A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 71, Mimasaka to Hizennagano
Sunday March 23rd, 2014
Today I have a cluster of three pilgrimage temples to visit, one of them near the top of a mountain. It's the last day of basing myself in Sasebo and therefore being able to walk with just a light pack. I studied the map last night for the best route to take and ended up deciding that there is no way to avoid zigzagging and I should be able to end up at a station where I can get back to my hotel in Sasebo one more time.
I take the first train out of Sasebo and go one station past Kamiarita where I finished yesterday. There is not a cloud in the sky. The first temple of the day, Toko-ji, number 67 on the pilgrimage, is just a few minutes walk south of the station. It's a small, rural temple with the only noticeable thing being row upon row of jizo statues in faded red bibs, most with a multicolor windmill.
Across the road is a very curious shrine. Built on a rise that is all exposed rock, a series of empty terraces have been carved into the rock in front of the shrine. A signboard explains that this was an area where some of the Heike settled after their defeat and a dance performed annually at the shrine was created by them. I head back to the station and carry on north. To my left some fairly high mountains loom.
The next temple is near the top. The road leading up to it is on the north side so I take the small road that hugs the base of the hills. When I get round to the road there is a big stone torii over a path that heads up the mountain. This would be the shortest route up, but most probably the steepest, whereas the road will be longer but less steep. I will come down the trail and go up the road. Part way up is a temple on the right but I decide to check it out on my way down.
It's quite a climb, but as I've noted before, easier than anticipated. When I arrive at the temple, Saikomitsuji, I am surprised to find it open with someone tidying up. The guide book said it was an unmanned temple but I guess that it being a Sunday in o-higan something will be going on. A torii and steps lead up the mountain to the shrine on top but I decide against the extra climb. I am already at more than 450 meters and that’s enough climbing for the day. I head down the mountain along the trail and it's great to be off the roads and walking through trees.
The trail hits the road at the small temple I passed on the way up and I cross the small bridge to check it out. There are lots of statues with bright flower offerings and a small building, but a path up the mountain lined with yet more statues beckons me. I really didn't want to do any more climbing, but I started to climb anyway. I am glad I did. The path ended at a cliff face with fantastic view down over the surrounding countryside and carved into the cliff a giant 7 meter high relief of Fudo Myo.
Beneath the statue is a huge polished steel circular mirror that I am guessing is facing towards the rising sun. Quite impressive and completely unexpected. I head back and carry on down the trail through the forest. I reach the valley pretty quickly and head off towards the next temple.
Not far from the base of the mountain I come to a big shrine with a lot of activity. Men in suits and women in kimonos are milling around. This is Kurokami Shrine, or rather Lower Kurokami Shrine. The Upper Kurokami Shrine is the one on top of the mountain. The ceremony everyone is here for is a Shinto style wedding.
Many people believe this is a traditional and ancient ceremony but its actually very modern and is based on the royal weddings of Europe. A little further along the road and I pass by a supermarket where I am able to get some lunch. I find temple 68, Mudo-in, at the base of the hills not far off the main road. There is a nice Fudo statue and some strange, weathered komainu, but otherwise just another small, rural temple.
However it seems that the priest's family are visiting and I am invited to sit in the shade and enjoy a cool drink. The priest's daughter or daughter-in-law speaks good English and she fetches out a photo of the priest's brother, also a priest, meeting with the Pope. The old guy is very proud of it.
I head off north and cross over the hills to reach a river that runs eventually into the Matsuura River which empties into the sea at Karatsu which will be my destination tomorrow. I follow the rail line a couple of stations and by mid afternoon reach Nagano where I get on the train back to Sasebo. It's a beautiful day and I have a few hours left to do some exploring of shrines and temples in Sasebo.
A Walk Around Kyushu Day 70
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