In the mountains of Kitago, Nichinan, there is a hidden ravine that has the ability to relieve its visitors of their ailments. It’s not local lore or legend – spending time here has been scientifically proven to heal the body and mind. The Inohae Valley (猪八重渓谷 ) is one of three spots in Miyazaki prefecture that have been certified as “forest therapy bases” by the Japanese Society of Forest Medicine.
Forest therapy bases are parts of a forest where various psychological and physiological experiments have been conducted that show the healing and preventative medical benefits of the area. These range from boosting immunity and lowering blood pressure, to decreasing heart rates and relieving stress, anxiety and depression.
It sounds like hippy pseudoscience, but the concept of shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing” as a health-enhancing practice is well established in Japan. It’s backed by an every-growing body of research that suggests a walk in the woods is one of the best things you can do for your health. A certification program to register forest therapy bases was started in 2006 and since then, 62 sites have been designated across the country.
During the Age of the Gods, the daughter of the Japanese sea King Ryujin, Toyotama, lived with her father in the underwater palace of Ryugu-jo. One day, the dragon goddess met a young hunter named Hoori who had come to the bottom of the ocean looking for a missing fishing hook that belonged to his brother. The two fell in love and were married.
After a few years of living together in the palace, Hoori began to long for a life above the sea. He convinced Toyotama to come with him and, pregnant with his child, she agreed. They set up camp inside a cave along the shore and soon after Toyotama went into labour.
Not wanting her husband to see her transform into her alternative form, Toyotama begged him to wait outside. Curiosity got the better of him, though, and he peered in to find a giant black dragon holding a baby. Ashamed, Toyotama fled back to the sea, leaving her breasts behind to feed the newborn child.
“I don’t see anything.”
“Just wait for the next wave. Ok, now go! Move your hand around!”
A tiny spec of blue suddenly appeared under the water.
“Woah! I see one! There’s another one!”
Mermaid fireflies, dancing around our hands and legs.
“Holey shit, that’s cool!”
It had been a really long day, but I immediately forgot I was tired. It was going to be a great night; I could just feel it.
On the last Saturday of August, Danielle and I packed up my old but trusted Kei, Anene, and headed out for the long drive to the southernmost tip of Miyazaki prefecture, picking up Austin and Alicia on the way. Cape Toi is one of my favourite places in Kyushu, but I had yet to experience its single most popular event – the annual Toimisaki Fire Festival.
In Out of the Silent Planet, C.S. Lewis wrote, “The love of knowledge is a kind of madness.” I must be kind of mad, then, because everyone who knows me knows that I suffer from incessant curiosity. And if you read my blog, you know that that curiosity regularly centres on the morbid. A forest of suicide victims ? A prison of torture? There like a fucking bear.
It sometimes disturbs me – perhaps ironically – how much I am drawn to this darkness. Especially so when I think back to how young I was when I began poring over news articles and books and documentaries on the most gruesome of cases, the most terrifying of things.
But then I remind myself that everyone loves a good train wreck; our propensity for the macabre just manifests in different ways…gory reality TV, courtroom dramas, disaster footage, celebrity scandals, reddit AMAs…
I indulged myself most recently by exploring an abandoned hotel on Miyazaki’s most southern tip.
After Naked Man Festival, we decided to drive the hour south to see Obi Castle Town (飫肥城下町), the “Little Kyoto” of Kyushu. The town was built on the remains of Obi Castle, ruled by the Ito Family for 14 generations.
The original castle was governed by the Shimazu Clan of Kagoshima, until it was offerred to the Ito Clan in 1587 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi for their aid during the Kyushu campaign. In the 1970s, work began to rebuild the neglected castle and surrounding town, which now reflects an authentic castle town of the Edo period. It was the first castle town to be registered as a Preservation Area in Kyushu.
Through the main gate, Otemon, you follow the wide, stone steps up to the Obi Clan Historical Museum. Here, you can choose from several different walking tour packages. For just ¥610, we got a ticket to see 7 of the town’s buildings.
In early November, my former roommate and longtime bro, Matthew, came to Miyazaki for a visit. This is Part 1 of our road trip down the Nichinan Coast. Part 2 is here.
The third of November was a perfect autumn day. The sun was a warm blanket in the car and the crisp, sea air was cool enough to prickle the skin. It’s like having a superpower, I thought as we winded around bend after bend, being able to feel cold and heat independently at the same time.
It was the third day of Matthew’s visit and we were headed down the Nichinan Coast to see the wild horses of Cape Toi. On the way back, we would stop at Kojima Island and Udo Shrine.