The middle of a pandemic, despite the government’s urging “Go To Travel” is not the ideal time to set out on a trip. The government’s campaign may be an economic success in the short term but, perhaps, also a super spreader event.
Shachuhaku, we reason, is different in that you can almost completely isolate yourself traveling in your own bubble. So we set off on a short trip to explore Chimachibou. This is a small but rugged mountain in Saga Prefecture. It features perpendicular crags – like those in Chinese sumi-e paintings – that are much sought after by Yamabushi. This religious sect venerate mountains and favour difficult terrain which they use for rigorous ascetic practice. The sect is aligned with Buddhism but probably predates it in Japan. Don’t take my word for that, I am no authority.
Arriving at Chimachibou, after a dull drive on the toll free one lane highway, we park by a small free campsite. This is a flat grassy area surrounded by mainly sugi (cedar) forest but with good views of the two main peaks. (male and female apparently).
From this campsite, we set off upwards to reach a viewing point. The way is not entirely obvious at first as there are many paths, some rather overgrown but the main thing is to follow the blue tags on the trees.
The climb is quite steep and as the day is unseasonable warm I soon begin to feel overdressed. The woods are dense sugi forest so there is little to see. Suddenly, we come out on a road and car park. There is a small shrine and a little further up a viewing platform raised above the trees. From here there is a view of the spectacular crags and the fields and distant hills in the other direction. There are leafless cherry trees and maples just turning to their autumn glory. A good spot to have lunch.
From this point upwards into Yamabushi territory is , we suspect, hard graft and we are unsure of the direction and unprepared. Consequently we retrace our steps down to the campsite and car park.
Keishuen, garden and ceramic museum 慧州園
This hike has been much shorter than we expected barely half an hour round trip so we decide to take a look at Mifuneyama Rakuen in Takeo City. This is a large garden open at this time of year for viewing colourful, maple leaves. Unfortunately, here the car parks are overflowing so, mindful of avoiding Corvid crowds, we opt for Keishuen – a ceramic museum and garden.
Avoiding the museum, we take a wander around the garden. This is fundamentally a slope under a mountain crag. The slope is covered in tea bushes and a few other shrubs. There are also ornamental rocks, maple trees and water features with fish and dinky bridges. It is totally underwhelming. Perhaps the ceramics are worth seeing.
Now, doubly disappointed, we head off to Hirado or more precisely Ikitsuki Island where we plan to stay the night.
I should note that Takeo city is, really, an interesting place. In addition to Mifuneyama Rakuen there are many large trees, a very attractive library, a 1300 year old hot spring and a shrine.
＊Keishuen garden ; 600 yen / adult
The sun, that has been strong from before midday, is now sinking and a lot of ominous cloud is building up. As we cross the blue steel bridge to Ikitsuki Island the sun is spreading rays between the cloud and it looks as if a wonderful sunset is on offer.
Arriving at the michi no eki Ikitsuki Ohashi, just to the left over the bridge, we grab cameras and walk along the sea wall. The headlands and islands are various shades of blue and the sky and clouds hued with pink. Alas the clouds becomes dominant and the promised display fades away.
We walk back to the michi no eki, grab a beer and sit down by the water with a view of the darkening islands and headlands; the homecoming traffic streaming over the bridge. Out on the water, a few small fishing boats are going about their business. A fine end to a not very successful day.
The author is a long term resident of Japan who has and continues to travel the country extensively. Avoiding highways where possible, the author has driven from Kagoshima in Kyushu to Wakanai in Hokkaido covering 20,000 plus kilometres and counting.