Following my trip to the Sakuramatsuri, on Sunday I got up early for a 9am outing with KT-san to the town of Hita, in Ōita prefecture (next door to Fukuoka). It's about thirty miles away, so we had to take two trains. We could have opted for the shinkansen, but that would have roughly quintupled the cost!
Plans developed a slight hitch when we were too deeply engrossed in conversation to notice we'd reached and then left the city of Kurume (remember that one?) where we should have changed train.
About half an hour later, we realised what was up, hopped off the train, managed to catch a return train by the skin of our teeth, and eventually made our way successfully to Hita.
Hita station. It's a new building - the only new station I've seen in Japan, and quite different in style. I liked it, and to me it felt quite Japanese architecturally (albeit with a modern interpretation), but KT-san wasn't convinced!
Like about half of the towns in Kyushu (or so it seems) Hita wants to push itself as a town famed for its 温泉 (onsen) hot spring resorts. Here there's what appears to me to be a cheerful animated picket-line drum, but is apparently a friendly onsen.
A bit of Hita
A map of the old town quarter; we used a portable version to find our way about. This was one of the most useful maps I've seen, giving the names of everything, and indicating building type by colour.
Another, even bigger geta! This is the biggest in the world. We had a bit of a running joke going featuring whoever it was who actually worse these shoes.
A very traditional house, with quite sizeable gardens (for a Japanese house in a town). Hita had lots of old, nice-looking houses that I was vaguely jealous of, although they might be a complete pain to live in. It's a decent-sized town with plenty of facilities; on the other hand it's about 10 miles to the city, so it may be quite boring. I speak as someone who grew up in a very similar place, but without a traditional temple quarter and with no buildings more than two storeys high. One of the architectural distinctions I find is that in Japan it's completely routine to have multi-storey buildings in even quite small towns, whereas in the UK you very rarely see anything more than two storeys high (maybe three?) outside an actual city.
And now, the moment you've all been waiting for
So, those dolls! It was Hinamatsuri or at least an associated period, and for several weeks 雛人形 (hina-ningyō) doll displays of the imperial court were on show.
At this point I could try to explain it all, or you could just read about it on Wikipedia and learn as much as I know, the same way I learned it. That's probably better.
The first place we turned into was the 廣瀬資料館 (Hirose Museum). This seems to be a family home for the Hirose family, particularly Hirose Tansou, an important Neoconfucian scholar and educational pioneer, who established an academy called Kangien in Hita. He educated about 3000 people, with an emphasis on moral conduct as preparation for public service. There's a book about him in English and everything. His disciples played important parts in the Meiji Restoration that set Japan on its modern course. His brother, Hirose Kyokuso, was a noted poet.
Actually, you could do a whole lot worse than go to 〒877-0005 Ōita-ken, Hita-shi, Mamedamachi in Street View and just drive around to get a feel for this place.
These dolls are pretty old! This set were 300 years old, and others we saw were mostly at least 100 years old.
...KT-san realised they're archaic scales! You hang things from them somehow, and the object's weight would pull some kind of strap down, lowering the object to one of these weight markings.
A very old map of Nagasaki. Near the middle you can see a small squareish block; this was the Dejima, an artificial island built for visiting merchants in 1634. This allowed trading without breaching the strict policy of isolation enforced by the government.
Some kind of bizarre plant-hand-like wooden item. Nobody was able to identify it at the time. Probably an occult artefact of great astral significance, associated with the terrible frozen Plateau of Leng.
Another display was in 天領日田資料館 (Hita Tenryo museum). "Tenryo" relates to this part of town being historically under direct rule by the shogunate. This had a very different type of dolls; 2d ones that resembled shadow puppets. These were much more modern, and the display included templates and instructions for making your own.
This is the text of the story, which I don't currently feel like trying to translate, sorry... it seems to be described here, although only in Japanese of course.
KT-san had some kind of udon which are served in hot water, but with a bowl of sauce to dip them in.
We saw several more sets of dolls, but most of them weren't easily photographable. I caught these in a shop window.
As we circled the district before heading back, we passed the 薫長酒蔵資料館 (Kunchou sake museum) and went in for a quick look. Part of the premises seems to still be used by the Kunchou company, but there are some old bits of equipment to view. It's like the sort of farming museum-ettes you often get on large National Trust properties.
We had a quick taster of some of the sake (it was okay) and grabbed ice cream, despite the slight chill, before heading off. I had something horrifically purple while KT-san preferred a greenish thing. Mine was pretty good, at least.
All in all, Hita seemed like a very nice, chilled place to hang around, with lots of interesting little shops to poke around in for souvenirs and snacks, and several nice restaurants.
On the downside, it is quite a distance from Fukuoka, so you do want to make a day trip and take advantage of the restaurants. It was about ￥1300 on the ordinary train, and took about 90 minutes including a change at Kurume.