SHIMABARA AND THE SATSUMA REVOLT
After a short crossing of an hour, I arrived in the city of Shimabara, northeast of the Shimabara Peninsula, located in Nagasaki Prefecture. It is a nice cold sun. After leaving my bag at the hostel, I walk quietly around. Shimabara is a small port city stretching along the coast at the foot of Mount Mayuyama. Mount Mayuyama is part of the volcanic complex of Mount Unzen composed of different peaks and mountains. Kinugasa to the north, Mount Fugen and Mayuyama to the center-east and Kusenbu to the south. The Fugendake has a crater in activity. The last deadly eruption in 1991 took away a large part of the outlying areas of Shimabara.
I spend my Tuesday mooring in Shimabara. The tiny lake Shiraki, the Kotoji temple housing the statue of a lying Buddha where many people are present cleaning the graves and the temple. This great cleansing being done at the end of December is called “ôsôji” and acts as a rite of purification. It is also practiced in the houses. Visit of a carp area, home to numerous streams filled with impressive carp and pretty old traditional houses. I visit Yusui-teien Shimeiso, including a traditional garden. Japanese tea tasting and discussion with the owner and two Japanese visitors speaking a little English.
Located on top of a small hill, the 5-storey Shimabara Castle was built around the 1920s and played an important role in the Satsuma rebellion. Nagasaki Prefecture was one of the main places of introduction of Christianity in Japan at the beginning of the 16th century by Jesuit missionaries. Between 1637 and 1638, local peasants, mostly Christian, rebelled against their daimyo, Matsukura Shigemasa, who taxed more and more heavily and persecuted Christians. Samurai, ronins (samurai without master), village chiefs and peasants gathered and triggered what was called the Satsuma Rebellion. But the revolt was repressed in the blood. Entrenched in the castles of Shimabara and Hara (further south of the Shimabara Peninsula), the rebels will be decimated by the cannons of the Dutch ships, allies of the Shogunate.
The castle is home to a very interesting museum that tells the story of Shimabara and its Christians, the Satsuma Rebellion, a superb collection of pottery and dishes, small figurines and a collection of armor and sabers. From the top floor, you can discover a nice view of the city, Mount Mayuyama and the smoking crater of Fugendake.
I also go to see the Seibo Memorial Hall dedicated to the sculptor and painter Seibo Kitamura. It is he who carved the statue of Peace installed since 1955 in the center of Nagasaki Peace Park and commemorating the atomic bombing of 1945. I did not know the man at all and I must say that his sculptures are amazing. Extremely expressive and successful, I found them beautiful.
Visit also of the historic district Teppô-machi home to several “buke yashiki” (samurai houses) along a pretty alley of 450m long cut in half by a small canal. I finish my day with a walk in the most popular neighborhoods along the small harbor. Beautiful weather, few people (except for a group of young boys (in 12-15 years), who ask me where I come from, if my camera works well and if I love Japan), lapping waves and gurgling birds. The atmosphere is superbly peaceful. In spite of the coming night, I still push just instead of the deadly lava flow of 1991. Although nature has regained its rights and the houses were rebuilt we still distinguish the trace of the casting. Night return to the inn, followed by the cold.
IN THE HELL OF UNZEN
The next day, Wednesday, December 30, I take the bus that takes me in one hour in the mountains of Mount Unzen, in the small village Unzen. Unzen is built amidst the hot springs of water due to the volcanic activity of the region. White smoke, heat waves, gurgling bubbles of gas that burst on the surface and smell of rotten egg (because of sulfuric acid), perfume the village. Nicknamed “Unzen Jigoku” ( Jigoku means “hell” in Japanese), the whole thing provokes a fascinating spectacle. Especially since Unzen was also one of the places where Japanese Christians were martyred around 1600. The daimyo Matsukura Shigemasa (quoted above) refusing Christianity, condemned Christians to death by boiling in the hot springs of Unzen.
Sounds of Unzen – Jigoku Onsen :
The weather is good, I attack the ascent of Mount Yadake (altitude 930m) overlooking the Jigoku Onsen. The summit offers a beautiful view of the valley below and on the Nita pass and the various peaks of the volcanic complex. I continue my walk along the crest on a small path wandering in the forest. I go back down the valley by a small road, cradled by the sun. The places are very beautiful. Back to the village where my search for a bento (lunch basket) is unsuccessful. It will be restaurant. Rustic little place held by a granny a little bit shrewish. I choose a donburi with eggs that is very good. (A donburi is a large bowl of rice combined with any garnish).
With a full belly, I return to the assault of the mountain, this time on the other side of the village to climb Mount Kinugasa, 870 meters. At its foot is the beautiful Lake Shirakumo and the first free camping space I find in Japan. The places are sacramentally arranged for a free space: toilets, kitchen space, place to make fire and elevated places for the tents. A brave man has also pitched his tent. The ascent is quiet, on an old stone path. As for Mount Yadake, the observatory at the top allows to ignite a superb view of the valley and Unzen but also to see the tip of the Shimabara Peninsula in the South and the rest of Nagasaki Prefecture in the West. I go down quietly to the village through a large coniferous forest.
Sounds of Unzen – Birds during the ascent of Mount Kinugasa:
While waiting for the bus, I go around the big lake Oshidori-no-Ike to find a small shrine dedicated to Daikokuten (Japanese deity of wealth, trade and trade) whose face is carved in stone.
The next day, the sun gave way to rain. My schedule for the day was to hike in the mountains of Mount Unzen. Optimistic, I take the bus again hoping that the rain will stop the time I arrive. Alas, my prayer was not heard. I attack the first part of my hike in the pouring rain. Unless you take a taxi (too expensive), you have to reach the Nita pass (where a cable car is located) while climbing into the forest for an hour. Mist also appears. Arriving at the pass, the rain turns into snow and the mist prevents me from seeing more than 50 meters. Now that I’m here, I’m not going to turn around. I buy a ticket for the cable car that brings me in three minutes 300 meters higher. The station staff warned me that I took the last cable car. It closes because of bad weather. I will have to go back on foot (which I had anyway planned). A little worried, they watch me leave, shouting “Kiotsukete” (which can be translated as “pay attention to yourself”). Leaving the station, I find myself in another world. The blizzard is raging, everything is covered with white and the haze is so strong that you can not see anything beyond 5 meters. Asking me a little in what I embarked, I continue anyway. The tiny path runs along the ridge under the flurry of snow. Apart from the sound of the wind, the world is completely silent. To tell the truth, the world seems to have disappeared. Outside my crest, I see nothing except a gray mass. The colors are gone. It’s a world of shades of gray and white that comes to me. The places are discovered, ghostly, as I advance. A little disappointed to see nothing of the environment, I console myself watching the snow turn trees into white skeletons. The atmopshere seems surreal. I give up my idea of going up the different peaks and the crater (way too dangerous, given the weather) to make a quiet walk that will take me two hours time to return to the base station from the cable car. I eat at full speed trying to shelter from the snow and then I go down the same way to the driveway to return to the bus stop. As I go down, the snow turns to rain and the fog dissipates slightly. Shivering with cold, it is with happiness that I get on the bus to Shimabara.
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