To Mojiko! It’s a place both the wife and I have wanted to go for a while and last weekend we finally made the trip.
Mojiko is located at the very northern tip of Kyushu and is part of the city of Kitakyushu. From this port one can cross the small channel between the islands of Kyushu and the main island of Honshu over to Shimonoseki. (You can find Mojiko marked “Moji” in the map above.)
Historically it was hailed as one of the major ports in Japan along with Kobe and Yokohama. It’s influence has dwindled as a major shipping port, but the city has taken measures to preserve the atmosphere left from over a hundred years ago with many old Meiji-era style brick buildings. It looked pretty interesting in the travel pamphlets we’ve picked up along the way, and considering it didn’t seem so far from our home in Nakatsu, we thought it would make a great day trip.
The town is also famous for yaki-curry.
It’s a wonderful combination of rice, with a fried egg in the middle and covered with thick curry sauce, beef chunks, cheese, and spice. Each bite seemed to reveal a different characteristic. Overall, it reminded me a lot of an enchilada … it’s like a curry enchilada. So it was really good, and unbelievably filling.
But eating yaki-curry is not all that happened in that yaki-curry shop. In fact, what else happened is much more exciting. I saw one of those giant boards with pictures of people on the front with the faces cut out so you can stand behind and get your picture taken in the chosen scene, and on that board were two samurai fighting on an island, and then I remembered …
If you aren’t impressed at the name by itself, then maybe if you knew that it was the famous battle site of Miyamoto Musashi and Sasaki Kojiro then you will be blown away for sure!
If not, then I just don’t know what else to say.
Well, I suppose I have to say something now.
Miyamoto Musashi is arguably the most legendary swordsman in Japanese history who fought in the battle of Sekigahara, and then went on to wander Japan fighting duels for many years after in the early Edo Period. Arguably his most famous duel was with a man named Sasaki Kojiro, which took place on a tiny island located off the coast of Mojiko called, Ganryujima. The story goes that they agreed to duel on the island so Kojiro went and waited at the decided time and place. Musashi however showed up far beyond the agreed time and fought using a giant wooden sword he carved out of an oar from the small ship he rode to the island. The two fought, and Musashi won.
So anyway, I realized the island was close and the giant goofy wooden picture thingy must have indicated that just behind it was a ferry terminal with a boat service to the famous island. I told my wife immediately when I saw it with wide excited eyes, and after we finished our yaki-curries we waddled full over to the dock and made it just in time for a 10 minute crossing to the island.
The sea was super rough for being insulated by the surrounding land masses. It wasn’t ideal after the meal we just had, and the excitement almost put me over the edge.
Inside the boat. After four years I’m still shocked at “ghetto” Japan.
We made it to the island! The next ferry back was in 30 minutes, which we told was more than enough time to see the island.
Apparently the island is six times larger than it used to be. Maybe this small puff of trees on a mound signifies the original portion.
After a 10 minute walk to the other side of the island (they really know how to build the tension here on Ganryujima) we found a statue of the two warriors’ duel.
There they are! Musashi on the left with his carved oar and Kojiro on the right with his famous long sword.
The dire importance of this site definitely warrants multiple pictures from different angles of these two warriors.
Coming to Ganryujima after reading the manga, “Vagabond” based on Musashi’s life really made this experience all the more important to me. (If you haven’t read it and are interested in Musashi, want to read a compelling story about the most famous Japanese swordsman, or just want to see an awesome Japanese comic, then you gotta check it out.) I guess this is how historical sites go: the more you know about it the more impact it can have on you. If you don’t know anything about it, it will be nothing more than a puny island. If you know a bit about Musashi and come here you’ll say “cool!”. But if you’ve read “Vagabond” after other biographies of Musashi, his own writings of “the Book of Five RIngs” and also have a passion for the martial arts … then this trip is more a pilgrammage than anything else.
It looks like maybe Musashi had a bad case of the stomack flu.
Regardless he fought on! Damn admirable. I could barely move from couch, to bathroom, to bed.
So yeah, we spent thirty minutes very quickly and almost had to jog in order to catch our next ferry. Maybe 40 minutes is perfect for Ganryujima.
On the ride back we had a boat with seating on the top which was nice. I looked at the crowd and realized one very interesting thing about myself:
My favorite places to go are also the same as the Japanese elderly.
Mountains, places of historical significance, museums … it’s always the same. But that’s cool cause they’re usually really nice and funny and know a lot of interesing things.
So we headed back to Mojiko to wander around the streets and see what the place had to offer.
Actually first we went to a brewery, which was awesome. We had a couple hours to spend, so me as the driver thought I could handle a small glass and Satomi had a big jug. We got different flavors, and both were fricken amazing, perhaps the best microbrew we’ve had yet in Kyushu. I had a pale ale, which is pretty rare in Japan, and it was actually up to par with American pale ales, which is super rare. Satomi had a lager which is supposed to be the same flavor as it was in the Meiji Period when it first opened, and that was really good too. We got bottles to go, and began to wander.
Soon on the docks we found a pirate ship! That served Coors Light! I have to say it’s not my drink of choice, but it’s quite a nostalgic sight, one that reminds me of epic training sessions with the mightiest of dojo rats.
Then we found a library in one of the old historical buildings. I’m quite the nerd for such spots and after the beer I was thoroughly transplanted to an imaginative space I often search for.
If you’re not sure what that means, then I would say that I could spend all day at the desk in the picture above with pens and paper and books and never want to leave.
Anyway, in the museum I also learned that Kitakyushu City (of which Mojiko is a part) is a sister city of Tacoma back in my home state of Washington. Pretty cool. Both are generally considered industrial hubs of little interest located near bigger more popular areas (Seattle and Fukuoka City), but in fact have a lot of their own secret treasures worth seeing.
There’s also a cool tower we went up. The view was great, but I forgot my camera. Believe me, if you make it to Mojiko, it’s worth the 300 yen and elevator trip to the top.
After that we wandered around some shops, that honestly we thought there would be more of, and a little more interesting. We had a good day in Mojiko. How could we not finding the famous island of Ganryujima, drinking high quality microbrews, and vising cool historic buildings and towers? But it seemed a little fast, the town a little smaller than we thought, and the atmosphere just a little lacking.
I don’t know, I hate saying bad things about places like this, because it’s not a bad place at all. I suppose it’s to the fault, or thanks to, Japanese brochures and photographs which make things look a lot more something than places really are.
Before the drive home we had one last goal, and that was to return to the main island of Honshu! If not for just a minute after crossing the bridge to Shimonoseki.
There’s a huge beautiful bridge connecting the islands, and it is by that that we wanted to make the crossing, but somehow when we went over we got diverted to an underground tunnel. Luckily on the way back we found our way to the bridge and make the return successfully.
I have to say, I was less affected than I thought. Maybe we were both just tired and excited to get home and …
Enjoy pizza and beer!
After two weeks of the stomack flu I have been waiting for this moment with great anticipation … and it was awesome.
Never underestimate pizza and beer … even if it’s really expensive in Japan.
Again, there is in fact delicious microbrews in Kyushu, and you should definitely make a trip up to Mojiko if not for their own hearty beers.