This photo-blog is designed to work either as a standard blog with images or - by clicking any image - a photo-album. To see an image in full resolution click to the left or right of an image in blog mode.


The Enlightenment Circuit and the Spirits of the Dead

Peerless Coastline and transparent ocean East of Tottori


asagao ni
ware wa meshi kû
otoko kana


I am one
Who eats his breakfast,
Gazing at morning glories.

I am one
Eating my meal
While gazing at the glories of the morning.

Matsuo Bashô
Bashôs rebuke of Kikakus poem about tade and fireflies.

A firefly;
I partake of the smartweed
In my hermitage.

Kikaku (1660-1707)

This blog page has been completely replaced by our photoblogs:
Tonight we're perched on a little spit by a rocky outcrop with a little shrine on it beside a small fishing village on the island of Awaji just north of Goshiki, having circumnavigated the pilgrim's enlightenment trail of Shikoku even to the wild cape where the spirits of the dead depart in a manner similar to Cape Reinga in Aotearoa. Goshiki has a famous beach lined with pine trees but when we stopped in there were only a few lugubrious places we could park. Here its one of those sanctuaries that pop into the view of the lonely traveler scanning the horizon for a place to lay their heads as they pass, never to return. We pulled in almost by accident, although we always stop at the little shrines with tori gates that adorn little outcrops and islands. There are a few other Japanese camping here, fishing off the breakwater that encloses the village port. There are also clean toilets and showers and places to wash our clothes almost the first time we have gypsy camped amid a full suite of domestic luxuries and the first night it hasn't been sweltering hot and sticky virtually since we arrived. This in itself is a worrying sign amid reports that the North West Passage has opened, that the Arctic ice is disintegrating leading to a runaway affect as white polar shows are replaced by deep blue ocean which absorbs the radiant heat of the sun further exacerbating global warming and the rising oceans.

Anyway back to the subject of this blog and the next section of our travels. Our next day on the North Coast of Honshu proved to be problematic. After leaving the beach hideaway, we followed the coast to the next town, Kasumi and turned inland planning to transit to the south coast. This was unexpectedly complex because the roads out of Kasumi were confusing and criss-crossed. After stopping at a wayside temple adorned with Japanese classical painting we wound our way south, stopping off an a huge and gross Buddhist temple atop a high hill which charged 800 yen, about 10 dollars NZ to view three giant Buddhas.

Ushimado Port

By contrast with Zen temples which are tasteful and integrally natural in their appreciation for trees and the use of gardens as a central expression of spirituality, this had huge buildings and temple guardians three times larger than usual, echoing some of the grosser aspects of Buddhist idolatrous worship we have seen in South East Asia and Tibet. When we tried to continue south however, we found everyone giving us the crossed hands in an X indicating the road was blocked. We thus were forced to drive back north to sample more of the wild coast and along to Tottori where there are famous kilometre wide high sand dunes which became the title and context of the movie "Woman of the Dunes". These were searing hot in the freak September heatwave sunshine and crossing to the highest one was like crossing the Sahara. In fact if you wanted to pay the money you could cross on camel back for a hefty fee.

From Tottori we staged a lightning transit from the North to the South coast of Honshu, running down a major highway until we hit the industrial belt on the plain around Okayama, working by compass and misdirection around its edge to finally arrive in the dark at the extremity lands-end of Ushimado, turning aside from the road in the pitch dark to camp in a vacant lot beside the yachting harbour.

Ushimado shrine with multiple guard coyotes

In the light of morning Ushimado proved to be a pleasing respite from the doldrum wastelands of Industrial Japan, a mix of old time fishing village and rich development, with a harbour on the inland sea, a beach and a bunch of temples and shrines amid some charming old houses. From there we planned our attack on Shikoku, using the internet to pinpoint the entry points to the toll bridge systems that link Shikoku with the 'mainland' of Honshu, then navigating round Okayama and past Tamano to the last IC or tollway junction before the bridge at Kojima.

Second bridge on the Seto-Chuo Expressway connecting Honshu and Shikoku

The bridge to Shikoku was a truly awesome experience, hopping 14 kilometres across the ocean in a string of enormous bridges connecting small rocky islands. The transit went without hitch with Christine videoing while I drove and snapped stills as best I could.

Shikoku is very different from Honshu in several respects. One respect noted in the Lonely Planet is the women, or particularly the women of the Southern city of Kochi, who are called 8-balls, because they are the nemesis doom of the men and strong-minded as a man with 8 balls, partly because they had to both protect the children and keep the family together in times of trouble when the men weren't around.

Henro or enlightenment pilgrim

Another unique feature of Shikoku, which become ever more remarkable as you make the transit, is that Shikoku is continuously circumnavigated by pilgrims, or Henro, of all sorts, following the 1400 km course of 88 temples on a journey of immediate enlightenment which has been ongoing for over 1000 years following the steps of the great Buddhist saint Kobo Daishi - kobo to spread the teachings widely and daishi saint,a also in his lifetime called Kukai 'sky and sea'. Daishi founded the Shingon sect of Buddhism, the only major sect that believes enlightenment can be achieved in the current lifetime and the pilgrimage is a sadhana to achieve it. I see this very favourably as a basic credit rating of any religion to deliver on the realization agenda here and now. Many forms of Buddhism fail to do this and Christianity and Islam pass the whole agenda off to worshipping Christ or seeing the face of al-Llah in heaven which is a literal cop out.

Christine with henro partners walking the road on the South Coast

Our experience of Henro began abruptly when we visited one of the 88 temples and immediately became caught up in a throng of elderly pilgrims who had erupted from a couple of busses to lead us to the temple tucked away up an alley where we had missed it. As we drive to a second temple, we passed several walking on foot wearing the characteristic while cloak, staff, bells, sash and conical hat, some pulling carts with their belongings. The next temple we tried to find, a pilgrim on foot jumped into the van and gave us emphatic instructions ordering us post haste to the major temple before closing time even paying for the car park to get us in in haste. Since then we have met pilgrims in cars, in taxis, on puch bikes and following the Zen art of motorcycling on Kawasakis and even Harley Davidsons, but the most impressive are the countless number who steadfastly walk the journey on foot straddling secluded forest paths and major highways including an 84 kilometre hike between the two most distant temples towards the wild southern Cape Muroto.

Kotohira shrine

From the first few temples, we traveled a few kilometres south to Kotohira a small town where there is a famous Shinto shrine to the Goddess of the Sun on a hill overlooking the town with a thousand steps up to it. There are very few foreign tourists in Shikoku and almost none traveling in Japan in small Kei vans gypsy camping, so its a real form of fringe intrepid travel. Arriving at nightfall we drove up a small side road parking in a vacant space near a house, whose occupants unlike most Japanese people who are very friendly and courteous and greet you courteously with mutual konichiwah's, instead stared at us like alien species and having made a brief attempt to get rid of us by telling us the entire huge space was needed for the one or two cars on this isolated cul-de-sac to do sweeping u-turns went inside and phoned the cops and before we had had a chance to feed ourselves there were a bunch of flashing lights and two car loads of plain clothes detectives and uniformed police politely and apologetically trying to check our passports and when they finally checked with Narita immigration that we were legitimate, asked us to move a metre or two closer to the verge and let our erstwhile neighbours know there was little else they could do, to strident voices of protest from the femme fatale of the piece, who was still peering out at us balefully and furtively at six in the morning as we cheerily honked our good byes as we left.

Parking in Kotohira proved very difficult but we have found in every Japanese town so far that you can always find a free park even under the most tightly regulated conditions by a fractal search for an ambiguous space in a residential street not too far from the place you want to visit. The thousand steps proved pretty grueling in the sweltering conditions and I had to coax Christine up the last few flights but the view for the top was truly awesome reaching all the way to the coast and the bridges we had crossed and sweeping across the cities of the North to the rice fields and hills of the interior. The Shinto priests were performing an intriguing set of rituals as we arrived adding an auspicious presence to the whole process.

Deep Gorge in Central Shikoku

From Kotohira, we travelled south through the centre of Shikoku, traversing a series of quite awesome gorges, with suspension foot bridges over them, replacing the traditional rope and vine bridges that one could cut to escape pursuing enemy. At one point I was photographing rafter shooting th rapids when the whole boat load of 10 or so got thrown into the river.s night fell after some crafty navigating on small roads to bypass the coastal cities, we turned in at a charming beach-side avenue running between the sea and a graveyard, ringing with a scintillating throng of crickets, some very like those in New Zealand, but others sounding almost exactly like small temple bells. This coast is te most exposed in Japan both to tsunamis and to typhoons and the sea has a reputation for veering from mirror calm to tempestuous swells which leave the coastline buffeted high above the water line. The beach was foreboding, a hugely wide stretch of shelving sand, pebbles, stones, sand and pebbles, following the imprint of previous storms, which finally arced up at the low tide mark to a precipitous ledge where you could stand as the shingle dived almost vertically into the deep ocean, with waves breaking right at your feet.

Sunrise on the precipitous shore edge on South Western Coast of Shikoku

The next day we drove south towards the tip of Cape Muroto stopping off at each pilgrimage temple we came to. Some of these are perched in the forest on mountain tops with wildly inaccessible country lanes littered with mirrored hairpin bends, so tight you can barely get a vehicle around them.

View of the South Coast of Shikoku from Konomine-ji Temple near Aki

But everywhere there were more pilgrims, dressed in their distinctive garb, exchanging greetings with us and praying fervently at the altars reciting their enlightenment passages in a manner similar to Tibetan Buddhists, clicking their rosaries and ringing the various temple bells as they pass. The imagery in these temples is different - more immediate and immanent with Buddhas wreathed in the fires of realization, and the images of Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy, carrying baskets of fish, lobsters and clams symbolic of the tortured lives of fishermen in this treacherous ocean.

Fudo: Guardian spirit of enlightenment reminiscent of Tibetan Buddhism

The Cape itself is the wildest spot in Japan, and said to be the place where the spirits depart for the land of the dead. It is a place of natural beauty with gnarled trees and rock pools intermingling with the thrashing waves and weird rock formations pummeled by the sea. In addition to the departed there is a fertility rock where people have piled up cairns of pebbles, and the cave were Daishi is said to have gained enlightenment as well as a temple perched high on the cliffs above beside the Cape lighthouse. So, all in all, this wild spit represents the whole gamut of life's experiences from death, through fertility to enlightenment, rolled into one natural experience, combining the wildernesses of Cape Reinga and Punakaike of Aotearoa.

Cape Muroto where the spirits depart for the Realm of the Dead

From here we drove North again sidling past some atrocious beaches packed with surfie day trippers in tinted window beach wagons, lined up like sardines in a can, and found our way tortuously from the inland highway towards the coast again onto a tourist road enchantingly entitled the Hiwasa sun line, which wound high above the rocky coast with panoramic views. Turning off this at sunset we wound down a precipitous little side road stopping the night in forest punctuated by the odd small rice terrace. Next morning there was a snake at the first lookout and land crabs scuttling up the steps at the temple at Hiwasa, a town also renowned for its turtle migrations. The temple is reputed to focus on bad luck and the bad luck ages of men and women reputedly 42 for men and 35 for women.

Finally navigating through the concrete jungle of Tokushima and the spaghetti junctions around the toll road we managed to take the shortest links to Awaiji, crossing what is said to be the world's longest suspension bridge, from Naurito-kita to Awaijishima-minami, where we drive up the west coast stopping at this fishing village where we are now inland by a Buddhist temple eating breakfast.


Amaterasu the Goddess of the Sun

Shinto Priests blessing the citizens Kakunodate


ura umi ya
sado ni yokotau
ama no gawa

Turbulent the sea—
across to Sado stretches
the Milky Way

From Oku no Hosomichi. Exiles were once sent to Sado.
Matsuo Bashô (松尾芭蕉)

This blog page has been completely replaced by our photoblogs:

We stayed a couple of extra days in Kakunodate to watch the Hikayama Matsuri festival which is enacted in the Autumn to pray for peaceful times suggestive of a safety valve to moderate their conflict-prone samurai past. The only crisis was being awoken at 1 am by a policeman who demanded our passports, drivers licences and the papers for the van which is not officially a rental vehicle, but who in the end took off without hitch. The town is famous because it still retains a tree-lined section of samurai houses, large black traditional Japanese houses with mossy gardens set in a polarity to the merchant neighbourhood to the south.

Festival float Kakunodate

The floats are 7 ton wooden carts, which boast warlike fantasy play samurai figures on the front, pulled by two teams of strong men (and a few women) assisted by older men and children as young as 2 or 3, egged on by a whistle-blowing cheer leader.

Each cart also has two teams of young girls in kimonos, on the front, who perform dances with fans and shawls, and inside each is a troupe of musicians with drums, flutes and Japanese lutes. The carts are pulled through a complex route around town with shouts of gusto and a great deal of heaving every time the float has to make a change of direction. The first evening all the floats were dragged to the major Shinto shrine Shinmeysa, where each team performed their songs and dances and ascended the steps to be blessed by the Shinto priests.

The next morning the priests did a round of the town in a parade of mobile shrines shaking paper fronds over each property and receiving offerings of prayers written on paper or fruit and other foods, after which all the floats began a morning and evening parade stopping at certain places where there were judges and other respected members of the populace where they would again dance and sing and receive blessings.

The whole performance gave a fascinating insight into the way Japanese culture preserves a staunch image of itself and retains a sense of national and local identity through both cultural tradition and the role Shinto plays as a founding religion of culture. I'll come back to this again when we come to some later experiences.

Wedded rocks - South of Atsumi

On the second morning after the parade, we headed to the West Coast to find a tempestuous and desolate wind-swept series of beaches, although less tsunami ridden, filled with concrete tetrahedra to reduce the pounding of the surf and make the coastline more accessible to fishing boats. Towards nightfall, we wound up to a high coastal volcano Mt. Chokai, shrouded on cloud and rain and stopped the night in a forest clearing, plagued by mosquitoes. In the morning we drove up to the little alpine town overlooking the summit crater, with panoramic views of the coast, and a hideously deep crater valley.

Pilgrims at Haguro San

We then looped back to the sea and a couple of fishing villages with classic little rocky island shrines connected together by ropes. Just as with Futami at Ise-Shima, in the bay there are two rocks sitting side-by-side, one large, one smaller, known as Meoto-iwa (the Wedded Rocks). Two rocks are tied together by shimenawa, ceremonial rope that is made of entwined and twisted rice straw and is used to mark off sacred or purified areas.

The small fishing towns broke the sandy monotony, before heading south inland to Yuza and Matsuyama Tachikawa to Haguro San, a mountain Shinto shrine which the pilgrims climb, led by a Yamabushi of the Shugendo sect in checked pantaloons and blowing a conch-shell. It is a sacred mountain with thousands of steps leading steeply up from a waterfall shrouded valley stream to a misty tree clad summit, with a string of high-Shinto shrines and an extraordinary children's graveyard clad in all manner of clothing , eyeglasses and barbie dolls.

This sect, which combines Shinto and Buddhism, has been recognized as distinct ever since Shinto was officially separated from Buddhism in the 19th century, an action that was probably associated with the rise of imperial Japan and Shinto as the official religion of the emperor, whose family strangely traces its origins to Amaterasu the Goddess of the Sun. Shinto is a pantheistic native religion in which all things are deemed to possess spirit or consciousness, especially natural phenomena, such as trees, water falls, hills, islands and sacred spaces of any kind. Shinto combines creatively with Buddhism in the Japanese psyche to invoke a polarity in which Shinto is the religion of life celebrated at weddings and Buddhism is the religion of mortality lamented at funerals. Unlike Shinto, which is consistent with the warrior samurai stance, Buddhism exhorts moral behavior. Personally, apart from the association with imperial militarism, I like Shinto a lot and see it as part of a groundswell of indigenous spirituality far more genuine than an absolute form of religion from apocalyptic Islam and Christianity which are hollow shells of delusion even to Buddhism which is tainted also with absolutes. The test of religion to me is the mark it leaves on nature, and in this respect both Zen Buddhism and Shinto rank very highly and Islam as a scorched earth desert religion of submission very lowly.

Island Shrine with Sacred Bridge

We then drove on to Tsuroka and the quiet Zenpo temple on a hillside by the coast, staying the night on the coast at Atsumi, south of Tsuroka near some deserted beach houses on a sea wall beside a tsunami warning sign. All along the coast, at 6 am and 6pm loudspeakers relay warnings accompanied by a jaunty tune like Bolero. Next day we stopped at some small fishing villages with island shrines connected by bridges to the mainland.

From Murakami we went inland and again got lost in the rain, taking a small valley road into the mountains to Mikawa looping back to the coastal valley and doing some expert navigating with the compass on back country roads to pass Tochio to the little town of Sumon, sleeping on an old section of road overlooking rice paddies and forest through the mist.

Matsumoto Castle

In the morning, we drove on south to Nagano where we saw the imposing Zenkoji temple, then ascending a steep mountain road with another spiral viaduct and tunnel system to Togakushi where there are a series of Shinto hill shrines. We stayed the night in the wooded entrance to a pilgrimage track back to Zenpo and in the morning walked in the misty rain to the uppermost shrine, a mile-long walk uphill to the base of a sheer escarpment where the shrine stood beside a tumbling stream.

The next day we drove on to Matsumoto down a long winding valley, where there is a classic samurai castle in original condition, just having time to see it and a couple of heritage buildings looking like they had popped out of somewhere like Brazil before driving out of Matsumoto to sleep in a winding valley below one of an endless stream of hydro-dams that litter the steep forested landscape of Japan.

'Matterhorn' of Japan 3100m

The next day we drove over the Japanese Alps in peerless brilliant sunshine on tiny precipitous hairpin bend ridden secondary roads past Kamikochi and the skyline pike - a mad Japanese tourist route you can travel only on buses to avoid pollution, gaining clear but distant views of Japan's 'Matterhorn', a stark piece of 3100 metre high rock and down again to Takayama, which is a classic Japanese town with a beautiful old quarter full of temples shrines and old wooden houses.

Traditional buildings Takayama

After a lot of deliberation in various car parks on the edge of the old temple quarter,and dinner in the castle park, we decided to go and sleep at the cemetery by the crematorium. The night was full of rain and the morning misty and drizzly and as we took off back to the castle park to have breakfast, there was a strange pinging sound from the wind screen wipers. When I got to the park I realized the unusual sized lens hood for the camera, which I had trawled Auckland second hand shops to find, was missing and realized I had left it on the front windscreen. After driving back to the graveyard and then to each of the parking lots, Christine suddenly saw it on the road, severely dented but rescuable.

We spent the morning exploring the old commercial houses of Takayama, which is a tourist haven similar to Lijiang in China and then headed for Furukawa another old town with old white-walled saki-brewing and trading houses set on a canal, where there were little 'shrines' set up with fish food for the visitors to hideously overfeed the large Koi carp in the stream.

Second pass in the 'alps' overlooking a range of 2700m tree-clad Mountains

From Furikawa, we passed again up a back road over the Alps stopping the night in the forest by a glade near the road hoping to avoid being ransacked by bears despite the warning signs. Next day before we had gone a kilometre or two, we arrived on the fringes of Shirikawa-go at Ogimachi a delightful town full of period A-frame thatched traditional farm houses converted into expensive restaurants and hotels, where a single cup of coffee cost as much as a meal. From there, we drove on through several touristic versions of these farming villages, which were moved in the 1960s to make way for a large hydro-electric dam, stopping at the best, Ainokura. While photographing I fell over backwards slipping on the trench of a rice paddy and stabbed my hand into the ground, spraining my wrist and totally dislocating my middle finger at the tip, so that it pointed hideously back at right angles. After taking one careful look at it, I grabbed it and forcefully pulled it out and snapped it back into place. For about an hour it seemed miraculously unaffected but as the day wore on it filled with blood and became bruised all over, nevertheless back into a functional condition.

Ogumachi Town with thatched farm houses

We then drove on to Kanazawa where I have a neuroscientist friend Danko from Bulgaria, who very kindly put us up for two nights in his tiny but very comfortable airc-onditioned apartment. We arrived in the middle of a late summer heat wave with the road-side thermometers registering 36 centigrade, which even at night is suffocating in the van when you have to keep the windows almost closed with two people inside to avoid encephalitis mosquitoes and the ands of imaginary thieves in the night.

Dinner with Danko in a Japanese self-cook restaurant

The day we spent in Kanazawa we made a tour of the temple area, having already on the first day wandered the Samurai and Geisha districts. After leaving Danko we traveled down the coast stopping at the family clan Jisshon Temple Daisnoji at Kaga, looking at the rock formations at Mikuni, sleeping the night at a coastal carpark with tsunami warning systems using loud speakers to give the time as they have in many other places, even inland.

Fishing houses at Ine

We then drove on down the wild coast, bypassing Tsurugu and took the coastal rainbow line from Mikata negotiating a hideous clogged industrial stretch from Obaba to Maizuru, then turning north up the coast to stop briefly beyond Maizuru at Amanohashadate, a pine-lined sandspit overrated as one of the three most outstanding sights of Japan. At evening we pressed on to Ine where we found an idyllic spot right on the wharves along with three other groups of gypsy van campers fishing and sleeping off the wharves. Ine is unique as a Japanese cultural enclave consisting of unique houses in a sheltered bay in which the ground floor is a boat shed they can drive into at high tide and the top storey is for sleeping.

North Coast

Yesterday we traveled on along the coast in idyllic wild craggy scenery, becoming completely stranded when the coast road we took and even the main highway proved to be closed forcing us to make a convoluted detour on back roads over high hill country, including one of Honshu's few pasture cattle farms, before returning to the coast. A driver we stopped to ask how to get through drove for about 10 kms to help us get on to the appropriate back road detour, something Japan is renowned for. At Kumihama we routed the lake to the North and took a back road back to some of the wildest and most precipitous coast we have seen so far, with sweeping views of the rocky cliffs, the ocean scintillating azure and foam white in the sunshine, finally stopping just short of Kasumi on a beach beside a small seaside town.


Legends of Tono and Tales of Two Lakes

Samurai Hikayama Matsuri festival Kakunodate


i ro ha ni ho he to
chi ri nu ru wo
wa ka yo ta re so
tsu ne na ra mu
u wi no o ku ya ma
ke fu ko e te
a sa ki yu me mi shi
we hi mo se su

Though fragrant are the colors,
Yet shall the flowers scatter.
Who in our world
Could forever endure?
Over the mountain of transcendence
Let us today cross,
And there will be no more shallow dreams,
No more drunken illusions.

Kûkai (空海)

This blog page has been completely replaced by our photoblogs:
Before turning to Tono, let me complete the talk of Hiraizumi and its golden relics with Basho's story of Yoshitune, the warrior who precipitated the downfall of the Fujiwara clan of Haraizumi, whose golden relics we saw there unearthed at the temple. It is a story that sets the stage for all samurai movies. Yoshitune left Hiraizumi to fight with his half brother, Yoritomo the great warlord who founded the first shogunate. However Yoritomo became both worried by the power of the Fujiwaras and jealous of Yoshitune's skill and fame, and the stage was set for a classic betrayal when Yoshitune returned to Hiraizumi. Seeing no escape Yoshitune killed his family, set his castle on fire and disemboweled himself and his retainer was stuck with a porcupine of arrows defending his master. Yoritomo then ordered the Fujiwaras to be wiped out and the temple at Hiraizumi to be destroyed, where the buried relics remained until they were unearthed. Legend says the real warriors were not killed but fled to Mongolia leaving their doubles to suffer in their stead.

The legend of the girl who became Oshira-sama

Three nights ago we arrived in Tono, a small inland town the subject of the exotic animist "Legends of Tono" by the early 20th century writer Kunio Yanagita, including shape shifting foxes, dumb impish water spirits who like to Sumo wrestle passers by and pull their intestines out their anus and a famous story of a farm girl who married her horse and when her father hung it in a tree and decapitated it, it flew with it into heaven to become Oshira-sama the goddess of fertility, still used in the form of dolls by blind crones to contact the dead during Northern Osore-zan Taisai festivals.

After driving through town fruitlessly trying to find the library where there is supposed to be free internet, we ended up at a bizarre supermarket built like an opera house with a huge fountain-like structure crowning its roof. In the process I found there was a free wireless internet service in the carpark. I've heard these stories of people who trawl round neighbourhoods and parasitize unwary people using wireless modems but its impossible to tell what the real source of these 'free' services is.

Afterwards Christine noticed that there was a shrine on a hill on the south west edge of town and we drove up to find a place to secrete ourselves and found the whole forested hillside running with small isolated roadways, and parked the night in the forest beside the shrine's graveyard, just up the hill from a delightful public toilet, in a scintillating and fragrant condition of perfection, so clean that I found myself backing out wiping the floor with spare toilet paper as I left!


In the morning we found the site of the 500 17th century buddhas carved on rocks at Gohyaku-rakan above the town in a mossy valley with a stream running through. They were almost unrecognisable when you arrive, but as you look further they are all around you.

We then went out to a 'model village' Denshoen, where they have some traditional thatched farm houses set up as a folk museum. All over Japan farm houses have adobe or brick grain storage houses, and this one had been set up as a shrine to Oshira-sama for women who wanted to get pregnant to write messages on doll's shawls and post them on little totems with the heads of all kinds of animals and people, so that there were literally thousands of these Oshira-sama dolls.

Nearby is the Joken-ji temple where the Kappa-buchi sprites were said to have put out a temple fire so that a lion statue was erected in their honour. Behind it was the Kappa-buchi pool where women who offer breast like offerings are reassured of a plentiful milk supply. When we were there a man was persuading people to fish in the poll with cucumbers which made the Japanese laugh with hilarious laughter.

Takko Hime

From Tono we moved further North West yesterday to Tazawa-ko, the deepest lake in Japan. It is also surrounded in a sexual legend, similar to the Maori story of Taranaki, Ruapehu who both loved the delightful Pihanga but fought until they now stand separated as volcanoes. In the tale of the beautiful Takko Hime and her husband Hachirotaro she drank too much water and became a water dragon. Her husband ate a fish which also made him suffer the same fate. The fury of their transformation from human to animal created twin lakes Tazawa and Towada and the passion of their love making still prevents the lakes from freezing over in winter. Surrounding the lake are several statues of Hime, from staunch Buddhist Kannon figure, through a mermaid with a serpent's tail to a golden Pania like goddess on the shore.

Yesterday we made it to Kakunodate where there is a whole street of samurai houses and the festival is about to begin. Last night we again slept in the forest above the town and managed finally for 100 yen to get a piece of fabric which functions as a mosquito net to put over the windows, which made the van stiflingly hot but did the trick to avoid Japanese encephalitis (actually a disease of all South Asia which we never worried about in India where there was an epidemic as we passed through Gorakhapur).

The weather is threatening a typhoon so we are parking up for a day at the beginning of a major festival here; Hikayama Matsuri full of colourful chariots of the samurai being dragged through the streets and folk song and dancing.


Drifiting with the wind in North Honshu

Eight sided pagoda with double helix spiral stairs Aizuwakmatsu


Iwa ni shimiiru
Semi no koe


This pervasive silence
Enhanced yet by cicadas simmering
Into the Temple Rocks dissipating

Ah, tranquility!
Penetrating the very rock,
a cicada's voice

How still it is here—
Stinging into the stones,
The locust's trill

Matsuo Bashô (松尾芭蕉) composed this Haiku at Risshakuji, commonly known as Yamadera. Included in "Okuno Hosomichi."

This blog page has been completely replaced by our photoblogs:
We have been weaving our way up and across Honshu avoiding the big cities and taking the small winding roads that go through forests, by lakes and ravines and visiting the small hill top shrines we find by the way side. We have set no agenda and have to take into account the fact that speeds of these roads even in the country except on the hideous expressways are either 40 km/hr or 50 km/hr and our little "Town Box" really only does 80 kph at a stretch, so we have repeatedly changed our plans as each day passes.

We always find a secluded spot generally chirping with insects or the lapping of waves. The recipe is to aim for the fringes, either a lake edge or the forest or a region on the edge of a farming region where we turn off a road to find a cul-de-sac with the turn off that leads to a kind of no man's land. This gives a private place to sleep do our washing and cook the evening meal. We have learned that Japan is full of 7-11's which provide excellent toilet facilities - complete with warmed seats and warm water spray nozzles which leave the Japanese residents backsides as clean as a whistle.

Each place we come to we try to extract the local culture as much as can be done without paying hugely, although when the venue is really good we pay the full price and witness the treasures on offer.

At Aizuwakamatsu we visited the reconstructed castle with only a remaining tea ceremony house that was destroyed when the city unsuccessfully backed the Tokugawas during the Meiji restoration when the 20 young samurai disemboweled themselves when they saw the rice fields burning around the town below the mountain on which they stood. Afterwards we went up the mountain with its eight-sided pagoda with twin spiral stairways up and down like a DNA double helix. Mussolini put up a statue of his eagle on the hill and he and the White Tigers share a memorial in an ironic bow to doomed ventures

In the evening we went on to Siobawa near Kitakata, where we stayed the night in a by-way park with a panoramic view in the morning of the local mountain, a volcano which had split in two last century. Kitakata had a number of old storage houses.

In the morning we went on to Yonezawa, where we saw the Uesgi clan shrine and had lunch at the clan mausolems.


We then drove on to Takahata where there was a neat temple temple on the hillside - Kameokamonju, one of the first of the many rustic hilltop Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines or jinja's we have visitied and in the town itself, a three story pagoda and thatched burial chambers. Then we took the back road to Kaminoyama and went up Zao San (mountain) and stayed the might at Zao Onsen where there are hot Japanese baths and, in the winter, ski fields.

Reggae concert

In the morning we went to a reggae concert ( tepees and dancing in the mud) after meeting two girls from NZ and Australia.

We then went on to Yamadera, a famous shrine site east of Yamagata, where we climbed to the top shrine through the forest. People were as usual wafting incense on themselves, clapping twice by the altar and rubbing the buddhas for good luck. There were a variety of shrines and temples as we wound up the forested stairways and caves and grottoes, with cliff carvings.

All the while on the way there was a massive meet of big motor bike riders with lots of very fancy tricycles and side cars with trailers. All very sedate by comparison with the fleets of little Kawasakis we would later see in Kyoto and other places, who rode through town madly farting their exhausts in unison to play a miliatary tune, like the trumpet voluntary.


We then tried to drive north and then east to the coast, but got completely lost at Obanizawa trying to cross east and ended up staying the night at Kirikoma in a by way near some isolated farms.

This morning, we drove through Ichioneseki to Hiraizumi where we went to the Chuzonji temple on the hill with a treasury containing fabulous 13th century gold sutras and buddhas and a gold pagoda full of golden buddhas, which had been buried when the clan chief of the Fujiwara was killed along with his family.

Chuzon-ji treasure shrine

Afterwards we went briefly to Geibeki gorge, which was a rip off where you have to pay a small fortune to enter it in a row boat while the boatmen sing traditional Japanese songs which echo from the cliffs, and then over the mountains down a somewhat fantastic engineering piece consisting of a spiral of viaducts and tunnels leading out to the East Coast at Rikuzen-takata.

Sleeping pozzy on the shore at Rikuzen-takata

Today we wound up the precipitous rocky forested east coast visiting the isolated fishing ports and small towns in brilliant sunshine before becoming discouraged from going further north by the main highway which stayed away from the coast and bored most of the way in deep tunnels.

We are currently at Tono, a small town which is the subject of a series of literary fables, working our way back towards the west via Samurai houses and more forests and temples.