Oniko's Travel Diary:
The Three Mountains

(August 5-31, 1998)

Return to Oniko Goes To Japan


Monday August 24th, 1998
I got up and out early today, but not too early... stores don't open until ten, and I want to do some shopping. I intended to walk to the mummified Buddha first, then swing around to the local doll makers, and then visit the shopping area and it's temples before heading back to the hotel this afternoon. If only I was that lucky.
I walked back to the shoping area I visited yesterday, carrying the box I needed to mail. There was a post office in this area, but I knew it wouldn't be open yet... which would give me the time to explore a temple I saw nearby. It's a quiet place, on a corner; it has a decent sized pond with turtles living in it, a small Shintou sub-shrine [it's not unusual for Shintou shrines and Buddhist temples to share the same ground], and a playground for children [a nice touch]. I watched the turtles for awhile; I suspect they have some special significance for this temple, but there was no one around to ask. At the main hall, everything was closed up except for the box to throw coins into and one other thing... a coin operated fortune vender.
It's not unusual to have small fortunes offered at temples and shrines; typically at the same place you can buy a mamori -- protective charm -- you are able to buy a random fortune for 100yen. Some temples I've seen have left a bowl of these out so you could take one yourself after dropping in a coin... of course, some people might not drop in a coin, eh? [I wonder if they get bad fortunes?] So this coin operated vender makes perfect sense if the fortunes are left unattended for long periods of time... and seeing it made me suspect that this temple was locally maintained, with no actual live-in priests. In any case, I bought a fortune and moved on... maybe I'll be able to read some of it later, and I need all the help I can get, eh?
By now the post office was open, so I entered and once again negotiated the hows and whys of sending a package to the United States. The one thing that seems to confuse the process most is that the post office workers keep expecting me to have a permanent address in Japan to enter as a "return to" address; when I tell them I don't, it ususally takes about another 15 minutes to convince them that it's okay to send the package anyway. The second snag is that they usually think my choice to send packages by surface mail rather than by air mail is an error, because surface is weeks slower than air... but it's also much cheaper, which is more important to me. But I managed to sort out what they needed and got the box out of my hands, finally. And so, unencumbered, I set off to visit the Buddhist mummy.
The tourist map made the mummy and the doll makers look a lot closer than they actually were. I walked a long way. I stopped at a large book store I was passing both to browse a little and to cool off; it was turning into a hot day outside. Looking at the map, I couldn't understand why I hadn't seen another temple yet; but I figured it couldn't be too much farther, so I walked on.
And I walked.
Now I've been told by some of my Japanese friends that I have "nagai ashi" -- "long legs". This means that I can walk ridiculous distances without straining; distances that kill most people. I have to remember this when I go for walks with others, and I try to watch how they are doing to judge when we've walked far enough. But here's the point... I walked far enough that I was starting to doubt my ability to go farther. Especially after trudging up and down Fuji, I was not in any shape to do this sort of marathon hike again; but the further I went, the more determined I became to find that mummy... it was the only way to justify the effort.
Just when I was ready to give up, I caught sight of a huge torii -- a sacred gatepost that marks the entrance to a Shintou shrine. It seemed to coincide with a turn in the road that I had been looking for for around an hour; I muttered a quiet "thank you" to whatever may have been listening, and shuffled to it as fast as I could... only to find it wasn't open. The shrine was under heavy re-construction. It looked like the whole of the building was being torn down and replaced, the parking area was torn up, and in general it looked to be not open for business unless you wanted to get run over by construction vehicles. After a moment, I had a good thought... I compared the name of the temple on the map to the name on the shrine's wall; I couldn't read either, but I could tell that they were written with different Chinese characters. This wasn't the place I was looking for.
Ah, but it was close! Just around the corner I found a temple, and the kanji on their sign did match up to the map. It had been about a seven mile hike to reach it, but I was definitely feeling better now that I was here.
UPDATE 2002: At the time I took this trip, I didn't know much about the mummified 'Buddhas'. Nowadays, I know a lot more about them...
Click Here!
The temple was quiet... there was no one in the main hall of the temple; and there were no mummified bodies in the main hall either. I paid my respects, and then started to look around for anyone I could ask about the mummified Buddha.
After looking around the main temple as much as I dared, I cautiously poked my head into the building next to the main hall; it had two cars parked in front of it, so I figured there would be someone there. There were some shoes in the entrance hall, but no one in view of the door. Oy. I hate being intrusive, especially in Japan where it's a double-big no-no... but I wanted to see that Buddha, if at all possible. So I unzipped my boots and, quietly calling "sumimasen" -- "excuse me" -- I stepped back to the only open door I could see.
An older woman stuck her head out, and was definitely surprised by me... she certainly did not expect to see a foreigner, especially one who knew to remove his shoes and who was calling out in Japanese. I'm thinking this made a favorable impression, because as I explained in my poor Japanese why I had intruded, she just smiled and it was all okay; she would show me the Buddha!
She lead me back to the entrance hall, and then to one of the closed doors that was right next to the entrance. Inside was a large room with tatami -- straw mat -- flooring; along the walls were two lines of small Buddhist statues and ihai, wooden tablets bearing the names of priests and temple personnel who had passed away. At the far end of the hall was a large glass case with a sitting figure inside. The woman turned on the lights.
Dressed in the sort of Buddhist finery that is reserved for only the highest ranking of the priesthood, the mummy's dry eyes stared out at me. I could feel the woman's eyes on me also... I'm sure she was curious as to what I was going to do now that I was here. I stepped forward and knelt down a few feet in front of the Buddha, looked him up and down, and then said a quiet prayer to show my respect; after all, whether or not this guy held the same religious beliefs as me, he devoted his life to his own. You see, he mummified himself while still alive as a demonstration of his personal belief in the unimportance of the physical world.
After a moment more looking the mummy over from the floor, I asked if it would be okay to take some pictures of him. The woman smiled, and said it would be alright. Considering that the mummy is advertised on the area's tourist maps, I bet she gets asked that a lot, eh? So I snapped some pictures from a few different angles, trying to get a good view of the Buddha despite the reflection of various lights off of the glass case and the stuff that prevented me from getting too close. Even if none of the pictures are 100% clear, I should have enough to be able to draw this guy for the web page later, eh?
For the record: the name of the mummified priest I visited is Tetsuryou-kai... which translates roughly as "Iron Dragon". His temple of residence is Nangaku-ji, in Tsuruoka, Yamagata prefecture. For his pictures, Click Here!
I said thank you, and got some information about the temple to translate when I get home -- it would be nice to know what this Buddha's name is, for instance -- and I got the paper about the temple stamped with a picture of the mummy [it seems that any tourist attraction in Japan is going to have a stamp of some sort... a bit like penny crushing machines in the United States, I suppose]. But for now, I was done... and I had a loooong walk back to the hotel ahead of me.
Perhaps needless to say, I decided to skip the visit to the doll makers. They were even farther away on my little tourist map than the mummy had been, and I didn't care to guess how far that actually was. So I looked at the roads and the map, and took the most direct path back towards my hotel [which wasn't the path I got here by].
It was a long walk, with only one notable stop. I stepped into a uniform store that had all sorts of blue collar uniforms and shoes. Uniforms, by the way, are par-for-the-course in Japan. Sure, you probably knew that schoolkids in Japan had to wear uniforms, but did you know that construction workers do also? It was interesting to see all the different uniforms there; apparently, the old two-toed boots that ninjas always seem to wear on TV is also standard for a lot of different construction and repair jobs. But what really makes me remember the place is that they had cushion soles for shoes... which I promptly bought and put in my boots. My poor aching feet felt like new, despite the remainder of the walk!
After I reached the station area again, I did some of my gift shopping; I picked up a Yamagata prefecture keychain for my mom and a doll for a friend, among other things. I headed back to the hotel to empty my hands and relax a little. Despite the long trek, it was only just past four.
After sitting around for a half-hour, I headed out again. What can I say? I was going to have to take a walk to get dinner sooner or later anyway; besides, I wanted to go to the used book store the clerk told me about yesterday. It's been days since I've bought a book [I am incurable!].
It seems that this morning's walk was a warning though, because I ended up on another long walk; not as bad as the walk to the temple, but bad enough to remind me why I wanted to relax. But it was worth it... the clerk hadn't pointed me at a small mom & pop used book store; he had directed me to "Book Off", apparently a national chain of multiple story used book stores! I wouldn't want it to replace the small stores I love so much -- they're cheaper and more fun to explore -- but with the size of this store I was able to find several books I've been trying to locate for years [literally]. Even more fun than that for me, I've found a movie I haven't seen for years... an animated one featuring the "Dirty Pair" [and no, it is NOT a porno; think along the lines of "Dirty Harry"].
So I trudged back to the hotel, picking up a dinner at a convenience store on the way... now I'm going to watch my movie, take a bath, and get ready to explore a mountain tomorrow. Good night.

On to August 25th, 1998

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All illustrations in these pages are copyright (c)2002 Garth Haslam, and shouldn't be used without his permission. To contact him Click Here!