In 1994 I planned a three week journey from Tokyo to Kagoshima with a friend who was a Japan neophyte. I included in the itinerary several of Japan’s castles. When my friend saw the itinerary, he scoffed saying, “I’ve seen plenty of castles in Europe; I don’t need to see more castles.” Nevertheless, I left … Continue reading Kumamoto Castle: rising from the rubble
Without the mineral kaolin, fine porcelain could not exist. It is said that Korean potters first found kaolin in Japan near the village of Arita in Saga Prefecture in 1616, launching Japan's porcelain industry. These days, 80% of Japan’s kaolin actually comes from the Amakusa Islands of Kumamoto Prefecture, another area known for its pottery … Continue reading Finding fine porcelain off the beaten track
The late nineteenth/early twentieth century in Japan was a time when kabuki as an art form was liberalized, becoming more popular than ever. As a result, many communities built their own theaters. By the end of the Meiji Period (1868-1912) there were between four and five thousand such theaters across Japan. Only a few have … Continue reading Yachiyo-za Theater: jewel in the crown of Yamaga
“Aso is a good-natured, even-tempered volcano, and it is not often that the steady cloud of smoke and steam which it emits varies in volume...” These words are from In Lotus-land Japan, a 1910 travelogue by Herbert G. Ponting. In these days when actual travel is not possible, I am enjoying reading (and in some … Continue reading Mount Aso: Armchair Travel, Art, and Memories
On the west coast of Shimoshima, the largest of the Amakusa Islands of Kyushu, is a large bay known as Yokaku Bay. Because of its location on the East China Sea, the bay, and particularly the town of Sakitsu in a small, but deep, harbor on the north shore, has a centuries-long history as a … Continue reading Sakitsu: a remote Amakusa port where Christians once concealed themselves
On the outskirts of Kumamoto City sits an isolated Zen temple that guards over an historic cave and a hillside of rakan (arhat) statues. Rakan are devout Buddhists who have attained enlightenment and live in a state of Nirvana. In Japan, collections of statues of 500 rakan, the number of disciples of Buddha believed to … Continue reading Unganzenji: a legacy of swordsmanship and piety
On a windswept hilltop north of Kyushu's Mt. Aso caldera, one of the largest volcanic caldera in the world, there stands a bunch of giant boulders. They seem to be arranged in two somewhat straight lines, with a couple of clusters of boulders off to one side. There is nothing else around but grass and … Continue reading Oshito-Ishi: Japan’s Stonehenge?