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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Chūgoku Trip: Day 5 4月22日

Day 4

Rough Guide calls it "enchanting", but according to Lonely Planet, it's "gritty". I naturally found Onomichi 尾道 to be somewhere in between those two adjectives. The fifth day of my Japan trip began by checking out of the Miyako Ryokan 都旅館 at around nine in the morning to begin my exploration of this gritty, yet at times enchanting, seaport town:

Onomichi is noted for its temple walk, which starts from the train station and covers 25 temples in the course of a single day. Now I'm a great admirer of the beauty of Japanese Buddhist temples, but a quarter of a hundred is simply overkill - it wouldn't be long before your eyes started to glaze over, and every temple began looking the same. So I chose instead to focus on a handful of fine examples instead of doing the whole tour. 

I began by taking a bus from the station to Nagaeguchi 長江口, where a convenient gondola lift saved me the trouble of walking up a long series of stone steps to reach Senkōji-kōen Park 千光時公園, where the views looking down on the town below, across to the island of Mukai-shima Island 向島 and out toward the Inland Sea 瀬戸内海 compensated greatly for the lousy weather that I would have for most of the day:

After getting my fill of the view, I made the short descent to the park's namesake, Senkō-ji Temple 千光時, located just under the gondola lift station. In recognition of the spending power of Japan's sizable population of single, employed women who still live at home, the temple offered cute, heart-shaped votive plaques known as ema 絵馬 to be used in the beseeching of the gods. The temple also had a number of Jizō 地蔵菩薩 statues, which, knowing his role as the guardian deity of dead children, I've always found both hauntingly disturbing and sadly comforting, even more so now that I'm a father:

Continuing downhill from the temple, I came across one of those scenes that you only see in Japan, courtesy of the pagoda at Tennei-ji Temple 天寧時:

On through the narrow streets I rambled...: my next temple of choice, Fukuzen-ji 福善時. I was impressed with both the carvings on the main gate and the spreading pine tree on its grounds:

The view looking back across to Senkō-ji wasn't bad, either:

Saikoku-ji 西国時 was up next. The largest temple complex in Onomichi is noted for the giant straw sandals that hang on the entrance gate:

The main hall of the temple, with a pagoda in the background...:

...and a cherry tree, with a pagoda in the background:

If you hadn't noticed by now, Onomichi is a pretty hilly place:

The last stop before lunch was Jōdo-ji 浄土時. Rough Guide claimed there was a Zen garden that could be seen behind the main hall, but the attendant selling charms and amulets didn't seem to know anything about that, and a sign in Japanese out front noted that the temple didn't have any "parks" 公園ではありません:

Following a much-needed lunch break of yakisoba 焼きそば and beer, I was back on the sightseeing trail again. In addition to all the temples, Onomichi also has a reputation as a literary town. There are the homes of famous writers than can be visited, such as The Old House of Naoya Shiga 志賀直哉旧居, where seeing as I was the only one there and that I could speak a smattering of passable Japanese, the attendant lifted up the bamboo bar and let me walk across the tatami 畳 mat floor to check out the view:

Onomichi also has a "literary path" 文学のこみち. The words of famous writers are inscribed on stone monuments along the path, but unless you are familiar with the scribes, and/or are good at reading cursive Japanese (which I'm not), you're basically just walking path stones with scribblings on them:

After a long, but enjoyable, morning and afternoon of walking up and down the stone steps of Onomichi, I descended to sea-level, passing through the same covered shopping arcade I wandered around the previous evening:

Collecting my bag from a coin locker outside Onomichi Station 尾道駅, I bought a ticket for the 4:30pm ferry for the 40-minute ride to my next stop, the Inland Sea island of Ikuchi-jima 生口島. I was picked up at the ferry port by one of the owners of my accommodation for the next two evenings, the Setoda Shimanami Guest House 瀬戸田しまなみゲストハウス, aka Hostel Setoda Tarumi Onsen. ¥4800 ($60) will get you two meals, access to an onsen 温泉 or hot-spring bath, and in my case, a spacious tatami-mat room overlooking a private strip of beach. The view from my room made me wish I had been able to travel here in the summer, as I had originally planned:

Following a short walk before dinner...:

...the evening meal was served, washed down with a bottle of Onomichi Beer that I had purchased from a supermarket before boarding the ferry:

A relaxing hot bath ensued, and then it was time for bed. It had been a busy but fun day, and I needed my rest for the bike ride I was planning for the next day.

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