“The Heart of Things”: Day Three (Part One) of Kat’s (not quite) Epic Christmas/New Years 2008 (and technically 2009) Trip (of wonderfulness)

On Christmas day, I left behind my Hanto friends to get into Kumamoto-shi.  I will admit, it was very odd to not only not celebrate Christmas (which I’d done before in China–watched an entire season of Charmed in one day) but to also do it alone.  Granted, Japan is very festive around Christmas.  Like many Americans, they like all the bling but not so much the story and reasoning behind it.  In any case, I got to Kumamoto-shi after a harrowing ferry ride (actually it wasn’t that bad) and long bus ride (not that long, though that whole paying thing really tripped me up) at around five pm.  Being as by five pm most tourist attractions are closed, I decided to just wander around the city to see what was what.

Ended up going around in circles but several important things happened:

  1. I found the Starbucks!!!  (I find that in America I rarely go to Starbucks or like coffee places–only deigning to accompany my friends at which point I may or may not get a Chai.  However, whenever I’m abroad I search out the foreign coffee places–be it Starbucks, Seattle’s Best, or Tully’s–with a fervor most people find highly entertaining, but some find a little scary.)
  2. Bought myself a shiny new amethyst necklace for Christmas.  (This was done while slightly tipsy, I won’t lie.)
  3. Watched Japanese people make Spanish food… with chopsticks.  They also fell prey to the neverending Japanese assumption that the only form of pasta is spaghetti.  ::sigh::  I ate an anchovie and tomato pizza with two glasses of wine.  Delicious.
  4. I started reading some short stories by Haruki Murakami.  I decided he’s amazing.  (Though he’s not quite as amazing as Soseki, but then no one is.)

In any case, I got to sleep at around ten pm (after chatting with some other travellers), which left me bright eyed and bushy-tailed for the morning.

Another English-speaking tourist left a very kind note for Natsume Soseki.

Another English-speaking tourist left a very kind note for Natsume Soseki.

December 26th dawned bright and slightly cool.  I found my way downtown much easier than the night before–turns out when one leaves the hostel one should turn left rather than right.  That made it simple to catch a bus and/or tram that brought me straight down to see Kumamoto-jo.  I had three things on the List I Wanted to Accomplish.  First, wander around Kumamoto-jo.  Second, find Natsume Soseki’s house.  Third, go to the beautiful Suizenji Park.  I managed to do all three, but don’t ask me how as half the time I walked around I was convinced I was lost.  I also did even more than expected, which was awesome.  I think it’s because I started early.

So, Kumamoto-jo (or rather, Kumamoto Castle for those who don’t speak some 日本語) was initially built some time during the 1600s.  It passed through many hands until the Satsuma Rebellion (the events which inspired the Epic Tom Cruise Movie The Last Samurai, in case anyone cares).  At this point, it was burned down.  Then, in 1960, the Kumamoto and/or Japanese government decided that it needed to inspire more tourism so it built this fancy schmancy replica.  I’d become accustomed to Eastern concepts of “preserving the past” while in China, so the fact that a “400 year old castle” looked more like something with modern tools made to look old did not surprise me too much.

Anyway, it’s pretty cool.

From the... south side?

From the... south side?

Even in winter (though I grant you, it was a very nice winter day), the castle shined.  It was gorgeous.  I can’t imagine what it would look like with either snow, fall foliage, or cherry blossoms floating around it.  I especially liked that, being as I went fairly early in the morning, the place wasn’t swarming with tourists–always nice for picture taking when one doesn’t have a tripod.  I could have gone for some more interesting clouds in the sky, but we can’t always get what we want, eh?

No you cant always get what you want... but sometimes... (dum dum dum) You get what you nee-eed!

No you cant always get what you want... but sometimes... (dum dum dum) You get what you nee-eed!

It wasn’t a very difficult walk to the top, despite me being very out of shape.  Although the castle is all recently built (but still very cool), they have a number of really interesting pieces of history–many swords, uniforms, and other items used by soldiers during the Satsuma Rebellion.  Also a couple of really fancy sets of samurai armor, which I drooled over.  As much as I would have loved to share the pictures with you, there was an obvious “NO PHOTO” sign.  And sadly, it’s hard to be sneaky with a camera the size of a small country.

The top had most excellent views of Kumamoto city.  I found the set up similar to both Nagasaki and Fukuoka, a nice green town surrounded by hills and/or mountains.  (Depending on what your definition of a mountain is.)  However, Kumamoto was very definitely less populated–or at the very least, there was a smaller amount of buildings in the immediate vicinity.  I find that, of the major cities I’ve been to in Kyushu, so far Kumamoto-shi is my favorite.

Got some clouds here... thank goodness.

Got some clouds here... thank goodness.

I think this is the north side of the city... maybe...

I think this is the north side of the city... maybe...

In any case, after I left Kumamoto-jo, I went on the Quest to Find Natsume Soseki’s house, which I could tell just by the way the city was laid out that it would not be easy to find.  On the way I stopped at the Kumamoto Traditional Craft’s Museum (the Modern Art Museum was closed for the holidays, I was so le sad), which was actually more interesting than I thought it would be.  Worth my 200 yen, at least.  I wanted to buy an intricately built 8000 yen paper lantern, but I decided that 8000 yen would be put to good use later.  (Which it was –> helicopter!)

In any case, after much turning, sitting, and confusion, eventually I spotted the signs that led me to the house.  Did you know that “Natsume” is literally “Eye of Summer”?  I thought that was pretty interesting.  And then I felt lame because I’d never seen Soseki’s name written in Japanese before…

In any case, I seriously got tingles as soon as I stepped through the gates.  Though unassuming, the house definitely had a good, old-fashioned feel to it.  Huge, too.  Several of the rooms were ten mats which meant, despite being only one floor, it was about twice the size of my house.  It also had a gorgeous garden.  Even though I couldn’t read most of the signs, I loved walking through it, thinking that Soseki had walked through it, too (albeit for probably only about five months). 

I am such a sucker for the mustaches... (Yes, that is supposed to be Soseki).

I am such a sucker for the mustaches... (Yes, that is supposed to be Soseki).

ZOMFG!!!!

ZOMFG!!!!

The above, though I could be wrong, is an original draft of Soseki’s Kokoro (literally, The Heart, or the Heart of Things).  Next to it they had another notebook from Botchan.  I literally got chills as I stared at it.  Though not my favorite book, it was that one which started my obsession with Soseki.  I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to take pictures of it–couldn’t see any signs like in Kumamoto-jo, at least–but I did it without the flash on so it shouldn’t hurt anything.  Seriously, the entire business was amazing.

By this time it was nearing one in the afternoon, so I popped over to Starbucks (a good 10 or 15 minute walk from Soseki’s house) to get some food and then took the tram up to Suizenji.

Stay tuned for our next installment: finishing Kumamoto-shi.  Then hopefully we’ll get to Aso-san.  At some point.

Oh man, he has got to be rolling over in his grave at this juxtaposition of traditional and modern... Made me crack up.

Oh man, he has got to be rolling over in his grave at this juxtaposition of traditional and modern... Made me crack up.

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