Muroji Temple 室生寺
We wake to a chilly morning after a quiet night but, thankfully, the weather is brighter. I discover the michi no eki Udaji Muro has a river behind it, the Uragawa, and I watch the egrets and a cormorant. After breakfast, we move out towards Muroji, a temple that used to be exclusively for women as Koyasan was forbidden to females.
After parking the car near Muroji, we wander through the village a little, then over a red arched bridge and, turning right, enter the temple. Passing through the gate, we note that the guardians, Niosama, are nothing extraordinary.
A steep flight of steps leads you to the first temple building. I don’t recall what it contained. The second building, which was clearly very old and decaying, was, however, a major surprise. We were astonished to find it contained a collection of five? large statues and ten smaller ones. These were very fine pieces indeed. The ten smaller works were the twelve heavenly generals (two of whom were on a business trip to a museum in Nara). Domon Ken had photographed the larger statues and, I admit, I was tempted to buy one of the posters on sale.
After spending some time admiring these works of art, we follow a long flight of steps up to the top structure which is built on the same lines as Kiyomizudera in Kyoto. That is, on a platform protruding out over the edge of the hillside.
A monk inscribes D’s Goshuin book in a temple building at the early stage of the ascent. Even I can see that the monk writing the calligraphy is doing an exquisite job. Muroji is a temple well worth visiting.
On the way to Hasedera, we stop to take photos of scarecrows at a place called Tottorinosato. Having stopped, we realize these particular scarecrows are not very good. Scarecrows are a phenomenon that have been appearing all over Japan for some years now. The locals, in an area, get together to make scarecrows then place them at the side of the road. The quality varies from place to place and I am unsure of the reason behind the effort. I have heard though, that in areas of declining population, it helps to keep up appearances.
Approaching Hasedera, we buy lunch at a convenience store and then navigate the narrow streets approaching the temple. We eat lunch in the car as it is cold outside and then wander along the streets lined with old buildings. The shops are selling a kind of green mochi (rice cake) and, I suspect, azuki beans feature in the mix somewhere.
Hasedera Temple 長谷寺
The gateway to Hasedera temple is covered with scaffolding and nets as restoration work is in progress. The covered staircase, for which the temple is famous, is, however, accessible. We climb up to the main building that is home to the eleven faced goddess of mercy – Kannon but, we have not paid the extra fee so, we don’t get close and touch the statue.
We learn that the blue statue from Kinpusenji crosses every day from Yoshinoyama, by way of a golden bridge, to visit the Kannon in Hasedera but, I saw no evidence to support this claim.
At the top of the long staircase there is a large, wooden hall housing a very large Kannon. This statue too has a lot of presence and the numerous pictures of various sizes around the building are all very interesting. This temple also features a platform built out over the hillside. D. gets her Goshuin book signed and we descend.
Our next stop is Sekijuku, a street of old buildings, the remains of an Edo era Michi-no- eki on the Tokaido. The Tokaido was the main route to Edo that, every other year, the higher lords were forced to take to spend a year in Edo in attendance of the shogun.
By this system the Edo shogunate ensured that lords, from remote areas especially, incurred great expense; thus keeping them relatively poor and consequently, powerless.
The street is virtually deserted and we have seen many such buildings so, our interest is not particularly roused.
It is time to find a berth for the night so we head off along Route One. The large Aeon supermarket we stop in has, unfortunately, a poor selection of ready cooked merchandise. This is the 83rd. day of this trip and we are becoming tired of the same, cold fare.
The first michi no eki we stop at has a very small, rudimentary toilet. Plus, D. feels it is too lonely so, we move on to the next. Ryuo Kagami no sato michi no eki is much better but the car park is a mass of traffic cones to prevent trucks parking, I suspect. Not a good atmosphere.
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.