In Search of Bungo

“I would have got away with it if it hadn’t been for those pesky time-travelling racoons!”

Not a sentence one uses every day, but in this case it fitted the situation perfectly.

I was exploring Kitakyushu, on Japan’s southernmost island, with my husband and a toy Womble, called Bungo.  My husband’s continuing mission was to explore the parts of the world that had given Wombles their names. My continuing mission was to humour him and keep him out of trouble.

Bungo had proved something of a challenge in terms of Womble-related place names. Initial research had identified a Bungo in Angola, but even after meeting the author of a new Angola guidebook, who told how good elephants are at crossing minefields, I was not keen.   Eventually we found that Bungo was also the old name for an area in southern Japan. This seemed a more promising holiday destination. When our travel agent mentioned  the Bungo channel, which separates the islands of Kyushu and Shikoku, I thought we could tick this one off the list by the simple expedient of taking a ferry and have a nice relaxing holiday enjoying the cherry blossom and historic buildings. It started well: we visited the Peace Park in Hiroshima and the sacred island of Miyajima, where deer walk the streets, and then travelled down to Matsuyama on the island of Shikoku, where we visited the castle, donning the outsize plastic mules provided before attempting to scale the terrifying vertical wooden ‘stairs’.

Having taken the ‘Ferry Cross the Bungo’ we eventually arrived on the island of Kyushu. Exploring the northern part of the island, we found ourselves at Kokura castle in Kitakyushu.  Unlike Matsuyama, this is a modern (1950s) reconstruction, so the stairs were not scary at all.  Inside were a diorama of the castle in the 17th century; a motorised replica of a palanquin so that you could experience what it would have felt like to travel in one; a reconstruction of a strategy meeting and samurai outfits. On the fourth floor was a theatre where they showed animated films about the history of the castle. One of these, ‘The Story of Kokura Castle’, starred a time-travelling raccoon family.

There is absolutely no way that a Womble-obsessed Doctor Who fan could resist time-travelling raccoons, so we stayed and watch the film.  However before we got to the raccoons there was another film, ‘Express Messenger Mr Gen’s side trip travelogue on Kokura castle town’ from which we discovered that there was a Bungo Bridge in the town.  All we had to do now was find it. My hopes of a cup of tea and a sweet bun evaporated.

A helpful tourist map showed us that the bridges in Kokura all have nicknames (Bridge of the Sun, Bridge of the Moon, Bridge of the Seagull, Bridge of Wood etc.) We walked along the river bank, checking them off as we went. Some of them had artworks which reflected their names, which helped. The Bridge of the Sun had a sun mosaic, the Bridge of the Wind had a wind sculpture. Bungo’s bridge, the Bridge of Sound, had none of these, but there were some plaques indicating the name in English, so we could be sure we had found the right one. As I dutifully posed for a photo with Bungo and his eponymous bridge, I knew we would never have even realised it was there if it hadn’t been for the raccoons.

I visited Japan in April 2011.

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