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Tuesday, August 05, 2014

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 39 Kyomachi Onsen to Urushidamachi Part 1

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 39
Kyomachi Onsen to Urushidamachi part 1
Saturday November 23rd, 2013

I head off into the mist. Not as thick as yesterday's morning mist, but brighter because the ground and vegetation is covered with a thick layer of crystalline frost. The first part of today's walk will take me to a temple about 10km up the valley, and from there a decision must be made that has been preoccupying me for the past few days.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 39 Kyomachi Onsen to Urushidamachi Part 1

The mist is soon burned off to reveal a clear blue sky, though the land is steaming as the strong sun first melts the frost then evaporates it. The valley is wide and I am on a small, quiet road close to the foothills of the Kirishima Mountains on my right. There is not much activity or traffic. The small farming settlements I pass through are still.

The signs of rural decline are evident in the long abandoned small stores and gas stations. About half way to the temple the road crosses the rail line that runs around the edge of the Kirishima range and down to Miyakonojo. a single track with infrequent service, kept running by government subsidies so schoolkids can get to school and the elderly without cars can get to the doctor's. As I get closer to temple 42, Kousenji, I can see where the temple is by the golden yellow foliage of a tall, hence ancient, gingko tree.

An amazingly long lived tree, both individually and as a species, individuals can live for more than 1,000 years, though there are none in Japan that old as they were brought from China by Buddhist monks in the 12th century, which is why so many of them can be found at temples or shrines.

As a species they are also very ancient, with a close relative having been on the earth for 270 million years. The temple itself is quite small but pleasant, with a large concrete main hall with several smaller wooden halls. There is a fine statue of Fudo Myo, and a small covered shrine to Kannon with a nice collection of dolls plus, a bonus for me, a collection of masks.

It's now late morning and a decision must be made about which direction to head now. The next pilgrimage temples are almost directly north of where I am, and that is obviously the shortest route, but between me and the temples are a range of 1200 meter high mountains. There is a mountain road that starts near here that goes over the mountains topping out at a pass a hair under 1,000 meters, and this has been my planned route.

The road follows the Sendai River up to its source, and there is an elegance to the idea of continuing to follow the river. About halfway up the mountain I can take a small detour and hike to an interesting rock formation with a shrine that has been known as a "power spot" long before the current trendy versions have become popular. Because of its remote location it is rarely visited. A big plus in my book.

A 24 hour hike across wild mountains will certainly be exhilarating and enjoyable. All these factors are pluses. The primary factor arguing against choosing this route is snow. The upper reaches of the road gets closed for the winter and may already be so. Of course that is for vehicles, and so could be walked, but I don't know how much snow and ice will be up there.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 39 Kyomachi Onsen to Urushidamachi Part 1

From here, looking at the sun soaked southern face of the range there is no snow, but on the other side of the pass the road does some windy switchbacks which will almost certainly include sections where the sun doesn't reach at this time of the year and there could well be snow and ice that could be problematical. One other factor is the temperature. By the time it gets dark I should be just at the highest point, and today down here at 250 meters there was a good freeze. At 1,000 meters it will be very, very cold. Not a huge problem as my sleeping bag can handle it. My other choice is to head back down the valley to where the mountains are not so high and cross over there. What to do?

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 38

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