Rural Kitakyushu: It’s All About the Snakes

This is the first in a series of anecdotes about a cycling and hiking day trip I made on Saturday, 30 April 2005 through some of the more rural areas of southeastern Kitakyushu.

It’s all about snakes.

I was biking along, trying to find my way through a maze of cabbage farms and rice fields, when I saw a sign for what I thought was a temple. The name on the sign had 寺—ji or tera/dera—the suffix for temple as its last character. So I tried to look it up on my map while I waited for a shuttle bus to turn onto the main road from an access road in the direction the sign was pointing. I didn’t find any temples on what I thought was the right part of my map, but this isn’t unusual since I read Japanese very poorly. Plus I often don’t stop for a navigation break until I’m completely lost.

Anyway, after the bus was gone I pedaled up the road and rounded the corner to find the remains of a small snake in the middle of the road. If you’re squeamish about reptile roadkill you might want to skip this part of the post. While I was taking pictures, the tail started to twitch a bit. I figure that the snake was a victim of the shuttle bus, since it was the only vehicle I’d seen on this road.

roadkill mamushi (Japanese pit viper)

Here’s a detail, with most of the gore cropped out of the frame. The snake itself has beautiful colour and markings.

detail of roadkill mamushi (Japanese pit viper)

As I rounded the next corner, less than thirty metres later, I encountered this sign:

warning sign: watch out for mamushi (Japanese pit viper)

I don’t think the driver of the minibus saw the sign, otherwise I wouldn’t have had my roadkill photo shoot. The sign is a warning to be on the lookout for snakes. It says mamushi ni chuui (マムシに注意—watch out for mamushi). Mushi means snake or worm. Mamushi is the Japanese pit viper.

It appears that I was lucky to have avoided a live one. I’m no herpetologist but I’m pretty sure this snake was, in fact, a mamushi. If it had been alive, I probably would have been able to outrun it. Judging by its size—about 18 inches long—it was a young one. I later encountered another freshly killed snake on another road, but I didn’t stop to inspect it or take pictures.

Much later in the day, after a difficult hike up to see a seven-stage waterfall—I’ll write about it later—I returned to find a snake under my bike. I wouldn’t have noticed it if I hadn’t heard it slither off to the side, but I think it was just as startled as I was.

Here’s a close-up of the snake. I think it’s the other common poisonous Japanese snake: the yamakagashi, or Japanese Grass Snake

my bike, parked on a brigde, with a yamakagashi snake lurking

And here’s where the snake is in relation to my bike, which is parked on a small bridge.

yamakagashi snake near my bike

I could go on at length about my bike but I’ll spare you the details. For now. Suffice to say it’s a 2004 Dahon Speed P8 with some modifications which include a small hardshell motorcycle trunk. The bike folds up, and I sometimes take it on the train. But that’s a topic for another post.

Tomorrow: what I originally thought was a temple, turned out to be…

[The next post in this series is Rural Kitakyushu: Not a Temple Nor on My Map, but Strange]

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