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Exploring Gokusho Machi & Hakata's Yamakasa Matsuri, past and present - by Masha


Join me as I explore both the history and present life of Gokusho Machi. It's an area in Hakata packed with temples, shrines and cultural tidbits from throughout Japan's history, and a key location in Hakata's annual Yamakasa Festival.

Gokusho Machi Adventures

  • 2011年07月20日
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Hakata's Answer to Kyoto

It's not everybody's idea of tourism, but if you're in to Japan's traditional culture and like the way temple & shrine buildings look, the spooky otherworldedness of a religious history that has nothing to do with anything familiar from your own country, then you'll be checking out the historical sites.

Sure places like Kyoto are famous, and almost guaranteed to be on a short trip's agenda, but Japan is a pretty old country. Dig just about anywhere (excluding maybe Hokkaido) and you'll find a good 500 years of history. Somewhere, some pamphlet will tell you that the Love Hotel you're standing in front of was the site of some ancient battle, or the shrine you pass on your daily walk to school actually built there over a thousand years ago.

Hakata is like that. It's an old town; back before Europe was rediscovering the Greek classics people here were making money trading with China and Korea. It was the gate post to the rest of the world, the host of a fair few Japanese military excursion fleets throughout the ages and the first line of defense for just as many enemy incursions.

A 20 minute train ride out of Tenjin on the Nishitetsu line will take you to Dazaifu, a traditional centre of power for the island of Kyushu with strong ties to the Imperial throne. But you don't have to go that far for a little historical hit.

Less than 10 minutes' walk from Hakata station, or one subway stop, will take you to Gion. At this link there is a map marking all the Temples & Shrines you can find in the area, all of which will take about 10 minutes to walk from one end to the other.


Try as I might, I can only get the letters to show up as "G"....

Click on the image to go to the site with a real, usable map. You can see Hakata, Gion and aalllll the temples in the Gokusho area, 19 in total that my Manager has fanatically researched and visited to inform the Gokusho.info site.

So! Here are some of the ones that I've checked out in person:

The Smallest Holy Place in the World: Katsuragi Jizou


It's just a doorway! The history and tininess of this place is astounding.

Place: A 2 minute walk from Meiji Dori or Taihaku Dori, just a block or two away from their intersection.
Age: OLD! Established in the 920s
Worships: Jizou and Shaguji (kanji otherwise read as Shogun, aka Shogun Jizou... the shrine's alternate name). They are the deities of travellers, Buddhist and Shinto respectively.

Object: A rock that was found in the 920s with holy sanskrit writing on it; it was transported to this site (once famous for natural spring water) and a Temple built around it.
History: Hermit Priests that used to go and do holy things in the mountains for the sake of people and country would often pass by here and recite the Lotus Sutra. That's where the name Katsuragi comes from.
Local Culture: This is believed to be the local area's guardian Temple. Although Old Hakata City has been razed many times in invasion and civil war and was bombed during WWII, this area has always stayed safe. As a protector of travellers, the Katsuragi Jizou is also said to look after
those born in this town that leave on long journeys out of town or
There is also a really low incidence of traffic and travel-related accidental deaths; so this shrine has been nicknamed the "Staying Alive Jizou". 


Some Highlights.

It's humbling how old and how tiny this place really is. As you go in through the tiny corridor, along the side of the shop next door, you arrive in a small partly rooved courtyard the size of an apartment kitchen. There are brooms and buckets and things piled next to pot plants, generators and the rope for the prayer bell. But it is immaculately clean. There's fresh flowers and clean flowing water. The holy objects are on display, and there's places to burn incense.

It gives off a tranquil, peaceful atmosphere as all Temples and Shrines do. It feels incredibly small and local! 


Immaculate Wood Carvings at Saikyouji

Walking from Gion/Hakata along Taihaku, take the last right before Meiji Dori to go up a thin side street. Follow this the whole way up and you'll get to the old bridge; the last right before that and this temple should appear on your left.
Age:  Established in 1586.
Worships: part of the Jodo Shinshu sect within the Higashi Honganji School of Buddhism.
History: Moved to its current site in 1603.
Local Culture: Around New Year's Eve, the tradition in Japanese Temples is to ring the temple's bell when the date switches over. At this Temple even locals are allowed to do it. So it's a place for locals to gather around come New Years.
Other times of the year, its tranquility and out-of-the-wayness make it a popular spot for the local cats.


More Carvings /  a view of Gokusho's Oldest Street out the front gates.

I was really blown away by these carvings. Though bits have fallen off where sheer age or exposure to the elements have taken its toll, the detail in these carvings was just amazing. Maybe it was the smoky look that the wood had after all these years, but everything seemed to take on such a realistic shape... I have never seen carvings like this at a Temple or Shrine yet, they really blew me away.

The rest of the place is nice too though! Small but respectable grounds, and a main building where you can make offerings & prayers. A lot of the carvings frame the roof of the Temizuya, that place where you wash your mouth & hands before praying / entering a shrine. The garden and shrine all look well-maintained, though it sounds like it's one of the places that is now run by priests from a larger location.

The street this temple faces on to is said to be the oldest in Gokusho; it's all crooked like old streets ought to be, and the majority of buildings look quite old. Lots of the residents look old too... it's a nice glimpse of Japan from another era, 50-60 years ago.


More to come...!

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