Friday, September 4, 2015

Kyushu Spring 2014 九州春季之旅 - Hitoyoshi JR Station 人吉駅, Aoi Aso Shrine 青井阿蘇神社

Top left: Karakuri Clock; Bottom right: Very delicious chestnut rice ekiben.
Hitoyoshi JR Station, on Hisastu line.

Chestnut rice ekiben. This is the terminus station for two sightseeing trains - SL Hitoyoshi train and Isaburo/Shinpei. When the train pulled into the station, do pay attention to a person exclaiming "ekiben" loudly outside. Look out for an well groomed uncle supporting a huge box filled with ekibens (train bento boxes), held on a strap slung over his shoulders. Two of the most popular ekibens that are on sale here are ayu (sweetfish) sushi and chestnut rice. Bought the latter to try and I like it a lot. Rice is covered with huge and sweet chestnuts, accompanied with lotus root, tamago, prawn, fish and konjaku, all packed into a unique chestnut shapped container. So far, this is one of the best ekiben I have eaten before in Japan.


What's nearby?

(1) Karakuri Clock からくり時計, located just in front of the train station.
This clock that takes on the form of a miniature Hitoyoshi Castle and comes into life every hour. Apparently, there is a story behind this clock... On the ground level of the castle, the windows revealed a group of drum players dancing to a folk song and the feudal lord disguised himself as a commoner to explore Hitoyoshi. Middle level showcased attractions which were visited/experienced by the feudal lord - such as Hitoyoshi Onsen and Kuma Shouchu, Lastly, the feudal lord, dressed back in his costume, reappeared at the top of the castle, looking pleased and overlooking at the town below. The duration of each performance is about 3 minutes.
Website (in Japanese):

(2) Aoi Aso Shrine 青井阿蘇神社, approx 5 mins walk from the train station.
Had an hour to spare before Isaburo departs from the train station. Spoke to the staff at the tourist information center and she recommended Aoi Aso Shrine, one of the nearest attraction from the train station. This shinto shrine has a rich history of more than 1,200 years (founded in 806) and has been accredited as a national treasure in 2008. It has become rarer to see buildings with thatched roof in this era. However, such traditional and dwindling technique is still being well preserved and utilised in the construction/maintenance of this shrine. Do take a closer look at the elaborate architecture details showcased at different parts of the shrine. There is an inari shrine within the same compound, which is easily recognisable by the numerous vermilion torii that leads from the entrance to the main hall. This is also the first time I see cone shaped structures which were used to tie the divination slips to. In front of the shrine, there is a canal where cherry blossoms trees are planted along its sides - making this a good spot to come to during spring.
Website (in Japanese):

(3) Hitoyoshi Onsen 人吉温泉
Hitoyoshi is actually a hot spring town. Did contemplate to spend a night in a ryokan here during itinerary planning. Had to give up the idea due to time constraint. This is yet another item which was put into my follow up list for my next trip to Kyushu.
Website (in Japanese):


Commemorative stamps:


Video: Scroll to 32:10 for 遇约九州's feature on Kakuri Clock and Aoi Aso Shrine. 

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