Viewing the Domain / “Kunimi” in Sasebo, Kyushu

Who says a blog has to be a linear accounting of time and place?  Here’s a quick flashback to 24 hours outside Nagasaki in the port city of Sasebo, where I visited a former student now living and teaching in the JET program.   I thought I’d listen to her stories of adjustment and cultural adaptation, but a certain mountain intervened.

Sterling McClain must have taken three of my classes during her career at USF.  A recent  grad, she is now teaching in the JET program on an island near Saikai. She’s been in Japan a whole 2.5 months and will stay 2 years if she can surmount the challenges of an incompetent supervisor and relative isolation.

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Knowing of my love for mountains, Sterling wanted to show me a trail she’d climbed recently, and so that’s where we headed after a nice Thai restaurant lunch in a hard-to-reach neighborhood. Like Nagasaki, Sasebo is situated around its fine harbor–one currently being used in part by the U.S. Navy (a whole other topic)–and so neighborhoods tend to go up the hillside.

Sterling’s little car and GPS took us to a bigger mountain than she had in mind, and having thus being unable to find the mountain she climbed before, we aimed at Kunimi-yama, “seeing the domain mountain.” This is an old tradition in Japan that originates in China and was well-established in the early Nara period (early 7th century). A little homework would be required to learn whether and for how long the practice was carried out at this site.  Several years ago I visited a mountain outside Nara named for this custom, accessed via a couple temples with bragging rights that emperors visited, climbed, and viewed their domains.

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Without a map or local knowledge about the terrain, we simply tried to follow signs and trails, which went well enough until a multitude of animal tracks (wild boar and deer) led us astray and so required some reorientation to get back on trail.  Eventually, and after some thrashing around on steep hillsides, we found the trail and headed to the top. Since the trails were not well-maintained, I had braced myself for all trees and no view. Instead, there was a massive concrete viewing platform that had been constructed in the 1960s. Up above the trees, we felt positively regal, with vast distances, contours, mountains, shorelines, and cloud colors to enthrall and delight. As I told Sterling, Kunimiyama provided one of the best Kyushu views ever.

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This was not an easy walk, but S. did not complain, kept up with me pretty well, and was a tough cookie descending rocky and tricky slopes with only an impromptu walking stick as assistance (I got one too, even though I had good tread on my boots). The dwindling light and approaching darkness motivated us to keep moving until finally we reached familiar sights and found the car. Wrung out and pooped, we were satisfied that we done something significant and deserved a reward of Chinese food.

A final surprise was going through the Kunimi tunnel heading back to Sasebo and catching the sunset in full regalia. Passing cars compromised the aesthetics of the moment but oh well. We found dinner (and Yosekoi celebrants) west of the station in a Chinese place, then walked back and said our goodbyes.

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2 thoughts on “Viewing the Domain / “Kunimi” in Sasebo, Kyushu

  1. Wow! What a stunning evening for a hike! Looks like Sterling is doing very well and I hope she gets a lot out of this experience. Glad you had a lovely visit in Japan. So good to see the photos and read the descriptions. Be well in Bali!
    Best,
    Charlotte Greene

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