Saturday, October 10, 2009

On the train from Uzuki

As I write I am whistling through the Japanese “countryside” on a slightly stuffy commuter train. I emphasize “countryside” because in the 1.400km or so of train rides we have taken so far we have never before been more than 100m from a mass of buildings. For a few precious minutes we are cutting across and through the verdant hills of Eastern Kyushu and lapping it up. There is a real beauty in the way the hills take over the landscape in their bibbly-bobbly lush green way before spilling onto narrow plains splattered with condensed humanity or, as at the moment, dive into the Pacific Ocean.

A small bamboo forest is off to my left and, to my surprise, a gleaming white Buddhist stuppa to my right - surprise because this is the first Theravada style stuppa we've come across in many a temple and shrine in the past week.

Back to the recent past....


We've just had a charming day in and around the little town of Usuki. A quiet calm place. A pleasant contrast to the hectic cities we've largely convened since landing.
In the center of the the town lies a couple of historical streets lined with old traditional wooden buildings. Peaceful temples and former Samurai residences complete with curved ornate tiled roofs, tatami matted floors, rice paper windows and intricate Japanese gardens. The people are so friendly here. Everywhere we go people nod and smile. They are only too keen to help. One of the old houses has been set up as a rest area for visitors - there was nothing and nobody there except very inviting tranquility. A rare thing to be offered on a plate in a town.

Many a Buddha

The main reason we were here was to peruse some 1,000 year old stone Buddhas a few kms out of town. At the station a very nice man lent us bikes for free, so we rode along the old wooden shopping streets, through the more modern bit of town and out through the padi lined country to our destination. There is little as pleasant as pedaling through new vistas singing a tune (and kind of fitting in the home land of karaoke).
The statues were impressive. Built out of the sides of volcanic rock dispersed by the near'ish Mt Aso, their detail well preserved. In some cases the original ornate paint work is still faintly evident. Via a walk through a bamboo forest and a comic concern at the local snake signs (with evil red eyes!!) we reached the final set of Buddha's, the largest of which being the most renowned stone Buddha in the country and as thus a “national treasure” - a nice concept I think, especially as it does not seem to differentiate between people and things.
The cycle back was delayed by a lady ushering me with a cycle pump. She had noticed my back tyre was low and wanted to help. How can you not smile at such a welcome.

I better stop now as our train is coming into Beppu and we only have a 5 minute change to the next train. I am little concerned about the connection not working out. In our time in Japan everything has run on time and worked well. From seat warming, squirting toilets to, of course, the trains. Why should this time be any different....
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