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Saturday, August 26, 2006



Temple gate The Peak of the summer heat has passed, and even though it is still hot I cant resist the urge to get out and walk in the mountains, so I take a walk to Ganrin-Ji, a temple in the mountains about 10k north of my village, Shimonohara.

To get there I follow a narrow road that snakes up a long, steep valley, with only the sound of the cicada, the rushing water, and the occasional bird.

About half-way up the valley, and having passed only one vehicle in 90 minutes, I reach the small settlement of Nagatoro. Not big enough to be called a village, rather a few farmhouses scattered over the hillsides, like most mountain settlements in this part of the world, its populated only by old people.

Local legend has it that some of the Heike warriors made their way here after the Gempei war of 1180-85 and hid out. There are countless places all over Japan with exactly the same legend, and if they were all true then probably more Heike clan survived than were killed.

gate carving After Nagatoto, the narrow road narrows further, moss grows on the asphalt, and the forest envelopes the road and blocks out the sunlight. Soon the asphalt is buckled and ribbed by the roots of the trees. This is most certainly a road-less-travelled.

After another hour the canopy opens up and I crest the hill into a small farm. Just below is Ganrin-Ji.

Originally a Zen temple, it is now True Pure Land, but what is interesting is the large gate with carvings. The gate is designated as a Local Treasure.

It might seem strange that such a beautiful structure should have been built in the middle of nowhere, but 400 years ago this was not the middle of nowhere, but quite an important place because 10K north is Iwami Ginzan, Iwami Silver Mountain, and in its heyday the mines there were producing fully one third of all the silver in the world.

This area was home to a quarter of a million people, either working in the mines, or supporting the mines. Work in the mines was brutal so lifespans were extremely short, so to service the need for many funerals there were almost 200 temples in the area.

gate carving
Heading home by a different route, I come down the mountain into the long valley thats heads back to my village. I was struck by this lozenge-shaped window, showing an aesthetic touch on even a crude rustic building.

barn wall
The rice paddies are changing color as the ripening ears of rice turn yellow. Another few weeks and they will be golden and it will be time for the harvesting to begin. Then its time for harvest matsuri.

ripening rice

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