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Synopsis: Shinto, Sex, Shunga and Ecocrisis

Passion: A shunga of a woman in sexual ecstasy

hitotsuya ni
yûjo mo netari
hagi to tsuki
Under the same roof
Prostitutes were sleeping—
The moon and clover
Matsuo Bashô (松尾芭蕉)
Bashô may have made this incident up, but it is a famous scene in Oku no Hosomichi...

Having finally left Japan, we have a few insights on Japanese culture, from development and eco-consciousness, to sex, spirituality and life energies.

To complete the relationship between Shinto, life energies, fertility and sexuality, here come three examples of sexually explicit Shinto shrines. These illustrate the fact that Shinto as a fertility religion was naturally sexual until Puritan influences in the Meiji restoration led to the suppression of the overtly sexual elements, despite the yin-yang male and female guardian animals that protect every shrine, the manifest sexual fertility of Shinto goddesses and the implicit sexuality of the Shinto demon Tengu (see later pic). Shinto which comes from Shin-tao or the Tao or way of the gods is implicitly Taoist in nature.

The iron penis carried in its portable shrine Hounen Matsuri,
Tagata jinja, Komaki worshipping the ancestral
woman-goddess Tamahime-no-mikoto.

The pictures are from internet images, Hounen Matsuri at Tagata jinja Komaki north of Nagoya in March and the Kanamara Matsuri rite at Kanayama jinja, Kawasaki in April. The iron penis rite originates from a town of the old Tokaido road, which had a profitable trade in prostitution, and the iron penis was said to destroy the bite of a demon in the vagina of women, that we would associate with an STD. Consequently the shrine is devoted to penis images.
What of the vagina? On display in the Tagata shrine's museum, is a small statue, where, in a wooden case with two swinging doors, is a life-size brass model of a vagina, centered between the stumps of two spreading legs, particularly polished around the orifice. For five hundred yen, you can buy a tiny golden penis charm and rub it on the vagina shrine for good fertility luck. Other Shinto shrines such as the Kangi shrine in Shirahama-cho, Wakayama, have both penises and vaginas as fertility shrines which you can rub.

Penis and vagina shrine totems Kangi shrine.

The matsuri participants carry these penises through the streets with other multifarous manifestations of the penis in trinkets and icons carried by women which the onlookers can rub for good luck, amid frenzied rejoicing and partaking of penis and vagina shaped delicacies.

Penis totem being carried from the Kanayama jinja
in the Kanamara Matsuri by men who are
cross-dressed in the manner of a Kabuki play

A third Shinto shrine renowned for its sexual imagery is the Taga shrine at Uwajima in Shikoku, which is one of the few remaining places where the explicit Shinto sexuality before the Meiji restoration remains. This again has a penis carrying festival and a world sexual museum capitalizing on its unusual reputation.

The Taga shrine at Uwajima has a penis log carried in festivals
as well as various other penis images in stone and wood
and has an adjacent world sexual museum.

In addition to his appearance in many Shinto rites and at Buddhist mountain temples, Tengu is also paired with the goddess of mirth, Otafuku, the breast dimpled female figure paired with Tengu on the love hotel in a previous posting in this blog, in a spring wakening rite at the Asuka Onda Festival, held the first Sunday in February every year at the Asukaniimasu Shrine in Asuka-mura, Nara in which there is an ecstatic simulated sex act between Tengu and Otafuku played by two males in costume, whose origins run back to the 7th century and are some of the oldest in Shinto's long history.

 Mara Kannon Shrine in Tawarayama, northern Yamaguchi Prefecture.

Another part of the exploration of Japanese sexuality involves shunga, the erotic art associated with 'pillow books' for sex education of newly weds, which forms a physical Karma sutra of Japanese sexual positions, as well as group and lesbian sex, and other forms of voyeurism such as bestiality and sado-masochism, illustrating that nothing is new under the Sun.

Shunga: Woman on top and back to front
Sexual elements are also portrayed in sculpture in small ivories depicting sexual engagement and other images, from food to phallic deities. There is a museum of the sex gods Seishin no Yakata in Utsunomiya, Tochigi. Dosojin or wayside protector gods are also sometimes portrayed as a couple, occasionally surmounted by a glans-like shape, or in suggestive, or explicit penile form. A museum containing some penile dosojin from the Dosojin matsuri at Utsugushi-ga-hara Onsen is beside Matsumoto castle.

Dosojin or road-side guardians
In mythological Shinto tradition, the universe begins with both yin and yang attributes forming a diffuse cosmic egg out of which heaven differentiated more easily but the eart was more troubled with chaotic confusion. A tale of Genesis depicts an original couple who walked along a heavenly Rainbow Bridge, thrusting a "jewel spear of heaven" into the chaos beneath. Foam from the spear formed an island, and the couple floated down upon this and built a house with the spear becoming the central pillar supporting the household. Their marriage gave birth to the Kami Islands of the gods, trees, plants, grasses, sun and moon goddesses, and others.

Commercial ivory carving of common rear entry coitus position

The final observation is about the relatively advanced way in which Japan is taking expensive measures to build a sustainable society that is eco-friendly and manages the land of Japan in a sustainable green paradigm. Japan contrasts wildly from colonial agricultural countries such as New Zealand in that 76% of the land area is in forest, despite the extensive urban development, and the remain areas are carefully intensively managed rice paddies and horticultural plots for vegetables. Extensive pasture farming is a novelty, so for confined to Hokkaido and the plateaus at the top of some high hill country.

Tengu's eagle beak has become a distinctly sexual penis nose

The ecosystems thus remain relatively intact, although Japanese demand for wood and other raw materials has devastated the tropical forests of Indonesia and the wider Asian tropics. Japan is also extensively into recycling to the extent there is no trash collection as such but everything is either plastic bottles, metal especially aluminum cans, paper, or 'combustible'. However until China recently overtook it Japan was the world's second largest consumer of oil.

Japan is also heading into demographic crisis with an inverting population pyramid.

Efficient careful land use in Japan.
Tea plantations, rice paddies and extensive forest cover
Protecting the environment has some negatives, like sealing off many of the parking bays on highways, partly to avid accidents but also to prevent desperate Japanese for dumping wholesale garbage in disused corners of the highway system, but it serves as a lesson to other agricultural and industrial countries that it is possible to remain economically robust and have a clean urban technological society as well.


Last Tango in Tokyo

The flash from Fuji summit


hamaguri no
futami ni wakare
yuku aki zo


Dividing like clam
and shell, I leave for Futami—
Autumn is passing by

I'm like a clam pulled apart
Its body ripped from the shell
Looking back, leaving you
With the passing of the autumn
Onward to Futami!

Matsuo Bashô (松尾芭蕉)
Final poem in Oku no Hosomichi; it can be read a number of different ways.
Futami is the rope-linked wedding-rocks at Ise-Shima, and the site of one of Shinto's foremost shrines...

Extended photoblog with many chapters:
We returned to Tokyo from Kyoto by local train a couple of days ago. As we passed Fuji city on the coast, Fuji-san mountain, the lady renowned for her shyness, finally revealed herself to us. Her summit was just poking out of the clouds as the train came round the coastal hills into the bay, but in the few moments we crossed by, the clouds opened up and separated and her form was revealed, and at the last moment the setting Sun was reflected in a glint of the shrine and shelter on the summit ridge.

Sakano at Yoshida

Returning to our two bunk room at Yoshida at about 8.30 pm was the next thing to a home coming. Sakano, the proprietor was still there to greet us, protesting mildly that he had wanted to go because he had a friend staying at his home, waving a note he had written saying "Dear Chris KIng - I welcome the Second Coming" - finessing the fact it was actually our third visit.

Yoshida is absolutely covered in greenery and creepers !

Yoshida House has been a real home to us. We have stayed three times and come back again and again because we know and like the people here and the house and Oizumi Gakuen are a really nice place to be when in Tokyo. Sakano has been both patient and helpful and our contact with Shon catalysed the most creative phase of our travel round rural Japan. Above all we love to be in a house covered in creepers and green plants in the biggest concrete jungle on the planet.


In contrast to our waking life phased the Sun on the road in the Mitsubishi, our time in Tokyo has been wholly under the banner of the night. The first evening here we set off to see the love hotels of Dogenzaka hill in Shibuya and the red light district of Kabukicho in Shinjuku.

In Kyomachi
a cat prowling for love
heads for Ageyamachi

Takarai Kikaku (1661-1707, also known as Enomoto Kikaku) was one of Basho's leading disciples. Kikaku preferred the city and the opportunities it provided for extravagant play. Kyomachi and Ageyamachi were districts inside the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters of Edo.

Crowded in Shibuya

The trains were absolutely packed to overflowing and as we arrived in Shibuya, the streets were so crowded that there was barely room on the sidewalk, giving a feeling of utter claustrophobia. The evening is a time when Japanese who have been working hard all day can go to town shopping so it can be even more crowded than rush hours.

Love Hotel Two-way

The love hotels were colourful additions to our collection, garish and blatantly offering different prices for a tryst or a night's sleep, all automated so you can register and use the available rooms without any human eyes falling on you.

Automated booking window
with separate charges for 'rest' and 'stay'.

But they are also discrete enough that they don't look like they are bawdy brothels, after a 1980s court ruling that curtailed the more blatant extremes forcing many to masquerade as 'business hotels'.

Foyer Two-way

The 'Two-Way" sported a luxurious foyer, like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, with the front window adorned with Amazonian love birds, and the hall sporting New Guinea masks.

Pink Cabaret trounces the Blue Movie

The red light district is similarly shielded from immediate view, so you only get a bare taste of it from the street with curtain-clad screens covered in Kanji and Katakana hiding most of the pleasures inside, ranging from the usual 'massage parlours' referred to as 'soap lands', through bottomless cafes, to cabarets with erotic acts inviting audience participation.

Kabukicho angels for hire

Intriguing was the prevalence of establishments offering male 'models' with teased haircuts, as frequent as the galleries of barbie doll girls, something which makes an intriguing commentary on Japanese sexual relations.

Those delectable naughty samurai boys! CNN News Article

Last night taking a different turn we went to an evening festival at KIshimojo Shinto shrine in Ikebukuro, or Zoshigaya Kishimojindo, dedicated to yet another Goddess of fertility and childbirth Kishimojin, a gold clad jinja surrounded in ancient ginko trees tucked away in a labrynth of side streets. As we arrive outside the Seibu Department store, we realized the procession was already under way with large lanterns powered by portable generators being wheeled to the main thoroughfare Meiji-dori, coalescing into a long train of giant lanterns interspersed with drumming groups, led by a pipe and glockenspiel band and dancers.

Festival lanterns whirled

At 7 pm the procession took off to loud fireworks crashing above the high rise neon-clad buildings, and a deafening combination of loud drumming, police whistles and traffic noise, overlaid with the lanterns, now being actively hurled around in combination with whirlygigs consisting of streamers on poles which the guys took it in turns to energize in a kind of virility dance.

Whirling the whirlygigs to flat skin drumming

After donning industrial ear plugs we followed the procession through the crowds down Meiji-dori and into the narrow side streets which eventually led right up to the shrine, giving another taste of claustrophobia as everyone, the procession, onlookers and the neighbourhood faithful converged on the shrine entrance lined with brightly coloured sausage stalls and red and white lanterns.

The throng passing through the shrine

Each team performed on the steps and gained a blessing from the priests and the entourage then mover in a loop back down the shrine steps and off to one side where a lantern lined avenue led on to the local Buddhist temple, Homyoji, where the teams were all blessed again after yet another tattoo of drumming and whirling, in a short reading of sutras before disbanding into the night.

Today is packing day and making the multi-stage transit from Oizumi gakuen, our quiet residential neighbourhood on the North Western fringes of Tokyo to Narita, a city 45 kms East, making at least two changes of train after dragging our overload baggage on a trolley the mile or so to the station, grateful even to spend the night sleepless in the plane at the thought of having a whole house to wander through and a comfortable bed to sleep in on our return.


Basho: From Kyoto with Love

Mrs Tani at Tani House


Kyou nitemo
kyou natsukashi ya


Even in Kyôto—
hearing the cuckoo's cry—
I long for Kyôto

I am in Kyôto,
Yet at the voice of the hototogisu,
Longing for Kyôto.

Back to Kyoto
My longing now refreshed
When Hototogisu cry

Haiku - Matsuo Bashô (松尾芭蕉)

Extended photoblog with many Kyoto chapters:

This is our last day in Kyoto. We wound up by going to a craft market at a local temple, catching a glimpse of the maples beginning to turn red in the parks, where a Japanese man stopped me to pronounce that my visage was very much in the likeness of Basho, then to Morita Washi the finest paper supplier in Kyoto to buy some rather beautiful Japanese wood block prints of Samurai courtship, again passing through the downtown markets, and pontocho area having already seen a variety of expensive crafts, from the scintillating woven art of Shosui Kaku, through several Japanese craft emporiums to the paper shops.

Tonight I went to visit Funaoka Onsen, the traditional Japanese bath house nearby which contains old wood carved panels of the Russo-Japanese war, as well as a ceiling display of Tengu, the red-faced penis-nosed mythological guardian figure that appears in both Buddhist and Shinto temples and festivals here, as well as the love hotel in the previous blog, whose long nose originally came from the beak of a bird of prey, as which is regarded largely as an evil spirit in Buddhism but is a guardian protector in Shinto.

The big room Tani House

Afterwards I heard the elusive clicking of sound sticks in the night that happens here mid-evening and mysteriously heralds the fire guards who wander through the alleys calling "Hi no jo-in" - beware of smoldering fires - harking back to the time when Japan used open fires for cooking and the wood and paper houses caught fire so often that, in Tokyo, the nightly blazes were a regular entertainment called the 'blossoms of Edo'. After running hundreds of metres down several streets clean into the precincts of Daitoku-ji temple, I finally came upon them singing their ancient protection song, something that is common sense in a compound full of pine trees in the centre of the city.

Giving the V sign downtown Kyoto.

The 12 days here have stretched out endlessly and at the time time we have been so fully occupied that I have had little chance to write. This is partly a function of the unique way of life at Tani House, a very special Japanese style guest house for Westerners, which we first stayed at in 1984 and whose land lady Mrs. Tani has been doing the same good thing ever since the 1970s. Tani House is famous and she does a really neat job of making it personally pleasant, keeping the whole process going smoothly including providing simple but varied breakfast fare every morning and a kitchen where you can cook, a small bath house and a series of quaint traditional Japanese sleeping rooms of various sizes with futons and floor mattresses.

Girl in Kasuga procession

Japanese style dwelling involves living on the floor with paper thin walls, so that every rustle in the room next door echoes like thunder, and any chance of a romantic liaison depends on finding odd times when everyone is out. Because its up a small alley, getting a free wireless internet connection to produce the blog requires walking out of the little cul-de-sac and down the lane to huddle on a street corner typing with one hand, although a laptop is provided in the foyer for a small fee for ordinary internet use.

Medieval Belgian hanging Otsu matsuri

In Kyoto I have discovered a golden rule. Never follow one religion. Either have none at all, or make sure to have two and give only some of your allegiance to each. In the case of Japan there is no one religion but an ebb and flow between Shinto's polarity of life, fertility and energy and Buddhism's pole of quiescence, chastity and death. By separating the two, each person remains free from the oppression either might deliver on its own and able to give spiritually in a way which one dominant religion rapidly obliterates - thus as I have mentioned Shinto serves birth, marriage, luck, worldly fertility and cultural continuity while Buddhism serves death, enlightenment and meditative repose.

Peach girl puppet play Otsu matsuri

We have tried to spend our time doing the unexpected and concentrating on the spontaneous and accidental rather than slogging our way through the endless round of 500-800 yen temples, with varying varieties of slightly gross touristic exploitation of Buddhist excesses, like Chion-in which boasts the largest bell and temple gate in Japan and Sanjusangen-do which houses 1001 images of the 1000 armed Goddess of mercy, Kannon each of which has a different face and none of which you are allowed to photograph, although do have a postcard displaying them for all to see and I did manage to accidentally sneak into Shokoku-ji which sports a huge hall, like a bare protestant cathedral, with a famous painting of a dragon on the roof.

Kinkakuji burned to the ground
by an obsessed monk in the 1960s.

The first couple of days we visited Kinkaku-ji and Ginkaku-ji the two delightful lakeside temples famous for their reflections in the water, and the latter for its painted panels and sand garden, spurning Ryano-ji the austere temple with a bare rock garden which exemplifies how the affinity of Zen to nature can end in a complete contradiction where the dead contrivance of raked sand has replaced living nature, despite the more sensitive mossy gardens of the huge temple complex of Daitoku-ji right over the wall from Tani House.

Kasuga procession

Instead we have come upon a so far endless variety of the spontaneous and unexpected. After exploring some of the craft centres, we walked by the Yasaka pagoda, coming upon a succession of women dressed up as Geisha's for a day and to the Sennenzaki and Nissenzaki districts full of old houses and boutique shops finding as we wound up the hill crowds of people converging on another temple Kyomisudera, which is a very endearing Buddhist temple, with a freely photographable set of altars and a water fall with reputed sacred therapeutic properties.

Missing the target love rock Jishu jinja

But the most intriguing thing about it is that it is uniquely associated with the Shinto Jishu shrine in its grounds, which is the shrine of love. The shrine has all manner of good luck charms and oracles including a pair of rocks hopeful lovers try to walk between with their eyes shut to seek their fortunes in love and a shrine to Ogaki-myojn, the guardian deity who answers all prayers especially for ladies, even those who nailed straw dolls to the trees below during 2 am visits to curse their betrayers.

Women in kimonos on an outing to Kyomizudera

Being in the name of love, the temple has a unique air of affection and draws both streams of school children and young women in kimonos out to celebrate the mystery of love's fortune, who are pleased to be photographed and found beautiful in the eye of the beholder.

Wedding Shimogamo Jinja

We have also made a tour of many of the Shinto shrines in Kyoto, which in contrast to the fees charged by touristic Buddhist temples, have stayed true to their sacred calling and remain free. We are next to Kenkun jinja a quiet hill top shrine, but have also visited Yoshida and Yanaka shrines and the very picturesque Shimogamo shrine set in a park between the two forks of the river which was literally pulsating with a series of wedding ceremonies, and 'christenings' of infants demonstrating the relationship between Shinto and the rights of passage of life in birth and marriage, and a ceremony between a Shinto priest and his partner wildly dressed up like a woman in a traditinal Japanese medieval play almost unable to move for the flowing bulky garments, requiring two attendants to get her into her clogs to move to the next shrine.

Man in Shinto priestly attire with woman
in traditional dress in ceremony at Shimogamo

Earlier on in the piece we had travelled to Otsu on the shores of Lake Biwa, half an hour out of Kyoto to watch the Otsu matsuri, a festival like to one at Kakunadote where medieval three wheeled two-storey high chariots containing teams of flute players and drummers, covered in ornate old brocades, each with its own puppet theatre telling a different tale are blessed at the shrine, before being pulled around the town with frenzied energy by teams of men in Kimonos and loin cloths, again with a procession of the elders, priests, little girls and boys in costume, while at the same time throwing out good luck charms to the crowds who vie with one another to pick up the prizes.

Otsu Matsuri Chariots

We have stopped in small temple markets where we found fresh vegetables, sexy cups with naked geishas, a monk doing wild staccato rap sutras.

Naughty Geisha Teacups Temple Market

We also spent a day traveling by train to Nara, where there is a park with several quaint old temples and shrines. Nara was before Kyoto the capital and its priests became very powerful before being eclipsed by Kyoto, which in turn gave way to the economic power of Tokyo as capital in 1868 marking the start of the Meiji period. Nijo castle in Kyoto records the council in which the Shogun was compelled finally to utter a decree transferring power back to the emperor in the state room in a set of mannequins.

Sculpture Nissenzaki district

Nara's Kofuku-ji has one of the tallest old wood pagodas in Japan. Like Kyomisudera, Todai-ji's Daibutsu-den hall housing the great Buddha is a photo-friendly rustic temple thronged by crowds of school children, along with the Nigatsu-do hall which has a sweeping view of Nara. Behind these is the secluded Shinto Kasuga shrine which was again celebrating life in an infant blessing, amid throngs of deer which wait to eat deer biscuits we mistakenly consumed ourselves last time in 1984 and which try to sneak up and nibble your sandwiches.

Women worshiping at a Tengu shrine Kurama.
Tengu is also a mountain protector.

A couple of days ago for another change of scene, we traveled by a neat little mountain railway a few kilometres North of Kyoto to Kurama and Kibune, where there is a Buddhist and Shinto complex straddling a forested mountain park, which we ascended in a long winding pathway with great views out over the hills. The temple belongs to the slightly bizarre Kurama-Kokyo sect which, believes that more than six million years ago, Mao-son the great king of conquerors of evil and the spirit of the earth, descended on Mt. Kurama from Venus with the great mission of the salvation of mankind. While this conflicts with evolution as madly as the Christian view of a four thousand year creation, it does make a refreshing twist to the religious fantasies of humankind. Consistent with the engagement of Buddhism with renunciation and death, rather than life and life energies, the main hall had a candle-lit mausoleum below full of the urns of the ashes of the dead in long rows like an ancient DNA library.

Geishas officiating at the Doll Burning Ceremony

Yesterday we found ourselves intimately involved in two different festivals. The first was a solemn 'doll burning' ceremony at the Hokyoji nunnery, which houses a very expensive 1000 yen exhibition of dolls the daughters of the emperor brought when they set up the temple. This consisted of a huge display of hundreds of Japanese dolls, and a solemn ceremony in which the nuns read sutras, while three extremely photogenic Geishas in ornately woven attire made offerings and the small crowd offered prayers.

Women's shrine team at the Kasuga festival

Afterwards we headed to the Kasuga shrine just North West of Shi-in station where the Shinto deities are taken out into the town by two teams of two hundred men in hand-carried scintillating Arks of the Covenant, and a smaller team of women carrying a women's Ark, to ensure the deities go out to the people and remain alive and entwined in the life of the people. We arrived just in time to see the Arcs being blessed by the priests, the procession of elders, men on horseback, little girls in headdresses and boys piping flutes, followed by the women wildly joggling their shrine Arc and then the two teams of men with great gusto wielding their two shrines out into the street and away on a route round the neighbourhood.

400 men carry the two male shrines and
vie with one another for energetics.

Tomorrow we hit the railroad for Tokyo (probably another chain of locals but hopefully using rapids that jump at least some stops), where there is an evening lantern festival at Ikebukuro over the next couple of days and will explore the love hotels and red light districts of Shibuya and Shinjuku.


Lady Murasaki and the Goddess of Fire and Fertility

Konohanasakuya-Hime:Goddesss of fire and fertility Fuji-yoshida.


soro soro nobore
fuji no yama

O snail,
Climb Mt. Fuji,
But slowly, slowly!

Kobayashi Issa (小林一茶)

This blog page has been completely replaced by our photoblogs:

Our journey now drives East through the mountainous areas of Honshu, slipping between Kyoto and Nara because we return to these places after returning the van in the urban wastelands half way between Tokyo and Yokohama, to consummate our time in Japan in the cultural capital.

Shingon temple north of Uji with fire offerings

As we left Awaiji we realized we were now taking the world's longest suspension bridge, a much huger more imposing structure than the one we entered the island from, totally dwarfing even the largest trucks and far larger than the Golden Gate in San Francisco. As we arrived in Honshu, we found ourselves in a bewildering spaghetti network of highways around Kobe. No matter which direction we took, we ended up traveling South West rather than the North East into the hills we sought to avoid the metropolitan paralysis of greater Osaka. After a lot of compass navigating and repeated mistakes, we managed to take a road into the hills as far as Ikeda, driving up into the Minoo Quasi National Park to stay the night on an isolated side road in the forest.

Rock garden and Pagoda Ishi-Yamadera

Next day we ploughed through the peripheral cities to the North of Osaka in fine weather in maniacal traffic speeding along two congested lanes interspersed with endless traffic lights, averaging about 20 kph, overtaken every two minutes by the Shinkansen bullet train careering past at some 300 kph. The highway then became entangled with a toll motor-way weaving in and out of its elevated pylons. We enarly ended up taking the toll road to try to cross the river to Uji at Shimamoto, but the men in the toll booth helpfully gave us a map to show us there was a parallel non-toll lane as well. We stooped in at Yawata to climb the forested hill to Iwashimisu jinja (a jinja is a Shinto shrine), with a beautifully decorated inner shrine under restoration, then on to Uji with a small world heritage Shinto shrine by the river and and the Byodin temple, whose Heian phoenix shrine is famously illustrated on the 10 yen coin, but found it closed for restoration, however we plan to return to it in a few days from Kyoto once restoration is over. We then took the river road passing by the temple, which ran around in a loop of hydro lakes from South East, eventually North, passing a colourful recluse Shingon temple on a hill with a lot of tributes to fire and flame, racing to Ishi-yamadera just before closing, when we found by accident it was lying in our path.

Lady Murasaki's alleged room at Ishi-Yamadera

Ishi-yamadera is a delightful Shingon temple set on a hill with beautiful shrines and altars, classic painted screens, a pagoda set above a rock and moss garden, and the room where it is alleged Lady Murasaki Shikibu wrote the Tale of the Genji, in the eleventh century Heian peak, for the women of the aristocracy. It is said to be the first novel, a title which shows how far ahead of European culture the Japan of the time actually was. The work recounts the life of a son of a Japanese emperor, known to readers as Hikaru Genji, or "Shining Genji". Genji is simply another way to read the Chinese characters for the real-life Minamoto clan, to which Genji was made to belong. For political reasons, Genji is relegated to commoner status and begins a career as an imperial officer.The tale concentrates on Genji's romantic life and describes the customs of the aristocratic society of the time. Much is made of Genji's good looks. His most important personality trait is the loyalty he shows to all the women in his life, as he never abandons any of his wives. When he finally becomes the most powerful man in the capital, he moves into a palace and provides for each of them, thus providing a unique insight into the sexual ethics of the imperial culture of the times. Yesterday while in Kyoto we went to another Matsura festival with chariots in Otsu adjacent to the shrine on the shores of Lake Biwa, very like the one in Kakunadote and one of the medieval floats had a marionette display with lady Murasaki and all the images of her novels parading before her.

Float of Lady Murasaki and her creations Otsu Matsura

Such tales are by no means fantasy. The original capital Nara had to be moved to Kyoto when a priest by the name of Dokyo managed to seduced an empress and nearly usurped the throne, and it was decided to move the court to a new location, out of the reach of Nara's increasingly powerful clergy.

Japanese dress style: Miniskirts and undressing atire, Mag0me

Tale of the Genji provides a counterpoint to the tale of erotic entrapment spun in "Woman of the Dunes" whose inspiration we was in the great sand dunes North of Tattori mentioned in an earlier blog. An entomologist on an expedition to collect insects in an area of sand dunes is entrapped in a sand pit by local villagers to assist a widow who has been tasked by the villagers with digging sand to be sold to the cities and preventing the sands from encroaching on the house and her village. Junpei eventually becomes the widow's lover and resigns himself to his fate. The focus of the film shifts to the way in which the couple cope with the oppressiveness of their condition, and the power of their physical attraction in spite of - or possibly because of - their situation. At the end of the film Junpei gets his chance to escape, but he chooses to prolong his stay in the dune, in part because the woman is already pregnant with his child.

Female as 'Cherry Blossom'

Japan's fixation on doll-like images of woman shows clearly that the cliche of the fecund female as the nubile fertile child-like adolescent figure is not just a product of Western anorexia nervosa. Images of the doll-like geisha transfixed in her kimono extend through the soft-core girlie comics and magazines that litter every Lawson Station and Seven-eleven snack bar outlet, through kamakaze mini-skirted school girls, to young women carefully made up to look fragile to perfection as a cherry blossom petal, yet seductively adorned with clothes simulating a partially undressed state.

Boy's girlie magazines in snack shop.

This is possible partly because Japan's rule obeying and Buddhist non-violent mentality results in a low incidence of sex and other crimes and girls feel safe to walk in the street, even at night, without fear of attack. The seductive younger generation contrasts antipodally with the gentle forbearing conservative image of the older generation, leaving the statistics of Japanese people claiming to make love on average only 31 times a year, compared with the 144 times for New Zealanders, a mystery spanning the generations.

Goddess of Mercy 'suckled' by two dragons Chomeiji

At evening we drove up the Eastern shore of Lake Biwa where there were a long string of recreational beach-side parks, stopping in a car par with a toilet constructed by an ingenious recycling research project, which we found, having washed all our clothes, was providing the sweet-smelling water by filtering the sewerage outflow through six tanks of soil.

Buddhist priestess, Setouchi Jakucho at Chomeiji

Driving North in the morning we stopped at a lakeside temple, Chomeiji, which had a very select altar with a forbidden image of the thousand armed Goddess of Mercy Kannon,, outside which a very famous woman Buddhist priestess, Setouchi Jakucho was being interviewed for a program on Japanese television. Only one of the Buddhist sects in Japan permits women to be consecrated priests, so I guess this was it. Later we would come to see her lecture posters in towns we drove through.

Kimono art exhibition Hikone castle

Driving north to Hikone, we stopped and climbed the hill and the Y 1000 fee to visit the castle and its lakeside formal garden with mirror reflections and an electrifying kimono exhibition with the models dressed as lady killer geishas. We then drove East past Gifu to Yaotsu, where we finally managed to get some silicone and paint to repair a few scratches on the van caused by backing into parking signs at Cainz Do-it-yourself chain that had everything from art supplies to building materials. Trying to find a place to crash we wound up at a strange very opulent sect-like peace settlement called The Hill of Humanity, and managed to descend into a derelict side road with a panoramic view of the valley below the hill overlooking a tunnel.

Love hotel north of Nikko with penis nose and breast cheeks.

Next day we set off on the road from Yaotsu to Ena through the hills, but it rapidly degraded into a local farm alley that broke off into several directions with only signs in Japanese to the nearest villages, forcing us to navigate by compass, and to back track for 5 or 6 kilometres when on of the choices descended a deep valley and turned through 180 degrees to go South-West rather than the North-East we intended. Finally on one of them we recognized the Kanji for Ena and then drove on a tortuous little hill road through the forest with a large number of cars commuting to work, finally emerging into Ena after two or three hours lost in the hills.

Venus love hotel with drive-in anonymous portal automatic registaration
and cheaper rates for resting than sleeping

We stopped in at the Hotel Venus on the outskirts, a discrete love hotel with a drive-in core and an automated room service, offering different prices for overnight or 'rest', that prevented anyone seeing who arrived and who left. It was a cut above the seedy one we first saw driving up to Nikko, which had a man with a penis nose and a woman with breast cheeks on it.


After failing to find Enakyo gorge and instead arriving at a hideous fun park on a flooded hydro-lake we then drove on to Magome and Tsumago, two old towns built on the Nakasendo (the old stone-paved medieval post road). Magome was delightful but rather touristic, but Tsumago over the saddle, on the other side of the range, was still in an unspoiled state, with a long meandering pedestrian only street following the old Nakasendo. Going through Iida, we pulled off for the evening near Oshika in a disused old loop of road by a bridge in the rain.


The next day we drove into the Minami alps, ascending a winding back road named on the map as a major highway, stocking up with gas at the last gas station ascending the 1424 m summit road, coming down to Hase, where there was supposed to be a back road going by Mt. Kita the second highest mountain in Japan. This however proved, like those around and to Kamikochi previously could be traversed only by paying a hefty price for a bus ticket and was thus useless for a transit in the van. After nearly departing we returned to the alpine information center and was told by the woman on the desk that the tiny wiggle hexagon 20 was passable in the current conditions, even though the map showed it with a barrier road closed sign. We thus took of in the rain and mist up an exceedingly narrow windy precipitous little bush track that had no seal and in many places was fit only for a four wheel drive, but never quite petered out, despite coming at many places to locked gates with only one opening through, finally ascending Mt. Nyukasa 1955 m, all foggy and lichen hanging from the trees, eventually bursting out through a pair of farm gates from the wilderness onto a high plateau farm pasture, then descending in a wild bunch of hairpins to Fujimi and the valley down to Mt. Fuji. Views of this road are in the previous blog.

'Private' love hotel Fuji Five Lakes

From there it was a long drive south down a wide populated valley, before getting mired in the highways around Kofu where there was no turn off for the 358 to Fuji lakes, going East, but only going West, after we had overshot by 5 kms in rush hour traffic, because it took off from under a fly-over. We ended up sleeping on the slopes below Fuji five lakes right under the turn off to a viewing mountain called Ashigawa under the highway bridge by a precipitous valley with a stream in the entrance to a little deserted shrine. Another idyllic place brimming with nature that appeared out of nowhere.

The next day we drove around four of the five lakes in the pouring rain and mist-clad foothills with Fuji completely obliterated in the cloud cover. The first two smaller lakes were lined with devoted fishermen under umbrellas or in little tents erected over rowing boats, but the latter ones were tourist traps with hideous duck-shaped pedal boats littering the shore lines. The second lake had a cute little discrete love hotel called the Pr()ivate with a love heart in he place of the parentheses. Because of the rain we made it pretty much a rest day just trawling along the lake edges and hanging out in the towns. I got on the wireless internet and set up a fan-fold of Google maps to navigate through Tokyo and Yokohama suburbs to return the van and managed to park it up on a side street out of the rain to do a quick paint job on the few scratches we had made in the body work. In Kawaguchi despite being on the fore-front of a tourist town full of plush hotels, we managed to find an easy park we could spend the night right on the foreshore of the lake overlooking the opulence.

Raisiing the shrine screen with scarlet-skirted female priestess
of the fire goddess entering Fuji-yoshida.

Next day took us on to Fujiyoshida, the main hub of the Fuji lakes area, and stumbled upon Sengen jinja, the Shinto shrine at the foot of the main trail up Fuji, just as they were carrying out the morning ceremonies of setting up the shrine and its fertility offerings. The shrine is dedicated to Konohanasakuya-Hime the Goddess of Fire and child bearing, who is propitiated annually in a big fire ceremony on August 26 at the end of the climbing season to ward off Mt. Fuji from erupting. The shrine comes equipped with golden arcs surmounted by phoenixes, carried through the town by the priests, along with a huge red replica of Mt. Fuji amid fire and dancing.

Carrying the fertility offerings

Having driven up Fuji until we became hopelessly submerged in the thick fog, we then drove down to the hub town of Gotemba and to the Hakone area to position ourselves closer to Yokohama for the journey back next day. Hakone is famous for views of Fuji and for the red Tori gate rising up in the lake edge at Hakone jinja. The old post road from Hakone then descended in a string of hairpins to the tourist gateway town to the Fuji area, Yamoto, past some hideous ticky tacky private Buddhist and Shinto temples with gold painted ersatz images, guard dogs and surveillance cameras, and spent the night tucked into the entrance to one of the old post road walking tracks. However Fuji is renowned in Japan as a very shy lady, so although I have seen it in the past, I have resorted to a journalistic foray to snap all the images of Fuji I can find, on tourist town billboards, the internet, on manholes, on pottery and even on kimonos. The result is a virtual tour to the summit and its various shrines and views from almost every vantage point we passed.

Fertility altar at rear of the main shrine

The next day we returned through boisterous traffic on the 255, 246, 409 and local hexagon 2 to Hyoshi, the suburb of Tokyo-Yokohama where we had leased the van. By this time I really felt the I had learned to become a fearless Japanese driver riding the lights in convoy volleys as they all change phase in programmed sequence to let a cohort of traffic move at speed through about a kilometre of intersections at a time the same way they do in New York. Having cleaned out the van at a Lawson Station snack bar outlet because it is one of the few places you can dispose of rubbish, we finally arrived at 1 pm sharp to return the van five weeks after we had leased it for two, having faxed Kashiwa a note in Japanese and English translated by a helpful bank clerk in Tono so he would know we hadn't stolen it. Kashiwa was delighted to see us return with the van and shouted us both a lunch of Japanese noodles at the bar over the road. By evening we had finally made it back to Yoshida House in Tokyo again anonymous and apparently unscathed from the diabolical threats of instant fine or highway infringements which could bust the meagre budget of an impecunious traveler from New Zealand.

Milestones looking like prehistoric monuments,
old post road Yamoto

We had a well-needed day's rest in Tokyo getting money from the post office ATM and venturing no further than the supermarket. However next day we took the local from Tokyo to Kyoto starting at 9.45 am, because the Shinkansen bullet train which only takes three odd hours coasts 13,500 yen rather than the meagre Y 7900 on the local. The Lonely Planet suggests it may involve up to four stops and take 8 hours, but things proved a little more complicated than that. The local involves multiple transfers where you come to a halt and wait for another local to take off in the same direction starting from the station you have been dumped off at, possibly shifted platforms with all your luggage. The trouble is that the station you end up at may not have a rapid transport train, which jumps minor stops, departing because it is only a local station, so you can get locked in a series of locals, slowing and complicating the journey. We had to wait for a new train to link onward, at Odawara, Atami, Shibawa, Numazu, Shimada, Hammamatsu, Toyahashi (15 min delay), and then took a local to Gifu (via Nagoya), but waited 12 mins at Okasaki to take a rapid instead to save time, passing Gifu to Ogaki. At Ogaki we then tried to take a limited express to Osaka via Kyoto, but got thrown off the train at Maibara because we hadn't paid a surcharge, where we waited another 20 mins to board a rapid bound for Himeji via Kyoto finally arriving at 7.35 pm, just over 10 hours later, finding we still had about 35 minutes on the local bus to get to Tani House by close to 8.30 pm, where we are now hanging out for 12 days of cultural respite!