Eirin-ji Temple and the Echigo Michelangelo 永林寺
The morning at Minami Uonuma michi no eki is dismal wet. Relentless rain and heavy, dark clouds piled up around the mountain as we set out for Eirin-ji temple. This unprepossessing, out of the way temple is home to the works of Ishikawa Uncho. A late Edo and early Meiji period artist, he was a master of wood carving, painting and plaster relief. He worked mainly in Niigata so became known as the Michelangelo of Echigo, the old name for Niigata.
His work impressed us in various ways. The incredible skill of his 3-D wood carving, some incorporating perspective and some double sided. Then there is the power of his statues, the elegance, beauty and modernity of some of his simple carved wood panels before you get to his painting.
Looking closely at his work, you can detect wry details. In a group of the Karajishi, a mythical Chinese lion, just one, not a prominent member, of a group has a clearly depicted arsehole and genitals. It is a little girl Karajishi. Then there is a galloping horse carrying a warrior at full speed, definitely a big boy horse. He is fond of dragons and scenes from folk tales, birds also feature prominently.
＊Eirin-ji ; 300 yen / adult
Saifuku-ji and more Ishikawa Uncho 西福寺
From Eirin-ji we move to Saifuku-ji another temple to feature his work. Here he carved the woodwork for Kaizan-do a thatched building next to the main hall. The thatched roof is covered by a solid steel structure to protect it from the worst of the Niigata winter. Once inside you understand why. The ceiling is elaborately carved and surrounded by many other works by Ishikawa. There are also a lot of kitsch owls scattered around. I was unsure why. But don’t let that put you off.
Both these temples are a little out of the way but well worth the effort to view the work of this little-known artist.
After visiting these two temples we head for Tokyo along Route 17. We don’t take the highway but stick to this old road across the mountains. It is almost deserted which makes for a good drive.
＊Saifuku-ji ; 500 yen / adult
Oze Katashina michi no eki
Once in Gunma pref. we head to Oze Katashina michi no eki. We pulled in here briefly on a previous trip and noted it had a special room for brushing one’s teeth. We decided to try it for an overnight stay.
The toilets are magnificent. Very spacious and with large mirrors and dazzling lighting, like a star’s dressing room. The urinal has a long window at eye level so you can admire the distant mountains as you micturate. This in contrast to Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam where you are encouraged to aim at the fly depicted low down in the ceramic.
In the small, ornamental trees in front of our parking space, a number of wagtails gathered as we watched with delight. I gained a new respect for these ubiquitous birds. What is it about wagtails and car parks?
The only problem apart from rubbish bins is that the car park is on a slope. This is especially so at the lower end nearest the building. There are flatter areas so, unless the place is crowded, the slope can be avoided.
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.