It was morning before I went to bed today. Not a precipitous start to a day in which I needed to be awake, breakfasted, packed and in the hotel foyer by 820am – for a day that would not see me home before 11pm.
But it was the start hat I made for myself. 😦 Sometimes fun gets payback!
We commenced the day with a short drive to get to one of the largest Japanese gardens in the country. They were huge. Built by a wealthy lord on the site of a major factory area that he controlled. The gardens spread down from the top of a hill to the sea with an outlook toward Sakurajima – an active volcano. We had a bit over an hour to walk in the gardens and look at a neighboring museum. The entrance to the park had an odd underground stone construction, so I wandered over their first, but the rest of the group headed straight off down the path. I fell behind – but was somewhat pleased to be able to take a slow pace on my walk through the gardens.
I meandered, wandering past an ancient, water powered, rice polishing device and then found a path headed upward toward the peak. I commenced climbing. I was steep, but with steps build into the path to help with footing. I paused a few times to get my breath, but kept climbing in the peace of the forest. I passed over bamboo bridges and was helped by bamboo railings – it was a beautiful peaceful spot.
The numbers on the signs pointing to the top were getting lower, indicating I was making progress, but it was slow. I got to a look out point to find some of my more agile colleagues had made it up this path also. we discussed the option of going further, but they had concluded that we were already off the map and thought stopping was a sensible course of action. While we were waiting and enjoying the view, some others from the group puffed their way to the look out. We overheard one of the two who were there when I arrived comment that she thought she was unfit, until she saw the state of some of arriving colleagues. It did take them quite some time to recover their breath!
I always find it more challenging going down hills, and this day was no different. I just took my time. I got to the bottom and rested to recover my outlook on the world – looking at the steps on the way down to watch my footing had made me a little dizzy – maybe going up the hill was not such a great idea after all. But after a few breaths I recovered.
I took a short stroll through the museum before we were due back at the bus. The museum mostly housed industrial tools and machines from the factories which had formerly occupied the site.
From here we had a relatively long trip on the bus to reach one of the largest shrines in Japan. It is set in a forest and is a very peaceful location. A 300 year old tree stands guard just inside the Tori gate (the entrance to the shrine). It stands 38m tall, has a girth of 7.5 m and is project to weigh around 750kg. And right around it were fellow trees of similar dimensions – my what stories that tree could tell!
The shrine itself was quite busy. Many queuing to pray and make their wishes at the shrine. There was a long wall tied with fortunes from visitors – the shrine sells fortunes to visitors. They are pre-written papers which the visitor selects from a lucky dip and each one gives the readers fortunes in many area of life, such as love, wealth, happiness, work etc (somewhat like a horoscope). After reading them, the recipient ties it to the long wall of string waiting to receive the fortunes. The shrines also sell other wishing icons, which people write messages on and tie to another part of the wall. Many of these wished for love, happy life for newly wed couples, or success in upcoming exams – much as might be sought in the prayers made at many other places of worship around the world! We really are not that different, wherever we may come from or whatever religion we might ascribe to.
In addition there was another part of the shrine in which families were gathering for what appeared to be specific ceremonies – babes in arms being dressed in beautiful kimonos (perhaps as a naming ceremony), immaculately dressed young couples gathered with older folk (perhaps to bless a new union or proposed coupling), and many more people milling around the outside. The shrine was in full swing on this day.
From here we headed to Sakurajima – it was formerly an island, but as a result of land creation from previous volcanic eruptions, it is now connected to the mainland (although on the opposite side of Kinko Bay from Kagoshima city).
We stopped past a Tori gate which had been almost totally buried in a previous eruption. The shrine to which the tori gate was the entrance was totally engulfed in the lava and is now underground. The tori gate, which once would have stood around 4-5m tall now has just 1m above the ground level – what power the earth possesses! We then went to the viewing walk, from where we could see out to the bay and up to several craters of the islands volcanoes – there is three in total, all still active. There was not much sign of life as we watched, but there were eruption shelters just in case. The shelters were just like train tunnels (only much shorter), so I wondered aloud what happens if there is a big eruption and lava starts to flow. Needless to say, there was a few moments of concern from some other students. In the air were many hawks, no doubt enjoying the gliding offered by the warm thermal air provided by the volcano.
On the way back to the seaside, we stopped at the highest observation point, but the view was little different from the viewing walk so the stop was short. we reached the seaside and had a leisurely 70minutes before we boarder the ferry to commence our return journey to Tokyo. just as we were getting off the bus at the seaside national park, sakurajima volcano let us know is was still active – letting off plumes of ash into the air. There was much excitement and we rushed to find uninterrupted viewing points. After a gentle walk by the sea, some of us enjoyed a thermal foot bath. One last bit of warmth and spring before we head back to winter in Tokyo.