Kumamoto

*Note: this is one leg of an eight night, nine day in 15 or so different cities around Japan.

On the southern tip of Japan, there is a land centered around a castle and a bear.

The people are kind and directionally challenged (The tourist information woman told me to make a left, while tracing a right turn on the map. The train station employee inside of the ticket booth, guided me to the wrong train and I ended up going the opposite direction!)

The young men shave their eyebrows like this:

…and look like characters from mangas published for teenage girls.

There are trolleys with wooden floors and the insides are painted sea-green. The paint is peeling. The steel is rusting. The trolleys are rickety and the motor is so loud, the vibration shakes the wooden floors until they squeak. I think they may be falling apart.

I am in Kumamoto of the Kyushu region. Home to the majestic Kumamoto Castle built in 1467. Kumamoto Castle is one of the three major castles in Japan. There are 13 structures in the castle. Kumamoto Castle along with its 13 structures is a national treasure.

…at least according to Wikipedia. I didn’t get the chance to learn about the castle’s history or even see it up close; the darn thing was closed.

Kumamoto Castle is the main attraction of this city. Even if the grounds were closed, I hadto get as close to the castle as I could. And I did. I wandered around the outside quarters to see as much of it as I could.

It was big.

This castle is so big, all the photos I managed to take look like… stone walls. With some pointy roofs. And the sun was pointing down towards me, so the photos are even suckier because of the lighting. Because of the lighting, the castle’s outline looks a bit like Batman — at least in my warped view.

After 30 minutes or so of walking around outside of the walls and taking sucky photos of the castle, I gave up and headed to the Kumamoto Prefectural Museum of Art. This lovely, modern museum houses Renoirs and Rodins and even has a replica of these ancient Japanese tombs from the Kofun period! Sweet!

Well. It too, was closed.

Along with the rest of the touristy spots. The only thing open was the shopping district and I walked up and down the arcade, people watching until my calves felt numb.

What I did get to see was Kumamoto’s beloved mascot: Kumamon. And boy, did I see a lot of him.

 

He was the first to greet me at the station.

The last greet me out of the station.

He’s on vending machines.

Stuck on cash registers.

On comment boxes.

On buildings.

Billboards.

Storefront signs.

There’s Kumamon soy sauce, Kumamon mugs, Kumamon sake, Kumamon curry and Kumamon soup. Cakepop Kumamon, Cookie form Kumamon, lots of Kumamon as cookies and some merchant even made their grapefruit into Kumamon! 1

He’s on pillowcases and moving boxes and cell phone straps and Hello Kitty Kumamon and… anyone else think this resembles the scene from Forrest Gump? You know, when Bubba is going over shrimp? ”You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, sauté it. There’s shrimp kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo, pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp…”

I used to love Kumamon but mmhmmmm… not sure how I feel towards him anymore.


It is now almost 6:30 pm. I am sitting in the hotel bar with some locals. There is one other tourist in the bar. He is from Nagoya.

We drank a few beers and laughed at how we are probably the only two Japanese foolish enough to come to Kumamoto during the new year holiday.

With all the tourist attractions closed, there really is, nothing to do but walk around playing “Count the Kumamon” — like a reverse “Where’s Waldo” — which is basically what I did. Hence, almost every one of my photos from Kumamoto are of Kumamon paraphernalia. Oh and several sucky photos of the castle… wall. And roof tiles. Castle roof tiles. Adding the ‘castle’ makes a huge difference, at least that’s what I’m repeating to myself.

I want to say I’m looking forward to returning to this Bizarro Bear Land, but that would be a lie. I do wish to tour the castle one day but for now, there are just too many other parts of the country I still need to see.

Kumamoto, you are probably lovely… when you are fully functioning. See you in the next lifetime when we are both cats.

As for now, I just got invited to dine with the guy from Nagoya. Logging off to stuff my face. And get drunk. (Don’t get funny ideas, the guy is not my type. Or maybe. Just kidding. Or am I? ;))

PS: apologies for the lazy image linking — didn’t want to flood this post with lots and lots and lots of Kumamon photos so I just stuck a shitty screen shot (Skitch is terrible these days) from my FB album up. If you want to see higher resolution photos, leave a comment and I’ll be happy to send you the link.

 

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