Though the Culture Day weekend was a bit of a bust weather-wise this year, my family and I did manage to make it up to Karatsu (about a two hour drive from our home in Kumamoto) for their annual autumn festival, the Karatsu Kunchi. The streets were packed and we had to park a good three kilometers from the action, but it allowed me the perfect opportunity to track down a local manhole cover on our walk into town.
So what, exactly, is on there? Well, it’s not any of the massive floats (called hikiyama) from the Karatsu Kunchi festival. (FYI – If you miss the festival, they store the floats in an exhibition hall that you can visit year round. Do go – those suckers were pretty cool.) It’s not the Karatsu Castle either, which looks lovely perched on the water’s edge on a hill at the edge of town. (Another hint – there’s an elevator to the top. :))
Nope, the manhole design actually references the city’s pine forest, the one major site I didn’t get to see during our time in town. Known as Niji-no-Matsubara, this 5-kilometer-long stand of pine trees hugs the bay here like the arc of a rainbow (rainbow is niji in Japanese) and is considered one of the three most beautiful pine forests in Japan. (No, I have no idea where the other two are. Sorry.) The trees were planted by the first lord of the Karatsu clan, allegedly as a protection against wind and strong tides. Today, the forest of 1 million+ trees is a soothing place for a wander, away from the city.