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January 11, 2019 - Obscure Kyushu : Kashima & Dazaifu
For my last day in Japan, I decided to re-visit two towns of Kashima and Dazaifu so I can see some of the sites I missed the first time round. My first stop for the day is the highly impressive Yutoku shrine near Kashima.
The last time I visited this shrine in was in February and the place was absolutely dead. This time - there was much more people due to New Year's and the location seems to have much better English information available around the site as well.
One of the other highlights of this shrine is the pretty but reasonably steep walk up the hill behind the shrine which is home to a lot of Tori Gates which is reminiscent of Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, but it's a bit more picturesque in my opinion. However, I was a little short on time so I decided not to climb again.
One of the highlights of visiting the shrine is to see it's garden which costs 200 yen. Most people seem to skip this site - but it's strangely a good quality moss garden which has lots of Winter Peonies.
My second stop for the day in Kashima is Heizen Hamashuku which is a traditional merchant town with a good number of Sake Breweries. Note that the town is within a short walking distance of a train station which is great if you want to taste the local brew.
The town itelf is reasonably picturesque but driving my own car significantly limited my potential enjoyment of this town. There are a lot of Sake taste testing locations which I would have liked to have tried - but Japan's 0% Blood Alcohol limit is not something I want to break.
English signage is good at this location - but you really come to this town for the Sake and to some degree the local products. Once again - not driving would have made a big difference.
Something unexpected which occurred when I was walking through the town was a random person asked if I wanted to visit a Sake Brewery. As I've learnt to go with the flow in small Japanese towns, I decided to follow. The random person ended up being the master brewer at Fukuchiyo Sake Brewery which won the world's best Sake in 2016 at an important international alcohol show. Once again - enjoyment of this town would have been improved if you don't drive yourself!
One of the people who spoke good english ended up showing me around the brewery which seems to be something that does not always happen. I ended up buying something recommended by the master brewer based on my taste and location (I like slightly sweet / dry sake which is cold that suits a hot climate (Singapore). Strangely enough - I discovered that some major Sake bars in Singapore have flown the master brewer to Singapore to describe his Sake at exclusive tasting sessions. Let's just say I'm looking forward to trying the stuff on a special occasion.
It should be noted that there are one or two old residences which can be visited for free in the town but people really come here for the alcohol.
After visiting Heizen Hama, I drove a couple of hours to Dazaifu to visit the Kyushu National Museum. This highly impressive museum costs 430 yen to enter and includes an audio guide in multiple languages which includes WAAAYYY too much information.
Most of the museum did not allow photography, but I can confirm that some of the artefacts are some of the best quality I've seen in Japan period. This is however expected as there are only 3 national museums in the whole country. There was also an interesting 10 minute movie on Munakata Taisha which is quite interesting. It was fully in Japanese, but I think there is an English translation available. Visiting two of the three shrines before visiting here made it easy for me to understand what was being said though.
My next stop was Komyozenji Temple which costs 200 yen to enter and is home to two nice Zen gardens. They are really nice - but I have seen better on a few rare occasions. Note that photography is not allowed.
My last stop for the day before dropping off my car in Fukuoka was Tenmangu Shrine which was crawling with international tourists. As impressive as this shrine is - it pales into obscurity compared to the shrine I saw earlier in the day.
If I was to name a highlight of my travels this time - it would easily be the area around Aso which I consider one of my major highlights in all of my travels to Japan. It was also great to get to see Kumamoto which I feel as though I've seen a bit of now. This leaves only Kagoshima to visit in depth.
I'd also like to thank all of the people on the forum which helped me find a lot of 'out of the way' places I would not have easily found by myself. This means that I only have one trip left in Japan until I've completed my Japan odyssey. My last trip will be between December 20th 2019 to January 11th 2020. I'll probably visit Kobe, Shiga Prefecture, Kyoto, Yakushima, Tangeshima and Kagoshima during this time which will mean I would have visited all of the major sites and cities that I've really wanted to visit.
Thanks for reading and I hope that I have inspired some of you to visit Kumamoto - which is away from the Golden Triangle route of Honshu but easily accessible.