Saturday, September 30, 2023

Ao no Domon Tunnel- Nakatsu City, Oita Prefecture

Aonodomon, which translates in English as "Blue Tunnel," is a hand-carved tunnel in Nakatsu City that took over 30 years to make. Of course this tunnel is not made by nature! It is in fact hand made by a Buddhist monk  who, while passing Yabakei during his travels, was alarmed to see people and horses losing their lives on the treacherous mountain road. He later carved out the original 185 meter tunnel to allow travelers safe passage through the Yabakei mountains. Today, pedestrians and vehicles pass through the iconic cliff and mountain formation.

Legend has it that before the tunnel was built, people had to climb over the cliffs through which the tunnel is built to reach an important local shrine. During the Edo period (1603 to 1867), a Monk named Zenkai, who had committed a murder in his earlier life, decided to build a safe passage for worshipers in order to atone for his crime. Beginning at the age of 49, he dedicated 30 years of his life to digging the 185 meter tunnel by hand, using only a hammer and chisel. The tunnel was opened for use in 1763 and it is still in use today. Talk about longevity!

This location is a major tourist destination as the drive thru the various gorges and thru the mountains is quite spectacular and picturesque. In fact during the autumn months especially on weekends there can be a huge wait just to get into a line in order to drive thru this unique tunnel. In fact, because of this popularity it is basically impossible to do a tour thru this region in those circumstances as time is obviously a issue for those who have to get back on time to their Cruise Terminals. For these customers a subsequent itinerary will be formulated.

I can't tell you how many times I have visited this area of Oita Prefecture, but its at least 30 times and in each occasion I must tell you the feelings of amazement are absolutely palatable.  It's an attraction that will knock your socks off and or leave you speechless all at the same time.

Please click here to see the Aonodomon Tunnel on a map:

Please click on these pictures below to enlarge:

English explanation

The Monk, Zenkai



Start of the tunnel

185m long

Scenic views abound

From the parking area

The shrine entrance

Peek a boo

Please click on the following videos to see more about the Aonodomon Tunnel in Oita Prefecture:

Monday, September 11, 2023

Usa Shrine: Usa City, Oita Prefecture

Usa (Jingu) Shrine hold a special place in my heart.  It was the first shrine that I ever visited on my first trip to Japan many moons ago.  Of course in those days I was wide eyed and bushy tailed and the many intricate details and cultural norms of the Shinto religion were obviously lost on me but nevertheless the shrines sheer size (one of the biggest in all of Japan) and brightly colored buildings are still etched in my brain even today.

Usa Jingu is one of the most important Shinto shrines in Japan with a history that spans close to 1300 years. Its main deity is Hachiman, who is worshipped as a guardian of the country and the imperial family. Shrines dedicated to Hachiman are among the most numerous in Japan and Usa Jingu serves as their head shrine. As you can guess, this holds the Shrine as one of the most important in Japan and rightly so.

The size of the land that Usa Shrine sits on is absolutely massive.  I don't know exactly how big it is but all I can say is that it quite a long trek from the carpark to the main shrine buildings.  Not that you will complain, the walk is exciting and adventurous as well as being a real cultural and mature orientated experience.  The walk is mostly flat so in reality no problems for anyone with a reasonable level of fitness.

I know a lot of people might be saying, oh no not another shrine especially for those who are doing an all Japan cruise and visiting many cities during their itinerary.  However, I can say for certain that this shrine will be like no other that you have visited or will intend to visit.  I am sure you will see this in all the photos and videos posted below.

Please check out the Usa Shrine here on a map:

Please click on the photos below to enlarge:

One of the many massive torii gates

Well signposted in English

Japanese flag is always present

Purification station

Shinto symbols

Sake and Shinto are intertwined

Impressive ponds are front and center

Picturesque indeed!

Please check out the Usa Shrine here in more detail from the following videos:

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Arita Sera Porcelain Shops: Arita Town- Saga Prefecture

One of the biggest issues I had in the past was finding the right Porcelain shops for the right customer.  It is extremely different to know what type of ceramics someone might have a tendency to be impressed by, therefore it was necessary to frequent many different shops to sample the pottery style of the area in general and the artisian in particular.  As you can probably guess, this takes up a lot of precious time traveling from place to place and obviously very hit and miss.  This is a problem that I don't have to worry about anymore!

These days I head straight to the Arita Sera shops and just let the clients roam at their hearts content.  There are over 20 ceramic speciality shops, so there is a lot to see and appreciate.  You can window shop, enter as many places as you like to get up and personal with the products (touch and feeling is just as important as how visually appealing the products are) and if you wish a private talk with one of the shop owners can be arranged.

The shops are open 365 days a year and it can be a very popular place on weekends. Our weekday tour don't encounter this problem, you will have all the space and time needed to fully satisfy your ceramic wants and needs.

Please click here to see the Arita Sera Porcelain shops on a map:

Please click on the photos below to see more information about the Arita Sera Porcelain shops.

It's well signposted

Even the map is made of Porcelain

Plenty of room to roam

John Lennon anyone?

There is a lot of good ceramics.

Sale items are available too!

Fancy plates

It's all about the color!

There is some great stuff here

Plenty to see and do

Please look at these videos below to learn more about what the Arita Sera Porcelain shops have to offer ceramic lovers: