Monthly Archives: May 2024

Saijo, Shikoku to Miyazaki, Kyushu, Japan

Friday 31st May 2024
Today we have had huge day driving from Saijo on Shikoku Island via six or seven islands to Miyazaki on Kyushu. It took 10 hours 11 mins to travel 697km. A very slow drive. We travelled on the expressway most of the day at a cost of about 15,500Y in tolls. The maximum speed travelled was 80kmh but most of the time it was only 70. We drove over bridges on a bit of an island hop, passed port towns with lots of industry, along the coast, through farmland and rice paddies, forests and had many roadside pitstops. It was a long day but a successful one. We are as far south as we will go this trip and will spend the next 4 days heading north towards the airport.

I contributed to the drive today with about 230km on the expressway plus an additional 20km because I missed the exit, which in turn meant I had to drive in to the city of Miyazaki at 6pm. Week! I survived.

A couple of comments from David were entertaining today
– I wish the driver assist let you take your hands off the wheel for more than 15 secs, I could close my eyes for a bit.
– With 127 million people, there are not many cars on the expressway, the people are all in the cities or on a train.
– The Interchange/Junctions are just overpass bridges with many levels.

Transport comparison for today’s trip from Saijo Shikoku to Miyazaki Kyushu
Public transport 24,360Y each (total 48,720Y) in 8:51 hours.
Car 10,000Y a day, plus 5,000Y petrol and 15,630Y tolls (total 30,630Y) and 9:11 hours 704km

We have a little mother in the car that has some interesting tips along the drive. She is very consistent. Some of her words of wisdom are:-
– Its been 2 hours since you started driving why don’t you have a break.
– Abrupt steering detected, Please drive carefully.
– Over speed detected. Please drive safely
– Merging traffic ahead from the left. Drive carefully
– Sudden deceleration detected. Please drive safely.

Tsurugi to Saijo, Shikoku, Japan

Wednesday 29th May 2024
Well today was a day we will always remember. We got off to a great start, we were on the way by 8am which we need be as we had a lot planned. We were hiking to the top of Mt Tsurugi and doing a roadtrip through the Iya Valley. Or so we thought.

The road to Mt Tsurugi on route 438 was only a 43km drive but was estimated at about 66 mins. It was narrow, winding, hairpin turns, U-turns driving through the beautiful tree lined mountains. Often the road wasn’t even wide enough for one car let alone two. There were a few instances where we had to reverse back to a lay by to allow someone to pass from the other direction. The Japanese are so polite. It was very intense drivng and the blind corner mirrors were very helpful except when you couldn’t use them because of the suns reflection, it was very slow going. With about 15mins to go we came to a road sign blocking the left side of the road. Whilst we were translating it, a man in a work truck came from the direction we were heading and spoke in Japanese with the arms forming a cross action indicating the road was closed. A few people just turned around, some went through and we just waited. We finally translated the sign and it indicated the road was closed between 2 sections before our final destination. After a bit of deliberation we decided to give it a go. The streets were strewn with debris from the mountains, leaves, sticks and also a lots of rockfall. We went passed another road closed sign and kept going. I was feeling quite anxious and when we finally came to our 3rd closed sign fully blocking the path and a barricade almost fully blocking the road I couldn’t cope anymore. We turned around. The other cars still hadn’t come back but I was feeling very uncomfortable about continuing. In hindsight the sign said closed between Point 1 and Point 2 so it may have been ok. We still don’t think we would have got through as we think Point 1 was before our destination of the Mt Tsurugi chairlift. Anyway I told David to talk me around next time, if he could help me reason with my anxiousness.

So we headed back around and found another route on 260 and google indicated that it would take about 2 hours along a goat track with a camp ground, much more debris and rocks, roads with water flowing down them like rivers and it was very tricky going. We again got to about 10km from our destination when we came to a physical roadblock, this time there had been a rockslide and it was impassable, w e would have managed in the 4WD but the little Honda is low to the ground and 2WD. So we had to turn around again.

We drove on a different goat track and found route 439 which we continued along for ages and about 5mins from the track we came to another road block and sign. This time there were 2 cars and one motorbike of Japanese having their lunch on the side of the road. That’s right it was lunch time by now. We started to translate the sign when a truck came from the other direction, two men hopped out and started to dismantle the road block and sign. Yeah, we might make it. With a whoop for joy, we continued the 5mins down the road to the start of the trail to Mt Tsurugi. David had his lunch as I had already eaten mine along the way and we were off to climb a mountain. Yeah.

It was a little later than the 9am we thought we would start our hike, it was now 12.55pm. The first part of the trail we could either hike up an hour or take the chairlift. As we were now so time poor, we decided on the chairlift, which was a lovely scenic 15min ride and 1900Y each for the return trip. Usually we would hike up and catch the chairlift down, or hike both ways. Oh well, lucky we are flexible. After a nice ride up to 1700m we started our walk. This was straight uphill to the top of Mt Tsurugi (1955m), 200m elevation over 1km, so straight up. The views were plentiful, actually they were continuous the whole way. It was spectacular, we could see the winding roads we had travelled and the mountains and valleys for miles. It was definitely worth the long drive to get there.

Once at the top there was a shrine and a boardwalk to all the view points. I talked to a couple of people with my newly learned sentence, “Doko no shusshin desu ka?” which means “Where are you from?”. I met some people from Osaka and Tokyo. They taught me how to say it’s beautiful in Japanese, which I think is  “utsukushī” or “Sore wa utsukushīdesu” if I go for the sentence. After enjoying the view from the lookout point with about 15 other people including a couple from the Netherlands, we decided to head along the less trodden trail less travelled across to Mt Jirogyu (1930m) which was 1.5km away, down and up 200m elevation to the top. We couldn’t see any people on the trail except a couple of Japanese men just ahead of us or so we thought. We actually spoke to some more people from Tokyo, others from Kobe and a volcano place I couldn’t understand. It is so funny when you talk to people in Japanese, they obviously reply thinking you will understand them but I only get the place name. Hehehe! It was a lovely trail with exceptional views continuously the whole way. At the lookout of the next mountain peak, which we enjoyed with only 3 others, the views were amazing. We then found a loop trail that meant we didn’t have to go back up the whole 200m elevation, maybe only half of it, that took us back to the chairlift.

Well it was now 4pm and we had done half our days itinerary. The second part is a drive through the Iya Valley, another winding, twisting narrow road. We have many stops but will only manage some of them on our 3 hour drive back through the countryside to our hotel in Saijo. The Iya Valley is the area we were looking at from the top of Mt Tsurugi.

Our first stop was the Double Vine Bridge and Wild Monkey Cart, these were spectacular bridges that were made of thick vines, the planks entwined in the vines for stepping on were almost my foot size apart, so the bridge required diligent footwork. The bridges spanned across a wide gorge which was flowing very fast. We walked across both the male and female bridges, as always the males was bigger than the females, but both were equally impressive. The Wild Monkey Cart was currently out of service for safety reasons but you could pull yourself across the ravine in it.

Another winding drive and our next stop was the Nagoro Scarecrow Village, which was a village populated by scarecrows that line the streets, buildings and gardens, as well as workers, fisherman and a little school. It was really cool and a shame the village is all but deserted.

The late afternoon was now here and we still had a few sights to see, we were going to give the Single Vine Bridge a miss as we had seen the double, but we saw a building which we were not sure what it was, so went to investigate. It turns out it was a double storey carpark for the Single Vine Bridge tourists. In the books it says this is really busy and if you can drive to the Double Vine Bridge instead it was better, as there are less people. All the paid carparks were closed at the single vine bridge, so David dropped me off to have a quick look. I got to the closed exit and took a quick photo, then ran to the entrance for another quick look as it also had a sign saying it was closed, all the while DB was being chased and followed by a lady in a car. We think she was trying to let us know it was all closed and we couldn’t go in. Anyway this bridge was a lot bigger in structure, wider uprights, etc. but quite similar to the double vine bridges.

Anyway, off to the next sight, unfortunately the Boy Peeing statue was too far off the main road, so we gave this one a miss. We also missed going down into the Oboke Gorge and Koboke Gorge. Although we missed a couple of places the drive through the Iya Valley was beautiful. It was now time to drive to the hotel. I had my first drive along some not so winding but narrowish roads for about 25mins to the beginning of the expressway, where David took over to drive the last hour, as I am not ready for that yet.

We ended up getting to the hotel about 8.30pm, checked in and then had to find dinner, we thought we would give the sushi train next door a try. It was a little average, the sushi was okay but we needed something more filling, so ordered ramen, mine was served cold and Davids was average..

“Mt Tsurugi – At 1,955m in height, Mt. Tsurugi is the second highest mountain in western Japan. However a climb to the top is not so difficult when going by the “climber’s lift” to a trail high in the mountains followed by a one hour walk to the very top. On a clear day the view from the summit reaches out to the Pacific Ocean, the Seto Inland Sea, the Kii Peninsula and Okayama Prefecture on mainland Japan.”

“Oku Iya Double Vine Bridges – About 800 years ago, these vine bridges were built by the Heike clan as a means to access their riding grounds at Mt. Tsurugi, where they trained. The bridges also connect to the Oku Iya campgrounds. These two bridges have been named “male” and “female” respectively, hence are sometimes referred to as the “wedded bridges.”  The nature here is deep and immersive, and offers a different experience from the main Vine Bridge, so both spots are well worth the visit.”

“Nagoro Scarecrow Village – A mysterious village with more scarecrow residents than people. At first glance, most visitors to Nagoro Village will see a sweet rural community of elderly residents spending their time blissfully tending to their gardens and fishing. Take a closer look, however, and you might be in for a scare. The villagers are actually scarecrows! Get it? Nagoro Village, aka Kakashi no Sato (Scarecrow Village), is a unique riverside town in Tokushima Prefecture on Japan’s smallest island, Shikoku. Scarecrow residents outnumber humans ten-to-one in this remote Iya Valley hamlet.
Who made all the scarecrows? More than 200 scarecrows inhabit the town. They’ve become loved by their human neighbors and are often celebrated by the community for bringing back fruitful memories of the past. The scarecrows are all created single-handedly by longtime resident Ayano Tsukimi. Tired of seeing the number of villagers decline over the years, Ayano chose to create a new community of friendly faces. Stuffing old clothes with newspaper and cotton helped her repopulate the once lively neighborhood.
If you’re lucky, there’s a chance you might bump into Ayano herself. She’s just one of approximately thirty people still living in the village.
In recent years, Ayano has started creating dolls that follow international trends. Play a game of real-life “Where’s Waldo,” and see if you can find the US President Donald Trump scarecrow doppelganger or characters from the Harry Potter series. There are also famous Japanese celebrities and comedians.”

“Iya Valley
One of the highest accessible points in Iya Valley, the sheer cliffs of this gorge were carved by generations of the Iya River’s flow. This majestic valley is known as “Hi no Ji Valley” for its resemblance to the Japanese letter “hi”. The valley spans 20 kilometers, offering views of brilliant fresh green in spring and a spread of fiery foliage in autumn. Experience a dizzying beauty as you gaze down at the emerald current of the Iya River, winding along the mountain curves.”

“The Statue of a Peeing Boy
As a symbol of innocent courage, a statue of a peeing boy was constructed at the edge of the nearby precipice, the most perilous spot in Iya Valley. In the old days, it’s said the local children would stand on this cliff and urinate into the ravine to show their bravado.”

Mt Ishizuchi, Shikoku, Japan

Thursday 30th May 2024
Today we started the day with a hotel breakfast which was really yummy. It consisted of scrambled eggs in a creamy sauce, noodles with little sausages, semi cooked boiled eggs, fish, braised chicken, some vegetables, rice, yoghurt and fruit sauce, and pastries. We both tried a sample of everything. It was very good. One the way out we saw a note showing a typical Japanese breakfast so we might try that tomorrow morning.

Then off we went about 9ish, we had a similar drive to the mountain trailhead of Mt Ishizuchi as yesterday without the road closure. It took 1hr 40mins to drive 66km. That is a sure indication of the type of road we were driving on. Narrow, winding, blind corners, etc.

Along the way we stopped and walked across a suspension bridge to nowhere, actually it had a walking trail at the other end. We have passed many suspension bridges in the last couple of days that all look like they are headed to nowhere.

Then the fun begins, David’s question was “Is it one way or 2 ways. Yes it must be 2 ways as there is mirrors for the blind corners”. It was a lovely drive, but after what seemed like forever we finally arrived at the trailhead. A quick bit of organisation, change of bag contents as there was a 40% chance of a little rain in the afternoon. We both put in a rain jacket and umbrella and wore long sleeve merino tops. The trail started out nicely on pretty even terrain with views in all directions. Along the way it changed to steps, rock steps, log bridges and walkways until we had hiked about 4km in distance and up 200m elevation. We still had about a km to go and 350m in elevation. It got much steeper and we came to the vertical ladders, or so we thought. Instead it was a vertical rock face with heavy duty chains. There were 3 of these sections, we didn’t see the 1st but chose to do the 2nd section which was 65m directly up the cliff. This was challenging and required some strength, grit and determination and came with a little anxiousness and adrenalin. It felt a little scary and David worried a little as it was also a bit dangerous. That being said, we took our usual care and as much time as need to ensure our safe arrival at the top of this section. That being said, when we came to the next vertical section of 68m, we decided to take the chicken staircase. We had fulfilled the challenge once and didn’t need to do it again. We continued along and finally reached the top of Mt Ishizuchi and looked out to the most magnificent view . At the top there was lovely shrine.

We thought we had made it when one of the men I spoke to from Matsuyama pointed to the peak across a razor edge section of rocks, that is after you went down another chain drop. I almost didn’t;t go but as always don’t want to miss out. It was a tricky climb to the peak but we both made it there. We enjoyed our lunch with the most amazing view then traversed the tricky razor edge again. I managed it a little better on the way back and was grateful that the rest of the day was downhill and along easier paths. We enjoyed the views as we walked back down to the car. It had been a really good day and an enjoyable 11km hike which took us almost 4 hours.

We then had the drive home the same way, winding, narrow and we thought through empty streets, unfortunately we had a few cares, a couple little farm trucks and a few motorbikes to contend with. They always gave you a little fright, as you didn’t see them until they were right on you. We arrived home at about 6.30pm.

After a soak in the bath, a chat on the phone we headed to Sapporo Restaurant where we enjoyed a lovely Soy Ramen for dinner and a great chat with the chef and his mother. He had worked in a leather shop at Darling Harbour for one year about 15 years ago. They sold Akubra Hats to the tourists so he was a very valuable staff member with the Japanese tourists. He had ok but a little sketchy English and his mother had none. We managed to order dinner and have a chat and a laugh. My Japanese always makes them happy and it always gives them a bit of a giggle as I try new phrases and names. It was an enjoyable meal and conversation.

Tomorrow is yet to be decided on but we might head to Kyushu, another Island south west of here. It means driving north across 7 smaller islands north to the mainland and then heading south before going across to Kyushu. Anyway, this is still in the planning stages. More information to follow in tomorrow’s blog.

Mt. Ishizuchi (1982m)
Scale a stunning sacred peak with breathtaking views and hidden shrines
Mt. Ishizuchi is one of Japan’s seven sacred peaks. Named “the Stone Hammer” for its characteristic sharp and rocky summit, it is the highest peak in western Japan and is known not only for its beauty but also for the challenge it presents climbers. But after a tough hike up this rugged mountain, you have a chance to relax and enjoy a rare kind of peace and tranquility at its peak. Toward the top of the mountain, the trails become steep and you can climb up some near-vertical faces with giant chains bolted to the cliffs. These are for the adventurous, with stairs offering an easier alternative. At the summit, you can choose to climb the razor’s edge peak of the mountain, known as Tengudake. Here, you’ll find stunning views of the Ishizuchi mountain range, the Seto Inland Sea and, on a very clear day, Kyushu.
There are various shrines dedicated to the mountain gods as you walk up the mountain. The flow of tradition and history seem palpable. The mountain has been used for religious training from ancient times, and to this day ascetics train here. Joju Shrine at the start of the main route is a simple yet elegant building with a large collection of stone hammers on display.”

“In summer, the Otabi Falls is a waterfall with a single large stream. In winter, the entire waterfall freezes over, creating an even more fantastic view especially when it is lighted up.”

Tokushima to Tsurugi, Japan

Tuesday 28th May 2024
Oh well, the weather has foiled our plans for today. We had a big drive day with lots of little side trips along the way. Unfortunately the weather is pretty ordinary. It has rained heavily all day. We left Tokushima around 9am and drove north to the Takamatsu, through lots of farmland which were lush and green. We passed many rice paddies. We arrived at the Ritsurin Gardens which are supposedly magnificent. Unfortunately it was still pouring with rain, with nowhere to go as we couldn’t checkin until 4pm and it also being difficult driving conditions, we decided to go through the gardens anyway. We donned on our rain jackets and traipsed through the wet grounds for over 2 hours. Gumboots would have been a better option, luckily we replaced ur little umbrellas with bigger ones free of charge from the Garden. They truly were beautiful gardens but the conditions definitely impacted their beauty. We enjoyed afternoon tea in the cafe to warm us up before heading on our way.

We decided to desert our afternoon plans of sightseeing and head to the accommodation straight from the garden, it was still an hour drive south to Tsurugi. It was still miserable and we drove through some flooded streets, winding our way through more farm and bushland. We arrived at our accommodation which is a room in a share house. Our first for this holiday. The area was quite limited for places to stay unless you wanted to pay over $250 a night and stay in a spa hotel. So share accommodation it is. As it turns out there is us and a single cyclist guy. So not a big problem. We had our first fail with dinner tonight, we both fell asleep this afternoon for a couple of hours and when we woke it was already almost 7pm. There were a few restaurants around but some were close to closing time, we walked to one which was closed today and decided on a convenience store microwave dinner. They wren’t too bad, which was lucky.

Hopefully the weather will improve tomorrow for our hike and scenic drive through the Iya Valley.

“Ritsurin Garden is the largest Cultural Property Garden in all of Japan, and is an important cultural asset that has been maintained for nearly 400 years. Originally created in the Edo period for the daimyo (feudal lord), the garden features six ponds and thirteen landscaped hills in front of the green vista of Mt. Shiun, along with stunning rock arrangements and a wide variety of beautiful plants. Seasonal flowers and one thousand carefully maintained pine trees create gorgeous scenery that changes throughout the seasons. The garden was designed to be leisurely strolled through, and each step offers a new perspective on the garden’s scenery. Passed down through the generations, Ritsurin Garden is truly an invaluable cultural treasure. It is believed that Ritsurin Garden was originally created in the late 16th century, from a garden belonging to the Sato Clan located in the southwest corner of the present garden.”

Wakayama to Tokushima, Japan

Monday 27th May 2024
We got away about 10am this morning for a walk around the Wakayama Castle. The castle gardens were beautiful with amazing sculpted trees and lovely ponds. We walked through a bridge tunnel from the garden on beautifully polished floors. We then walked around the outer path passed the back entrance to a park outside the castle, it had an amazing little playground and beside that was a locomotive exhibition.

We then headed back in to the castle via the front gate and up the stairs to the main hall. Inside was a very good museum with armour, coats of arms, samurai swords, scrolls, roof tiles, paintings and a lot more historical information. We spent a good hour or so in the museum. We then went upstairs to the top level and looked out to what we thought was a small city, we were very wrong. It was quite a large city and spread for kilometres. We met a couple from Brisbane at the top, the lady had lived in Shikoku for a year a long time ago as an exchange student. She was very impressed with our attempts at the Japanese language. She expressed how important it was to the people for us to make the effort to try and say the basic things to them. We are succeeding with that even though we always get a few giggles.

We then rushed off to move on by 12pm. Next stop Shikoku, an island directly SW that we could have caught a ferry across the Wakayama Bay, but instead we took 5 hours to drive north back to Osaka, then west and then south again. It was an adventure, the traffic was heavier with more trucks today, the directions a little trickier, a couple of errors which took us around in squares and figure eights. All and all it was a little more challenging. We crossed from the Kobe to Awaji Island over the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge, the world’s longest suspension bridge. This was a very impressive sight and an engineer’s delight.

We then drove along the coast road of Awaji Island about half of its length, enjoying the views of the Osaka Bay before heading south west again to cross from Awaji Island to Shikoku on the Ōnaruto Bridge. This bridge is a 1,629m long suspension bridge spanning the Naruto Strait between Awaji Island and Shikoku. The Naruto Strait has the fastest current in Japan, and the huge volume of seawater passing through it causes whirlpools to form. The largest of these has a diameter of 3 m, making it one of the biggest in the world. Unfortunately it was raining quite heavily now and all the carparks were closed here and we were unable to get out to see the bridge and vortex more closely.

We then continued on our way via the expressway to Tokushima for the night. We only drove 222km today but it took 5 hours. A long day of driving for David, it was a little too tricky for me to drive yet. We enjoyed another ramen dinner locally, David is doing really well finding a good little ramen house each night.

Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge is one of the world’s longest suspension bridges in the world, located in Akashi Strait between Kobe and Awaji Island in Hyogo Pref. The total and central span lengths are 3,911m and 1991m respectively.

Awaji Island’s vortex is the largest in the world. Below the Onaruto Bridge that connects Awaji Island and Shikoku, is one of the world’s three greatest currents, the Naruto Strait, which is pushed against it like a waterfall. The speed of the current can go as fast as 10.6 knots (about 20 km/h), which makes it the third fastest in the world.
The currents that run through the Pacific Ocean and Seto Inland Sea collide with one another here at the Naruto Strait, creating a “vortex.” Due to the effect from the shapes of the costal lines and the sea floor, the diameter of the vortex becomes approximately 30 m, which is the largest in the entire world.
The vortex roars with energy and signifies the power of the natural world.
Currently, the “Naruto Vortex” is being promoted to be registered as a World Natural Heritage site.

Hongu Kumano Taisha to Wakayama, Japan

See a couple of new pictures in yesterdays post.

Sunday 26th May 2024
So after a big hike of 19km yesterday, we are on our way again. We are now mobile with a car and will drive the coastal road to Wakayama. First stop though is the Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine and Nachi Falls. This was spectacular. After descended many stairs to the bas of the waterfall, we then climbed them again and many, many more to the Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine and looked to the falls. It was a spectacular view and we spent almost 2 hours enjoying the view, looking at all the buildings of the shrine and the 3 storey pagoda. It was truly magnificent.

Then after leaving the Nachi falls we enjoyed a leisurely drive along the coastal road around the southern coastline. It was wonderful to get back to the coast and see some beautiful sights. We stopped at the Hashigui-iwa Rocks, which were quite amazing. Then we continued our coastal drive to Shirahama Beach, with the most pristine white sand and blue waters. We then continued a little further to Engetsu Island, more commonly know as the hole in the rock, an amazing rock formation just off the coast. From here we headed inland to the freeway as it was getting late.

We checked into our hotel opposite the beautiful Wakayama Castle and headed out for dinner. Tonight’s dinner was another bowl of Ramen, this time garlic and sesame. They usually come with 1/2 egg, shallots and pork. This one was especially delicious. The best flavour yet.

“Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine and Nachi Falls
The Nachi Falls represent the longest plunge in all of Japan, as water falls down from three mouths of the waterfall, and has kept its form of Kumano Faith. Gathering four rivers from Eboshiyama, Okumotoriyama, Myohozan, and Funami Toge, water falls down a vertical 133m-high cliff from a 13m wide mouth of the waterfall, and is one of the most famous waterfalls in Japan. Kumano Nachi Taisha is a Shinto shrine located halfway up Nachi Mountain, about 350 meters above sea level. It has its religious origin in the ancient nature worship of Nachi-no-Otaki. This grand shrine is part of the Kumano Sanzan and major pilgrimage destination. In 2004 the area was designated as a World Heritage site.”

Hashigui-iwa Rocks: Rocky Pillars of Wakayama
At the southern most edge of the Kii Peninsula is one of the most unusual natural wonders in Japan. The craggy Hashigui-iwa Rocks [橋杭岩] is a group of 40 gigantic igneous rocks that form a line in the sea that is 850 meters long. The Hashigui-iwa Rocks and their pillar-like formation do indeed resemble the stakes of some long ago bridge that once connected Kii Oshima to land, hence their name the “Bridge Pillar Rocks”.

“Shirahama Beach (白浜) is an 800 meter long beach and one of Izu‘s most famous and popular attractions. People come to enjoy the sand and sun, and the area is also known for relatively good surfing conditions.”

“Engetsu Island – the official name of this tiny island (130m long, 35m wide, 25m high) is “Takashima”, but because of the full-moon-shaped sea cave in the centre of the island, it is more commonly known as “Engetsu Island” (Full Moon Island). The sunsets there in winter and summer are especially beautiful. You cannot visit the island itself as it is too small, but viewed from farther away reveals its beauty.”

Kumano Hongu Taisha, Japan

Saturday 25th May 2024
Time again for a big walk. The Kumano Kodo, we will take on part of it today in the Hongu area.

Unfortunately our late arrival yesterday foiled David’s plans as we were unable to buy any food. We had no milk for breakfast and only some green tea and nuts. The supermarket didn’t open until 8am and the bus to the end of the trail we were hoping to do left east 8.05am about a 5 min drive from the shop and we weren’t sure how to go about parking. So decided to change plans.

We will start the walk at Hongu Taisha Information Centre and do the loop trail clockwise via the Yunomine One, Kakihara-jaya Teahouse remains, Nabewari Jizu, Inohana0oji, Hosshinmon-oji, Mizunomi-oji, Fushiogami-oji and the Kumano Hongu Taisha-oji. We walked through forests of pine trees, ferns, over tree roots, cobblestones, bush trails, some roads, up and down many, many hills and saw some lovely views of the mountains from a few lookouts. We walked about 20km, up and down 900m elevation over 7 hours. It was a very pleasant walk. We start along the river and went through Japan’s largest torii gate standing 34 metres tall and 42 metres wide towers over the thick forests of Oyunohara, a magnificent sight which can be seen from a great distance away. We visited the shrine there and then headed out through the small town to the start of the trail. They had a work party ungrading the start of the trail, so fortunately that meant we got the opportunity to head up the first lot of stairs a bit slower. WE have been doing lots of walking in the cities but nothing keeps you hike fit except hiking. Anyway, we went okay.

The day passed by peacefully in the bush, we spoke to many Aussies today, as well as Taiwanese, Japanese and a couple of Americans. It was a lovely day. David even saw a raccoon  of sorts, name to follow when he works it out. It was too quick for him to get a photo.

We came home at about 4pm and enjoyed a rest, then our first visit to an Onsen which is a public bath. Designated rooms for individual genders and no swimmers. I did a little research about Onsen etiquette last night, so was a little prepared for the process. I had no-ne in the ladies when I went there and David had one man, so he was able to copy what he was doing a little. The bath was beautiful and relaxing. The water was so hot but perfect for my aching body.

Next stop was a new adventure, dinner in a non-English speaking restaurant with different food than what we have been having., We weren’t even sure what to order. We managed to order chicken skewers for an appetiser and then I ordered the nicest tofu, a boiled egg, some glass noodles and hot soup. David managed to get a bowl of rice, chicken and a raw egg thanks to his neighbouring patron. She helped him understand the menu. I also order a small bowl of rice and some more skewers. We entertained the chef and waitress with our imperfect, minimal Japanese and we gave them a bit of a giggle. All in all, the meal was very good and a funny end to a long lovely day.

We will move on to somewhere else n the morning.

“The Kumano Kodo is the birthplace of the country’s spirituality.
The Kumano faith is rooted in the worship of the natural environment, in Shinto deities like ancient trees, and in waterfalls believed to be manifestations of Buddhist entities, making the Kumano Kodo a place that brings salvation to the pilgrims.”

“The history of the Kumano Kodo Trail
Our Kumano Kodo Trail walking holidays follow in the footsteps of pilgrims going back thousands of years. Pilgrims who have sought out not only the three magnificent Kumano shrines, Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Nachi Taisha and Hayatama Taisha, but also the spiritual influences of the mountains en route. Because these peaks and valleys of the Kii Mountains, straddling the Kii Peninsula south of Kyoto, have long been a focus of worship in themselves, as they are considered to have a sacred power, according to the doctrine known as sangaku shinko. This 258km walking route and the shrines that line it evolved during Japan’s Heian period (794-1185) when emperors and their entourage emanating from the ancient capital city of Kyoto sought spiritual solace in nature and mountains.

Pilgrims still follow this route to visit the main holy shrines but also many other temples and small Oji shrines that are perfectly poised among bamboo forests, with views overlooking the Pacific or mountain valleys. There are also small, traditional villages to visit en route and ethereal landscapes all around, whether you worship a deity or not.”

“Yatagarasu crow, the messenger of the gods
Yatagarasu is the mythical three-legged crow known as the messenger of the gods, and its symbol can be found in various places around Kumano Hongu Taisha. In Japanese mythology, the crow is said to have guided Emperor Jimmu from Kumano to Nara, and has been regarded as the common guiding god for the Kumano Sanzan shrines. On the Kumano-go’o-shinpu, a unique amulet offered at the Kumano Sanzan shrines, letters are designed using 88 crows. Yatagarasu is also famous as the symbol of the Japan Football Association.”

Kyoto to Kumano Hongu Taisha, Japan

Friday 24th May 2024
Well we are on our way again. It is time to leave Kyoto.

We left at 10am and travelled by Semi Express train from Omiya to Osaka-Umeda where we caught the limousine bus to Kansai International Airport and hired our car. After a little time getting acquainted with the car, plus a little more time we were on our way. David amazes me how well he copes with the ever changing environment. He just hops in the car and drives. Lets not forget the 3 hours last night he did researching the road rules, the expressways, tolls, etc. He was fantastic, he knew we needed an ETC (Electronic Toll Card) which enables us to just drive through the toll gates and we get billed when we drop the car back. A little scary that we will not know the tolls we will have to pay for 2 weeks. Oh well! Onwards and upwards.

Once we were out of the airport the traffic wasn’t too bad. The GPS navigation worked well and within not too long, we were out in the countryside, pine tree covered mountains, rivers and quiet little towns. Back where we belong.

We finally arrived at our hotel at about 6pm, David was quite weary as he had driven some very narrow, winding roads. The pressure is off a little as the main speed limit on regional roads is only 60km and expressway 100km/h. So it took a while to go a shortish distance but at least he had time to get used to driving in Japan.

Our hotel is okay and we have futon style beds. Luckily my polite request for a non-smoking room if possible was granted as our original room was for Smoking. Phew.

Well tomorrow we have a walk planned along one of the Kumano Kodo (Nakahechi) pilgrimage trails. A 16km loop trail from Kumano Hongu Taisha.

Train costs
Omiya to Osaka-Umeda – 410Y each
Airport Limousine Bus
Osaka tro Kansai International Airport – 1800Y each
Car for 13 days
Kansai International Airport – Honda – 1229AUD

“What’s the difference between shrines and temples?

Doesn’t seem like a hard question at first sight, but even many Japanese people aren’t aware of the answer. There are two easy ways to tell them apart. Firstly, shrines have a simple gate, called a torii, that separates the human world and sacred ground, while the gates of a temple, called a sanmon, look more like a large house rather than a gate. Secondly, temples almost always have Buddhist images and statues, while shrines do not. Thus, to sum up the differences in a single sentence, gods reside in shrines, while Buddhas reside in temples.

How to visit a shrine
– Bow slightly before entering the torii gates, and keep in mind to walk on the side of the path to the shrine rather than in the middle. The middle of the path and the torii are for the gods, not for humans.
– On the way to the shrine, you will see a small pavilion with a basin filled with water; this (called the chozuya) is where you purify yourself before approaching the main shrine. Fill the ladle with water and pour some water on your left hand, then right hand. Next, clean your mouth by holding the ladle in your right hand again and pouring some water into your left hand and rinse lightly – don’t wash your mouth directly from the ladle! Finally, hold the ladle vertically, allowing for the remaining water to trickle down the handle and cleaning it. If you’re visiting in the winter, don’t skip this step just because it’s too cold!
– When you reach the shrine you are now finally ready to pay your respects. This process can be divided into several steps.
– Bow slightly.
– Gently toss a coin into the box in front of you. The amount of money does not matter; just because you used a 500 yen coin, it does not mean that there is a higher chance of your wishes coming true. Many Japanese people believe that using a 5-yen coin increases their chances of finding a significant other, since go-en is homophonous to the Japanese word meaning “relationship.” However, this is nothing more than an urban legend; gods existed before the yen currency did.
– Ring the bell (if there is one) 2 or 3 times to signal to the gods that you have arrived.
– Deeply bow twice (until you reach a 90 degree angle).
– Clap twice, with your left hand slightly in front.
– Pay your respects, remembering to thank the gods as well.
-Deeply bow once.

How to visit a temple
The same rules apply as those of visiting a shrine – bow slightly before entering, walk to the sides, and purify yourself at the chozuya; however, the manner in which you pay respect varies.
– Burn incense (usually provided at the temple); the scent of incense is food for the Buddha. Lighting your own incense stick off the burning sticks of others is a no-no, since it means taking on their sins.
– Bow slightly.
– Gently toss a coin into the box in front of you.
– Ring the bell (if there is one) 2 or 3 times.
– Bow slightly and pay your respects, putting your hands together but DO NOT CLAP. It is recommended that you hold a string of beads or rosary while you pray. Don’t forget to thank the Buddha!
– Bow slightly.

Next steps
After paying your respects, at shrines you can purchase ema, which are small wooden plaques in which you write your wishes and then hang them to be received by the gods. Hamaya, which are “holy arrows” that people decorate at home to ward off evil spirits, and different kinds of omamori, or amulets, such as for road safety and easy baby delivery, are popular souvenirs. Commemorative stamps called shuin are offered at both shrines at temples as a memento of having paid your respects.

Ema votive tablets
Ema votive tablets (Photo: Komal Khiani)
Furthermore, for usually only 100 yen, you can purchase an omikuji, a slip of paper with fortunes written on it; depending on your fortune, you can either keep them or tie them to a rope. While mostly in Japanese, some shrines offer English copies of the fortunes as well. Omikuji fortunes are classified as follows (from best to worst):

dai-kichi (大吉) – great blessing
chuu-kichi​ (中吉) – middle blessing
sho-kichi (小吉) – small blessing
kichi (吉) – blessing
sue-kichi (末吉) – ending blessing
kyo (凶) – curse
dai-kyo (大凶) – great curse
Additionally, omikuji have advice for different aspects of the upcoming year, such as travel, relationships, health, and wishes.


Kyoto, Japan – Day 2

Thursday 23rd May 2024
We started the day early again today but not as early as we had hoped. First stop today was the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. This has its own little private train that runs from Shijo-Omiya right near our hotel. We were hoping to beat the crowds but didn’t quite achieve that. Although I think the crowds make for a great atmosphere. It is quite intense though and I am sure without the crowd you would get to immerse yourself in the magnitude of this amazing bamboo forest. We walked around the forest a couple of times then headed to the Okochi-Sanso Garden which was spectacular. It was a lot quieter than the Bamboo Forest but gave amazing views and the garden was beautifully kept. We enjoyed a cup of tea in the tea room overlooking the forest. Also the open-air museum dedicated to Denjirō Ōkōchi and an observation platform. It was a lovely visit. We then walked back through the bamboo forest, through the crowds which had grown significantly whilst we were in the garden, from here we walked down the street to the Oi River and across the bridge which offers a splendid view up and down the river. There were many options to see the river – by boat, powered by men or yourself. We just enjoyed a stroll along the path.

We then caught the train back home and had lunch and a short rest before the afternoons roam. This entailed a Broady’s walking tour, first stop was the Nijo-jo Castle with its magnificent castle, amazing gardens and a Main hall with beautiful interior rooms which were explained and decorated beautifully. One of the rooms depicted where the Shogun met with feudal lords and was portrayed with life-size models all sitting on a lower level to the Shogun. The paintings on the walls were magnificent and the timber fretwork between this room was ornate and made from 35cm thick timber that had been carved with a different scene on each side. One side had a peacock carved in to it. The internal rooms were amazing and definitely worth a visit. I also went to Painting Gallery which was a single room that displayed the original paintings from one room of the Main Hall. It was a great tour destination.

Next stop was the Samurai and Ninja Museum. This was held by an English speaking guide who explained the hierarchy of the Japanese and where the Samurai and Ninja fit in this hierarchy. It was very interesting. We saw models of their armour and their swords and were given the opportunity to throw a ninja star into a cork wall, albeit made of a plastic. We both managed to get them to stick in the wall, although I din’t make the target like David. We then got dressed up as Samurai for a little photo shoot. It was a really good tour.

Next stop the Nishiki Markets – the Fresh food market street in central Kyoto. Unfortunately for us, the market stalls were almost all closed. We should have had dinner there as we walked through before the Samurai tour but at least we saw the action there even if we didn’t get to choose from the wide variety at the food stalls. We managed a crab tempura and some pork dumplings.

On the way home from the markets we went via the old streets of Gion, unfortunately the locals have requested no tourist photos, but it was an enjoyable walk all the same. We can’t believe how busy the streets are at night. Then it was time to head home for a not so early night. A quick train ride and we are there, via the cafe for a small ramen, DB had soba noodles this time.

Tomorrow it is time to try our next mode of transport. This time it is a car. David has been reading the road rules. Blood alcohol limit here for everyone is zero. Pedestrians and bikes have right of way and there is a minimum speed limit on the freeway.

“The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is one of Kyoto’s top sights and for good reason: standing amid these soaring stalks of bamboo is like being in another world. Immersed in the emerald green of the bamboo forest. Located in the village of Sagano on the west side of the city, the path through the Arashiyama bamboo grove is short yet immersive. There’s something almost magical about the light dappling on the forest floor.”

“Ōkōchi Sansō Garden (literally “Okochi Mountain Villa”) is the former home and garden of the Japanese jidaigeki (period film) actor Denjirō Ōkōchi in Arashiyama, Kyoto. The villa is open to the public for an admission fee and is known for its gardens and views of the Kyoto area. Several of the buildings are recorded as cultural properties by the national government.
The grounds of the villa encompass approximately 2 hectares and feature multiple buildings, including a Japanese-style home, tea houses, and shrines, amidst carefully maintained Japanese gardens. They were built up over a period of 30 years by Ōkōchi to function as one of his residences. They were opened to the public after his death in 1962. The main structures were built in the 1930s and 1940s except for the Jibutsudō, which is a Meiji Era building that was moved to this site. The gardens were designed to show off each of the four seasons.[1] Since the villa is on top of a hill, the city of Kyoto, Mt. Hiei, and the Hozu River gorge are well visible from points on the grounds.”

Ninomaru-goten Palace in the Nijo-jo Castle The Palace consists of six connected buildings, and is archetypical of the shoin-zukuri architectural style, which was perfected at the beginning of the Edo period (1603–1867). The Palace is designated as a National Treasure since it is the only surviving example of a fortified palace complex. The interiors of the Palace are magnificently decorated with wall paintings by the Kano School, intricately carved transoms between the rooms, and exquisite metalwork fittings, befitting the Kyoto residence of the Shogun.”

Nishiki Market  is a narrow, five block long shopping street lined by more than one hundred shops and restaurants. Known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen”, this lively retail market specialises in all things food related, like fresh seafood, produce, knives and cookware, and is a great place to find seasonal foods and Kyoto specialties, such as Japanese sweets, pickles, dried seafood and sushi. Nishiki Market has a pleasant but busy atmosphere that is inviting to those who want to explore the variety of culinary delights that Kyoto is famous for. The stores range from small narrow stalls to larger two story shops. Most specialise in a particular type of food, and almost everything sold at the market is locally produced and procured.”

Train travel
Shijo-Omiya to Arashiyama and return 500Y each
Karasuma to Omiya – 170Y each


Kyoto, Japan – Day 1

Wednesday 22nd May 2024
Today we had a slow start to the day. After a late night trying to book a car, we finally got it done at 2am. So sleep in was on the agenda for this morning.

We didn’t go sightseeing until well after lunch. We started with a bus to the Kiyomizudera Temple. This was amazing – from the millions of people, with many of them in traditional dress, the amazing shrines, lanterns and scenery. It was a fantastic experience. David would have liked less people, but I feel like the people made the experience amazing. He did agree that we could have sat for hours and just people watched.

We then followed the tourist walk down Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka streets. The old cobblestone streets of Sannenzaka have prospered since ancient times. These sloping streets are lined with historic Japanese-style buildings that typify Kyoto, also including many souvenir shops. These narrow streets are a part of a popular sightseeing route centring on Kiyomizu Temple. If you head towards the Temple, you can immerse yourself in the atmosphere of Kyoto, with Kiyomizu’s three-tiered pagoda overlooking private houses and scattered temples as you ascend the gentle incline.

We then continued the walk through the local streets to Kodaiji Temple Shrine and the walked to the Maruyama Park, the Yasaka Shrine. Next stop was through the giant Torii gate to the Heian Shrine. Unfortunately the gates closed in 2 minutes so I was only allowed in a few steps to take a quick photo.

We then walked passed Lake Biwa and along its canal, which we think has beautiful cherry trees lining the walkway. Lake Biwa is Japan’s largest freshwater lake and all-around water playground. We then followed along the water course to the Suirokaku Aqueduct, an amazing structure. Next stop was the Nanzenji Temple, an amazing structure with many wooden columns. We enjoyed its grounds as the sun started to set.

We then followed the Philosopher Walk which is lined with cherry trees, it would have been nice to see this in daylight instead of late twilight but we were once again running late. We had two more stops to make it to the end of the trail but it was getting darker and they were both closed. These were the Honenin Temple and the Ginkakuji Temple (Silver Pavilion) and they were both in darkness. Int was now 8pm as we walked to the bus stop to take a 40min ride back to our hotel.

We were the only people on the bus for a little while, which is quite unusual. A quick dinner at a local Ramen restaurant and home for a rest. Another big day, 8km of walk the east of Kyoto.

Bus travel
2 x bus trips – 230Y each per trip = 460Y each

“Kiyomizudera Temple – Kiyomizudera (清水寺, literally “Pure Water Temple”) is one of the most celebrated temples of Japan. It was founded in 780 on the site of the Otowa Waterfall in the wooded hills east of Kyoto, and derives its name from the fall’s pure waters. The temple was originally associated with the Hosso sect, one of the oldest schools within Japanese Buddhism, but formed its own Kita Hosso sect in 1965. In 1994, the temple was added to the list of UNESCO world heritage sites.Kiyomizudera is best known for its wooden stage that juts out from its main hall, 13 meters above the hillside. The stage affords nice views of the numerous cherry and maple trees below that erupt in a sea of color in spring and fall, as well as of the city of Kyoto in the distance. The main hall, which together with the stage was built without the use of nails, houses the temple’s primary object of worship, a small statue of the eleven faced, thousand armed Kannon.Behind Kiyomizudera’s main hall stands Jishu Shrine, a shrine dedicated to the deity of love and matchmaking. In front of the shrine are two stones, placed 18 meters apart. Successfully finding your way from one to the other with your eyes closed is said to bring luck in finding love. You can also have someone guide you from one stone to the other, but that is interpreted to mean that an intermediary will be needed in your love life as well.The Otowa Waterfall is located at the base of Kiyomizudera’s main hall. Its waters are divided into three separate streams, and visitors use cups attached to long poles to drink from them. Each stream’s water is said to have a different benefit, namely to cause longevity, success at school and a fortunate love life. However, drinking from all three streams is considered greedy.”

“Heian Shrine (平安神宮, Heian Jingū) has a relatively short history, dating back just over a hundred years to 1895. The shrine was built on the occasion of the 1100th anniversary of the capital’s foundation in Kyoto and is dedicated to the spirits of the first and last emperors who reigned from the city, Emperor Kammu (737-806) and Emperor Komei (1831-1867). Heian is the former name of Kyoto. A giant torii gate marks the approach to the shrine, around which there are a couple of museums. The actual shrine grounds themselves are very spacious with a wide open court at the center. The shrine’s main buildings are a partial replica of the original Imperial Palace from the Heian Period, built on a somewhat smaller scale than the original.”

“Suirokaku Aqueduct – An aqueduct bridge of the Lake Biwa Canal built in Nanzenji Temple precincts. Sakuro Tanabe designed the bridge, with consideration for the scenery in the precincts. The arched abutments are made of bricks and granite. The suirokaku Aqueduct is a popular tourist site. A lot of tourists come to see the arched brick abutments, and the water flowing through the aqueduct bridge.”

“Nanzenji Temple (南禅寺), whose spacious grounds are located at the base of Kyoto’s forested Higashiyama mountains, is one of the most important Zen temples in all of Japan. It is the head temple of one of the schools within the Rinzai sect of Japanese Zen Buddhism and includes multiple subtemples, that make the already large complex of temple buildings even larger.
The history of Nanzenji dates back to the mid 13th century, when the Emperor Kameyama built his retirement villa at the temple’s present location and later converted it into a Zen temple. After its founding, Nanzenji grew steadily, but its buildings were all destroyed during the civil wars of the late Muromachi Period (1333-1573). The oldest of the current buildings was built after that period.”

“The Philosopher’s Path (哲学の道, Tetsugaku no michi) is a pleasant stone path through the northern part of Kyoto’s Higashiyama district. The path follows a canal which is lined by hundreds of cherry trees. Usually in early April these trees explode with color, making this one of the city’s most popular hanami (cherry blossom viewing) spots. Approximately two kilometres long, the path begins around Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion) and ends in the neighborhood of Nanzenji. The path got its name due to Nishida Kitaro, one of Japan’s most famous philosophers, who was said to practice meditation while walking this route on his daily commute to Kyoto University.”