Sunday, June 11, 2023

Kinoshita-an, Seikenji, Ichinotani-an, & Gokurakuji. Four Temples on the Shodoshima Pilgrimage.


Late afternoon on Christmas Day, 2015, day 2 of my walk around Shodoshima Island on the Shodoshima 88 temple pilgrimage, and I take the ropeway down from the top of Kankakei Gorge.

I share the ropeway down with a French family, and they offer me a ride in the taxi that is waiting for them at the bottom, ….. I'm tempted but decline gracefully. From here it should all be downhill.

Once I get back to where I started up to Sekimondo I find a footpath that goes straight down rather than having to walk along the road which winds back and forth, saving me about a kilometer. The path comes out at the big dam above Kusukabe and then I enter the outskirts of the small town.

I have a bit of trouble finding the next temple but a little old lady points me in the right direction. Number 19, Kinoshita-an, is a small hermitage but I am beginning to appreciate the unpretentiousness of these small establishments. They are very welcoming and completely lacking in ostentation. Compared to other hermitages, this one is actually quite large. It enshrines a statue of Yakushi Nyorai the "Medicine Buddha"

Another kilometer and I'm in the middle of an urban area and I find number 21, Seikenji, a somewhat larger temple with some curious sculptures in the park next door.

The honzon is a Fudo Myoo,  and the temple legend claims it to have been founded by Gyoki in the 8th century. It was burned down in 1899 and reconstruction was given support by the Crown Prince who visited Shodoshima in 1907.

The stone sculptures were by Hiroshima artist Aki Sora, but I can find no other information about them.

The afternoon becomes golden as the sun rushes towards the horizon. I cut back up a little valley and find the next temple, number 17 Ichinotani-an, snuggled against the hillside. It's another small hermitage.

The honzon is another Yakushi Nyorai that survived a landslide here in 1976. It was nice to see another Fudo statue.

According to the map the next temple is down the valley then around and up the next little valley over, about one and a half kilometers, but signs at Ichinotani-an point to a footpath that goes through the woods. Once again the route for walking pilgrims is much shorter than for those driving. I passed this line of statues, and according to the current google streetview they are no longer there. 


The last temple of a very long day was Gokurakuji, number 16, and was quite impressive being reached across a bridge that spanned a wide pond in front of the temple.

It is said the temple was located at the foot of  Mount Kamikake but was moved to this location, said to be a site where Kukai spent time, in the early Edo Period. The honzon is an Amida Nyorai, The current main hall dates back to early Meiji.

It had a decent garden. By now the valley was in shadow and it was cooling down quickly so I headed straight down to the main road to catch a bus back to my minshuku as the sun dipped below the horizon across the sea. A long day filled with great sights and nice weather.

Friday, June 9, 2023

Joto Historical District Tsuyama


Dentoteki Kenzobutsu-gun is a category of historic preservation in Japan that translates as "groups of traditional buildings" and there are currently more than 120 of these groups scattered throughout Japan but for brevity's sake I refer to them as either Preservation Districts or Historic Streetscapes.

In recent years I have become more intrigued by them and have sought out some of the more remote examples on my walks around western Japan.

Tsuyama in the mountains of central Okayama Prefecture was a former castle town that is home to two of these Preservation Districts, the more well-known one called Joto.

It's about 1.2 kilometers of the old Izumo Kaido that connected Izumo with the old capital area of Kyoto and Osaka and hence on to Edo.

It was a popular road used by pilgrims visiting Izumo Taisha and had many inns for travellers as well as a wide variety of commercial properties, some of which remain today.

Mostly machiya, traditional townhouses, with many having namako-kabe, literally "sea cucumber walls". the diagonal dark tiles with raised white grouted joints that reminded people of sea cucumbers, as well as  koshiirimado and mushikomado latticed windows.

Theer are, of course, the obligatory sake breweries, as well as shops selling traditional confectionary, including the local specialty kirigasane, and local varieties of tofu, and shops selling tradional craft products using local indigo dye. There are also cafes, restaurants, and teahouses.

Several;properties  are open as museums including the Archives of Western Learning dedicated to local men who introduced various aspects of western knowledge into the area. The biggest open house I will cover in the next post.

Overall it's not a bad street to wander, with lots of traditional architecture without becoming too over touristy.

This was the end of my 4th day walking along the Chugoku Kannon Pilgrimage, and Tsuyama had struck me as being well worth another visit when I have the time to explore more. The previous post was the Chiyo Inari Shrine below Tsuyama Castle.

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Urauchi River & Mariudo Falls


The Urauchi River is the longest river in Okinawa Prefecture, and it is found on Iriomote Island, the largest of the Yaeyama Islands.

As Okinawa consists of many small islands, its perhaps not surprising that the longest river is only just over 18km in length.

the river source is in the middle of the mostly uninhabited island at 311 meters elevation and reaches the sea at the NW of the island.

Boat trips go upriver about 10 kilometers and from where they stop a trail runs another kilometer or so to Mariudo Falls.

A three stage falls of just 16 meters, Mariudo Falls is not the tallest on Iriomote, but possibly the most visited. It is possible to hike further upstream to another waterfall, and several smaller falls are passed on the way to Mariudo.

Many sources use the word "jungle" to describe Iriomote, but while it is certainly different from mainland Japan, I would use "sub-tropical" forest.

What Iriomote does have is plenty of mangroves, trees that grow in the salty water of intertidal zones in tropical and sub-tropical environments.

The guide on the boat was very excited to point out this bird which, I believe, was a Crested Sea Eagle.

Its also possible to cruise the river in guided kayak tours.

The previous post on Okinawa was on Mount Nosokodake on neighboring Ishigaki Island.

Saturday, June 3, 2023

Yasaka Shrine Itonaga


Itonaga is located in a narrow valley that runs up to Mount Futago in the middle of the Kunisaki Peninsula in Oita. It is one of 28 valleys that radiate out from the centre. It is now included in Akimachi.

The main shrine for the village is a branch of the famous Yasaka Shrine in Gion, Kyoto.

Like many of the shrines in the Kunisaki area, a pair of Buddhist Nio  statues stand guard.

Most Nio are carved in wood and range from being well- carved by experts, to being kind of chunky and funky, made by local artisans. When carved out of stone they tend to be less detailed.

This pair were quite unusual and "chubby"

The main building of the shrine had lots of intriguing relief carvings.

Yasaka Shrines enshrine Susano, his wife Kushinada, and 8 children. However, prior to 1868 the shrine was called Gion-sha and enshrined Gozu Tenno, known as an "Ox-Head King".

probably from India originally, and with some of his identity being picked up in Tibet, China, and Korea, Gozu Tenno was a curious, and complicated, mix of many different religious traditions,  protection against disease was a major attribute, and as such was instrumental in the now famous Gion Matsuri. The connection with Korea seems strong, maybe as the area around Kyoto was settled by Korean immigrants before it became the capital.

The previous post in this series documenting my 5 day walk exploring the Kunisaki Peninsula was on the Autumn Colours at nearby shrines.

Thursday, June 1, 2023

A Brief Guide to Takehara


Takehara is a small city on the coast of Hiroshima about halfway between the major stations of Hiroshima City and Fukuyama, whose old town is a well-preserved slice of architectural history with the nickname "Little Kyoto". The city limits also include the small island of Okunoshima which in recent years has achieved fame as "Rabbit Island" but which is also home to the ruins of a former WWII poison gas factory.

Takehara grew up around the production of salt and also sake, and the main street of the old part of town is lined with merchant houses, warehouses, and wealthy farmers properties, enough of which remain for the area to be a registered Preservation District.

Some of the larger properties are open to the public as a kind of museum of former times, with some having quite delightful gardens.

The former Morikawa Family Residence is large enough to be classed a  mansion, and it has the largest gardens. Also worth a visit is the Kasai Residence and garden.

Many of the merchant properties are still in operation as stores, shops, galleries, restaurants, and cafes. Bamboo crafts are a specialty of the town as is sake. There are a few sake breweries still in operation, with one having a sake museum.

The town does have a Local History Museum with displays covering many aspects of the towns history, and a whole floor devoted to locally born Taketsuru Masatake, considered to be the father of Japanese whiskey. A 2014 tv drama series made "Massan" and his Scottish wife household names in Japan.

As with every town in Japan, there are a fair number of shrines, temples, and wayside altars. The biggest and most important shrine, Isonomiya Hachiman,  is just outside the historic district. One of the larger temples in the historic district, Saihoji, has a picturesque hall built on a platform. Fumeikaku has great views over the town.

Other Historic Preservation Districts Ive posted on include Obi, Chiran, Kitsuki, Kiragawa, Taketomi, Omori, Hita, and Izushi.

Other recent "Brief Guides" I've posted on smaller, less well-known towns and cities in west Japan include Kurume, Yamaga, and Hita, all in Kyushu.