Unganzenji: a legacy of swordsmanship and piety

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

Takachiho Farm: fun hands-on experience of life on a farm

The Kirishima volcano system in Kagoshima Prefecture is fascinating for the variety of landscapes visitors can experience.  The flanks of some of the volcanoes are covered with grassland conducive to raising cattle.  Takachiho Farm is a kind of "show farm" within sight of Mt. Kirishima where visitors can see a working dairy and experience several … Continue reading Takachiho Farm: fun hands-on experience of life on a farm

Saitobaru: A Walk in Miyazaki’s “Valley of the Kings”

Sitting on a plateau above the Hitotsuse River valley in central Miyazaki Prefecture is a 58 hectare site covered in tumuli, the kofun burial mounds of the period from the second century to the seventh century AD, a period in Japanese history known as the "Kofun Period" because of this practice.  There are at least … Continue reading Saitobaru: A Walk in Miyazaki’s “Valley of the Kings”

Gunkanjima: an abandoned coal mining town like no other

Students of Japan's modern industrial history may have heard of Gunkanjima.  Fans of James Bond movies may recognize it as villain Raoul Silva's abandoned island hideout in Skyfall. Whatever it is, it sure is different! Gunkanjima's real name is Hashima.  Coal was discovered on Hashima, a rocky outcrop some 4.5 kilometers west of Nagasaki Peninsula, … Continue reading Gunkanjima: an abandoned coal mining town like no other

Usa Jingu: the original Hachiman shrine

There are more than 40,000 shrines across Japan that are specifically dedicated to Hachiman, the guardian god of warriors. Usa Jingu in northern Oita Prefecture is widely regarded as the oldest such shrine, with all the rest mere satellites of this parent. Hachiman is a posthumous deification of the 15th Japanese emperor, Ojin (201-312). There … Continue reading Usa Jingu: the original Hachiman shrine