Yokagura, a traditional event of Shinto music and dance staged at night, is the glue that binds residents of Takachiho, Miyazaki Prefecture. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
In the Kyushu Highlands, dubbed “the roof of Kyushu,” the town of Takachiho in Miyazaki Prefecture is a land of myths.
Uncrowded, with a population of only 15,000, the bucolic town offers breathtaking vistas. The terraced rice paddies on the mountainsides are considered by some to be the most beautiful in the country.
In Japanese mythology, Takachiho is akin to Ground Zero–the spot where descendants of the sun goddess chose to arrive on Earth.
As the story goes, the sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami sent her grandson Ninigi no Mikoto from heaven to Earth to straighten out the troubled and corrupt land. When he arrived at Takachiho, a thick fog blanketed the area and he couldn’t see a thing.
As luck would have it, some locals stopped by and suggested Ninigi no Mikoto, who was carrying ears of rice, sprinkle some grains on the ground. He followed directions and the fog immediately disappeared. And that is how Takachiho got its name, which, when written in kanji, literally means “a thousand rice ears at the peak.”
There are many must-sees in the area, but extra special is “yokagura”–Shinto music and dance staged at night. Performed from mid-November to February, it is a tradition that has been passed down for generations.
The performers act out myths involving gods at private houses and civic halls in town. In 1978, the tradition was designated as an important intangible cultural treasure by the government.
If the beach is more your thing, the Nichinan coast is nearby. The shore covers a coastal area from Aoshima island to Cape Toi. Thick with subtropical plants, the island is known for the unusual rocks surrounding it, called “Oni no Sentakuita” (demon’s washboard), and it is designated a special natural monument.
At Aoshimajinja shrine, in the center of the island, traditional myth-related events are performed. To appeal to tourists, Canary date palms have been planted along national highways around the island. Also, a botanical garden featuring cactus and herbs, as well as Kodomo no Kuni (kids’ land), are worth a visit.
Before you go home, the beautiful Cape Horikiri is a great place to view nature’s seasonal color changes.
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To get to Takachiho, take a bus from Kumamoto Station (three-hour ride) or Kumamoto Airport (two-hour ride). The bus from Nobeoka Station takes about 80 minutes.
Once in Takachiho, it is difficult to get around without a car. You can rent a car near Takachiho Station.
For those who plan to go to the Nichinan coast, Aoshima island should not be missed. To get there, take a train from Miyazaki Station on the JR Nichinan Line for 30 minutes and get off at Aoshima Station.