After some false starts, I finally got communications with the travel and tourism office people to work. I decided to head to Togakushi. It’s a close-ish town with mountains, trees, not many people, and a famous cedar-lined path that leads to a famous local shrine. I know I’m burned out on shrines, but this one is at least out of the way and scenic. I’m game. Maybe I won’t have to fight more groups for photos.
A one-hour-plus bus ride later, I’m at Togakushi Chuu, which is the shrine in the middle of the town. It has a massive set of stairs you have to climb to enter the shrine. After wheezing up the stairs, I made it to the shrine itself. It was nice. Nothing too fancy.
From the window of my bus:
Togakushi Chuu Shrine:
This is actually Togakushi Houkou:
The stairs to Togakushi Chuu (foreshadowing!):
The honden at Togakushi Chuu:
Something I should mention first– Nagano claims to be an international city, but I hadn’t seen one English-language sign at any of the temples I’ve been at so far. Not even one telling me to stay off of something, or take off my shoes. Fortunately, I know enough Japanese to find my way, but I don’t know enough to know much about what I’m seeing, which is a little frustrating.
But I like pretty things, so I can deal with it.
Off to the main shrine. The sign points to the trail, and says it’s 1.4 Km away. Better get hiking!
I started heading down this path to Togakushi Oku Shrine:
I think this sign means it’s 1.4 Km to the shrine:
Okay, now it’s in English. 1.3 Km to the entrance. Well, that can’t be too far from the shrine, right? (It’s also 18.3 Km to Zenkoji, if I feel like a nice long stroll!)
It’s a beautiful hike nonetheless:
This map gives you a bit of an idea of where I am, where I’ve been, and where I’m headed. In a way.
I need to point something else out here first. The buses to Togakushi run every hour or so. The last bus leaves at 8-something p.m., but the bus I need to ride back leaves at 5:10 p.m. That’s because the sun sets around that time, and I don’t want to wander in the Japanese countryside in the dark without a flashlight.
There isn’t another bus until 6:00 p.m., and we’re at altitude. (About 4,500 ft or so?) I set out from the first shrine at 3:00 p.m., and I knew it was going to be close to make it back by 5. So I had to move quickly.
The 1.4 Km hike was very pretty and very strenuous. Lots of uphill climbs, lots of uneven terrain, but lots of gorgeous mountains. Also lots of power lines getting in the way of my pictures. That’s one irritating thing about Japan– power lines and poles everywhere. They seem to just jump into my pictures as if taunting me.
So after 20-30 minutes of hiking, I made it to the entrance to the main shrine. Yay! Finally! (Well, I see the souvenir shop!)
It’s really pretty.
Then I see the sign.
“Main shrine -> 1900 Meters”
I’m already sore, and now I find out I’m not even halfway there. And I still have to go back at some point! I’m not even 1/4 done with walking for the day!
Ah well. Let’s get moving!
Gorgeous Cedar Trees
The path to the mountain shrine is stunning. It’s lined with trees and is straight as an arrow. Lots of views. Also, along both sides of the path are little gutters, or streams, with water flowing down making a lovely gurgling noise. Very nice.
The nicest part? The sparse number of people. It feels like you’re more alone than ever, and it’s good. Nobody is crowding you, elbowing you, out-camping you for things… it’s just a walk down a tree-lined lane in fall. Everyone there feels that same vibe, too, and they actually nod and smile at you as you walk by. They don’t just bulldoze by you like you’re another obstacle.
Starting down the straight-as-an-arrow path:
The Outer Gate to the Inner Shrine, guarded by komainu:
Then I reached the highlight of the day so far– a 500 meter long path with a straight row of giant cedar trees lining each side. It’s another travel magic moment. As I said in my Nara post, this is why I love to travel.
The cedar rows. Stunning:
Of course, it’s all uphill, the road is a little rough, and it’s tiring. It’s 48F (maybe), and I’m just wearing my long-sleeve T-shirt because I’m sweating up a storm. I have the voice of the Survivorman guy in my head, reminding me that if I sweat too much in cold weather, it could be dangerous, so I’ve already peeled off my jacket until I’m down to just the T-shirt, and I’m still all sweaty. Also, everything is cotton. I’m learning on this trip that cotton is evil. It does a really good job of trapping sweat and holding it against you.
It’s work, man.
But oh my God, it’s worth it. It’s gorgeous here.
Then the main path runs out:
And then there are stairs. Lots of stone stairs that are uneven. Be careful!
We start climbing stairs:
Looking back down the stairs:
Now that I’m past the cedar rows and forest, I can start to see the mountains:
Made it to the shrine!
I finally made it to the shrine a little after 4 p.m. For once, I did the whole purification ritual you’re supposed to do when you enter a shrine.
The water was freezing.
So how does the basic purification ritual work? Simple. There’s a pool of water with dippers in it. You grab the dipper with your right hand, pour water over your left, then switch to the dipper to your left hand to wash your right, then switch again to fill your left hand with water so you can rinse out your mouth. Don’t spit the water back into the basin. Then fill the dipper again and let the water run down the handle to rinse off all of your cooties. Put the dipper back where you found it. If you don’t know what you’re doing, ask someone.
When you’re done, you shake your hands dry like everyone else who doesn’t have a towel. (Or just carry a towel or handkerchief with you, like most people do here.)
I probably could have used some extra purification after all of that sweating. Nevermind, I’m thinking of a shower.
The shrine I’ve been killing myself to get to is a lovely little shrine. It’s small, but the views are what make it impressive. The mountains were just gorgeous.
And while small, the shrine has its own charm:
One of the other buildings at the shrine:
Some nice ladies offered to take my picture in front of the honden. I gladly accepted their offer.
I spent a few minutes at the shrine, checked my watch, and started to get nervous. I had to go 3.3 Km in rough mountainous country to get to my bus stop by 5:10 p.m. It was ~4:15 p.m. already. I was pretty sure I could make it, but I had to hustle.
Race to the Bus!
To top it off, I was already sore, and getting more sore by the minute.
Down the mountain I went. It was rough going down. I learned a trick from the older ladies– skip the stairs, and go on the terrain on the side– you move faster.
Heading back through the cedars. Still amazing!:
Racing to the exit!
I was burning shoe leather pretty well, so I stopped next to the entrance 1.9 Km from the shrine to buy some postcards and a Sprite (which I had to carry home with me– not a recycling bin in sight), then resumed my forced march to the bus stop.
1.4 Km to go.
I decided to rename Togakushi as Togakurushii while I’m speed-hiking, because kurushii means “excruciatingly painful” in Japanese. It fits. I chuckled to myself, but I kept moving. Suddenly, I found myself going uphill. Huh? I didn’t remember this bit being downhill on the way.
Keep moving, I told myself. Finally, I made it back to the bus stop with 5 minutes to spare. Lucky!
I had time to eat the chocolate croissant I didn’t have time to eat this afternoon for dessert.
The bus came on time and I had another bumpy bus ride home, this time in the dark. The main reason I wanted to catch that bus was because after 4:30 p.m., the sun sets here, and you don’t want to go fumbling around the woods in the dark. That’s a really bad idea.
Another thing I noticed– in rural Japan, stuff closes even sooner. Stores were closed at 5 p.m. sharp here. Some even closed at 4:30 p.m.
Japanese road construction: when I first saw these long ropes of red lights, I thought something festive was happening. Nope. It’s how they mark off dangerous areas. They use ropes of dirt cheap energy-saving LEDs. Smart. And festive!
Also, they’ve replaced the stop/slow sign guy with a robot of sorts. 2 stands are put up, each with a light, one on each end of the work zone. One light will show a blue arrow to the traffic that can go through, while the other end shows a red light with a countdown timer. Neat. (But it puts the Stop/Slow sign guys out of a job.)
I’ve been seeing more and more countdown timers on crosswalks. It’s sort of an inverted pyramid with red bars. One red bar disappears every 5-10 seconds, then you get to go.
Oh, and crosswalk music. Dammit, I can’t get one of the little songs out of my head. Do-do-do do doo do-do-do do-do-do-do-do. I was even humming it to myself while hiking today. Mom informs me that the song is “When a Body Sees a Body Comin’ Through the Rye…” I still can’t get it out of my head.
Speaking of weird music. At 5 p.m. in Togakushi, I heard mysterious organ music, with no discernible source. It was some sort of church music, too, which is really odd for rural Japan, but I suppose there’s a perfectly good Japanese Reason for it.
EDIT: I found out the reason for the music: it has to do with synchronizing government time, so that everyone knows that it’s 5 p.m. It has something to do with disaster planning and preparedness. It also serves as a “gentle reminder” to the kids out playing that, “Now would be a really good time to go home.” Gotta love NHK.
Oh, and my theory of why is there so much weird and random English? Simple. Nobody over here cares if it’s grammatically correct, because it’s not aimed at us foreigners. It’s aimed at the locals, and they don’t think spelling “Lodge” as “Rodge” is that bad. (I did see a Rodge today.)
I have a new theory of why people avoid me. It’s because they think, “Ah, crap. A foreigner. I bet he’s going to start babbling to me in English any second now, and the only English I remember from High School is ‘Hello. Where is John? Are you John? No, I am Peggy.'”
At least that’s what I figure. Can you remember any of your compulsory high school foreign language? I know if I saw a desperate Frenchman asking for help, part of me would want to just keep walking and feign ignorance, too.
The only French I remember is “Ou est la toilette?” and “Je m’appelle Richard,” so I totally understand.
Total kilometers walked today… uh… 1.4+1.4+1.9+1.9+1.4+.5… that’s 8, right? I’m too tired to do the math.
Tomorrow is travel to Sendai, and not much else. I’m not going to be up for much more than that.