IV. Kumamoto

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A bullet train about to leave the station. (SA)

Then it was back on the bullet train and on to Kyushu Island and Kumamoto Prefecture, where Ken currently works for the prefectural tourism division promoting American awareness of Japanese culture. (Train travel in Japan, by the way, is wonderfully comfortable and efficient. Trains arrive on time. Trains leave on time.

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Kumamoto Castle. (SA)

The conductors and the ladies who come through with snack carts bow when they enter a car, and bow again when they leave. The trains have names. The “slow” bullet train we rode on is called Kodama [Echo]; the newer and faster one, Sakura [Cherry Blossom]. Another thing you notice are the tunnels, which are ubiquitous. Japan is a mountainous land with very little flat ground, so trains and highways require bridges and tunnels in order to be viable. Between Osaka and Iwakuni, we passed through 75 tunnels; between Iwakuni and Kumamoto, another 63.)

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Gold leaf and inlay ceiling of the official reception room, Honmaru Goten Palace, Kumamoto Castle. (SA)
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Murals on the walls of the reception room. (SA)

The premier attraction in Kumamoto City is its castle, originally built by Lord Kato Kiyomasa in the early 1600s. One of the three most elaborate, well-preserved, and magnificent feudal castles in Japan, it dominates the city and the surrounding countryside, the walls massive and intimidating, the towers soaring, the living quarters of Honmaru Goten Palace-room after room-brilliant with gold leaf and multi-colored murals. The forces of Saigo Takamori, the Last Samurai, besieged the castle during the war against the Meiji throne, but could not take it. When you see it, you realize why they failed, a failure that led to Saigo’s ultimate defeat.

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Suizenji Park

Just beyond the castle walls is Kyu Hosokawa Gyobutei, usually referred to as Samurai House, a beautifully preserved 17th century residence built by Tadatoshi, the first Hosokawa lord of Kumamoto, for his younger brother Okitaka. And not far away is Suizenji Jojuen Park. Built by another of the Hosokawa lords, it sports a residence, multiple shrines (including one honoring foxes), a gorgeous lake with koi fish and turtles, a manicured landscape complete with miniature Mt. Fuji (indeed, small armies of landscapers and tree-trimmers seem to work non-stop at all of these sites), and a flock of pigeons so tame they perched on our hands and arms and shoulders, hoping for a handout.

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Suizenji Park Suizenji Park

>> A special tour package in tribute to Dr. Ehrhart’s travel is now on sale.

Text copyright: W. D. Ehrhart
Photos copyright: Sachiko Akama (SA
Anne Ehrhart (AGE)
W. D. Ehrhart (WDE)
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