Down South on Kyushu
We've hit the ground running on our 3 week tour of Japan. From Tokyo we took a flight to Kyushu, southernmost of Japan's main islands. Our hope was that it would be warm, with luck even tropical. It hasn't been that way (admittedly we could have glanced at a weather forecast), but no problem.
We started our trip off on the right foot, staying the night in Tokyo with our new friend Kuze-San, one of the sweetest church ladies around. She and her husband live near ARI but also have an apartment in Tokyo and they have been so nice to open their home to us. She had a big breakfast ready before we caught a train to the airport. Lugging a suitcase is always easier on a full stomach.
There have been two main stops on our Kyushu trek so far. First, the pottery town of Arita where we learned about Japanese porcelain prized by Europeans in the 18th and 19th centuries. The town is full of this pottery, remarkable for being both artistic and utilitarian. Sadly I neglected to take pictures of the actual pottery but only captured an image of the museum's bathroom which gave a whole new meaning to my understanding of porcelain.
Arita is in the mountains and its ground is not suitable for growing crops. Making pottery from the ground was much more lucrative than growing food from it. We left Arita impressed with the human ability to take a natural local resource (in this case, an abundance of material for clay), and craft it into items unimaginably detailed and precise. Using this local resource was and is both a source of pride and revenue for the people of the area.
Next we were on our way to Nagasaki, a city familiar to us westerners as the site of the second atomic bomb. Museums and memorials in Nagasaki about the bombing left me with a much deeper awareness of how exceptional an event this was in human history. Nagasaki was the second time and the last time that a nuclear weapon was used in a war. As often happens when traveling, being there made the historical event seem much more real–real in the sense that we learned how powerful this bomb was, how much it destroyed, and how many people suffered. One poignant image of this was a schoolgirl's lunchbox filled with charred rice found an entire kilometer away from the hypocenter. Here a few more images…
While Nagasaki is so famous for the atomic bomb, it is also important in Japanese history before the war. Between the mid-17th century and 19th century, it was the only port open to the outside world under a policy of isolation. A small island called Dejima served as the only trading center for the Dutch.
And because Nagasaki was the only port open to the west, Christianity had its biggest influence there. Times of Christian persecution occurred and there is monument in Nagasaki remembering 26 Christians who were crucified in 1597 for their faith.
But despite some of its gloomy history, Nagasaki is a joy to visit and is a unique city. Because of western influence they've got some unique food too. This one is called Turkish Rice–a pork cutlet, gravy, spaghetti, spicy rice. I thought this dish would make great food for the Minnesota State Fair.
So that's a bit about our trip to Kyushu so far. The next few days we will be hitting up some towns with onsen, hot springs, which are very popular in Japan.