The earthquakes in Kumamoto on April 14th and 16th killed at least 48, injured over 3000, and more than 44,000 were evacuated from their homes.
Many historic structures were damaged including Aso Shrine and parts of Kumamoto Castle. Today, a news report in the Asahi Shinbun showed the pond at Suizenji Jojuen garden had almost disappeared.
Right now there are pressing matters of getting water, food and shelter to those who need it. In the long term I’m a believer in the positive power tourism can have. It brings in money, provides jobs, and gives pride to residents.
I first visited Kumamoto around 10 years ago to write and shoot a travel feature for Okinawa Living, I returned in 2013 and in 2015 updating the Fodor’s Japan guidebook. The castle and the Japanese garden are my favorite spots in a beautiful city.
I hope some of you can make a trip to Kumamoto while you are living in Japan or during your next visit. It’s a fine city, well deserving of your time.
The Uto Turret at the northwest corner of Kumamoto Castle is an important cultural property. It is the only tower that survived the destruction of the castle during the Satsuma Rebellion.
The Nagabei Wall, a national cultural property, stretches for 242 meters along the southeast side of the castle.
When the great warrior Kato Kiyomasa built Kumamoto Castle he designed it to be impregnable. It took 7 years to construct, with 13 kilometers of outer walls, 5 km of inner walls, a vast keep and 49 turrets. Unlike the more decorative Himeji Castle, a large amount of strategic foresight was put into its design including walls that curved outwards to stop them from being scaled, while trees and wells within the castle walls could provide a supply of food, firewood and water. The castle was completed in 1607, but it wasn’t until nearly three centuries later that the defensive design was truly tested and shown to be highly effective.
In 1877, an army of rebel samurai (the inspiration for Hollywood’s Last Samurai) laid siege to Kumamoto Castle. The Imperial Army troops within the castle although outnumbered were able to hold out for 50 days until reinforcements arrived and the samurai were finally forced back. Unlike in the movie, the defeat of the samurai was not due to superior modern weaponry, it was the result of the design features incorporated into the castle 270 years earlier.
Most of Kumamoto Castle was destroyed by fire during this siege, however, the Uto Turret remained standing and is now recognized as an important cultural property. In 1960, the main keep was rebuilt, and from 1998 to 2007 extensive restoration of castle buildings took place to mark the castle’s 400th anniversary.
Kumamoto is known as the city of water. In fact, natural underground springs provide drinking water to all of Kumamoto’s 670,000 residents.
In 1636 feudal lord Hosokawa chose the spring-fed pond at Suizen-ji to be the site of his new tea house. The cool waters would produce fine tea, but it was also thought the purity of the water would act as an elixir, extending the life of the drinker. The landscaped garden surrounding the central pond and tea house took 80 years to complete. It was designed to reproduce the 53 stages of the Tokaido Road that linked Edo (Tokyo) with Kyoto. Visitors can stroll along the circular path that rings the pond in much the same way that guests of the Hosokawa clan have done for centuries. The conical shape of a miniature Mount Fuji is the most distinctive marker on the route.