I took advantage of a break in the rain to take a half-day walk in the mountains. I started from the small town of Nima, on the central Shimane coast, and got off the local train there at 6:30.
The skyline of Nima is dominated by a collection of glass and steel pyramids that house the Nima Sand Museum. Back in the 1990s, when Japan had more money than they knew what to do with, the central government gave a huge chunk of money, no strings attached, to every single town in Japan.
A few towns used the money wisely: one local town built a huge indoor swimming pool and library, but most used the money to build what can only be called "follies" that in the end only benefited the construction companies. Nima Sand Museum is such a project.
The only thing of note is the world's largest sand timer, which takes a complete year for the sand to fall through. Every New Years Eve there is a ceremony when the timer is turned over to start the next year.
I headed up the valley in search of interesting shrines. Already I was soaked in sweat. The valley is full of rice-paddies, and the rice is growing strong now. There is not much work to be done in the paddies, but the vegetable plots need a lot of work, so everywhere were old people bent over working.
In the countryside people tend towards the habit of siesta in the summer. Once it gets hot everyone hides out indoors and naps, but at 7am most have been working for a couple of hours.
After a couple of kilometers I headed up a small side road into the mountains. The road has been closed to vehicles, so its a very pleasant quiet, shady walk uphill.
About halfway up something stirs in the undergrowth, accompanied by a deep growling. I’ve seen and heard most of the critters that live in the mountains, but this must have been a bear.
Last year Shimane had the highest number of bear-sightings of any prefecture, but I have yet to see one face-to-face.
It crashed off deeper into the forest and I never did get a glimpse of it. I love it up in the mountains. There are just scattered farms and a few small hamlets, and no traffic.
It is rare to see anyone under 60 years of age. Shimane has the highest percentage of old people in Japan, and I worry about what will happen ten or twenty years on when most of them are passed on.
The younger people prefer the convenience of the towns. What always strikes me is the friendliness of these old mountain folk. Everyone has a wave and a smile and a greeting, and they love to chat. So unlike most of the town and city dwellers I meet in Japan.
I found a couple of nice mountain shrines, then dropped down into the Shizuma River valley which heads back towards the coast. Here I found a big impressive shrine to Amaterasu, commonly known as the Sun Goddess.
It is often claimed that she is the supreme deity in the Shinto pantheon, but that is due to her role as ancestress of the Imperial Family. There are actually not a lot of shrines to her.
A little further downstream and I came across a local kindergarten enjoying themselves in the river. Not something you would see in any of the large cities of Japan. I was tempted to join them, but while the water may be free of industrial pollution, it is loaded with agricultural chemicals from the paddies upstream, so I passed.
Friday, July 14, 2006
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