A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 40, Urushidamachi to Taragi
Sunday November 24th, 2013
I wake as it is getting light and quickly pack my bag after brushing off the layer of frost on my bivvy sack. If it was this cold down this low I hate to imagine how cold it must have been at 900 meters where I was originally planning to sleep out.
There is a thick fog everywhere. I head down the road towards the Kuma River valley. About 200 meters along I see the neon glow of a couple of love hotels piercing the fog. Damn!! If I had walked two more minutes last night I could have had a room in one of them. Then I pass another of those "adult" vending machine huts.
Before long I reach my turning. I am going to head up the valley along a yamanobenomichi, a road along the edge of the mountains, on the boundary between the flatter valley floor and the steep hills. The place where the water comes out from the mountains, and the place that historically many Japanese lived.
Out in the middle of the valley, where the river that made the valley flows, there is now a main road and a railway line with lots of people settled along both, but in older times this would have all been paddies and agricultural land.
The older settlements, along with shrines and temples and such are all along the yamanobenomichi. Even in big modern cities of today, if you go to where the city butts up against the mountains you will almost always find an old, narrow, windy road, with older styles of houses and shrines and temples and other markers of history. Today I will wander along this one until the next pilgrimage temple, Josen-ji.
It's not long till I find the first temple of the day. A Chinese-style gate with a large statue of Kannon leads to a small but nice temple on the hillside. It is still too early for anyone to be about. The colors of the maple, with a full range from green through yellow to scarlet are somehow quite beautiful in the diffuse light with subtle shades of grey. More villages, more shrines, often with brilliant carpets of golden gingko leaves. Little traffic.
Eventually the fog clears but out in the middle of the valley a white, serpentine line of mist clings to the course of the cooler water of the river. Tilled fields begin to steam. Another glorious day.
By lunchtime I come into the biggest village so far today, Asagiri. Big enough to have a small general store where I can get some snacks to eat and sit for a while in the shade. Across the road is a shrine with long lines of stone lanterns lining the entrance. It's a bit grander than a regular village shrine. There has been some money spent on it.
Then I read a nearby noticeboard and learn that there used to be a small castle on the hill behind the village. The shrine would have been supported by the local ruler, hence its grandness. There were literally hundreds and hundreds of small castles like this all over Japan until early in the Tokugawa Period when the shogunate restricted each daimyo (feudal lord) to one castle per domain.
I carry on and pass the road that comes down from the mountain that I would have been on if I had followed my original route over the mountain. I stop in at a very small shrine, just a solitary honden, the structure that houses the kami that are usually found at the rear of bigger shrines. It has a lovely thatched roof that has been recently redone. It dates from the 16th century and looks like most shrines would have done before roof tiles became prevalent in the late Meiji Period.
By late afternoon, with the sun lower in the sky I approach today's pilgrimage temple. The almost horizontal sunlight illuminates a small shrine by the side of the temple and I see an old gentleman tying fresh bamboo to the uprights of the stone torii (entrance gate) a sure sign that a matsuri will be held very soon.
The temple itself is very pleasant. Enough statuary and autumn colors to sate my photographic urges. Just as I am about to leave, the priest, in full vestments, and his wife appear at the top of the steps of the main hall and invite me in for tea. I really should accept but the sun is getting low and its still 5km to my bed for the night so I apologize and explain my refusal. From here it's almost dead west to the middle of the valley. As I approach the main road it gets busier and around the station at Taragi there are restaurants and convenience stores and lots of traffic. Time for an onsen and a night on a sleeper train.
A Walk Around Kyushu Day 39 Part 2
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