Taragi, Kumamoto β†’ Shiiba, Miyazaki

Map of Central Kyushu with author’s route from Taragi, Kumamoto to Shiiba, Miyazaki highlighted. πŸ—Ί Open map in GaiaGPS β†’

A blue Superman mug on a grave.

Bottles and cans of Sapporo beer in a vending machine.

An injured tiger keelback snake lies on the asphalt. 🐍 Tiger keelback (Rhabdophis tigrinus)

A flowering mountain cherry by the green waters of a lake.

A maple tree against a bright blue sky.

Looking out on a large mountain, Mount Ichifusa, across an artificial lake surrounded by forested hills. πŸ“ Ichifusa Dam Lake, Kumamoto

The gate of a shrine is decorated with two large snakes crawling up its pillars, very unusual for a Shinto shrine.

The fountain at the shrine is the head of a large snake, with water pouring from its mouth.

Scrolls on one of the walls of the shrine depict more snakes

Looking up at two cedars whose branches are fused together. πŸ“ Shiramizuaso Shrine, Eshiro, Kumamoto

Deep in the Kyushu Mountains, a sea of low peaks which cuts the island of Kyushu in two, is Shiramizuaso Shrine, which looks like a movie set designed by a teenager given the task of coming up with a syncretism of Shinto and Yezidism. There are snakes on the shrine gate, you wash your hands in a snake fountain, and inside the shrine, which is guarded by two enormous cedars, are scrolls with yet more snakes.

A stacks of firewood in a shed.

The porch of a dilapidated house. πŸ“ Eshiro, Kumamoto

A Japanese striped snake lies alert on the road.

Closeup of the same snake. πŸ“ Eshiro, Kumamoto

Then again a snake shrine makes perfect sense in these mountains whose forests are home to quite a few actual snakes, like this Japanese striped snake (Elaphe quadrivirgata) I almost stumbled over on my way to a high pass, where I crossed from Kumamoto back into Miyazaki. Perfectly camouflaged against the carpet of cedar leaves which lined the road’s edges, it froze, then slid into the gathering twilight.

A narrow road goes over a mountain pass and reveals a landscape of forested hills.

Looking up at the night sky, full of stars, from what appears to be the porch of a house. πŸ“ Shiiba, Miyazaki

A mountain sky, like the lights of a city turned upside down. In my sleeping bag on the wooden porch of a house, I woke up in the small hours of the night, shivering uncontrollably. The sky had shifted by then, and I stood under the cold and stunning light of the Milky Way, putting on every piece of clothing I could find, my fingers numb from the cold, in the perfect silence of this mountain world.

These Walking Dreams is a visual field diary of a 4,300-kilometer walk from one end of Japan to the other, in the spring and summer of 2017.