Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Castle Moonstone

Roughly halfway between Kumamoto and Kagoshima is the city of Hitoyoshi. Known as Kyushu's "little Kyoto" — and a source of some of our green tea — Hitoyoshi contains the remains of a once-mighty castle, Hitoyoshi-jō.

The castle is also known as Sengetsu-jō, which means "Crescent Moon Castle," after a rock that was unearthed during the castle's construction in Japan's Middle Ages. The town that developed under the castle's watchful eye eventually took on its nickname, too.

(Fans of Japanese shōchū may recognize "Sengetsu" as a brand of the brew. The distillery was in fact founded and is still headquartered in Hitoyoshi, and its combination distillery–shōchū museum–tasting room there should be considered a mandatory stop on any tour of Hitoyoshi.)

(Fans of the Monk's videos may remember Hitoyoshi as the site of an old-school dojo where the breathtaking kendo scenes were filmed.)

The perfectly formed crescent-moon shape on the rock was interpreted as an auspicious omen and was carefully preserved over the centuries. Today its home is the meticulously maintained Hitoyoshi Castle Historical Museum (Japanese page here).

Here are two photos I took at the museum: the famous Sengetsu Stone itself and a model of what the castle looked like in its feudal heyday.

The former photo in particular is a near-scoop for the Monk, as there are nearly no other photos of the famous rock online. This may have something to do with the no photographs signs posted throughout the museum . . .

This is just a model, but the remains of the real Hitoyoshi Castle are still preserved today for visitors to explore.

—Mellow Monk


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