Day 69, November 2016,
Kiyosato Highland 清里高原
A very wet night but, we woke to a warm morning of weak sunshine, golden hills and Onbashira paraphernalia. Onbashira is the crazy festival, held every 7 years, when the locals ride tree trunks down a very steep hillside, hoping not to get killed.
We decide to visit Kiyosato Highland, a place D. used to visit as a child. As the road starts to climb, the clouds roll in and cover everything. This mist lends a truly mysterious air to the larch forests and we drive gently through mist wreathed trees. Sometimes, we stop at viewing spots or parking places. We can see nothing but the immediate neighborhood in the misty, dripping silence.
We hang around hoping the clouds will lift, allowing us to take a walk to the top of Utsukushimori. By half past ten, nothing has changed except our plan. We give up our walk and head down to Lake Suwa and the Onbashira shrines.
Yatsugatake Echo Line 八ヶ岳エコーライン
This takes us through the Yatsugatake highlands by ‘Yatsugatake Echo Line’ and here the mists begin to lift. The surrounding hills, if not the higher mountains, become visible. Yatsugatake is an open, agricultural area with agricultural university and regular farms. Also, here are resort camps for Kawasaki City youth groups and even Itabashi youth. Mostly, though, tourist resort hotels and holiday homes.
As we drop down from 1300+ meters, which at 8:30 am in mid November was, I thought, much too warm at C12 degrees, into Suwa City, the activity becomes increasingly industrial.
Suwa Taisha Honmiya 諏訪大社本宮
We visit the first Onbashira shrine-Suwa Taisha Honmiya. It is surrounded by huge trees not just Sugi (cedar) but Keyaki (zelkova).
We find the Onbashira logs, or rather tree trunks, standing tall adorned with shrine paper. There is a long, covered corridor and some really odd paintings and graffiti but, our navi, we finally realize, has, again, brought us to the back gate.
In the main shrine, Shichigosan ceremonies are in full swing, it is early November. These are ceremonies for children 7, 5 and 3 years of age.
D. collects another Goshuin for her book. Goshuin are offered by most temples and shrines. The monk, priest, shrine maiden or someone will inscribe a page of your book with calligraphy and then stamp it with the official stamp. The charge for this is usually 300 yen. The books for collecting the Goshuin are on sale for 1000 to 2000 yen.
Suwa Taisha Maemiya 諏訪大社前宮
From Suwa Taisha Honmiya we move on to Maemiya. The second Ombashira shrine on this side of Lake Suwa. The other two connected shrines are on the opposite side of the water.
This second shrine is less impressive, it has a brass/copper tori gate and that, plus its 4 onbashira tree trunks that stand at its corners, is about all. Oh, it did have a rather wild, if diminutive, stream (Suiga) gushing past in the fields on the left hand side. This had a notice urging people not to wash cars or animals.
After lunch, eaten looking out over Lake Suwa, which is not exactly picturesque, on to the next shrine – Akimiya. Our navi takes us on a trip through very narrow steep streets with tortuous turns to arrive at an empty, auxiliary car park at the back of the shrine. There is a display of chrysanthemums and Shichigosan (7, 5, 3 years old) ceremonies are in progress. I snap a picture of a proud grandmother holding a balloon.
Manji no Sekibutsu – Manji Stone Buddha 万治の石仏
On to the next one – Harumiya, which involves another ridiculous drive though we do arrive at the front this time. Again, the shrine itself is nothing out of the ordinary but, across a bridge over a rushing stream, is an odd, very large, stone boulder carved into the shape of lord – Manji no Sekibutsu. This stone Buddha dates from 1660. The idea is to walk around this boulder a number of times. I didn’t find out why. It is a faith thing.
We drive into Matsumoto, picking up supplies we head for michi no eki ‘Alps Azumino Horigane no Sato‘ in the dark, in heavy traffic, but at least it is not raining.
At the michi no eki D. realizes that we have a hotel reservation in Takayama for Friday – tomorrow is Wednesday – and it is only 2 hours drive from here. We will have to make a detour somewhere.
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.