Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Oimatsu Shrine


Oimatsu Shrine is located just off the main road running through Sasaguri, northeast of Fukuoka. I visited at sunrise on the second day of my Kyushu pilgrimage.


At the entrance stood a massive, old Camphor tree almost 10 meters high. Many of the shrines in this area have big camphor trees, though this one also had a cedar tree whose trunk had divided into two.


Though it is not called a Tenmangu, the kami enshrined here is Sugawara Michizane, known sometimes as Tenjin. There are a lot of Tenjin shrines in this area which is not surprising as it is close to Dazaifu where Sugawara was exiled and died.


There was also a small sumo ring in the grounds. In some areas of Japan shrines will have a sumo ring, and in other areas they won't. Not sure what the deciding factor is or was.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Adakaya Shrine

Adakaya Jinja

Adakaya Shrine is most well known as being the starting point and destination of the Horanenya, the massive boat festival that takes place just once every 12 years. The boats used in the festival can be seen in the grounds of the shrine.

The main kami is Adakayanushitakigihime, indicating that Takigihime, one of Okuninushi's many daughters ruled over this area. The areas name, Adakaya, suggest a link with the ancient Korean kingdom of Kaya.

Within the grounds are secondary shrines to Kunisokotachi, another name for kunitokotachi, one of the primordial kami of the universe, Susano, Inari, and Omodaru, a kami I had not heard of before, but belongs to the generation of kami just prior to Izanagi and Izanami.

The most interesting aspect of the shrine is the two altars to Kojin which I have posted about before.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Gokoku Shrine, Hagi


The Hagi City Gokoku Shrine is located on a hillside in the far north of the city. Many Gokoku shrines were built on former castle sites to imbue them with authority.


Gokoku shrines are in essence branches of the infamous Yasukuni Shrine, and like it are the product of the modern period and very much a part of what would later be known as State Shinto.


Gokoku shrines enshrine all those who died "serving the Emperor", This one was the first Gokoku Shrine I've seen that was virtually abandoned. This is probably due to the fact that in 1939 the government limited its support to just one Gokoku Shrine per prefecture, and the one in Yamaguchi City was chosen.


There was a really nice old well :)


Thursday, December 11, 2014


Originaly named Entsu-ji, this temple was founded under the orders of Emperor Konin in 773.

In 1345 Ashikaga Takauji established Ankoku temples in every province to honor samurai killed in battle and Entsuji was chosen to be the Izumo Ankokuji. It became a Rinzai Zen temple.

The older, traditional sects of Buddhism all had strong ties with the Imperial family and the aristocracy in Kyoto, but the shoguns chose to support the Zen sects because they were newer and with less ties to former ruling class.

The main deity worshiped here is the 11 faced Kannon.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

2014 Autumn Colors Walk Day 7 Chofu


On the final day of my walk I found myself in Chofu, the old samurai town near Shimonoseki. First stop was the Chofu Garden, Though it is not well known, it was a surprisingly good and large garden of the walk around style. I had been here once before, but that was an overcast day and everything was green, but with the blue sky and fall colors it really shone today.


Next was the pilgrimage temple Kozan-ji which had some nice fall color on the approach byt disappointingly the massive thatched gate was under repair and was completely enclosed in scaffolding and tarps. The young priest taking the entrance fee into the temples main hall, a National Treasure, was very friendly and chatty and gave me permission to photograph inside.


I also paid to visit the small garden which was enclosed on three sides and in shadow and somewhat disappointing. From here I headed to the Mori Mansion. Chofu was the Mori headquarters until the edo period when they moved to Hagi, but the mansion dates from the first decade of the twentieth Century.


It had a really nice garden, enjoyable as a view garden from the main house but also as a walk around garden, though very few of the visitors left the house. From here I headed down the main samurai street with high earthern walls and visited a couple of shrines. All in all an excellent end to my trip. Chofu is most certainly and under visited destination,


Next day I headed home where, a couple of days later, late autumn turned into midwinter in the space of one night. With work in the garden finished for a couple of months and enough firewood for the winter already chopped hopefully I can get around to finishing some masks :)


Sunday, December 7, 2014

2014 Autumn Colors Walk Day 6 Ogori to Ubeshinkawa


There is a main road that goes the whole way to where I am heading to today but instead I choose to take the old Sanyo-do. Even though it is windy and therefore longer it is far more preferable as the road has little traffic and plenty of older houses and shrines etc. There were a lot of previously thatched houses and shrines in the area, though they all had the thatch covered up with tin. I stopped at a big Hachimangu and took a break and eat brunch.


A little later I joined up with a main road and a couple of kilometers along I was stopped by two plain clothes cops!!!! Some old biddy in one of the villages I passed through must have phoned them about my suspicious activity:- walking while foreign. At least they did not give me the third degree like I have had before. It starts to rain so I stop to put on my waterproof and while checking my map and gps realize I am on the wrong road. Not to worry, Googlemaps has this marked as a secondary route so its quicker to go on rather than backtrack. After climbing I take a side road that is quiet and forested. Apparently I am passing through one of the numerous golf courses that dot the country.


And then another disconcerting experience...... the road ceases to exist. This is something that has happened to me many times. At some point there was a road but no more. Its raining more heavily now so I retire to a farm outbuilding to ponder my options. As the rain eases I decide to backtrack and dejectedly trudge uphill to the main road. As I come down the slope and take a left on a busier road the rain stops.


Once I get into Ubeshinkawa I cut across to the pilgrimage temple Sorin-ji. I am not expecting much so I am really surprised to discover it has a wonderful garden. It is almost dusk and in sunlight it would have been more impressive, but it ends up being the silver lining on a cloudy day.


Saturday, December 6, 2014

2014 Autumn Colors Walk Day 5 Miyano to Ogori


The promised rain arrived during the night and when I set off next morning it was a little showery, but luckily it soon stopped. My first stop was the Sesshu garden at Jyoei-ji. I am a big fan of Sesshus' gardens and I have visited this one before, though a long time ago. It did not disappoint. Maybe my appreciation of gardens has improved, but it seemed better than before. The line of maple along the outer edge on one side certainly helped.


The rain had stopped and I headed off to walk into Yamaguchi and visit some of the main shrines of this old town. I had to make a detour to get around a big army base. After the shrines I headed for a temple I hadn't been to before, Ryufuku-ji. Within a walled enclosure about one city block in size, this was the headquarters of the Ouchi Clan when they ruled much of this part of the country back in the Muromachi Period.


The main approach to the temple was a 100 meter long tunnel formed by overhanging maples, and at the main hall a huge gingko had left a carpet of yellow over everything. This temple was a delightful surprise. Next to it a reconstructed garden from the Muromachi Period.


From here I headed to the first pilgrimage temple of the day, Toshun-ji, which was a little disappointing. Right next door was Ruriko-ji with its famous pagoda, though in terms of fall colors it was also a bit disappointing.


My next stop was the pilgrimage temple Ryuzo-ji, a mountain temple up a narrow valley. First there was a couple of hours walking along Route 9 which now functions as a Yamguchi Bypass. Not much fun, but once I left the main road and headed up the valley it was much more pleasant. Ryuzo-ji was a stupendous surprise. It is home to what is claimed to be the tallest Gingko in Japan, and the steps up to the temple were covered in its golden leaves mixed with maple. There were many halls and statues around the temple, including a big Fudo Myoo, and best of all a tall waterfall framed in autumn colors.

This was the highlight of my walk so far, and my excitement energized me for the long walk back down the valley to the main road and the trek to my room in Ogori, now more commonly known for the Shinkansenstation there, Shin Yamaguchi.

Friday, December 5, 2014

2014 Autumn Colors Walk Day 4 Kushi to Miyano


I woke regularly during the night, as one does when sleeping out, but no rain came, so as the first hint of light in the sky made its appearance I packed up and headed off in the dark. The road was a narrow, windy, mountain road downhill until the river valley that would lead to Tokuji. While colored leaves may be the most obvious marker of autumn, morning mist filling the valleys is another and at sunrise I saw the mist burn off to reveal a sky bereft of rain clouds.


Tokuji was big enough to have a convenience store so I was able to take a break and have some hot, fresh coffee. From Tokuji I followed the Saba River south for a while. The mountains were dappled with a wide range of colors. I actually prefer that to the artificially planted maple.


At a large shrine, a branch of Izumo Taisha, there was mostly evergreen, but one huge, sacred Cedar was framed by a splash of bright yellow. I left the river here as it flowed south to Hofu and the sea, and I headed west, once again a long climb uphill. I now had to pay for the long downhill section I had enjoyed this morning.


As I got close to the highest point, the stream I had been following became smaller and there was a line of maples along the road. Down below I could hear a waterfall and there was a path down to it but I was bushed from walking uphill for an hour or so and didn't fancy the clamber back up to the road. My route now ran alongside the expressway and the mountainsides were covered with more of the natural autumn colors.


The road once again began to descend on the long way down to Niho where I found a supermarket next door to a Road Station holding a small festival. One more uphill slope, much shorter than I had feared and I descended into Miyano at the northern edge of Yamaguchi City. The heavy rain predicted had made no appearance.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

2014 Autumn Colors Walk Day 3 Tokuyama to Kushi


The next leg of the walk was to take me inland into the mountains to the next pilgrimage temple at Kano. There is one main road that runs all the way but I chose to walk the first section a little further west on a smaller road that climbed up and along Kikugawa Lake, which is actually not really a lake but a reservoir. It was still too early and the sun was just hitting the tops of the surrounding mountains so there was nothing to photograph. From there is was a but further with more climbing until I dropped back down to the main road which ran along Kodo Lake, another reservoir. By now the sun was high enough to illuminate the foliage. The lake is very long and narrow.


The road continued north but the road alongside the river was never steep. The temple, Kanyo-ji, was just north of the town of Kano, and on the way through the town I stopped in at the major shrine of the area,  Nishoyamada Shrine, listed in the engi shiki. There was plenty of foliage on the approach to the shrine, and the sun was still more out of the clouds than behind them. A secondary shrine in the grounds was completely surrounded by maples.


From the shrine is was just a short walk to the temple, and while there were a few people out taking photos at the shrine, there were many more at the temple, though nothing like the crowds that can be found at less remote locations.


Kanyo-ji has a series of gardens, mostly karesansui, designed by Shigemori Mirei, generally considered to be the greatest 20th Century Japanese garden designer. They were delightful, and there was enough sun about to help with the photography.


The forecast is for heavy rain tomorrow, so I had a choice, walk 30k today in fine weather and 30k tomorrow in rain, or, walk 40k today and 20k in the rain. I chose to keep walking as every kilometer covered would mean one less in the rain tomorrow. My route was now west towards Yamaguchi City, roughly following the route of the Chugoku Expressway. This would be the remotest part of my weeks walk, with no accommodation options other than to sleep out. I managed to make another 14k before the light gave out and I found a nice isolated shrine with a thatched roof to spend the night.

Monday, December 1, 2014

2014 Autumn Colors Walk Day 2 Tabuse to Tokuyama


The shortest way to get from Tabuse to Tokuyama is to take the main road which would also be fairly flat. However I know that would mean spending more than half a day walking alongside huge factories and refineries and cramped, concrete sprawl and incessant traffic. The alternative is to head inland and come to the coast via the  Sanyo Do, the old highway that connected this region to the capital. Even though it means a lot of uphill walking I choose the latter option and it turns out to have been a good choice.


Route 63 heads out of Tabuse and immediately begins to climb. Its also fairly busy with traffic but it turns out to be just the rush hour. Googlemaps has little detail in this part of the country so I unexpectedly come across what obviously used to be a fairly major shrine up a long stepped approach. No autumn color, but the sunlight piercing the misted forest forms sharply delineated rays. The road starts to descend into a valley and down a side road is a small museum built around a burial mound that apparently has some quite major archeological finds, but I forego a visit. These November days are so short and I have a long way to go.


A little further I stop in at a small shrine and am rewarded with Gingko and Maple. The sun keeps disappearing behind clouds so I find myself waiting till it reappears then shoot a couple of pictures and spy out my next vantage point and wait again. The road heads uphill out of the valley again. On my way down to the next valley I stop in at another large shrine. This must have been an important area at one time. In the distance I can see a small museum to the life of Ito Hirobumi, Japans first Prime Minister. This village was where he was born.


As I come into the small town of Suo, named I suspect after the former name of this province, I am able to get off the main road and walk a few kilometers along the embankment of a small river while the main road and traffic runs parallel about 500 meters away. My presence disturbs a lot of ducks. I stop for a break ay a small bridge and behind me against the base of the hills I see a couple of bright yellow Gingko trees and several splashes of red so I wander up the path to investigate and discover an abandonmed manor house. The gate is open and behind the walls I discover a small pond garden, now waterless and overgrown, filled with red and brown leaves. I explore the dark labyrinth of narrow spaces and corridors between the numerous outbuildings. The roof is still in good order so it will be a while yet before it collapses, because that is surely what will happen. There are so many of these kinds of places throughout rural Japan.


A little further and I rejoin the main road after passing underneath an expressway. I am now on the major transport artery that heads west, with a shinkansen and local rail line as well as the expressway and main road. Fortunately I am able to leave the main road and start to walk along the old Sanyodo. Unlike modern roads this winds along the contours of the land and has much less traffic. The sun is getting low so I pick up the pace. Its dark when I get to Kushigahama, and there is still about 4k left to go so I give up walking and take a train the one stop.