Togakushi to Zenkoji 戸隠から善光寺
Day 62, November 2016
Numata River Terracing
Yes, there is ice on the windscreen but the damp towels hanging on the wing mirrors are not frozen solid. The temperature did not drop that low. After breakfast, as this area is a famous example of river terracing, we walk across the carpark of michi-no-eki Shirasawa to an observation point. Unfortunately, as is the all too common with viewing points, the trees, planted as landscaping, have grown so as to completely obscure the view they were supposed to compliment. The viewing point is, as a result, pointless.
As we drive out of Numata on R.120, however we get an idea of this strange landscape. The town is clearly built on a series of different levels, an impression magnified by the surrounding fields.
Our first objective for the day is Togakushi-jinjya (shrine). This entails a long drive, through Nagano city and then up into the mountains. After Nagano city the road becomes extremely steep, narrow and tortuous. Possibly the most drastic I have ever driven. As we climb, there are spectacular views of the city and various valleys in between.
Eventually, we arrive at the shrine and park but, we soon discover that our objective ‘Okusha’, the far shrine, is still some kilometers away. As we don’t have time for a long walk, we drive to an alternative car park . This leaves us only a couple of kilometers walk each way.
The route is dead straight through woods that gradually become an avenue of cedars after ‘Zuishinmon gate’. We see nuthatches and spotted woodpeckers. As the avenue begins to climb towards the shrine, the flat, gravel path develops into very rough steps.
The shrine, we discover, is neither big and beautiful nor quaint. A non event to be honest but, the mountain wall behind it gives the impression of a Chinese scroll. At this point, the grey sky that has been becoming more and more ominous begins to drop the first hints of serious rain. We ,hurriedly, retrace our steps.
We make it back to the car without getting too drenched and set off for Zenkoji temple back in Nagano city. This means descending the extreme road we climbed but, our navi decides to take us a different route – not so steep but very narrow in places. Then again we did not meet much traffic. By late afternoon we are at Zenkoji and the shopkeepers are calling it a day even though it is still light.
The temple has a fine gate and the main hall is an imposing sight. It is the largest and possibly the oldest. The present hall was constructed in 1707.
We pay 500 yen to walk in absolute dark through an underground passage and touch “the key to the pure land”. I didn’t know about that bit until after the event due to a lack of information. The main Buddha image, possibly the oldest in Japan, is so secret it must never be seen. Its replica is displayed once every six years. Having missed it, we leave. We have still some way to go before we reach out michi-no-eki for the night.
Driving out of Nagano to Obuse in the dark, in torrential rain, in the rush hour, in a completely unknown area and when already tired from driving in the mountains all day is not to be recommended. I am happy to arrive at michi-no-eki Oasis Obuse (on pref.R. 343), drink a beer and write this. This michi-no-eki is unusual in that it is a large building and we are parked underneath it, a roof against the rain. Parked under the roof means we are out of the rain but there is no escape from the piped tinkley music.
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.