The Deep Dive
Kumamoto Prefecture— Land of Travelers and Explorers
Whether it is the untamed grandiosity of its natural scenery, the deeply reserved and yet curious and friendly vibe of its people – or perhaps for other reasons altogether – Kumamoto prefecture has long drawn adventurers and seekers into its fold.
Famous swordsman Musashi Miyamoto made his way to Kumamoto prefecture in the year 1640 where he went on to meditate and write "The Book of Five Rings," his famous account of martial arts, inside the Reigando (Spirit Rock Cave), which is located in western Kumamoto City at the foot of Mount Kinpo. He passed away inside the same cave shortly thereafter, in 1645.
Hoping to encourage both tourism and relocation to Kumamoto following the devastating earthquakes that struck the area in 2016, the prefectural government released a promotional campaign video in 2017 depicting Miyamoto's move to the region.
Departing at night on a creaky wooden boat amidst an atmospheric scene of floating candles, Miyamoto is seen shouting up to his admirers, who have assembled on a bridge to bid him farewell: “Kumamoto experienced two large earthquakes in Genna Year 5 (1619) and Kan'ei Year 2 (1625), but they recovered beautifully, and they rebuilt the Kumamoto Castle. I want to go and see with my own eyes a region with this kind of strength—and pain. I'm going to Kumamoto! And I want you all to someday go there too!"
The video which is cleverly and hilariously rendered, while also dealing with serious subject matter, breathes life into history, allowing us to connect with a long-ago time when people went through similar suffering, and also displayed similar resilience.
Kumamoto Castle, which is located in Kumamoto City, is presently being rebuilt following the 2016 earthquakes, just as it was in the 1600s. Lying adjacent to the castle is the former home of famous Irish-Greek writer Lafcadio Hearn (known in Japanese as Koizumi Yakumo), who is another global wanderer that ended up making Kumamoto his home.
Fascinated with ghost stories and the underworld, Hearn was also firmly a man of the common people. He was once quoted as saying with regard to his adopted home, “The future of the greatness of Japan will depend on the preservation of that Kyushu or Kumamoto spirit, the love of what is plain and good and simple, and the hatred of useless luxury and extravagance in life."
Indeed, it has been this attraction to a slower and more authentic pace of life that has drawn – and continues to draw – many a curious spirit to Kumamoto.
The region of Mount Aso, located some 50 kilometers to the northeast of Kumamoto City, has long drawn artists, organic farmers, healers, and self-professed hippies to create communities centered around natural living. This trend accelerated even further following the triple earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster of 2011 in Tohoku, when people in the disaster area (as well as in nearby regions such as Kanto) took the incident as a wake-up call to leave their urban environments in order to source their own food and create their livelihoods by living in harmony with the land.
In addition to cleaving the earth, however, the 2016 earthquakes also fractured some of these communities. One such casualty was organic café and event space Vege Bliss, which was begun by a vegan chef from Tokyo who relocated to the Aso region following the 2011 disaster. Vege Bliss was forced to close doors following serious damage suffered on its premises from the 2016 earthquakes
Amidst such losses, however, projects in the Aso City region have continued to grow and thrive such as theZen Map initiative, which has greatly aided in local recovery efforts by profiling local businesses and artisans working in numerous fields; and the Akiya (vacant house) Bank spearheaded by the local government, which makes information on abandoned dwellings available on its website, and also profiles people who have chosen to relocate to the area to make their livelihoods.