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January 2, 2019 - Obscure Kyushu : Hitoyoshi
After visiting Yatsushiro in the morning, I decided to travel to inland Kumamoto and see Hitoyoshi which is locally known for it's castle and Aoiaso Shrine. This town is more built up than many of those in the area but it's still a country mile from the bustling towns in Honshu.
My first stop for this post is the large and imposing Hitoyoshi Castle which was first constructed in the 15 century by the Sagara Clan. This clan held onto power in the area for well over 700 years due to changing allegiances depending who was in power at the time.
The reason I find this castle so impressive is there are three main types of castles in Japan from memory, One is with large walls built around it, one is built on top of a hill and another one has a large amount of earth moved to make the castle into a hill. Hitoyoshi castle seems to be the latter - it's also at Nationally designated historic site. A castle museum is also found outside the main walls but was close when visited.
My second stop in Hitoyoshi was Eikokuji Temple which seemed to be nothing special at first glance. It was founded in 1408 by the reasonably famous monk Jitei.
Unlike many smaller temples, it's possible to enter and view it's treasures - but it's garden is it's main point of beauty for me!
My third stop was the Hitoyoshi Craft Village which is located around 3 kilometers from the main town out in the countryside. Some people speak highly of this place, but I found it to be a few underwhelming shops where you could also undertake some workshops. Call me fussy.
My fourth stop for the post was Kyusendo Caves which is roughly 20 kilometers from Hitoyoshi. Apart from being in almost the middle of no-where, it's also a bit pricy to enter. It costs 1,100 yen to enter or 1,800 yen for the adventure course. As I don't like becoming muddy and ducking continuously, I decided to take the former course.
The cave itself is reasonably large, but what can be seen is relatively minor compared to other caves I have seen in Japan. I will say that the engineering of this cave though is close to the best I have seen.
My fifth stop for the post of Aoiaso Shrine which I had to revisit due to there being no car parks when I went past the first time. As it was still close to New Years, the crowds were large but much more manageable when I came back a couple of hours later.
This shrine was first founded in the 8th century and is the only national treasure to be found in the whole of Kumamoto Prefecture. Due to this, English signage was reasonably strong but the shrine grounds were much smaller than I was expecting for the impressive main buildings.
My last stop in Hitoyoshi was the Bukekura which is located close to Eikokuji Temple. It costs 300 yen to enter and is one of the few traditional samurai residences still to be found in Hitoyoshi. I visited this site on the 4th of January due to holiday closing hours.
The residence might not look like much at first - but small things such as English translations and a basic guide through by the person on duty made a whole world of difference. He showed where the secret room was along with showing how the opening of the residence was the old castle residence.
Hitoyoshi is a reasonably impressive little town which has lots to do, but some locations being too busy or others being closed limited my potential total enjoyment but there is nothing anyone can do about this. I would suggest to visit this town in Spring or Fall for it to be most impressive. Also note that finding somewhere to eat in the centre for dinner was difficult during holidays as everywhere inside the city was packed or closed. All fast food options are found strangely outside the city centre and require a car. For tomorrow, I'll be off to Izumi.
Hitoyoshi Tourist Bureau (English): https://hitoyoshi-travel.com/en/#top
Hitoyoshi Heritage (English): http://hitoyoshi-kuma-heritage.jp/en/