Yagen Valley 薬研渓谷
We wake to a fine day and breakfast in the early morning sunshine. Before visiting Osorezan, our plan is to walk along a small, nearby river, so we drive a little further up the valley. The footpath, we discover, is in the pine trees and very gloomy. It runs along an old, narrow gauge railway line, now barely visible and the river can hardly be glimpsed at all through the undergrowth, so the prospect for the walk is not encouraging.
In the end, we walk back along the road – there are almost no cars – and take lots of useless pictures of the stream. I notice a bat flying, backwards and forwards, very low over the water, though it is getting on for mid-day. Unsure of the genus, I console myself with the thought that, it was probably just an Aqua Bat.
Leaving Yagan campground, we drive on to Osorezan via a very tortuous, mountain road. Osorezan is one of the 3 sacred sites in Japan, along with Hieizan and Koya san. It is also one of the gates to the underworld.
From the outside, for an entrance to Hell, the temple complex looks rather unprepossessing. A spread of relatively modern, single story buildings laid out in a flat, wide, open area that looks bare and unappealing, rather like an army base. As there was nowhere to get food between Yagan, and this temple, before we enter, we have Udon in the adjacent restaurant. We have Sansai Udon which I discover is san for yama or mountain and sai for yasai, not rhinoceros, so mountain vegetable. The food is passable.
Once inside, we wander about the large jikoku (volcanic) area. There are piles of dark, rugged lava, sands, stained various shades of yellow, orange, blue and green and hundreds of very colourful, plastic windmills and tiny ojizosama (guardian deity of children) which tells you this place is a shrine to stillborn and aborted fetuses.
The landscape is fantastic. Sulphurous streams, red, yellow, brown and grey lava interspersed with coarse, marsh grasses with wooded mountains all around. Then, the placid lake with its sand shore. The heaven bit, of the heaven and hell contrast the temple represents. Here too, the beautiful white sands, lapped by the serene lake, dotted with flower bouquets in varying stages of decay, plastic windmills and miniature ojizo-sama remind you that this is a place of death. I half expected to spot Binky grazing nearby. The water of the lake is apparently very acidic.
There were a lot of crows around. Not tame exactly, just fearless, flapping from stone cairn to Buddha to sulfurous outcrop adding to the forbidding atmosphere of this, otherwise, strangely beautiful place. This temple is also famous for the women who act as mediums for those with a pressing need to commune with the dead. We noted the hall, where this communion takes place, but no one was there.
Asamushi onsen 浅虫温泉
Heading towards Aomori, we are plan to stay at a michi-no- eki, where you should not cook, so we stop at a supermarket and stock up with bread, macaroni salad, fried chicken, wine and shochu (distilled spirits). The michi-no-eki Asamushi Onsen on route 4 in Aomori pref. has, unsurprisingly, an onsen and we discover at least 4 car parks including parking for 3 buses. The onsen which, unusually, is on the 5th, floor of a 5 story building can accommodate only 8 bathers at a time, so rather crowded. Thankfully, no buses arrived.
Dinner in the car, but we enjoy a relaxed meal as the weather is unseasonably warm. Even at 4.30 p.m. it was 16 degrees C. in mid- October Aomori. As I write this, I am much warmer than for days though I am wearing no long-johns or jacket. Tomorrow a light rain is forecast. This could be a problem for me in the night, as the toilet is very far from our parking space.
＊’Hadakayu’ hot spring 350yen
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.