Oniko's Travel Diary:
The Three Mountains

(August 5-31, 1998)

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Sunday August 23rd, 1998
I hadn't noticed last night because it was too dark, but my second floor room has a beautiful view of a decorative garden that the hotel is wrapped around in a 'U' shape. There are short and carefully sculpted trees, rocks with bright green moss in patches on them, and a small pond with a couple of coy in it. BOY, I wish I could keep the room for another day!
I wasn't sure if breakfast was going to be brought up to me, or if I was supposed to go to it... so after eight o'clock came and went, I decided to go looking for it. I got dressed -- I had been wearing the yukata robe that was left to be worn as pajamas -- and headed downstairs to look around. Down and to the left, there was a breakfast room with a nice view of the garden. Three other guests were already eating breakfast, one reading the paper as the other two watched the news on a TV... and all three were still wearing their yukatas. Turns out that's expected ryokan guest behavior; live and learn.
Once I sat down, it wasn't long before the hostess came in with coffee and found me. Smiling deeply, she ran off to get my breakfast as one of the guests started to quiz me about my trip.. and, after she brought my breakfast, I got extensive language practice as the hostess also quizzed me about my trip and plans. I'd come to Yamagata Prefecture because I wanted to visit some fairly famous temples and shrines at three mountains -- Mount Haguro, Mount Gassen, and Mount Yudono... and, having told them that, she and the hotel guest proceeded to debate the best way to go about it -- then told me.
There is a large town just a few stations away named Tsuruoka... they suggested it was the best place to go, because it has a bus that goes straight to the Haguro temple. Now, Tsuruoka is where I was headed yesterday, if I couldn't easily find Mogame... and, having found Mogame and seen it, a town with a bus sounded positively civilized in comparison. So Tsuruoka was where I decided I would head today, instead of finding another hotel in Aramune.
After breakfast, but before checking out, I walked back down the street I explored last night to visit the shrine I had seen. Seeing it in daylight revealed what I hadn't been able to confirm at night, in the dark... the complex was old, and had the distinct appearance of being a forgotten thing. Garbage had been deeply dumped in a non-visible area behind a small sub-shrine, and many of the sacred ropes had been unchanged for so long that the paper hanging from them was either no longer white, or just plain gone. Overall, it was a pretty sad sight... of course, it did have two brand new marble lion statues in front of the main building, each sporting a plate with the name of the donator; undoubtedly either someone trying to look good in the neighborhood, or someone seriously worried about his/her spiritual health. Either way, the new statues glaringly stuck out from the rest of the area. Ug.
Having satified my curiosity on that matter, I packed up to leave the ryokan and head to Tsuruoka, after saying goodbye and thanks to the ryokan's owner. If I have time on my way back to Tokyo, I'd like to crash here another night... it's a wonderful place to stay.
About an hour later, I found that Tsuruoka is indeed a larger town than Amarume... not quite a city yet, it boasts many large hotels and department stores, and at the same time has many of the smaller family run specialty shops. It's also a central traveling point to many tourist attractions in the area, including three hot spring spas, all three of the mountains I want to visit, and tons of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines... one of which kinda stands out: there's a temple in the area that has on display the mummified body of a now non-living Buddha! This means they have the mummified remains of a priest that was deified. Not to be crass, but... hope I can get a picture!
In any case, I found a nice hotel -- the "Alpha-1" -- dumped off my stuff, and went wandering. Being Sunday, most of the stores and all of the temples were closed, but I found some stuff I wanted... some presents I've been looking for. I also decided to stay at the hotel an extra day for two reasons: 1) to give me a chance to pick up and mail off all the remaining presents on my list, and 2) to give my body one more day to rest... I'm still sore from climbing Mount Fuji. Oy. So tomorrow I plan to mail stuff off, visit the Buddha's mummy and some local dollmakers, and shop for presents. The day after, I'll mail off what's left to mail and then hop on a bus to Haguro. Of course, we'll have to see if things go according to plans.
When I got back to the hotel, I stopped to ask a young clerk if there were any used book stores in the area, and, apparently, stressed him out so bad he couldn't think. At first I thought I had asked the question wrong... but as he made me find and show him each and every word I had uttered in my Japanese-English dictionary, the real problem became clear. Either he was still learning Japanese (and I was better than him at it), or he was just so stymied at hearing someone who looks like me say anything in Japanese, that he assumed I must have said the wrong thing. Just one of the joys of getting away from the Tokyo area to places where people aren't used to seeing foriengers. In any case, I eventually got him to mark off on a map of the area the location of a used book store he knew of.
But that's for tomorrow... tonight, I'm soaking in a tub, having a big dinner, and sleeping early, because I'm probably more stressed out than that clerk.

On to August 24th, 1998

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