Yoshinoyama Kinpusenji Temple 吉野山金峯山寺
Another chilly, damp morning and the rain, despite a contrary forecast, starts before we set off for Mt.Yoshino. We decide to walk in rain suits, if necessary, but when we arrive, the rain has stopped though it is still decidedly chilly. We park in a huge, empty car park and set off uphill for Kinpusenji Zaodo.
Kinpusenji Zaoudo is the second largest wooden building after Todaiji temple. It is just as impressive as I remember it from our first motorcycle journey, in cherry blossom season, well over 30 years ago. D. is struck by the huge, wooden pillars that are labeled as wood not usually associated with pillars. Tsutsuji-Azalea, Fuji-Wisteria and Nashi-Pear, for example. Can that really be so?
Buddhist Ritual – fire ceremony?
By chance, we are lucky in our choice of day for a visit. Part of the temple, usually closed to the public, is open and we can view the three very large Fudosama-Acala. Yes these deity statues, are large but, I did not feel they had that much presence. But, what do I know?
We are able to see other ancient statues around the back and are very fortunate to witness a ritual conducted by the head monk. This involved a good deal of banging on a large drum, gongs, rattles, blowing of conch shells and hypnotic chanting. All the while the monks are building a fire with pieces of wood about 25cm long. The flames grow quite high and sparks fly in a dazzling, and quite alarming, manner whenever the Head Monk tosses on incense. This is, of course, in an old building of wood and paper.
I am a bit surprised when the occasional monk makes an obvious mistake and is corrected. Kinpusenji must be a training temple.
The ceremony lasts a long time and finally, with the chanting continuing, the Head Monk invites members of the audience/congregation to kneel before him one by one to receive a blessing. He holds a rod into the flames and then touches each person on the head with it.
By this point I want to leave as, it is very cold and I am getting bored.
Once outside D. picks up her Goshuin book, safely stamped and inscribed. I had had some misgivings about this as the elderly gentleman doing the calligraphy did not seem to have the situation under control. I am sorry I doubted him.
We walk on and eventually decide to hike up the road as far as Yoshino Mikunari Shrine. This is a steep climb and takes the rest of the morning.
Mikunari shrine is unusual and clearly, very old. Once you climb the steps and enter the gate the shrine hems you in on all sides. There is a narrow garden in the centre, with a large, weeping Sakura-cherry, but the damp, dark shrine buildings loom all around especially on the side higher up the mountain. These buildings are above you and access is denied. There are strange things, without explanation, on display which leaves one wondering.
＊About 1hour and 30 minutes walk from Yoshinoyama Ropeway station.
＊local specialties ;
kudzu (arrowroot) powder
Kakinoha-sushi (mackerel sushi wrapped in a persimmon leaf)
Daranisuke (1300 years old traditional stomach medicine)
Ishibutai, ancient tomb 石舞台
Leaving the shrine, we descend and get down for a late lunch of tempura udon. Once back at the car, we note we have time to visit Okadera-Oka temple but, in the event, we cannot find it so we visit one of the famous ancient tombs – Ishibutai in Asuka.
This consists of an underground chamber formed by using huge rocks; quite interesting but dark and dank – no place to linger. This tomb was probably built in early 7th century and the soil which covered it has long been eroded.
On our way back from the tomb site, we pass Okadera but now have no time to see it so press on to the supermarket, the onsen and, finally, Udaji Muro michi no eki. Ouda Onsen Aki No Yu was large, not at all crowded, but although D. liked the water for me it was a functional place, lacking in character.
＊Ishibutai tomb ; 300 yen / adult
＊Ouda onsen Aki no Yu ; 700 yen / adult
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.