, at least in that designated historic area.  What the rest of it looks like, I don’t know.

And so I walked back to the station and through the photographs you may walk some of it with me.  Remember, to click on the photos twice.  They will enlarge to their full glory.

Good night.

4 comments so far

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  1. HaHa…clapping to wake up the gods. Once they’re awake…watch out!!!

    That old town looks so peaceful…it must have been hard to tear yourself away from it. I know I would have wanted to stay for a long time. Who wants to go back to hustle-bustle when that is there to enjoy.

    Did that man in the pick up speak any English or did you just ride in silence. Isn’t English kind of pervasive there…well maybe more in the big cities.

    Are you traveling in the footsteps of your Professor Kane…seeing the same things she saw and talked about in your class. That could be very intense! Wheeeee….

  2. Somewhere I heard that in Japan, Shintoism and Buddhism are often mixed in practice. Did you ask anyone about that? Do you get to talk with any English-speaking Japanese about Japan?

  3. Error message said I needed to repeat, so this may be 3rd iteration. Should I revert to earlier direst occasional emails to you?

  4. An especially lovely collection of photos today, and very good to have the one of you “in place”.

    Good adventures. Continue and I continue to value being one of the beneficiaries of your delight in traveling the world. Thank you again, Diane K