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Cycling in Kinokura

Rice fields and bamboo forests on two wheels

Who would have thought that Kumamoto is the adventure capital of Kyushu? Here you can go snowboarding on a winter's day in nearby Gokase Highland Ski and Snowboard resort, and earlier in the same day, ride through amber fields straight from Aso Kumamoto Airport in just your lycra. It is probably as close as you can get to “helicopter-cycling”, or being able to be dropped from the plane and cycle downhill. Being in the sub-tropical southern island of Kyushu, a sunny winter’s day means the temperature is no excuse to stop you from riding, or wandering through the rice fields and taking in the butterflies and the gentle streams less than an hour from the city center or the airport.

One of the places that might stop you from your wandering is the Inari Shrine. While the rice fields and bamboo forests are bereft of human activity, the neat roads and flower fields suggest more quietness than a deserted landscape. Likewise, the Inari shrine, while devoid of a physical human presence, is well kept and suggests that the local community really cares for and nurtures their sacred sites. Being alone here is perhaps what the ancient practices of the Japanese are all about, the reverence for nature and thankfulness for its blessings, and an acknowledgment of the greater powers that govern the seasons of people’s lives and the land.

Interestingly, the Inari Shrine is about business, so much so that in the big cities, many companies have the distinctive vermillion torii gates on their rooftop terraces or in front of their buildings. It seems incongruous to talk about business in the middle of the countryside when all you hear are birds flitting and the breeze blowing through the bamboo groves. Perhaps the shrine was there for the farmers like it was in the earlier days when they prayed for the sun and the rain in the right seasons. So much so that in one of Japan’s creation myths, the sun goddess hid in a cave in nearby Tachihiro Gorge and the locals held a dance party to bring her out, such is their affinity with the goings-on around them.

Even today, it can be hard to explain our relationship with something beyond us. Once I was looking after a friend’s son who was asleep while his mother was in the hospital giving birth. The moment his brother was born, he leaped out with a deep sigh, as he knew instinctively when his brother was born. How can you explain that? Maybe there are some things that are beyond our ability to rationalize or comprehend.

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