The Heart of the Story
Dear Family and Friends,
When I think of my recent trip to Kyushu, I keep hearing the words, “The Heart of the Story”. Indeed, Kyushu has been a very special place for well over a thousand years. And that energy can immediately be felt, albeit often subtly and almost unnoticed. Yet, it is there. And does indeed touch the very Heart of Being Itself.
Of course, some things there are just plain fun. Like tissue boxes made to look like Sakurajima volcano,
or lying under a warm volcanic sand pack.
The food was outstanding
and the landscapes stunning.
There was the small pottery village of Onda, where clay was prepared by long water-fed poles.
And Kengo Kuma’s Comico Art Museum in Yufuin was a breathtaking feast of architectural imagination.
And of course, there were the daily indulge of spas, and chatting with open and friendly locals.
But going deeper, there is an almost mystical energy the pervaded much of the land and its history.
As strange as it may seem, one of those places was the small town of Chiran in Kagoshima Prefecture. Nowadays it is famous for green tea. But it is also deeply connected to history, especially to war.
One section consisted of Samurai homes. Many Samurai were refined individuals who manifested the fine art of life, in all of its aspects. So, their homes included splendid borrowed-landscape gardens. That meant they incorporated the surrounding landscape as part of the garden design.
A deeply thought-provoking experience was the Chiran Peace Museum. The message of this memorial museum is extremely poignant today, especially considering the many wars the world is engaged in now. It is devoted to Kikkou (特攻), Kamikaze Pilots.
When I was a child, I was horrified by those “enemies” and how they waged war, (which tragically, has become all too commonplace today). But this museum presented the pilots deeply human side. The displays held photos of every young man who trained in Chiran. The exhibits carefully, almost reverently, explained who every one of them was. They gave precise details of their lives and training. Part of that included a final letter of appreciation written to someone they loved, most often their mother. And like Samurai before them, the wrote Haiku. These were preserved on national flags. The purpose of this profoundly moving Peace Museum was to provide a promise that human dignity is far greater and lasts longer than any war ever could.
Other significant places were the thousands of very old Shinto Shrines and Buddhist Temples all over Kyushu. They were surrounded by womb-like protective forests or perched on rocky cliffs jutting out to sea. Believers have made pilgrimages to those sites for over a thousand years, just as they do today.
One Shinto Shrine that affected me very profoundly was in Miyazaki Prefecture, in a small town called Takachiho. The shrine, Ama-No-Iwa-To, was next to a river and surrounded by hundreds of stone prayer towers, all made by pilgrims.
The altar was deep within a cave and its silence seemed boundless. Inside there was a circular mirror symbolizing the supreme Goddess of the Sun. She is Amaterasu Omikami, the Giver of Life. The hushed depth of the interior surely was meant to reflect our own Hearts, the most sacred part of ourselves.
Every evening, a sacred Kagura dance was held in another shrine. That performance had four parts. Three told the story of enticing Amaterasu Omikami out of Her cave in order to bring light into the world.
The fourth was people’s embrace of life when they were blessed with Amaterasu Omikami’s light and abundance.
Further north, the Oida Peninsula had a ring of Shrines and Temples that have been part of spiritual pilgrimages for over 1,300 years. The structures, carvings, and statues there, although fewer, could rival many in Kyoto or Nara.
Tying all these experiences together was the beauty of the people. They radiated purity and openness. They were gentle, helpful, and kind. They seemed to look out on the world with trust and an expectancy for good. They were a lovely way to touch the Heart of Kyushu’s very old and ongoing beautiful story.