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Friday, October 27, 2006

30 hours, 33 Shrines, 3,000 steps, 36 Kms


Inari Shrine, Arashima Last weekend I went on a wonderful 2 day walk in the Japanese countryside. I started out from Arashima, a village in the far east of Shimane, close to the border with Tottori.

The weather was perfect, with the low sun creating clear colors and shadows that are often lacking from Japan's rather drab and hazy scenery.

I headed up the river along the west bank, stopping at shrines along the way. Over the next 2 days I visited 33 shrines, which is an amazing number considering this is the sparsely populated countryside.

Shrines are fascinating places to visit as they are often the repository of a local history that sometimes contradicts the "national" history taught in schools and enshrined in books. Some of the shrines I visited on this walk were written about by Izumo Fudoki, a gazetteer in 720. Shrines also serve as virtual art galleries with their architecture, landscaping, sculptures, carvings, and paintings.

The photo at the top of the page is of an Inari shrine in Arashima, with the steps carved into a huge boulder.

Field after harvest
Cattle are raised in the area meaning the smell of cowshit was everywhere, but like most places in Japan, the cows were kept indoors in pens. There are only a few places you can see cows out to pasture. The fine weather meant the gardens were being worked by the old people.

colorful paper cranes at a small shrine
With the sun low in the sky, shafts of sunlight pierced the forest surrounding the shrines to create an almost gallery-like feel. These origami cranes left at one shrine were beautifully spotlighted. Originally the cranes were made as an act of prayer for a family member who was sick, but nowadays they are associated with prayers for peace because of their association with Hiroshima.

View from Gassan towards Yasugi and Daikon Island

I spent the night on Gassan (Moon Mountain) in Hirose with some fine views down over where I had travelled. On the horizon is Mihonoseki on the Shimane Peninsular. The mountain was the site of a decisive battle in the Warring-States Period which shifted the balance of power in western Japan. NHK has made a Taiga Drama about it. Many of my neighbors were surprised that I did not encounter any ghosts of samurai.

Early morning light in a valley below Gassan

The next morning the weather and light were once again perfect as I headed back to the coast down the opposite bank of the river to Yasugi.
If you would like to get a feel for what it is like to wander the Japanese countryside for a couple of days, please view my Japan slideshow. But be warned, it takes about 20 minutes, so make a cuppa or crack a beer, put on some suitable sounds, and sit back and enjoy.

Buy tasteful interior decoration paper lanterns.

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