Sa­mu­rai hide-out

There are few se­cluded ar­eas re­main­ing in modern-day Ja­pan, so lo­cals trea­sure this one, writes Shel­ley Had­field

Sunday Mail - Travel/Escape - - SECRET JAPAN -

SUR­ROUNDED by un­spoilt for­est, we tra­verse the foot­bridge over a steep ravine to the crys­tal-clear Umenoki Todoro Falls. There is hardly a per­son in sight – it feels a world away from the bright lights and crowded city streets of Osaka and Tokyo.

This is Gokanosho on the is­land of Kyushu. Ac­ces­si­ble via a windy, onelane road that climbs into the moun­tains, it is con­sid­ered one of the last se­cluded ar­eas on Kyushu.

The district is fa­mous for be­ing a hid­den refuge for a sa­mu­rai clan in the 12th cen­tury. Luck­ily, we have a lo­cal guide who can eas­ily nav­i­gate the area.

I am­preg­nant and feel­ing a lit­tle ap­pre­hen­sive about cross­ings on the wob­bly Momigi Sus­pen­sion Bridge, which hangs over a pris­tine river.

Lo­cals re­gard the re­gion as the land of fire and water. The his­toric area has long been a favourite for Ja­panese hol­i­day­mak­ers and is emerg­ing as a desti­na­tion for for­eign­ers. Few peo­ple speak English so it is re­ally a place to leave Western life be­hind and be­come im­mersed in a dif­fer­ent cul­ture.

The food is unique, with an un­usual-tast­ing stuffed lo­tus root a spe­cialty. Raw horse meat, in par­tic­u­lar, is a lo­cal del­i­cacy.

I amex­tremely grate­ful to be preg­nant and un­able to in­dulge.

The city of Ku­mamoto is the cap­i­tal. From Osaka it is about a 31/ hour trip by bul­let train.

One of the big­gest sur­prises of Ku­mamoto is its Suizenji Jo­juen Gar­den. The stun­ning, man­i­cured gar­dens emerge out of the end of a mall lined with stores. There is a shrine and a pond teem­ing with carp, along with a minia­ture Mt Fuji.

The city’s key draw­card is Ku­mamoto Cas­tle, re­garded as one of

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