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January 6, 2019 - Obscure Kyushu : Yamaga
Yamaga is a small town in North Eastern Kumamoto which has one of the prettier traditional streets in Kyushu. It's also home to one of the 17 remaining traditional Kabuki theatres left in Japan. Note that it's around 25 kilometers from Kumamoto City but there are no trains nearby which limits it's accessibility.
My first stop for the day was to visit the Yamaga Lantern Museum, which are intricate paper lanterns which are made by hand but are a specialty of the area. It costs 210 yen to enter or 630 yen with a combo ticket which includes entry into the Yachiyoza Theatre.
Apart from the paper lanterns, they have also made plenty of dioramas using the same paper technique which are rather impressive. Note that this is a rather small museum so only expect to spend 20 or so minutes here.
One of the more atmospheric shrines I've visited in the last couple of days was my second stop in Yamaga - the Omiya Shrine which has the most lanterns for a specific deity of some sort.
The rear of the shrine has a slight Indiana Jones feel and I now know what happens to the old shrine objects each year - they burn them which I got to witness here for the first time!
After a good feed, I made my way back to the main street where there were plenty of stores and Sake Breweries to dwell any problems you may have.
Kosenji Temple is roughly 400 years old and is made out of the spare wood left over when the original Kumamoto Castle was built. Unlike the castle - this temple seems to have stood the test of time a little better.
Another of the highlights of the town is the Sakura Hot Springs which is home to a very alkaline and high pH water (roughly pH10!) which leaves your skin feeling smooth. But unlike a low pH onsen, it achieves this not by removing some parts of the outer skin. This costs 300 yen to enter and is open from 6am to midnight.
My next stop was Kongojo-ji Temple which looks like nothing too much at first but has a nice garden around the back and seemed a bit more atmospheric than most stock standard temples.
My last stop for the day was Yachiyoza Theatre which costs 520 yen to enter or 630 yen with the combo ticket. This theatre is highly impressive but it's a shame that the do not allow you to explore more of the building like is possible at some other kabuki theatres.
So if your off to Kumamoto for a couple of days and have your own car, then I think Yamaga is right up your alley if you like old towns and good onsen water. As it's off the main tourist trail, prices are much cheaper and there is even good English signage throughout the town. There are also some interesting other attractions accessible by car which I did not look at on this occasion (look on Google Maps!). For tomorrow, I'll be heading over to Aso.
Yamaga Tourist Information: https://yamaga.site