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Monday, June 9, 2008

Japan Trip Day 3: Be careful what you wish for 日本旅行6月2日

If trying to find somewhere to eat dinner on a Sunday evening wasn’t easy in Kurayoshi 倉吉, trying to get breakfast at 7 in the morning was even more of a challenge, especially near the train station. Unlike the hotel in Namba 難波, the place where I stayed in Kurayoshi didn’t offer breakfast, so I ended up paying ¥900 ($8.50 or NT260) for an all-you-can-eat buffet spread at Kurayoshi’s swankiest hotel, across the street from the bus terminal. It may have been a little pricey, but they did have cereal, and I made sure to get my yen’s worth before catching the 7:40am bus to Sambutsu-ji Temple 三仏寺 on Mount Mitoku 三徳山, and the climb up to the Nageire-dō 投入堂.

The trip didn’t get off to an auspicious start. I missed the bus stop, and had to walk a few hundred meters back down the road to find the entrance to the temple. Then I came in for a big surprise when I was told I couldn’t climb up to Nageire-dō alone! It turns out a few months previously, a solo hiker died in an accident on the trail, and the local police instructed the temple that a minimum of two people was necessary to hike up the mountain from that time on. Needless to say, I was somewhat disappointed, especially as Sambutsu-ji wasn’t that interesting in itself. Eventually, however, a retired couple from Tōkyō 東京, a Mr. and Mrs. Hasegawa, came along with the intention of hiking up to Nageire-dō, and they very graciously allowed me to tag along.

It wasn’t long before the old adage about being careful what you wish for started to come true. Though it took less than an hour to reach the structure, the trek uphill was treacherous, and I started to understand why solo hiking was discouraged. The route consisted of twisted roots, narrow rock outcroppings and ledges, slippery tracks and, in one case, a chain to get over some boulders.

At one point, we stopped at a small building perched on a boulder called Monju-dō 文殊堂. The view was great, but the ledge of the structure sloped downwards, and there was the constant pull of gravity that had everyone clinging to the side of the small temple as we worked our way around.

But when we reached the Nageire-dō, all the effort became worthwhile. It’s an amazing work of engineering, and apparently no one is sure how it was constructed. I certainly couldn’t see how it was done. According to legend, the founder of Shugendō 修験道, En-no-Gyōja 役行角 , was the one who put it up here. Whatever the case, Nageire-dō dates back to the 11th or 12th centuries, and is certainly an impressive sight.

The walk back down was even more hazardous than the hike up, and both of the Hasegawas took tumbles, though fortunately without injury. After thanking them for letting me come along, I said my goodbyes, and returned by bus to Kurayoshi.

Following lunch at the station, I took advantage of the free bicycles available for tourists, and rode for a half-hour to the Akagawara 赤瓦 area, and in particular, Shirokabe-dozō-gun 白壁土蔵郡, an area of Edo- 江戸時代 and Meiji-period 明治時代 black-and-white storehouses along a small river that have been converted to souvenir and craft shops.

It was all very picturesque, and while I was there, some kind of ceremony involving a lion dance 獅子舞 was being held. The dancers were going to different shops, where they received an envelope (no doubt filled with cash) from the shopkeeper, and then proceeded to perform what I assume was some form of ritual to ensure prosperity. Here’s a short video I made of one of the performances:

While in Akagawara, I took time out to sample one of the local microbrews 地ビール, a Pilsner ピルスナー made by the Kurayoshi Beer 倉吉麦酒 brewery. Japan, in recent years, has seen a growth in the number of locally-brewed suds, and I really enjoyed this one. In Taiwan, by contrast, beer is still under the control of a government monopoly, and the imaginatively-named Taiwan Beer resembles Budweiser バドワイザー both in taste, and in market demographics, being the choice of Taiwanese good ol’ boys. My wife drinks it too – through a straw.

After spending some time in Shirokabe-dozō-gun, and then taking a walk through nearby Utsubuki Park 打吹公園 (and climbing the small mountain there, Utsubukiyama 打吹山, to get a view of the area), it was time to return the bike, and say so long to Kurayoshi. The next stop was Matsue 松江, the capital of Shimane Prefecture 島根県, where I arrived around 6:15 after a 90-minute train ride. Following dinner at Matsue Station, and a short bus ride to my hotel, the Matsue City Hotel 松江シティホテル (a funky old hotel featuring displays of clocks on every floor), it was time to call it a night.

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