Kyushu - The Island of The Last Samurai

Kyushu - The Island of The Last Samurai
Kyushu - The Island of The Last Samurai

Kyushu - The Island of The Last Samurai - The largest volcanic crater in the world, hidden Christians and sharp swords with which one can make Harakiri: Traveling on Japan's undiscovered southern main island, where long noses are rare.

As a German tourist, you are clearly entering new territory. It is similar to the first Europeans who landed on this island in the middle of the 16th century and brought Christianity into the country in addition to firearms. Kyushu is the most southerly and unknown Japanese main island.

Where there is still samurai today: armed with swords, they gather every day at the castle of Kumamoto, the largest city in central Kyushu, roaring warlike commands and watching martial. On-demand, however, it turns out that it is samurai-poser – disguised students who want to remember the proud warrior caste. The lost at this castle, which dates back to the year 1601, 1877 its last battle against the imperial troops.

The real samurai disappeared from the image, but not from the heads. They lived as fantasy heroes, not least thanks to Hollywood, thinking of "The Last Samurai" with Tom Cruise. But there are still real specimens in Japan. You live in a hidden area of Kyushu, in the region of Gokanosho.

In the Hideout of the Samurai

Some samurai settled here centuries ago. Better said, they hid here. Because their ancestors from the once-famous samurai clan of the Heike 1185 had blown another battle; The Heike people were slaughtered almost completely, the few survivors fled to the south, just to Kyushu, where they submerged in the mountain forests of Gokanosho and where to date no more than 1000 people live. The They are almost consistently descendants of the Heike-Samurai.

Nowadays it is very peaceful: deep gorges are available with mountain streams, waterfalls, suspension bridges and hiking trails. If you are looking for peace and tranquility and excellent green tea, you will find in Gokanosho. In addition, the area offers rustic inns, where you can spend your nights and dinners in traditional Japanese, i.e. on tatami matting and futons.

A particularly nice guesthouse can be found in the village of Hagi, operated by the couple Ogata, real samurai descendants. While the landlady noodle soups one aisle after another, grilled pumpkin, buckwheat, and self-fished brook trout, the landlord unfurls a pedigree on rice paper. The artfully hushed Japanese characters would prove that he was a samurai from the Heike clan in 49. Generation, says Seiichi Ogata.

We believe this unjustly when he proudly presents an imposing sword. That was over 800 years old, and at that time, in the battle, a few enemy samurai made a head shorter. Today, however, it is no longer in use, assures Mr. Ogata smiling. We smile back while his wife gives away the second round of rice schnapps and is happy about the drinking strength of the long noses from Europe.

A dagger for professional Harakiri

Knives and swords have always been highly popular throughout Japan. Also on Kyushu, where there is one of the best knives in the country in the coastal town of Yatsushiro. In the past, the samurai was supplied with weapons, today Sushimeister from Tokyo as well as European star cooks in the small manufactory to cover themselves with the incredibly sharp cutting tools, from vegetable knives to kitchen swords, with which Fish or meat can be easily sabred.

The Moritaka family operates in Yatsushiro in 27. Generation your knife forge, all handmade, just times 300 pieces a month are manufactured. Sword Master Takuzo sometimes interrupts his work to present his greatest treasures to visitors: a 700-year-old samurai sword, which his family, after the Second World War, had before the Americans (who then collected all Japanese weapons) in a Shrine hid, and a sleek dagger, with which one can commit to Harakiri.

The last case of an "honorable suicide" should have existed in the area 1868, says Mr. Takuzo. The two precious cutting instruments, each costing as much as new cars, we can only marvel at tourists, not touch them, the blade could otherwise rust. In Japan, scrap metal has a higher value than ours.

300,000 Christians at 1600

Bloody was the story in Japan's south not just because of the samurai. But also because of the Christianity that the Portuguese brought into the country from 1549. The first missionaries went ashore in the south of Kyushu. And they succeeded: in 1600, there were already 300,000 Christians in Japan.

Many feudal lords, especially on Kyushu, were baptized – but often not for religious reasons, but because the Europeans, besides Western technology (they even had a Gutenberg printing press in their luggage), also brought black powder and firearms, which Promised advantages in the fight against opponents who previously knew only sword and Saber.

As it was the way it was then, the foreign missionaries became increasingly involved in politics, and also Dutch and English came to Japan after the Portuguese. The Government was alarmed, and in Christian doctrine, it increasingly saw a threat and feared colonial interests of Europeans. In 1613, Christianity was banned throughout the country, missionaries were expelled, Japanese Christians persecuted, oppressed, killed.

In 1638, there was a decisive battle on Kyushu: in the Shimabara Peninsula, 37,000 insurgent Christians were slaughtered. Henceforth, there was only one "underground Christianity" in Japan, and the country, in the course of the "closed door policy", was completely departed from abroad for 220 years.

A Buddha with the features of Mary

If you want to learn more about the Japanese Christians, you will find on the upstream island Amakusa, wherein the homonymous capital The Amakusa Christian Museum documents the history of ascent and persecution of the faith community.

Of particular interest here are the testimonies from the era of the Christian underground – for example, Buddha figures, which carry on closer look the facial features of the Virgin Mary, or Buddhist tombstones with a hidden engraved Christian cross. Who was caught with it, however, hovered in danger of life?

If you continue along the coast on the island of Amakusa, you will encounter an unusual motif in Sakitsu: The contemplative fishing village, which is one of the 100 most picturesque villages in Japan, is dominated by a Gothic church built in 1886, shortly after the Christianity was allowed again. Sakitsu nestles picturesquely in a bay, in front of the church selling local dry fish and holy water.

Around Sakitsu, but also elsewhere on Amakusa, you will find great, fine sandy beaches, which in the rule-in-love Japan are unfortunately only open in July and August for bathers. If you want to bathe, regardless of the season, you will be happy to pay for it. In the island of Kyushu: In the mountain village ounces.

On the way up it is worth a stopover at the Mount Oz disaster Memorial Hall, a lovingly made interactive museum. It is dedicated to the outbreak of the ounce volcanoes in the year 1990, which lasted five years, caused the earth to wobble violently, buried villages and fields under glowing lava flows, 44 people killed and at the end lifted the youngest mountain in the world into the sky, the 1483 meter high Heisei Shinzan.

Sulphur vapors from crevices

Ounces makes you insistently aware of what a hot patch Japan is. At dozens of places in the mountain village Honeycombs lying at a good 700 meters, hot vapors from the crevices of the blubbering, boiling ponds in front of them, smells of sulfur, and once in a while, one is completely wrapped in yellowish swaths.

On the spot, these volcanic hot springs are called "Jigoku", which is called "hell". Fenced hiking trails meander along Höllenschlunden, they are full of Japanese tour groups. Chuckling in the sulfur mist, a resourceful kiosk owner sells raw eggs, which the shoppers sink in the boiling hot water for a few minutes to eat afterward. They are reminiscent of Soleil.

Was discovered ounces in 1900. At that time, mainly English from Hong Kong and European merchants from Shanghai came here to flee for a few days of the tropical sultry of their places of work. Ounces (and offers) with 22 degrees a summer fresh climate, (and mutes) with the forests and mountains around almost alpine, and the hot Springs offered (and offer) the necessary resources for a relaxed bathing culture.

First hotels opened, including 1904 the "Yumei", a wonderful mixture of Japanese tradition and western luxury. A photo show in the wonderfully old-fashioned lobby shows the tourist development of the place, which 1913 even a golf course, at that time a sensation and the first in Japan.

First long noses tourists 110 years ago

It is found that ounces were occupied by Americans after the Second World War; US soldiers were sent here for the cure. One hears with astonishment that Baden-Baden is the sister city of this Japanese spa town so that ounces – from today's European travelers almost unnoticed – are already playing in the world of Wellness League.

And you have to admit that as a German tourist on Kyushu you are not a pioneer who enters new territory; English and Americans were here over 110 years ago.

Europeans rarely find the way to ounces today, the place is especially sought after by Japanese, a popular summer freshness for big cities from Tokyo or Osaka, who like to be in the Mercedes or BMW ancestors. 13 hotels are located between the springs, almost all in the Alpine style, some with half-timbered décor, all with in-house baths, called Onsen, whose basins are filled with volcanic hot water, which is cooled down to 43 degrees.

Untrained onsen guests, i.e. Europeans, are advised not to stay for more than five minutes per bathing in the hot spring water to help against rheumatism and arthritis.

The largest crater in the world

Besides ounces, there is another place on Kyushu to get close to the volcanic character of the island: Aso. It is one of the largest craters in the world, the caldera has a circumference of 120 kilometers. Inside the giant crater, approximately 90,000 people live between five individual volcanoes. One is still active, 36 years ago he broke out last: the Nakedake.

The ASO is one of the most visited attractions on Kyushu – where else in the world can one turn through a crater that looks like a grass steppe, which is enriched by peaks, in the middle of which five volcanoes protrude like oversized pimples? Which landscape can come with a seething crater lake, whose water turquoise shines like an enlightened swimming pool, from which, however, devilishly smelling vapors rise?

Every year, 17 million day visitors are counted in the Aso crater, Japanese predominantly and Christian Koreans. Europeans can hardly be seen, but there are restaurants that carry funny names like "Wolfgang", "Bayern" or "Côte d'Azur". This sounds pretty European for Japanese, says the travel guide, and be the best proof that long noses, unlike in the 17th century, no longer throw out of the country, but welcome.

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