Another damp, chilly morning, the hills are draped in mist but the higher peaks are in sunshine. Unfortunately, we are deep in shade in a river valley. The river itself is mostly lost in the sea of gravel that forms its bed. We depart, heading for some elusive shrine up the hillside.
Tamaki Jinja (Shrine)
When we arrive at the spot where the footpath to the shrine begins, the road is very narrow and there is absolutely nowhere to park so, we give up. As we descend, we pass a local bus going up and realize that the only way to access the shrine is by bus. Unless, of course, you are prepared to walk the whole way. The height is around 1000m.
On our way again, this time to visit a very, very old shrine, Tamaki Jinja, dating, apparently, from BC 37.
The road to the shrine
The road we were planning to take is closed so we take an alternative route. This turns out to be narrow, steep and winding with long stretches where two vehicles cannot pass. Luckily we meet only two cars and a scooter.
The road climbs and climbs and, in places, the trees have been clear-cut so, the precipitous drop to the river far below is only too apparent. This is especially so given the lack of a guard rail, something very rare in Japan. D. is on edge, due to her vertigo. At the top, we find a car park with a surprising number of cars.
The walk to Tamaki shrine is not difficult, mostly along graveled, forest track followed by rough steps, going down. The shrine buildings are old and weathered but not unusual and, at first, seem abandoned or at least unattended but, we later discover a shrine office with a priest in situ. D. can get her Goshuin book stamped and inscribed. This fills the last page so, I suspect, she will get a new one for Koyasan.
In the shrine there is a square cistern with what appears to be a very productive spring but I can’t figure out where the water flows out.
Okugakemichi, Yamabushi trail 奥駈け道
From the shrine there are numerous mountain paths leading off in different directions. These are the trails of the Yamabushi (mountain ascetics), who hike these mountains as religious practice. One of these is the Omine Okugakemichi.
The other feature is the large sugi, cypress, trees that are clearly very old and barely surviving.
Back at the car park, D. is rattled enough to enquire if there is an easier route down but, there isn’t, so we return by the same road. We get down without mishap, though we meet more cars this time.
Totsukawa-go michi no eki
We follow the river valley, sometimes on new stretches of road but, often on the old, narrow, winding, original route (R.168), through these mountains. We stop at Totsukawa-go michi no eki for lunch, kinoko(mushroom) udon, which is rather good. And should be for 900 yen.
＊When we passed this way again in 2018, R.168 had become almost completely a new, wide modern road.
Tanize no tsuribashi – Tanize suspension bridge 谷瀬の吊り橋
Refreshed, we move on to the highest, longest, oldest pedestrian suspension bridge in Japan. D., of course, would not set foot on it but, I felt obliged to cross, having spent 500 yen for parking. The bridge was constructed by the local people in the 1954. This fact, probably, means financed.
The floor was of surprisingly thin, wooden planking with cross supports about 30 cm. apart and the whole bridge swayed so much it was not at all easy to keep your balance. On the bridge there is a notice saying, ‘No more than 20 people on the bridge’ but D. noted there were more than 20 people at one time.
Kudoyama michi no eki
After this excitement, we stop at a supermarket to buy dinner. Both D. and I are by now getting tired of our supermarket bento diet. We have been living in the van for 80 days.
From the supermarket to the super sento, for a bath. A sento, or super sento, is like an onsen but the water is not natural spring water. This place is uninteresting and not cheap, at 900 yen, but, there is lots of hot water and soap so, it serves its purpose. It also provides towels which is good for us as rain is forecast and wet towels are a problem in the car. From the bath, a short drive to our michi no eki Kaki-no-sato Kudoyama where we put up the shades and enjoy a relaxing beer after testing driving conditions.
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.