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Monday, April 30, 2012

Chūgoku Trip: Days 7 and 8 4月24日と25日

Day 6

My last full day in the Inland Sea (nay, in Japan itself) began with another Japanese-style breakfast at the Hostel Setoda Tarumi Onsen, following which I checked out and was given a lift by one of the owners to Setoda 瀬戸田, the port town for the island of Ikuchi-jima 生口島. It was only around 9 in the morning, and I wasn't ready to return to the mainland just yet:

Setoda has a couple of sightseeing attractions, and after stowing my bag in a locker at the ferry terminal, off I went down what passed for the town's main street, somewhat quiet at this hour of the day (and it didn't pick up much, either, as the day went on):

Setoda's main claim to fame is what has to be Japan's oddest temple, Kōsan-ji 耕三時. The story behind this place lies with Kanemoto Fukumatsu 金本福松. Kanemoto became a wealthy man in the 1920's by manufacturing steel tubes, mainly for use in weapons. However, he seemingly lost his faculties when his mother died, devoting himself to building a temple in her honor, Kōsan-ji, which opened in 1936. But Kōsan-ji wouldn't just be any old temple - Kanemoto had it filled with halls, towers, gates, caves and statues, many of which were modeled on famous temple structures throughout Japan. From the colorful front gate on, the visitor knows they are in for something different here:

This five-story pagoda houses the remains of Kanemoto's beloved mother:

In some cases, Kanemoto didn't just imitate something well-known, he actually had additional details put in, as with this facsimile of Nikkō's 日光 already over-the-top Yōmei-mon gate 陽明門:

The main temple building:

To the right of the above hall is the Sembutsudō 千仏洞, the "Cave of a Thousand Buddhas". You first walk through an underground tunnel showing you the tortures of eternal damnation that await the sinners...:

...before coming through a series of dark hallways filled with Buddha statues...:

...before finally emerging to face a 15 meter (49 feet)-high statue of Kannon 観音, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. It's quite a trip:

From Kannon-sama, it's a short walk to the Hill of Hope 未来心の丘, filled with strange marble statues and great views overlooking Setoda:

Kōsan-ji's most interesting attraction is Kanemoto's mother's vacation home, Chōseikaku 潮聲閣. Part of the house is a traditional Japanese wooden-style building...:

...but with an early-20th century Western-inspired structure grafted on. The sitting room in the Western wing had furniture imported from China:

So did Kanemoto, the good son, go bonkers when his mother passed on? Considering the admission fee of ¥1200 ($15 - and worth every yen, by the way), the countless paying customers who show up throughout the year and the fact that religious income in Japan is tax-free (as it is in many other countries), I strongly suspect that there may have been a method in Kanemoto's madness.

Setoda's other main attraction is of a much more refined character. The Hirayama Ikuo Museum of Art 平山郁夫美術館 showcases the works of one of Japan's most well-known modern-day painters (and a native of Setoda). Hirayama is best noted for his Silk Road sketches and paintings, but I was most impressed with his Holocaust at Hiroshima - Hirayama was going to junior high school in Hiroshima 広島 and witnessed the dropping of the atomic bomb:

Throughout Ikuchi-jima, there are signs showing visitors the spots from which Hirayama made his many sketches. After the museum, I set off in search of one of them, the view of Setoda and the Inland Sea 瀬戸内海 from behind the pagoda at Kōjō-ji Temple 向上時, which was itself pretty attractive:

Found it:

All that sightseeing served to work up a healthy appetite, so I came down from the hill and looked for something to eat along the still-quiet shōtengai 商店街. I soon found it in the form of the sushi set meal 寿司定職 at a place called Keima 桂馬. This is what could be had for a mere ¥1200 (not including the bottle of Asahi Super Dry アサヒスーパードライ, of course):

Who says Japan is an expensive travel destination? Ethnocentric travelers who think all of Asia should cost as much as it does on the stops along the Banana Pancake Trail, that's who.

A last walk around the port area (that's Kōneshima Island 高根島 in the background), before retrieving my bag and taking the 2pm ferry to Mihara 三原, where I arrived 28 minutes later:

Mihara is small industrial city, with a population of 103,000, located in Hiroshima Prefecture 広島県. You won't find it mentioned in any English-language guidebooks except as a transport connection (in addition to Inland Sea ferries, the bullet train 新幹線 makes stops there), and I doubt Japanese-language guides give it much thought, either. So why did I choose to stay there? Mainly because I needed to be at Hiroshima Airport 広島空港 for check-in starting at 7:00 the next morning, and Mihara had a very convenient bus leaving at 6:20 am, arriving there 38 minutes later. Also, after three days without access to a computer while staying in Onomichi 尾道 and Setoda, I figured Mihara would have an Internet cafe. I figured right.

 Mihara as it looked in the days of olde

So what was there to see and do in Mihara, other than kill time by checking one's email? A lot more than I had expected, as it turned out. After checking in and dropping off my bag the Mihara Terminal Hotel 三原ターミナルホテル, I went out to have a look and very soon came across a signboard outlining a hiking path on a mountain called Sakura-yama 桜山, looming behind the schools across the street from the hotel. Despite having left my hiking boots, bottle of water and towel back in my room, I couldn't resist the siren song of the mountain goddess, and it wasn't long before I found the start of the trail:

The sign asks that you kindly close the gate behind you so as not to let any wild boar 猪 or stray dogs 野犬 loose upon the neighborhood. If that wasn't worrisome enough, someone put this up by the spot where the path started to climb up the mountain:

Fortunately, the only wild creatures I encountered on the way to the top were mosquitoes. It only took 15 minutes to reach the 183-meter (600 feet) summit, where there were good views to be had:

Like many old castle towns, all that remains of the one that once stood in Mihara are its moat and parts of the original wall. At the top, I asked a group of excited high school girls to take my picture with Sakura-yama in the background, a request that must have made their day. They were suitably impressed when I told them I had just been at the top, a reaction that sure made my day. No wonder I like this country so much:

I then took a stroll through an older shōtengai area close to the castle ruins, where there were some attractive wooden buildings:

From then on, it was just a matter of finding things: a place to eat (easy, as I'd learned from living in Yokkaichi 四日市 - just look for the local AEON shopping mall, where I treated myself to a reasonably-priced steak dinner); an Internet cafe (just inquire at the local tourist information office, located in Mihara Station 三原駅); and a Mister Donut ミスタードーナツ in order to pick up some donuts for a quick breakfast the next morning, before catching the bus to the airport (just ask the clerk at the Internet cafe to point you in the right direction). Walking back to the hotel from Misdo, I took this shot of the moon and Venus over Mihara:

A final nighttime panoramic view of the plaza in front of the train station (the panorama function was working fine again after the previous day's difficulties)...:

...and then it was time to get back to my room, watch the end of the Hiroshima Carp 広島東洋カープ baseball game on TV, take a shower and crawl into bed. The next morning I had no problem waking up early, catching the bus to the airport and taking the flight back to Taiwan. Thus ended my one-week holiday in the western part of Japan.

Until the next time. And, who knows, considering both my background and the journey my family and I are getting ready to embark on, it may not be that long before I'm back in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Don't touch that dial...


  1. Some temples in Asia are built to honor or to achieve purgation. This is a very fascinating phenomenon. Kanemoto's temple is amazing though I used to be scared of the tortures for sinners shown in it. They always show it in traditional Taiwanese funerals. I don't know why. The colors they use in Kanemoto's Temple is more elegant than the ones they use in Taiwanese funerals. They use sapphire blue, scary still but somehow more sacred than the scene that causes me nightmares. Interesting trip you had. And the parts you're interested in are fascinating. I'll surely "stay tuned" for other trips that you'll have.

  2. I've seen the tortures of hell in temples in Hong Kong and Taiwan, but I don't remember seeing them too often in Japan. Scaring the believers seems to be more of a Chinese (and Christian!) thing.