Today was a long day. It started with an early breakfast and then I needed to get to the bus station by 9 AM to catch my bus to Kumamoto. I was very happy to see that when I stepped outside today the weather was beautiful. It seems Japan has swings in weather just as bad as Cleveland. Yesterday was about 55 degrees and rainy. Today was a very nice 80 and bright and sunny. When I first got on the bus, I was the only one. The bus driver wanted to talk to me, but there were only a few things I could understand. After a few stops, we picked up three old women and then a little later another couple. The bus driver was apparently cracking jokes the entire way because he had the three older women rolling in their seats. This was my first experience as being part of a Japanese tour group. As we passed a lot fo the scenerey on the way to Kumamoto, many of the Japanese tourists filled the bus with oooo’s and aaaaahhh’s and I quietly took it all in. The bus ride itself was pretty chaotic. First of all, the bus was huge with two seats on either side of a pretty wide aisle. This would be great if we were traveling down normal roads, but today we went through mountain ranges and took roads that cut back once every five minutes as well as taking two-way roads that were barely big enough for one car. We were delayed several times by cars that had to go in reverse to the nearest emergency pull-off so the bus could pass. Around 1 PM, we reached the Mt. Aso observatory. Mt. Aso is not only Japan’s largest active volcano but also one of the largest in the world. In addition it also has one of the world’s largest craters in circumference.
The scenery inside Aso Kuju National Park is amazing. It reminded me quite a bit of the Ecuadorian Andes when I went last summer. Everywhere I looked, I was surrounded by mountains and it made for great pictures in every direction.
When we got to the observatory, I was disappointed to find out that the cable car up to the rim of the volcano was out out service for the day. Usually, you are allowed to go right up to the rim to take pictures down into the crater. After having lunch I wandered around the park by myself for a little bit until the bus was ready to take off again. I slept the entire way from Mt. Aso to Kumamoto, so I woke up in the bus depot pleasently refreshed. I checked into my hotel and ran over to Kumamoto Castle before it closed.
Kumamoto Castle was pretty similar to the other castles I had been to. It was attacked during the Shimabara Rebellion and burned to the ground. The Shimabara rebellion was a rebellion of peasants against their daimyo which caused the Christain expulsion edicts to be enforced. Many Christians were tortured and martyred in Kyushu and Kyoto soon after. I will talk more about the Christian persecution when I get to Nagasaki. Since the castle needed to be restored, again it just has a fuedal musum inside the main tower. Pretty standard. However, what I found to be extremely cool was the Honmaru Goten Palace. This was a hall designated specifically for formal meetings and for tea ceremonies. This was also destroyed in the rebellion, but was restored through the use of the original blueprints used to build the castle. The elaborate murals on the sliding doors and ceilings have been reproduced using old drawings from inside the original hall. In all the other castles and temples that I have been that had these paintings, they were originals and photography was forbidden. However, since these paintings were just restorations, non-flash photography is permitted. So, I was able to take some pictures of how exquisite a feudal castle actually was during the Edo Period.
After I had toured the Honmaru Goten Palace, the castle grounds were about to close for the day and I walked back to my hotel. Tomorrow, I finally reach Nagasaki. Aside from Nikko, Nagasaki will pretty much be my last stop in feudal Japan, as Hokkaido was not part of Japan during that time. Nagasaki was the only port open to foreigners during the Edo Period and it played a very important role in Japanese history. I’m very excited to visit it as it has been the center of several of the novels I have read on historic Japan. See you soon!