From the michi no eki Minami Yamashina we drive to Kasagidera. A large temple not on the usual tourist itinerary, outside autumn leaves season anyway. The access to Kasagidera is up a somewhat daunting lane that ends in a car park for perhaps 20 cars. No one is collecting parking fees earlyish on a Tuesday morning in Spring.
From the car park, there is a walk of perhaps 200 metres, past an unlikely ryokan to the first temple building. Here a gentleman accepts 300-yen temple entrance fee and another 300 for D.’s Goshuin.
We are then free to wander the mountaintop circuit (about 800m) of temple buildings, ancient Buddha carvings on sheer rock faces and woodland paths through massive boulders. The summit offers fine views of the valley, village and river sparking far below.
The temple site is very old but the original temple dating from the 8th. century was destroyed. Prior to the 8th. Century this site may have been a centre for mountain worship. In the 14th. Century the emperor Go Daigo decided to challenge the Kamakura Bakfu and, when his rebellion failed, took refuge in the mountain top temple. After a month‘s fight, the whole temple complex was burned to the ground, only being restored in the early Meiji period.
It is noteworthy, that many temple information pamphlets state that this or that temple was destroyed by fire at some point in its history. This gives one the impression of careless monks and lots of candles. This is surely the case in many instances, but closer inquiry often reveals the place was destroyed as policy but some victor or other.
Still, it’s a very worthwhile temple to visit, not for graceful buildings or exquisitely carved deities but for a walk in the forest through fantastic rocks. One can understand why the ascetic monks of the time thought this would be a worthwhile spot.
Murou Ryuketsu Shrine 室生龍穴神社
From Kasagidera, we move on to Ryuketsu Jinja. This turns out to be a pretty bland sort of shrine dedicated to a dragon god of water. The shrine is unexpectedly popular even though there is not much to see. There are two other shrines dedicated to the dragon and closer to his/her? point of origin. So, we go in quest of those.
Kissho Ryuketsu 吉祥龍穴
The first is located up a long, tortuous road that ends abruptly with limited parking and less scope for the necessary 3-point turn. This is more like a 6-point turn if a number of cars are parked. Then, down some steep steps through Sugi (cedar) forest to, to my mind, a makeshift shrine, an unprepossessing cave and a rushing stream. Pretty enough, but after the effort underwhelming.
This shrine has achieved some recent popularity as a power spot, so an unexpected number of people come here deep in the mountains. This cave is the okumiya (rear shrine) of Murou Ryuketsu shrine and perhaps existed in the 8th. century before Muro-ji temple.
Ryuchin Shrine 龍鎮神社
For the sake of collecting the set, we continue our quest to the third Ryuchin Jinja connected to this rain making dragon deity. Here we are glad we did.
The road is a little difficult being narrow and one way over a dam. On arrival, parking is limited and U-turn possibilities tight. As you reach the shrine along the gorge there is a red shrine bridge. Cars park before this bridge and on leaving attempt a 3 point turn here. Possible but tight. It is perhaps better to cross the bridge and park in the lay byes beyond where U-turns are easier and there is less congestion. If half a dozen cars can count as congestion.
Then, walk back to the bridge and follow the path upstream into the wood. There is no clear sign. This is a good walk, if dark and overhung with trees and massive, mossy rock faces. After 200 or 300 metres there is a path down to the water and a small shrine to the dragon god. This is a spectacular spot of rushing steam, deep, dark, green pools, white water and moss.
I felt it well worth the effort to get here.
It isn’t a deserted spot. There were a surprising number of people about. Some for the shrine as tourist, some in earnest. Then there are the fishermen and bird watchers. A group with impressive lenses is waiting for the chance to snap a Blue and White flycatcher. We do see one and I take a snap just for fun.
Resty and Kenkoland
On to Nara and to a coin laundry and then Nara Kenkoland for a bath. Kenkoland is very expensive place just for a bath, but choices are few around Nara city. Finally, to michi no eki Resty Karako-Kagi. This is a place we have stayed maybe 3 times before. Flat, well equipped and handy for all that is to be seen in the Nara area.
＊Nara Kenkoland ; 2200 yen /adult (1320 yen over 60)
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.