Monday, January 6, 2014
On Jan. 1st, we took an express train one hour from Kagoshima City up to Kirishima (just a little past Aira) to do a shrine visit at Kirishima Jingu.
Tengu (Japanese long-nosed demons) are very popular in mountainous regions, and the taxi driver told us that the tengu is a protective local deity. So, it's not too surprising to see statues of tengu near the train station and in front of the main shrine.
We'd been told that the buses don't run very often, so we planned on taking a taxi from the station to the shrine, then another taxi from there to the hotel. The driver bypassed the main streets, which were clogged with cars of people coming to do "hatsumode" (first shrine visit of the year). Actually, the next day, when we returned to the train station, the streets were backed up all the way past the station, which is at least 6 km (4 miles). We lucked out, one of the other train passengers offered to share his taxi with us and then split the $20 fare at the shrine.
(Sake and shochu labels)
The standard food stalls lined the walkway at the street, and the walkway itself was packed with worshippers.
(Protective and good luck charms.)
Shrines do good business selling symbolic arrows, door decorations and other products during the first week in January. There's a large trash pile in the back of the building for collecting these goods from last year for burning in a ceremony designed to disperse any bad luck accumulated during the last 12 months.
You can buy fortunes for 100 or 200 yen. If you don't like the prediction, you can tie the paper to a tree branch or fence wire to leave it behind when you leave.
This isn't actually the main shrine building. If you look closely at the doorway, you can see steps that lead up to another building in back. The white wall in front is a big collection box for people to throw their coins in when they pray for good luck for the coming year. Generally, you're expected to toss a coin with a hole in the center, either 5 or 50 yen. But, a number of people had thrown in 1,000 and 10,000 bills, too (100 yen = $1 USD). Some were just digging all the change out of their pocket and throwing it like sumo wrestlers throwing salt at the beginning of a match.
In front of the shrine, there's a traffic circle lined with restaurants and other buildings. This one is a tengu building.
(More tengu masks on the traffic sign in the middle of the plaza.)
The Kirishima Royal Hotel has something of a Hello Kitty vibe in the lobby. The hotel itself has a hot spring spa (onsen) on the first floor open to the guests. Onsens can be found throughout southern Kyushu, but there's a lot of them in Kirishima.
There was a small New Year's display set up in the lobby, with free sake in the barrel, and snack nuts and shredded squid on the table to the left. The sake was only available on the 1st.
Another New Year's display on the second floor between the east and west wings.
On the 2nd, the hotel had a buffet-style breakfast set up in one of the meeting rooms. This display was at the end of the room. The food was ok, but it needed salt and pepper, which wasn't supplied.
After checking out of the room on Jan. 2nd, we took another taxi to a nearby hill park, which I think was the Geopark. They had a number of slope-based activities, such as grass skiing and sledding, and concrete luge. There was a rabbit hutch in front of the upper ticket building, and a ski lift to the top of the hill.
Concrete luge. The sleds have brake handles. If you let go, the sled slows down. You have to push forward to release the brake, which acts as an incentive to slow down when you get too fast, because the only way to lower your center of gravity in the turns is to lay back down.
Some of the mountains in the area. I'm told there's good hill hiking during the Spring, but it's 2000 yen for the round-trip train tickets, plus bus fare. Not sure how much I want to spend for a day-trip hike.
On a clear day, you can see the Sakurajima volcano. That day was not a clear day.
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