Kumamoto is only a small city, yet is has a wealth of interesting places for tourists and residents to visit. One such place is the Tatsuda Nature Park. Just a short distance from the centre of Kumamoto you can find a slice of paradise in this quiet, relaxing park and see some historical sights while you’re at it. Nature, relaxation, historical sights… what more could you want for a quiet afternoon outdoors?
In 1637, the 3rd Hosokawa Lord (Tadatoshi) moved the remains of the 1st Lord (Fujitaka), Fujitaka’s wife, and the wife of the 2nd Hosokawa Lord (Lady Gracia) from Kokura to the Taishoin Shrine in the Tatsuda Nature Park. When Tadaoki (the 2nd Lord) died, the 4th Lord (Mitsunao) built a shrine next to that of his wife. Together, these four tombs are known as Yotsugobyo. There are tombs dedicated to other Lords of the Hosokawa family located in the Kitaoka Nature Park, which is near the Kumamoto train station. Of course, anyone familiar with the tourist sights of Kumamoto will also know that you can visit the restored Hosokawa Mansion near Kumamoto Castle to find out more about this famous family.
Few of the Hosokawa wives are famous in their own right, but the wife of Tadaoki Hosokawa (the 2nd Hosokawa Lord) is well known, particularly because of her Western nickname. Her real name was Tamako Akechi, and she took the name Lady Gracia when she was baptized – the name ‘Gracia’ meaning thanks or gratitude.
It is said that she was very wise, beautiful and virtuous. She married Tadaoki Hosokawa when she was sixteen and they had five or six children, but their life together was not peaceful. Gracia’s father plotted a rebellion and killed his lord, so Gracia became the daughter of a traitor. Her husband did not want to divorce her, so instead she was sent away for safety and forced to live apart from her husband. They were apart for twelve years.
When Gracia was 38, there were plans to take her hostage and send her to Osaka – a plan which prompted her death. Some accounts say that she killed herself, and other accounts say that she ordered the members of her household to end her life for her as suicide was a sin. Before her death, she spent time gazing at her reflection in the water of her favourite ornamental washing basin(which you can see in the park), and she composed the following poem:
As blossoms fall
I see my fate
In this world
Blossoms pass away
And so must we.
The Tatsuda Nature Park is a delightful place to take a short walk and enjoy the peace and quiet. The area is dense with forest and so can produce a sort of gloomy atmosphere on dark days, but when the sun is shining, it bursts through the leaves in the most appealing fashion and cuts channels of light through the air, illuminating thin stalks of bamboo and lighting up autumnal leaves.
In the summer, make sure to check local news reports in case of insect warnings – dangerous wasps are known to frequent the area in the warmer months and can be dangerous for children. Entrance is 200 Yen for adults and the park is open from 8:30 – 5:00, 7 days a week, and there is plenty of parking space.