In a sudden burst of inspiration, one rainy day in Fukuoka, I decided to go to Kumamoto, 114 kilometers southeast of Fukuoka. I had 4 hours to spare so why not see another Japanese city from a different prefecture (Kumamoto prefecture). By shinkansen, the trip took less than an hour. My destination was the castle.
Since its devastation from an earthquake, Kumamoto Castle has been closed for a major restoration, but this doesn't stop tourists from visiting the grounds surrounding it. More than the splendor of Japan's 3rd largest castle, it has a colorful history.
Kato Kiyomasa, a ferocious feudal Lord (referred to as daimyo) transformed a small castle into a towering fortress in the early 1600s. Kiyomasa was one of the three conquerors of Seoul and Busan in his heyday. In Kyushu, he was brutal in pursuing Christians. He'd capture pregnant Christian women and slice their bulging bellies alive; remove the unborn child and cut their heads. His mind was in a constant state of war, thus he marked his territories with imposing castles. He ruled his ward with an iron fist and outlawed anything else not related to honing one's fighting skills. Poetry out! Music out! Painting out!
These days, Kato Kiyomasa's statue graces the nearby entrance of Kumamoto Castle. He sits atop a platform, waving a flag, wearing an unusually tall hat, it might as well be Merlin's. If you're visiting the castle grounds, you shouldn't miss Kiyomasa's scowling statue. Otherwise, it's like visiting Tokyo's Shibuya and missing Hachiko.
What I thoroughly enjoyed was the local food found in the shopping arcade near the entrance. I bought souvenir items: those boring postcards and ref magnets; food made out of horse meat, sea urchins, lotus, red beans, and matcha-flavored drinks. And there's that delightful Kumamoto Ramen. When it was time to head back for my train, I was uncomfortably satiated.
The castle's non-appearance was really a seductive invitation. Come back again and see me, I could hear its whisper.
|Kumamon (right) is the city's lovable icon. He was voted as Japan's most favorite mascot! You find him in shops and parks, and he has a big head at the Kumamoto Train Station.
|Kumamoto Castle. This image only is courtesy of hyolee2 of Wikipedia.