Every region in Japan has it's own mascot. The mascot is always a cute, cartoon animal and is usually plastered everywhere from billboards to bottles of sake and on about 1,000 different kinds of candies and sweets. The mascots even have their own official songs and dances. For Kumamoto and the Kyushu region around Fukuoka the mascot is a big, black bear named Kumamon.
On Saturday, I took the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Kumamoto. Normally, if would have cost about 10,000 Yen ($100.00) to get to Kumamoto round trip, but JR Japan is running a 50% off ticket to the city! If you ever decide to travel to Japan for an extended period I recommend buying the Japan Rail Pass. Trains are kind of expensive in Japan, and the rail pass lets you have unlimited train rides anywhere in Japan and pretty much pays for itself in a few rides.
Kumamoto's most famous tourist attraction is Kumamoto Castle which history dates back to 1467 and is considered one of Japan' three great castles. For a history nut like me, going to old castles, monasteries, and historical sites is always one of the best parts of traveling especially in Europe and Asia. The castle area is HUGE. Walking the whole castle ground could easily take three hours.
Kumamoto Castle was one of the three greatest castles in Japan and was built by Kato Kiyomasa in 1607. There used to be 120 wells, 49 turrets, 18 turret gates, and 29 gates. However, many of them were destroyed during the Seinan War of 1877.
What is really astounding about medieval Japanese architecture is that they did not use any nails. Buildings and roofs were constructed by fitting pieces of wood together like a jigsaw puzzle. I've seen this style in other castles in Matsuyama and Kyoto. Here's an example from one of the roofs of the main castle:
On the castle grounds sits an original samurai "mansion" or house built by Okitomo (third generation of the Gyobu family) in 1688 for his outings to Kokai (now Higashikokai in Kumamoto City) and later as a second residence
In 1871, the newly restored Imperial Army located its western headquarters at Kumamoto Castle and orders were given to remove all samurai residences from the castle grounds.
On Sunday, we visited a couple of temples. The first temple we stopped at was the Tochoji Temple built in 806 by the Buddhist monk Kakai. Several famous lords and monks are buried on the temple grounds and the temple also houses the largest wooden Buddha statue in Japan.
The second temple we visited was really beautiful, but I forget the name. I believe is was built around the same time as Tochoji.
Sunday, was our designated shopping day. To be honest, my wife and I spent the whole time in Japan shopping. I actually despise going "shopping", but not in Japan. Everything is so damn cool and everything that you see you will want to buy! I'm a grown man, and even I have to restrain myself from not buying cute looking stuffed animals. It's ridiculous. I got some pretty cool stuff. I bought a mega size Gundam model and a Daruma head among many other things.
I also dragged my wife kicking and screaming to an arcade. The nerd in me comes out every time I see an arcade, comic book shop, or toy store, and I can spend hours inside any of these places.
The Super Terrific Happy Hour!