Kumamoto bus trip : Kumamoto city

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New year holidays are over and the coming back to work was tough. If I did nothing the second half of this vacation (but really nothing, I did'nt even went out !), I went to spend three days in Kumamoto before the new year. This enchanted few days mwas what I needed and I had a little trouble to get back into the daily life again, as every time I sleep in an other place than my home.

Kumamoto castle and SunQ Pass
Welcome to Kumamoto !
Because of saving concerns and because I wanted to go in some remote places, I chose to make this trip by bus using the SunQ Pass (no, this article is not sponsored). This little card allows unlimited travel for a few days over 2000 lines (99%) bus of Kyushu. Find out all about it by reading this page. I will make a report at the end to see if it was profitable and tell my impressions about traveling by bus.

Tuesday, December 29th , 1st day

I got up at dawn and embark early in theHi no Kuni (ひのくに号) bus line towards downtown Kumamoto. I stop here for a short cultural / historical parenthesis :  Hi no Kuni means land of fire what sticks perfectly to the geology of the area (Mount Aso) and is also the former name of Kumamoto prefecture.

Let us return to the story.
Two hours and a half and a tuna mayo onigiri later, I arrive in Kumamoto bus center. I dropped my luguages to my hotel and went towards the castle a few hundred meters away. It is very cold but the resplendent blue sky made me forget  how chill it was. While I was going to give the 500 yens entrance fee, I sawa the Kumamoto-jo Inari shrine (熊本城稲荷神社). Found on the blog of Agnes, a fellow Kyushu French resident, it was on my list of things to do but I didn't expect to find it so quickly.

I have rarely seen such a cute shrine ! There were things to look absolutely everywhere and it was full of adorable little details like cat statues near a sacred waterhole, drawings, or a small mailbox to send a message to the god of love. If the entrance area was quite busy because of the New Year celebrations preparations, the other parts of the shrine were really quiet and relaxing.

Kumamoto-jo inari shrine
Kumamoto-jo inari shrine
Kumamoto-jo inari shrine

Kumamoto-jo inari shrine

After this brief visit, I finally entered the castle. As I didn't want to go to the main building first, I started my visit along the ramparts before an announce came to trouble my walk : the traditional cleaning of the dungeon will begin soon. Intrigued, I went to see and find myself behind a huge crowd admiring some false samurais using long bamboo stem on the walls of the castle. It was a traditional rite that allowed to remove soot from the walls. It was fun to watch but I enjoyed the fact that everyone was looking at the ceremony to enter into the castle. I first climbed the stairs of the smaller tower, where I was alone. I could quietly enjoy a superb view of the surroundings.

The view from the main tower was almost the same as the small one so I didn't stayed for a long time. Especially because it was so crowded, mostly Asian tourist. I never have heard so many Chinese and Korean words since I graduate from school. No offence but hearing a language that I can't understand give me headache.  I went back to shoot video at the castle museum, located in floors below, before I realized that it was forbidden to take pictures / film ! As I didn't have my glasses on, I didn"t see the signs. Fortunately I have no cross guard and I wasn't scolded.

My steps then led me to the Honmaru Goten Palace (本丸御殿) that I had superbly ignored during my previous visits. This is a reconstruction of a palace destroyed in a distant civil war. Not being very keen of History, I just enjoyed walking inside the building. Although it is very recent (2008), it is nice to explore, especially for the main room where the gilding and ceiling are breathtaking.

If the Kumamoto Castle is a building built in 1960 (it burned down in the 1800s),  it still remains beautiful and one of the place not to miss for any visit in Kumamoto.
Now, a little secret for a breathtaking view of the castle : climb to the top floor of the Kumamoto city hall (free, open Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. ) .

Kumamoto Castle
Beautiful Kumamoto castle
Kumamoto Castle

View from Kumamoto Castle

View from Kumamoto Castle
View of Kumamoto city from the castle
Kumamoto Castle

Honmaru Goten Palace
Honmaru Goten Palace
Honmaru Goten Palace

Exiting through the west exit, I arrived at the Sakura no Baba Jousaien Castle Town. It is a sort of little village with lots of restaurants and shops sellings in Kumamoto's food, souvenirs and products. There is also a tourist information center (with luggage) and a space (fee required) for dressing up as samurai, in kimono or in clothes from the early 20th century. Like any tourist place in Japan, it was more a great shopping mall than anything but the atmoshpere was great.
I went to buy a ikinari dango (いきなり団子), one of the numerous specialties of the area : it is a mochi filled with sweet potato and sweet red beans  paste . It is soft, tasty and nourishing. I liked it so much I bought another one to eat later. Besides, I highly recommend the shop where I bought them. it is called Ikinari Ya Watanabe (いきなりやわたなべ), and it has a shop there and in the city. Ikinari dango were the tastiest I ate. I really need to find some in Fukuoka, it became my new culinary obsession !!!

Sakura no baba Jousaien Castle Town, Kumamoto

Ikinari dango

After this little impromptu meal, it was already late. I abandoned the idea of ​​making the second half of my program and went straight to the Suizen-ji garden (水前寺公園) that I had never visited yet. I went by bus and of course I got scolded by the driver  because I didn't take a ticket (as I had a pass I didn't think I would have to take one). Embarassing.

The surroundings of the parks look like Dazaifu with a semi-pedestrian shopping street. At least I didn't felt lost.. I walked quietly towards the garden with still a little apprehensive.
In Japanese winters, lawns are burned with dry weather, sun and cold. All the vegetation are going yellow/brownish it is not the most aesthetic thing (it has it charms thought). I was afraid that the garden would be all of this colors but it was still surprisingly quite green and very photogenic, especially around the entrance with bridges, a Japanese flag flying in the wind and the replica of Mount Fuji replica. I've seen iit twice but from a far place (Tokyo Government office and Hakone) but at least I succeeded to approach its miniature version, yeah !

The garden is well worth its entry price (400 yens). All these little hills, the trees pruned like clouds, the great lake where splash heron, ducks and carps, everything was very well maintained and beautiful. There is just the part opposite to the entrance which was not really exciting in this season. After I walked around the whole garden, I sat on the edge of the water to throw pet food, purchased in the garden (100 yens), to ducks and I enjoy my second Inari dango of the day, stuffed with cheese. I love sit in a quiet place with a beautiful view and spend time looking around whether it is people, animals, a volcano and so on. This is my way to evacuate any stress, think about various things and forget all the bad things which could happened. As I went out of the garden, I make friend with an old man selling giant grapefruits called Banpeiyu. I know about the Bontan variety, which is a speciality of Akune in Kagoshima but not this one. It is mainly product in Yatsushiro city.

Suizen-ji garden

Mount Fuji at Suizen-ji garden
Mount Fuji !! 
Heron at Suizen-ji garden

Béné at Suizen-ji garden

Banpeiyu, as big as a soccer ball.
Suizen-ji garden

On my way back to the bus stop, I ventured into a property that looked like a temple. The gates were wide open  and as I I couldn't get the meaning of the kanjis on the portal, I decided to go. As a man got out of one of the buildings, I asked him which kind of place it is. He explains that it is one of the Tenrikyo school and that he will show me around. He calls a man who showed me around the main building and I'm leaving as I came.
One back in my room, I browsed the internet about it and I realized that it was akin to a sect. Gloups .

After these emotions, I started looking for a local dish of the area : Kumamoto ramens. I maybe became a little Japanese on this but recently I can't do a trip somewhere without beeing obseded to tryi local food.
So what is that Kumamoto ramen ? If the base is the same as Fukuoka ones (broth made ​​from pork bones called tonkotsu (豚骨) ), the taste is really different because they put a lot of of ma-yu (black garlic oil) as a broth toping. Ramens are served with soy sprouts, slices of pork, dishes onions and roasted garlic.

As a garlic lover,  I definitely couldn't miss this dish and I found the internets a small popular and accessible for one woman restaurant called Tatsu no Ya (龍の家). I ate a hot and delicious bowl of Kumamoto ramen before going back to my room and sleep like a log ... at 8:30 p.m. !
The day after I went to Mount Aso and the day will be long.

Tatsu no Ya

Kumamoto ramens
Kumamoto ramens

useful words

Traveling alone : hitoritabi (一人旅)
Food for pets : esa (餌)
Tourists : kankou kyaku (観光客)
Afternoon snack : oyatsu (おやつ)
Heron : sagi (サギ)

access and useful informations

Click on the icon to discover informations about each places I visited.

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