Ken and Bill's Excellent Adventure
VII. Kumamoto
      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.  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 Kodame [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.

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

Main Tower (right) and Uto Turret (left), Kumamoto Castle. (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.

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

Murals on the walls of the reception room. (SA)

      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.

Walls become windows at Kyu Hosokawa Gyobutei
“Samurai House." (AGE)

Ken, Anne, Bill & Chihiro Ono of the Kumamoto Tourism Division at Suizenji Jojuen Park. Note ladder at far left, with two men manicuring a tree. (SA)
(Background photo by SA)
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