May 26:

After breakfast at the hotel in Kumamoto we were all picked up by Jeff Cairns, who took us to visit the site of the “500 Buddhas,” a place where there are many small stone Buddha statues on a hillside overlooking the city.  These Buddhas were all carved over a 24 year period by a businessman who was a particularly devout Buddhist.  Unfortunately many of the Buddhas over the years have lost their heads to unscrupulous collectors.  Near the 500 Buddhas is the Reigando Cave, where many important artists, monks, and philosophers have secluded themselves over the centuries.    The famous swordsman Miyomoto Musashi lived in this cave during his later years and supposedly wrote his Book of Five Rings while he lived there.  This little cave doesn’t really provide very much shelter, it’s really more like just a large space in the hillside with a big rocky overhang over it, but at least it would keep the rain off.  But the location is extremely beautiful and serene, with lush forest all around and a small stream slowing nearby.  We drove up to Mt. Aso, the largest active volcano in the world, and were able to look down into a lake of boiling water within the volcano, shrouded by an enormous cloud of steam. It was incredibly windy and cold up there in the mountains. I’ve never experienced such intense wind!

May 27:

We had to get up very early to catch a morning train from Oita to Miyazaki. In Miyazaki we were met by friends who drove us around. First we visited an elderly shakuhachi player and his family and had tea and melon with them. This shakuhachi player is somewhat well-known in Japan and specializes in folk music. He played a solo piece and then he and Ronnie played a tune together, and then Ronnie and Ken and I played “Kumoi-jishi.” We drove up the coast road to visit the Udo Jingu shrine which was right on the coast, on low cliffs overlooking a dramatic seascape, cliffs and large rocks in the sea with waves crashing over them. In this place there was a small shrine inside a cave. I heard flute music coming from it. This small shrine was entirely inside a cave, and two teenage girls sat inside this shrine wearing the traditional Shinto formal red skirts with white blouses, both of them playing a slow melody on flutes. We walked around the grounds more and it started raining lightly, and the rain gradually increased so that even with umbrellas we were getting pretty wet. We drove then to a nearby spot near an island, Aoshima, that is very close to the mainland. We walked across a bridge to Aoshima Island which contained more shrines. We were awed by some strange and beautiful geological formations near the island, with huge wide shelves of rock extending from the shore out into the ocean, that had peculiar large striations in them, all of it washed by the waves crashing over. The Japanese call this type of rock the “Devil’s washboard” or something like that. Though it didn’t seem like a very hard rainfall, we walked around long enough that by the time we got back to the car we were all soaking wet, and we had to go back to the hotel and change clothes.