Wed 24 Jul – day 74 When I awoke it was still dark, but the bedding was all over the place so I had obviously been tossing and turning. So got up and went to the loo, then remade the bed and went back to sleep.
When I finally arise it was gone 07:00hrs and I spent some time getting the blog up to date as I had started to fall behind. Breakfast was a small bar of chocolate and 2 litres of orange squash as I still cannot get used to seeing soup and noodles as a way to start your day.
I left the hotel just after 10:00hrs and went for stroll through what was claimed to be the longest shopping mall in Japan. It was actually three connecting streets which had been pedestrianised and had roofs fitted – quite attractive. Most shops were just opening, except the 7-11’s and other convenience stores, a few of which are 24/7 operations. This was a country where customer service was paramount and nothing is too much trouble; everything is always wrapped up and I had to indicate when I wanted to put things in my day sac otherwise the purchases would be put into a carrier bag and presented to you with a short bow. No self bagging here as you would be expected to do at the supermarkets in the UK.
The manhole covers and fire hydrants are works of art and look so much better than the bland iron or steel covers in the country.
By the time I passed the Irish Bar where I something to eat and drink last night, I was already soaked with perspiration and the Lonely Planet guide was correct when it said that Kumamoto was one of the hottest cities in Japan.
The high temperature was making me feel very lethargic and I ever time I stopped to take a photo I was drinking fluids. The streets were very quite almost if the city had emptied, or what was more likely, people did not want to venture out into the heat. The whole country was experiencing a heat wave with temperatures nearly 10° C above what was normal for this time of the year and so even the locals were complaining.
I had followed local custom by buying a small towel that I wrapped around my neck and shoulders so that it would soak up the perspiration.
Having found the post office, a lovely air conditioned building, I brought some more stamps and posted a batch of cards back to my family and friends.
A statute of Kato Kiyomasa, the provincial Lord in the late 1500’s and builder of the original castle, guarded the road up to the castle. In front of the statue was a fountain out of which ran cool, clear and very refreshing water; as with the city’s water supply this came from the Mount Aso volcanic plateau and was so pure it did not need to be treated. A few mouthfuls of water were most welcome.
Then onwards to purchase my entrance ticket at the visitors centre which contained an excellent display about the castle and its construction. This had been a huge undertaking as it involved diverting the river in order to create a moat. Around the visitors centre were souvenir shops selling decent goods for once, plus a number of restaurants including one that served the local delicacy, basashi – raw horsemeat; I didn’t try any!!
This castle is unique amongst the castles in Japan as the original buildings were destroyed during a battle rather than being dismantled by shögunai or imperial edict, or flattened during WW2 bombing. Virtually everything that you now see was a reconstruction but is it superbly done using original materials, tools and methods just as they had at the palace in Okinawa.
The massive walls,5.3km in circumference, and narrow entrances had ensured that during the Satsuma Rebellion in 1877, the rebels against the new imperial order managed to withstand a 50 day siege until the castle succumbed to fire.
The main buildingg was the residence of the Lord and this was a truly impressive piece of construction. Built as both a fortress and a home it contained some magnificent painted screens in some of the lord’s chambers; these had been recreated from drawings that had been made at the time and had been found in the city archives. It took some time to take decent pictures as people were not allowed to use the flash on their cameras or tripods, so it was a long exposure and stand very still.
Looking out from the castle walls it seemed incongruous to have an ancient monument now surrounded by a modern city; however the Tower of London, the Forbidden City in Beijing and the Alamo in San Antonio Texas are very much the same.
As I could hear lots of cheers from the nearby baseball stadium, I strolled over just as the end of school season tournament as finishing, but could find no information about whether a league game was scheduled to be held.
As I was now feeling really sapped by the heat I headed off down the hill towards the city centre. Three schoolgirls sat in the shade by a bus stop wanted to have a chat in order to improve their language skills and so I obliged; they were happy as their school had won.
As I needed to get out of the heat I went into the shopping mall and had something to eat and drink; a large burger with a side order of onion rings and two beers – great. I was given three scratch cards when my order arrived and one was a winner; as it was no use to me I got the waitress to give it to a young lass on the next table.
On the way back to the hotel I brought myself an ice-cream which I ate after having a shower. Then it was time to do the washing and ironing (these business hotels) had everything you need.
As it had been a very long and hot day I was feeling exhausted I went to bed relatively early as I was due to make an early start in the morning.