Sunday, 7 September 2014

Shrines and temples - Mt Iwaki and Yamadera

Before leaving Hirosaki on Friday and travelling to Yamagata city, we visited Iwakiyamajinja, the shrine at Mount Iwaki, with our friends Yutaka and Ryo Satoh.

We all got o-mikuji fortunes - I got "great blessing" (dai-kichi, 大吉), which was rather good!

The decorations and general style reminded me of Nikko Tosho-gu, so I was quite pleased to read later that it is thought to resemble Nikko.

Many of the structures of Iwakiyama Shrine date from the early Edo period, and were built in 1694 under the sponsorship of the Tsugaru clan of Hirosaki Domain. The two-story main gate (Ryōmon) was built in 1628. The Honden, Heiden, Oku-no-mon and Ryōmon are built in the yosegi-zukuri style with decorative wood carvings, which have given the shrine its nickname of “Oku-Nikko” after the more famous structures of the Nikkō Tōshō-gū. All of these buildings are registered as National Important Cultural Properties.

The paint finish is matte and rather chalky, not glossy and bright, and the pigments look like traditional/natural ones - red ochre or perhaps iron, lapis lazuli blue and copper greens.

A copper onigawara roof finial.

Details of a door.

It was much hotter than Thursday, so some traditional sorbet-style ices were just the thing!

We travelled to Yamagata city via the Hayabusa Shinkansen to Sendai, retracing part of Thursday's route, and changed to the Sensan line to Yamagata.  This local line passes through some of the most impenetrable forest and deep mountain scenery.  I tried to take a few photos but it was impossible to capture the majestic landscape up close - tall cypress trees, deep ravines with waterfalls etc.  The Sensan line goes through Yamadera, and we went back there by car with Hiroko and Kazutoshi Fukase yesterday.

Yamadera has over 1000 steps leading up through the shrines and temple buildings on the mountain side. It is also called Risshaku-ji (立石寺).  It is the first temple I visited in Japan in 1991 and still my favourite.

It is one of the places visited by the poet Basho and his disciple Sora on their Oku no hosomichi (Narrow road to the far north) adventure in 1689.  He wrote one of his most famous haiku there -

ah this silence
sinking into the rocks
voice of cicada

Basho -

Sora -

I wonder if they would recognise Yamadera now.  It is much busier than in their day, and I doubt the steps leading up the hillside were there when they came here.  The sound of the cicadas remains the same.

I think the copy of Oku no Hosomichi I have is the Tuttle edition - it has English and the original Japanese text, plus excellent explanatory notes.  Lesley Downer's 'On the Narrow Road to the Deep North' is one of several modern travel books based on the same route and makes an interesting comparative read.

The leaves are starting to change colour already.  I think Autumn will be early this year in Japan, same as in the UK.

Visitors used to put up stickers with their family names - this was very popular about 20 years ago and I remember these looking fresh and new.  Now there are anti graffiti/label posting signs, but they need to put them up in English, Chinese and Korean as well - there was quite a lot of graffiti added by foreign tourists, even some names that had been scraped into the wood!

We admired the spectacular view across the valley and mountains.

Caves in the rocky mountainside were formerly used as hermitages by monks.

The 'must have' practical souvenir of Yamadera - an uchiwa fan!  It was a hot day.

I don't remember coins being left in the rocks, but that seems to be the current craze.  They are mainly 1 Yen.

We left ours in ledges, rather than scraping them into the rock.

So many shades of fresh green!

Small koi and maple leaves.

A beautiful gnarled pine tree.

A natural bonsai!

The restaurant where we ate lunch.

Even the restaurant was green - so cool and fresh.

Yamadera is such a lovely place and I'm glad I could visit it again.

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