Saturday, August 11, 2012

Place #6: Takeo-Onsen 6カ所目:武雄温泉

Next destination: Takeo-Onsen! We had an unexpected delay as the heavy rain had stopped the trains that went to that direction, but made it there safe and sound with a different route.
We came here, famous for its hot springs, because a family friend. It is his hometown, and so he kindly invited us to explore it. We were beyond thrilled and overjoyed that we got to stay in a beautiful beautiful Ryokan (traditional japanese inn, this one with natural hot springs), eat delicious delicious food, and get into relaxing hot spring baths. It was such a change from the economical backpacker lifestyle that we had led so far so we were in a hyper-excited state for a while. Enjoying japanese food, japanese hot spring bath and japanese tea, it was also a moment where we saying how grateful we were to be born half-Japanese.


With the lovely lady that took care of us. A bright smile and the happy laugh made us both feel right at home!

The next day, the nephew of the family friend kindly took us around to show Saga.

First we saw the ancient hot spring area with its buildings, dating back over 1200 years. Sara and I could not help but to be reminded of another Ghibli movie, Spirited Away. The bathhouse that appears in the movie (picture below) had these colors and the design. I knew a town in Taiwan inspired parts of the setting of Spirited away, but it was strange and nice to see that this may have been an inspiration as well... and truly interesting just in general, because I just hadn't these color combinations used in other parts of Japan.


Hearing that we liked seeing old trees and about our hike to see the Jomon ceder in Yakushima, he also took us to see two very old, very big camphor trees. The first one was behind Takeo Shrine (also with vivid color combinations and surrounded by beautiful nature). We walked through the shrine, and also past a huge forest of bamboo trees, to come face to face with the majestic tree.


The camphor tree with its 3000+ years and size 6th in Japan is regarded as sacred- a small shrine is placed inside the tree (which is as spacious as being able to fill 12 tatami mats). This tree looks like it is torn at the top, as if it has kept growing and growing all these years. Like Jomon ceder, it had a calming vibe, filled with energy to share to its visitors. During this trip I slowly could understand why people in the old days would feel that a tree like this is sacred, hence building shrines near it. To believe that they have a special force and energy I think shows how much people believed that we lived together with nature-  this in turn brings my mind to shrines and temples in Tokyo or other big cities, that have lost this "special feeling" without the nature that used to surround it, but instead are surrounded by other buildings, houses or skyscrapers.

 Our friend also shared his childhood memory of playing inside the tree- and I could just imagine how fun of a playground it'd be for children. Unfortunately now, the tree is off limits.



We were impressed by the Takeo camphor tree, but we went on to see an even bigger one! 3rd biggest tree in Japan, the camphor tree in Kawago. This one too, was a 3000+ years old sacred tree. It was too big to photograph ourselves (below photo is taken from it was that big! They had also cut off some of the branches, because they would become too heavy and so destroy the tree. Again, the tree took my imagination for a ride- trying to imagine all the changing in the surroundings the tree had lived through. If a tree could speak- which time period did they prefer? What would they think of us humans? Having lived so much of history, what important things would they have to tell us?

武雄の大楠に感動したけど、次にもっともっと大きいのを見に行った。こちらは日本で3番目に大きい、川古の大楠。この木も同じく樹齢3000年以上の神木だ。私たちのカメラには収まらないほどの大きさ(下の写真は から):これだけ大きい! 枝が大きくなりすぎて重くなり木を倒さないように、何カ所か切ってある。この木もまた、私の想像力を違うところに連れてってくれた。何千年も変わりゆく周りの環境を生きてきた木。もしお話ができたら、どの時代が一番すきだったんだろう?人間の事はどう思うんだろう?歴史を生き抜いて、私たちへアドバイスがあれば、それはどんなんだろう?

The area of Takeo is also for pottery, so we also saw the biggest kiln in the world- 23m long, it could fire 120000 teacups at once! Hard to wrap my head around....


The final sightseeing spot was mind-blowing- Yutoku Inari Shrine. A colorful, beautiful shrine (or numerous shrines as you hike up) was like the bathhouse, a new type of Japanese shrine for me, almost resembling temples in other Asian countries. Certainly a different style from the plain, serene shrines in other parts of Japan, but I really really liked the bold use of colors standing out in the green nature.


These gates, called Torii, is a characteristic of a Inari shrine- and are often lined up many of them in a Inari shrine. I did some studying when I came home and learned some interesting facts about it. The torii is always painted in this red color- said to make evil spirits go away. The raw material of this red color also prevents the wood from rotting, hence being used in many shrines from old times.

I also always wondered why so many torii gates were lined up-the answer I found out was quite nice, they are built as a thank you, as people's wishes "came through". I didn't count how many there were, but the gates suddenly meant so much more when I started thinking so many wishes had come true.



At the top awaited a beautiful view, and another smaller shrine, surrounded by a forest- and it just reinforced our discovery that shrines should be built close to or with nature. 


The visit was concluded with a yummy yummy meal at a restaurant built with a feel from the Showa period. The soba, buckwheat noodles, where made from scratch and all of the dishes were 100% organic. Eating this lovely lunch outside in the sun, surrounded by nature was a truly lovely experience.


Saga, checked! But definitely coming back!


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