Michi-no-eki Nishikawa (R. 112) at Gassan proves even better than expected. Though busy, there must have been well over fifty shachuhaku (sleep in a car) vehicles, it is organized and clean. In the morning, I realize, it has a garden with an artificial stream and a pond with Yamame (spotted trout?). Later, returning for lunch, we discover it has a reasonably priced restaurant and the food way above expectations. It has little gourmet touches that one does not usually associated with michi-no-eki. Recommended.
Leaving Nishikawa earlier, we retraced our route of yesterday back to the Yudonosan toll road. Here we have a surprise as the 400 yen charge does not entitle you to drive a scenic skyline but, leads directly to the Yamabushi shrine Yudonosan itself.
We park near a huge red tori gate and discover that the shrine is a 1.7 kilometre walk further up the road. You can take a shuttle bus. This is not, to our minds, in the Yamabushi spirit so we opt to walk; even though it is about 33 degrees.
Arriving at the shrine proper, where no photography is allowed, you descend a rough path, cross over a mountain stream and are confronted with a group of ramshackle sheds. The cynic in me suspects this is the reason for the prohibition of photography. Before you can proceed further, however, it is necessary to shed one’s shoes, wash one’s feet and accept a purification ceremony. A snip at 500 yen a head.
From this point, things become surreal. It is very crowded, we coincided with a bus tour arrival, and we all shuffle, barefoot to a large, reddish pink rock the source of a hot spring which is bubbling out of the top. The pink rock is, I suspect, an accumulation of minerals solidifying out of the running water. (We have a similar, though less spectacular, phenomenon in our bathroom at home as we are on well water.) The water running down the rock is hot, really quite hot, as we follow the crowd in climbing the rock which looks slippery but isn’t. I reckon it to be about 3 meters but D. thinks it is higher. Either way, the point of climbing it is to get to the other side to throw coins into a net; skilfully designed to catch the money. Then you can retrace your steps and climb back down the slippery rock face the isn’t. The water constantly flowing under your feet is hot and, where it collects in larger pools very hot. This was a hot day, so a visit in cooler weather may not reflect this.
An unusual and interesting shrine visit and well worth the expense. I kept thinking of Varanasi – the crowds, the incense smoke, the heat, the noise (Yamabushi blow conch shells), and the cows. Not live ones munching banyan leaves but bronze ones, everywhere.
Next we drive to Gassan Ubasawa car park. From here, serious climbers take their pick of the various routes over the mountain. We have no food or proper gear so return to michi-no-eki Nishikawa for lunch. From there we make for michi-no-eki Kita no Sato (R. 121). We want to find some elevation to escape the heat. At Kita no Sato it is still over 30 degrees so we move on to michi-no-eki Ura Bandai (R. 459). We arrive in a heavy thunderstorm. The place is not that good for shachuhaku as the toilet is poor. Even after the thunder, it is not really cool either.
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.