Penny C heads for a simple life in Kyushu, Japan. Well for at least a week she did. Find out how Kyushu left her dazed (in an enjoyable way) and curious for more of its folklore.
Before packing my bags for Kyushu, I’ve always had a certain cliché perspective of the countryside. I expected mountainous views, lush greenery, an immense amount of pine trees and lots of open fields.
You may now laugh at my naiveté, for that’s what you get when you’re living a life in an extremely urban city, only travelling out of the country every few years to the fields of New Zealand and the British Isles. But for some unknown reason, the idea of sheep and cows didn’t come to mind at the thought of Kyushu. Maybe it was all the Sakura filled impressions I had of Japan. Guess that’s what life in Japan’s countryside was like to me. But again, that was all visual. Behind all the lush landscapes and beautiful architecture which were a reflection of ancient Japan, a rich history greeted its visitors with mystifying stories unique to Kyushu’s fascinating culture.
This November, I made my way to Kyushu, one of the four main islands of Japan. Kyushu is located at the southern most tip of the country, making the island a close neighbour to Korea and China. The journey began in Fukuoka and stops were made in Beppu, Miyazaki, Kagoshima, Ibusuki, Aso and Kumamoto. The trip was to end in Fukuoka once again. Yup, we circled around the island for its finest and most serene sights, dosed with rich culture and lots of fresh air. Really, it’s suburban life like this that does away with the nagging need for the computer. If ever the Japanese can only do one thing (which is highly impossible), is that they make breathtaking landscapes.
The prefectures of Kyushu were filled with much tradition. Even in the lavatories, modern washlets were referred to as “Western Style” along stalls with squat toilets traditional to the Orient. If you’re looking for the really high techie ones, they’re found in hotels and yes they amused me to no end.
Throughout the week, it was shrine after shrine, folk tale after folk tale. What captured the traveller’s attention were the fascinating stories that these old towns carry. If anything else besides the landscape were impressive, it’d be the imperial fables and mythologies which nestled deep in Kyushu. These tales gave rise to names like “Devil’s Washboard” for one of its seaside shores, granted the enchanting appeal of the remarkable “Udo Shrine” and sparked the heartbreaking story of a sailor’s wife at the “Satsuma Nagasaki Hana Light”. What they say is true; while flipping through the pages of legends and lore, you do get to see the big picture.
Another highlight was Nagasaki – the name infamous for the atomic bomb which devastated the town and ended World War II in August, 1945. A trip to the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum showed me how important the message of peace was in this part of the land. Peace wasn’t just an ongoing demonstration on war; it was going to be their way of life.
Testimonies from survivors who saw death happen in front of them left me heartbroken and very aware of the fact that blind violence does not discriminate. Even though the museum was quiet and only the audio and video tapes in playback could be heard, I guarantee that echoing off the walls were the incessant thoughts of every visitor who was looking at the artifacts of burnt clothing, shredded currencies, melted glass bottles and fire glazed pottery.
From the accounts, a massive bright light, blazes and scattered, charred bodies were witnessed by many when the explosion happened at 11:02AM on that fateful August morning. A testimony on the walls described how a mother, whose body had been badly burnt and appeared purple from the effects of the blast, had managed to rush back to her home from the fields to her family. In her weak state, she had returned to find her fear-filled daughter crushed under a roof beam in her fiery home, screaming intensely for help but no one around had the strength to do anything.
In that split moment when the terrified child looked at her mother with fear in her eyes, nothing more poignant could have happened. Despite her open, dreadful wounds, the mother run towards her child and lifted the beam which was pinning her daughter’s legs by using the entire weight of her peeling shoulder. Her child was free but with her remaining strength, she took her last breath before the flames engulfed her weak and dying state.
Since then, Nagasaki had been a place that constantly reminds its citizens about the importance of peace. After the war, overseas governments had analysed that it would take Nagasaki at least 50 years to recover its natural soil and be able to cultivate nutrients from the result of the horrific blast. But with a fall comes the determination to stand up again. Nagasaki was transformed into a suburban town with the capabilities to restore its futile soil within 20 years of the vile attack that killed 200,000 civilians including Japanese, Korean, Chinese and Portuguese in 1945.
As I travelled further away from the smaller, serene villages towards the city of Fukuoka, the divide between Japan’s rural beginnings and modernity start to become more apparent. With a population of over 1.4 million, Fukuoka was sitting comfortably at the other very modern spectrum of life in Kyushu. The city is also known for the Fukuoka Yahoo! Japan Dome, which has held numerous concerts by international acts like Whitney Houston, Bon Jovi, The Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson, and the Eagles. At this point of the trip, it felt as though I’ve travelled in time in a DeLorean (in this case it’s a comfy bus) and stepped in a time and place where souvenirs aren’t the only things that were being sold.
Though not as vibrant and eccentric as Tokyo, Fukuoka is still very much a pleasant city filled with busy chatter, busy people and peak hour traffic. So it seems like after days of waking up to nature and its fresh air, I’ve stepped back to life and regained the fond, yet chaotic love-hate relationship I have with life and everything else in it. Welcome back.
*Pssst, Penny’s been peeking around in Kyushu. Find out where she’s been in our gallery!