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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."

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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.

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