Susan's Shanghai Blog - Week 98

From Nagasaki, we headed to Kumamoto, which is the capital of the Kumamoto Prefecture and has just under a million people. For this part of the trip, we have to thank our friend Hitomi, who helped us with our bus reservations. Yep, we took a "highway bus" from Nagasaki to Kumamoto. We found the bus station pretty easily, got checked in, and then just waited for the departure. As you can see, it is pretty easy to determine the gate and times for the departures from the electric signs over the doors. We took the 7:40am departure, and this was our bus (note that even the bus drivers wear white gloves!)

It was raining off and on during the 3 1/2 hour drive, and we took a few pictures just trying to get a feel for the countryside, which seemed to be pretty hilly. It made one stop in the middle and then arrived in Kumamoto.

From there, we caught a tram up to our hotel, the Richmond Hotel. Quite easy to find, the entrance was right in the middle of a covered shopping arcade.

We headed directly to lunch, since we were too early to actually check into the hotel. We headed nearby to a Tonkatsu restaurant. Tonkatsu originated in Japan in the 19th century and is a deep-fried breaded pork cutlet, normally served with a sauce and shredded cabbage. The tonkatsu sauce is a really thick version of Worcestershire sauce.

We started with a little bowl of shredded daikon and pickles, and they brought us the wooden pestle. While not every tonkatsu restaurant does this part, we had done it before and so we weren't shocked. They bring a bowl with really coarse sides, and sesame seeds. You take however much sesame seeds you want and put them in the bowl. Then with the pestle, you grind the seeds into a powder and then add the normal tonkatsu sauce. In this way, you get a custom sauce!

Then came the miso soup, cutlets, shredded cabbage, and rice.

From there, we went to the #1 site in Kumamoto .. the Kumamoto Castle (considered to be one of the three most beautiful castles in Japan). The castle dates back to 1467 when the initial fortifications were built by Ideta Hidenobu. They were expanded a couple of times and starting in 1601, Kato Kiyomasa expanded the castle into a complex of 49 turrets, 18 turret gates, and 29 other smaller gates. Another smaller tower was also built for a kitchen and the Honmaru Goten Palace was completed in 1610.

As we got near the castle, we got to the Nagabei, or Long Wall. It ends 242 meters from the Hiraon Tureet on the east to the Bagu Tureet on the west. It is 6 meters tall and runs along the Tsuboi River.

Heading into the castle complex, you go through a set of stairs and corners, all with these high walls. You can imagine that it wasn't very easy to invade. The castle was besieged in 1877 during the Satsuma Rebellion, and the castle keep and other parts were burned down. The rebellion was a revolt of disaffected samurai (the Satsuma army) against the new imperial government during the Meiji Era. The Satsuma army failed to take the castle, during the initial attack, and so they dug in and attempted to starve the garrison in the castle. It lasted about 6 weeks and then the castle was able to force a hole in the lines and get supplies into the castle.

We entered through the Sudoguchi Gate and went past a set of turrets, setup on a massive wall (Tago, Shichiken, Juyonken, Yonken, and GennoShin turrets). Just how massive are the walls? You can see the tiny tiny little Susan up next to the wall in one of the pictures.

Then a few more turrets and buildings until we reached another gate.

The Nagatsubone Turret and Akazuno Gate guards the main tower complex

We were able to climb up to the top and get another nice view of the city.

This is the Main Castle Tower. Mind you, this was rebuilt in 1960 since it was destroyed 3 days before the siege by fire (cause unknown). The larger main tower (left side) has 6 stories with a basement, and the smaller tower (right side) has 4 stories and a basement. No pictures were allowed inside, but each floor going up had exhibitions and historical relics of the two ruling feudal families, as well as information on the siege.

Once we got to the top, we got another nice view of the city and parts of the castle and castle complex.

Once we got back down, we headed over to the Honmaru Goten Grand Hall. It also was restored in 1960. You can see how the rooms were previously, were many had a cooking fire-pit built into the floors, where you could heat water for tea. They had really nice wood beams.

The palace was in a typical Japanese style, with tatami mats and paper walls. This was an interesting group of rooms, where with the doors open, you can see all the way down through to the last room and this really great mural at the very end.

And here you can see, it is good to have a castle! Look at the amazing doors and walls, and if you look closely, the gold on the ceiling.

Outside, two performers from the nearby Sakuranobaba Johsaien came by and gave a little show. It was all in Japanese, so we stayed for a few minutes to see if they did anything in English and then headed out.

We then headed around the castle (and got some other pictures of the outside) and then out the Hohoate Gate. On that side of the castle, you can clearly see the wall and then the moat, which actually still had a little bit of water in it.

Next stop was the residential mansion of the lord of the Hosokawa-gyobu clan (Kyu-Hosokawa Gyobutei). As we came up to the house, there were lots and lots of people with cameras taking pictures of the trees, especially the maple trees, which were turning colors. There is also this very old Ginko tree which was all in yellow (also a favorite for the photographers).

The Hosokawa-Gyobu clan was established in 1646, when he was given a grant of a 25,000 koku domain. A koku is a unit of volume and was originally defined as the quantity of rice needed to feed one person for one year. So Okitaka was given land that was worth the amount of rice to feed 25,000 people for a year. In 1873, Okinagawa (the head of the clan at the time) moved to Kumamoto and he made this house his primary residence. It is a very typical Japanese-style house, where the house is basically one big space separated by sliding paper doors for walls. You could open the doors to have a larger space or close them to have a smaller, more intimate room. They also had quite bit of period furniture that showed how the family would use the space.

And then as we exited the complex, we got another view of one of the guard turrets and the walls.

This is the statue of Tani Tateki. He was born into a samurai family in 1837. He was promoted to general in 1872 due to his success in the Boshin War. During the siege of the castle, he was the Commander of the Kumamoto Army that held out for 52 days. He became a member of the House of Lords until his death in 1911. Interesting data ... the original statue was erected in 1937 but was melted down during WW II for its metal and a new statue was made in 1969.

This is a statue of Shonan Yokoi and the Restoration Group. Created in 1863, the status shows Shonan Yokoi talking (standing) while Shungaku Matsudaira and Morihisa Hosokawa listen (right-side, seated). On the left side, you can see Kaishu Katsu and Ryoma Sakamoto holding a globe, discussing the future world. Yokoi was a samurai who was a scholar and political reformer in Japan in the early Meiji period. Outraged by his radical ideas, conservatives within the government stripped him of his posts and samurai status, and placed him under house arrest. He continued to maintain contact with Katsu Kaishu and other reform-minded members of government during his house arrest. After the Meiji Restoration, Yokoi was freed by the new Meiji government, and honored with the title of san'yo (councilor). He was assassinated in 1869 by conservative samurai who suspected him of being a Christian and of harboring secret republican sentiments.

Seems the mascot of Kumamoto is a black bear, as we saw them in many places.

Dinner was a recommended restaurant, which luckily was pretty close to the shopping arcade that our hotel was in. They had a bar area, and then also enclosed rooms with the low japanese tables. We had made a reservation and had a room to ourselves.

The table was nicely setup and the server opened the doors whenever he needed to take our order or serve us.

We started with sake and a lime liquor drink.

In Japanese cuisine, raw horse meat is called sakura or sakuraniku (sakura means cherry blossom, niku means meat) because of its pink color. It is famous in Kumamoto and we were able to find it on the menu here. No, we didn't try it :-)

We started with a tuna sushi roll and then followed it up with a "set" dinner. They like to bring some things in closed boxes, which then we have opened in the second picture.

One of the recommended items which is typical in the area is lotus root filled with mustard. And this is Japanese mustard, which is .. well ... deadly!

Then we had another warm item that came covered, and underneath was a rice and seafood dish, which reminded me of bibimbap from Korea.

Next they brought out a bowl of dumpling soup on it's own little open fire.

Then we took some pictures of the area at night around Sakae Dori.

The next morning, before we headed back to Fukuoka, we had a chance to go to Sakura-no-baba Josaien. It is an interactive tourist place that allows people to experience a taste of the Edo period around the castle. Mind you, it seems to be focused at kids, although it was okay for adults as well. Not much in English, so we didn't get the full experience. They show how the elite traveled (with people carrying them in a little "box" .. you can sit in the box but I just sat in front of it) and get dressed in period costumes.

Then they had a horse you could get up on, as well as seeing what you would look like in samurai warrier dress.

Nice statue, although we forgot to write down what it actually is.

Then we found a tiny little place for curry for lunch. There were lots of shelves with what looked like DVDs of Japanese TV shows. Not sure if they were ones you could just watch there, or if you could check them out. We went with a curry pork cutlet on top of rice (lots of great curry sauce) along with a side shredded cabbage salad.

We caught the tram again back to Kumamoto Station, where we picked up the Skinkansen back to Fukuoka.