Oniko's Travel Diary:|
The Three Mountains
(August 5-31, 1998)
Friday August 28th, 1998
I got up and out around ten, so I could get to the post office as it opened and send off the box... then I headed straight to the shrine.
Nothing much was happening, despite the sign I saw last night; nonetheless, the shrine was strangely facinating. It occupies a large area that is part public park. Surrounding the park are two moats which are full of gray, white, and orange coy... each fish is around a foot long, and they swarmed near me and anyone else who stood near the moats. Looking for handouts, I expect.
There is another small playground for kids, as at the temple I first saw when I came to Tsuruoka a few days ago; and there is also a very small art museum, but it was closed today so I have no idea what is in it. What was very weird, however, was that this park area also features what has to be the smallest zoo I have ever seen. It had a total of three cages: one with chickens and peacocks in it, one with some deer in it, and a two-story tall cage with Macaws -- a breed of monkey native to Japan -- in it. The monkeys didn't look very thrilled with their lot in life, I tell you now.
After talking to the animals for awhile -- they looked like they needed some attention -- I entered what I felt was the shrine area proper itself... at least, I walked past the Shinto torii gate that marks the entrance, and into the area with the older buildings that would normally be small shrines or temples in the main complex. But most of these buildings were full of gift shops and other non-shrine related stores; and right next to the shrine's main hall was one building that had been converted into a men's and women's clothing shop with everything from three-piece suits to nightgowns on display in the windows! I'm not sure if this is a normal situation for other shrines; maybe this one has fallen onto tough financial times, and they've sacrificed some of their buildings to try and stay afloat?
At the main hall, I paid my respects; then I walked over to where someone dressed like they belonged with the shrine was selling the usual protective charms and such. They had the books that I had seen other people collecting temple and shrine stamps in, so I wanted to buy one. This prompted the clerk to ask if I knew what the book was and what it was for; then he quizzed me a bit about my being in the area, and then about the fact I was visiting the three mountains. Soon I was talking to two clerks, as one stamped the book and inked it up for me. Then I was talking to two clerks and an older woman who came up as we were talking. By the time I was done, I had bought the book, stamp, and a beautiful protective charm made with white and gold thread, had been offered an umbrella by the older woman who had heard that Yudono could be as wet as Gassen, and had one of the 'clerks' -- the one who had stamped and inked the book for me -- hand me his card... according to which, he was Jun-Ichi Ishihara, head priest of the Shonai Shrine [being the name of shrine I was at, naturally]. So, with their best wishes [but not their umbrellas], I walked to the station and caught the bus to the Yudono hotel.
It was a long ride; Mount Yudono is much farther from Tsuruoka than Mount Gassen. The bus headed up, up, up, into the sort of mountain roads that make me want to just close my eyes and forget how far we can fall. But I couldn't close my eyes... the mountains were covered by a lush forest of wet greenery, often hidden by great clouds of fog that crawled between the peaks through light rain. I knew right then I was going to like Yudono.
For all my experience with Mounts Fuji, Haguro, and Gassan, I was still surprised by Yudono... it was something completely different from the others.
A little before reaching the hotel, the bus passed what had to be my destination; it was a road that was stradled by a gigantic tall vermillion red Shinto torii, which clearly meant it led to an important sacred site of some sort... five minutes later, the bus pulled into a parking lot with a hotel, a couple of small shops, and a large artificial pond. I was itching to go back to the torii, but first things first; I had to check in and get my stuff settled in.
The hotel appeared to be all Japanese style, so I had to remove my boots at the door and switch over to a pair of slippers. As I checked in, the clerk asked what brought me to the hotel; when I told her I came to go to the Yudono temple, she told me that they could have a driver take me there anytime I was ready... now that's service!
Despite the Japanese style entrance, I was shown to a Western style room -- it had a bed instead of a futon, and a desk and chair instead of a kotatsu [short table]. The restroom and the bath, however, are both communal and at the end of the hall. I left all but my small travel bag and camera in my room, and headed back down to ask for a ride to the temple; I wanted to be sure I had plenty of time to reach and examine the temple area before dark!
The hotel seemed empty; I suspect that's why I was able to get a ride so quickly. Within a half-hour of arriving at the hotel, I was at the gigantic torii and on foot, exploring. Next to -- and drawfed by -- the torii was a three-story building that appeared to have a restaurant and a visitors' center in it; I figured I would check it out on the way back. I walked under the torii, and started up the road.
A little past the great gateway and off to the right of the road, I found a buddhist cemetary full of lifesized statues of various religious figures. One intrigued me, I must admit... it appears to be a Chinese style statue of either Buddha or a woman [it's sometimes hard to tell] holding a scroll, with an Asian dragon on their back and draped over their head. Now one of the things I mean to research at a later date is the nature of the Asian dragon in Japan, and I've already noticed it appears commonly as a symbol at temples and shrines... I've got lots to learn, and I hate waiting! Ah, well...
Just behind this graveyard was a small stairway that led up into the wooded area obscured by foliage just behind it. Naturally, I couldn't resist investigating. At the top of the short path and hidden in the trees was a small Shinto shrine which I left a couple of coins at. A second stairway led me to a spot a little further along the road I wanted to follow, and just a short ways from a bridge I couldn't help but notice, mainly because it was the same vermillion color as the torii gateway I had already passed; against an all green background, it stuck out like a sore thumb.
I followed the road as it gradually wound its way uphill following the path of a small river that flowed in the shallow valley only a little below me, occasionally stepping to the side as a bus or car went by, occasionally saying hello to the few people walking back down. It was this small valley and river that the bright red bridge had crossed over, and it was towards its point of origin that I suspected I was walking. Dotted all along the sides of the road at different spots, and sometimes nearly completely lost in the greenery, were more small Buddhist and Shinto shrines, altars, and statues; clearly, the whole mountain was considered particularly sacred by both religions. After a mile or so, the road ended in a rough parking area, and a short trail led to the entrance to the Yudona temple... or should I simply say "sacred spot"? Like the area at the top of Mount Gassen, there was no particular building associated with this spot; no actual temple or shrine.
|Update 2002: I've since learned that the ban on photography at this site has only been imposed since the late 1960's... there is a color film that predates this ban that shows the area before it was walled in. But why was the ban established?|
|All illustrations in these pages are copyright (c)2002 Garth Haslam, and shouldn't be used without his permission. To contact him Click Here!|