Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Sankyo Soko

The last stop was Sankyo Soko, the rice storehouses on the bank of the Mogami River. I've been there before. There is a big wisteria tree at Sankyo Soko and luckily the wisteria was blooming last week.


After visiting Ideha Museum, the Iwayas took me to Gyokusen temple. The temple was made in 1251 by Ryounen Houmyou Zenji (who was born in Korea). The temple garden was made in the Muromachi Period (about 1455) and was remodeled in the Edo Period in 1645.

Ideha Museum

The next stop on the sightseeing tour was the Ideha museum, a museum displaying artefacts and information about the Dewa Sanzan area. Some things I learned at the museum:

I cannot blow a conch shell horn.

There were and are many mountain priests in the area called Yamabushi who live extremely ascetic lives and carry conch shell horns around with them.

There was a rite of rebirth that used to be practiced in the area. I don't know why people would want to be reborn but when they did, they would be symbolically killed and then would do this weird ceremony and while they did the ceremony they were officially considered dead. The ceremony involved them wearing red ties to symbolize blood, a hat with white things stuck all over it to symbolize a placenta, and they would hold a huge staff about 4 metres high that symbolised an erect penis. Just in case the phallicness of the staff was not obvious enough, there was a bundle of sacred paper attached to the top that looked like a head and arrows pointing out the top that symbolised ejaculating semen. I'm guessing it was more of a Shinto rite than a Buddhist one.

At some stage there was an insect that decimated the crops in the area and caused famine. To this day every winter the local people make an 8m long model of the insect out of straw and burn it while yelling viciously just to make sure the insect never troubles them again.

They also make a model of a dragon's head out of straw to pray for rain, although the replica in the museum looked more like an oversized handbag to me.

Sumo may have originated in the Dewa Sanzan area as a post praying-under-waterfall strength comparing dance. Or maybe not.

Snakes liked to get into the walls of straw huts because straw is warm.

Mt. Haguro

On Sunday one of my newer English class students Mr. Iwaya and his wife took me sightseeing in the Shonai area. The Iwayas are a retired couple who are invovled in many volunteer activities and it seems that last week was their 'volunteer as tour guides' week. The Shonai plain is an area of Yamagata Prefecture just south of the border. The cities Sakata and Tsuruoka are located on the Shonai plain.

Unfortunately the weather on Sunday was cold and rainy which meant I had to do most of my sightseeing whie carrying an umbrella. Also my camera doesn't like dim weather. Many of the photos that I took came out blurry. Too bad. I did get a few good photos though.

Our first stop was Haguro-san, one of the 'Dewa Sanzan' (three mountains of Dewa). I will let you read the official English explanation:

By Cryptomeria trees they mean Japanese cedar. Anyway, I climbed up the 1.7 km, 2,446 step path to the top of Mt. Haguro. It was not an easy climb. I got a certificate commemorating my effort.

I think this bridge is awesome. I've only ever seen bridges like this before in Inuyasha cartoons.

This is Jijisugi (Grandpa Cedar). He is about 1,400 years old. There used to be a Babasugi (Grandma Cedar) but she got hit by lightning and burned down.

This is the five storey pagoda. Apparently it was originally made over 1,000 years ago and then got rebuilt about 700 years ago. There is not one single nail used in this pagoda; it is tied together with vines. There were a lot of people hanging around (as you can see) and I could not get a good picture.

These (priests?) were walking about and praying for peace at the front of each individual shrine within the shrine complex on the top of the hill.

The ghostly apparition in the background is the three god combined shrine.

Friday, 4 May 2007

Misaki Park

On our way north back into Akita Prefecture we stopped at Misaki Park on the border between the two Prefectures. Misaki Park contains remnants of the old road between Sakata and Kisakata. It is very narrow, only a footpath and not at all suitable to horses or carts. Apparently it was the only road between the two towns. Since it dates to a time when all peasants were confined to their village and for the most part anyone who had the liberty to travel was either rich enough to afford sea passage or was a wandering monk and so naturally would have walked, no larger road would have been needed. If anyone knows about the poet Bassho, you might be interested to know that this is his 'Oku no Hosomichi.' Bassho walked this stretch of road north to see the 99 islands of the (now non-existent) Kisakata lagoon, and when he got there penned a very famous Haiku. I recently bought a book of Bassho's poems that I haven't yet read, so no doubt I will talk more on this subject at a later date.

Anyway, this was the last stop on the field trip, and a wonderful stop it was.

Here you can see a section of the path. It has been revamped since it was in general use to make it safe for hikers.

Here is a section of path in more or less original condition. As you can see, it was not made for horses.

Apparently this is the footprint of Tenaga Ashinaga, the long-armed long-legged demon that lived on Mt. Chokai terrorizing the local populace until the Three-Legged Crow betrayed him and he was killed by a warrior priest. I should have put a coin next to it to show you how big it is. This 'footprint' is about 10cm long. Even if he did have exceptionally long limbs, Tenaga Ashinaga can't have been all that big a demon. The word next to it says 'foot' and was put there by an unknown carver sometime within the last 30 years.

Eight-fold cherry

95% of the time, the macro zoom on my camera doesn't work (it's been broken since last summer) but every now and then it surprises me.

16 Buddhas

We drove down the other side of the Blue Line through the beech forests into Yamagata Prefecture and visited a place in Yuza town with 22 Buddhas carved into rocks on the sea shore. They are called the 16 Buddhas because 16 of them are of one Buddha, and the rest are of other Buddhas. I won't say any more because I took a photo of a sign, which you can read for yourself.