Sword of Honour was released last Thursday in the UK. To mark it, I travelled to the other end of Japan to visit the place where Musashi wrote The Book of Five Rings and ultimately died, the cave known as Reigando.
Musashi chose this cave specifically because he wished for isolation where he could meditate and compose his thoughts, so as you might imagine getting there is quite a hassle. It is up in the mountains west of Kumamoto city, down on the southernmost of the main Japanese isles Kyushu.
After a two hour plane ride from Sendai to Fukuoka, half an hour on the Shinkansen from Fukuoka to Kumamoto, a tram ride to the Kumamoto Kotsu centre and forty minutes on a bus that leaves three times a day, you wind up here:
You follow one sign up through a forested road, sweating, cicadas all about you for about twenty minutes, until you find a big modern statue of Musashi sitting in zazen posture:
You're close now. You come to the entrance. It's two hundred yen to get in. You pass through a turnstile, and beyond it lies a small display where you can see a very famous bokken, one that may appear in book three of the Musashi series:
Beyond it, five hundred Buddhas await. It is said you once could find a face that resembled your own if you looked hard enough amongst them. Time has taken its toll, and many of the statues have had their heads hacked off. Religious schism or souvenir hunters, I don't know which, but all smells of moss and rain here:
And then, after scrabbling over rocks and ancient stairways you're there:
It's smaller, much smaller than I imagined, barely even deep enough that it keeps the rain out, but then humility was the entire point of Musashi's choice to abide here. Up the stairs you come to a space perhaps five paces across, paved with wooden planking now. There is a small altar on which offerings of sake and flowers have been left, and centrally a large stone on which, undoubtedly, almost four hundred years ago a dying swordsman once sat and contemplated the nature of existence.
And there too, perhaps, you can lay your temporary tribute: