My latest Post.

This view,this beauty
A tear unbidden
Creeps into my eye.

My stay is short
But I shall return to this place
If only my life is long enough.

Such beauty
Gazing upon it
I hope my years are many.

Bokusui Wakayama.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Ushiozanhougon Temple and Beyond - Ono Station to Oiwake Station.

(Mt) Takatsukayama.

   I was very impressed with the signage that was posted throughout the area I was about to enter. Every junction along the way had a sign giving directions to wherever I was heading and, as I take you through this post, I shall include images that will verify that. But, sadly, there were no signs giving directions as to where the track begins and ends. The first sign was this one, in the image on the left, located some way into the course. I discovered this track quite by coincidence. I had come on a bike-ride to check-out a road that lead into the hills overlooking Fushimi and Yamashina Wards and, as I was about to commence my ascent, I was stopped at a gate by a security guard who informed me I could not continue. He then went on to tell me about this hiking track, and where it commenced from. I returned a few days later, again on two-wheels, in search of where-and-how I could commence this hike. 

   I arrived in the area at the Ono subway station, on the Tozai Line, and from there a 15-to-20 minute walk to the track. My first photo-opp' was this interesting rock. The sign says 'Neko Iwa', or 'Cat Rock'. Supposedly named because the rock looks like a Cat. Maybe you can see the resemblance. A bit further on was this collection of concrete lanterns. Looking around I found nothing to indicate why they are located here. I did notice though, how well groomed the garden area was. The bridge, in the rear of the image, was the commencement of my ascent.


   The track gradually weaved it's way up the hill when, an hour after setting-out from Ono-eki, I arrived at my first junction of the day. I was a bit taken-aback as to how quickly I had arrived at this point. Although it was a clear and calm morning, I did notice how colder the temperature was, compared to down below. Which was why I didn't hang-around for too long. In the image on the right, are two signs kindly placed here by the 'Yamashina Hiking Club'. They give information as to where I can go from here. In this instance I had three options. But, as Mt Takatsuka was my next destination, that's all I needed to know.

   Another junction, another sign and, before I knew it, I had arrived at Takatsukayama. Again, I was surprised how soon I reached this point and, if I hadn't become suspicious with the way the track began to descend, I would have missed it and ended-up god-knows-where. Apart from the signs detailing the name and height of the summit, there was just a concrete peg in the ground with two rocks either side. There was no view to be had and, as I was now walking through light snow, I decided to u-turn and head for my next destination - Ushiozanhougon Temple.

   As I was backtracking, I came to a junction with a sign giving me an alternative route, allowing me to bypass the first junction (thank-you YHC). When I reached this tunnel I suddenly realized where I was. The road I was about to pass under, is the road I was prevented from cycling up by the very-nice and helpful security guard; I am curious to know what all the secrecy is about, and why no-one is allowed access to the top.

   On the other side of the tunnel was this dilapidated bridge that has definitely seen better days. For once I was more-than-happy to get my boots wet, as an alternative to risking my life by using the bridge.

   From here my path began a slight descent, running parallel to a stream,with, judging by the fallen trees and other limbs, evidence of past storms.


   A few-hundred meters further along, my next junction, and the car-park for Ushiozanhougon. I was now in familiar surroundings - I was here the previous week on a cycling reconnaissance trip to gather information and take photos of the area surrounding the temple. As I emerged from the forest I was struck by a very-cold and strong wind, which squashed any plans of me taking a rest and having a bite-to-eat while here.

   After paying my respects at the shrine, and taking a few photos, I moved-on. My track was over in the corner of the complex, by the statue of the Buddhist Monk Shinran. As I was making my way past the statue, I was reacquainted with an elderly couple that were here on my previous visit. I got the impression this is a daily ritual, where they come to pay their respects. Quite impressive, considering their ages and the long walk up the path to get here.

   The track, as it made it's way up the hill, passed around the back of the temple grounds before turning away and heading deeper into the forest. The cold wind wasn't as strong here, as it was down below, but the ground-covering of snow was deeper and more extensive.

   My next destination was (Mt)Otowayama but, before that, I wanted to check-out a viewpoint I had heard about. Arriving at this junction, in the image on the left, I was now joining the 'Tokaido Road', a 1,700km path that was created to connect Naniwa (modern day Osaka) with Edo (modern day Tokyo) many hundreds of years ago. Today, what parts of this road that hasn't been desecrated, is ideal hiking terrain and, no matter what part of the path you are on, the signs are all identical. Turning right here puts me on to the path that leads to Ishiyama-dera Temple, that I plan to explore at another time but, today, I want to check-out the view.

   And what a view it was. What I was looking at was the southern end of (Lake)Biwako, and the mouth of the Setagawa River (map location). Although it is difficult, in this image, to distinguish the mountains in the distance, let me tell you, they were a magnificent sight.

   (Mt)Otowayama 593m - 

Map Location.
   There is something about standing atop a mountain that offers panoramic views, such as this one does. I must apologize if the above image doesn't portray that feeling adequately, but, I hope the attached video will make up for that. From here I could see all of Kyoto City, stretching from Yawata, to the far left, Fushimi & Yamashina Wards below and Otsu City and Biwako to the right. I couldn't have picked a better day to be here.

   It was about now my stomach was making overtures that it needed a fuel intake or, more precisely, it was lunchtime. But, unfortunately, there was nowhere to sit, thanks to everything being covered in snow, and the cold breeze. So I made my descent in the hope I could find an ideal spot. A sign, a bit further down the track, pointed to a toilet and, what I hoped, a sheltered spot for the break. Sadly I was out-of-luck. But I did use the toilet.
   I rejoined my track, which soon became several flights of steps. For me, hiking on terrain like this is far better ascended than the other way around. Descending along steps like these makes ones leg muscles scream-out in agony.


                                                                                                         At the base of the steps was this ideal spot for my lunch-break, that provided seating and was sheltered from the wind. Also the suns rays were breaking through the trees, adding a warm glow to my body. It was just on midday and I was pleased with my progress, so I saw no reason to rush through with my lunch and used my time here to take-in the serenity of my surroundings, and review my day.

   Within minutes of my leaving this idyllic spot, the serenity would be shattered by the sounds of traffic passing along National Route-1 or, what is known as the 'Tokai-do Road'. The transformation was so dramatic that, within a few meters, I had gone from a dirt track, to concrete steps, then this bridge (map location).

   Across the other side of the bridge I arrived at a junction, with this signpost giving directions to three destinations - where I had just come from, the continuance of the 'Tokaido Road' and a track leading to the Keihan Otani Station. The station is just a few hundred meters away through the settlement, which was my planned goal of today's hike but, as it was still early  afternoon, I decided to proceed further to see what lay in store. I had a picture in my mind that I would emerge onto the 'Biwako Canal' and, if that was the case, I would follow the canal to the Keihan Yamashina Station. To cut a long story short, I finally ended-up at the Keihan Oiwake Station, one stop down the line from Otani, after taking a track that took my over a hill that overlooked where I had just come from. Oh well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Before my train arrived, and the 2-hour journey home, I had time for one last mug of coffee and a pack of current buns.

As always, thank-you for reading this and, until the next time,


   Course details and images -


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Ushiozanhougon Temple and Beyond - an introduction.


   Ushiozanhougon Temple (map location) is nestled within a basin surrounded by hills that borders the prefectures of Kyoto and Shiga, and is going to be the focal-point of my time hiking and discovering what lies within these hills.

Stairway to
   I have no information regarding the temple and it's grounds, just to say it is located at the junction of many hiking tracks and, judging by the amount of hikers and devotees in the area, it is a very popular destination.

   I would say the temple has seen better days but, aside from that, it was still a very beautiful place to experience. On the day I took these images I arrived by mountain-bike and, as it was cold, I didn't want to hang-around too long: I still had a 33km ride to get home, but, whenever I pass through here, I am sure I will have more images to add.

   As can be seen in this map, there is quite a network of tracks in the area. One particular track is a segment of the 'Tokaido Road'. I estimate my time in here will require three, maybe four, visits and, each segment I do, I plan to pass by Ushiozanhougon.
   Included within the area are four mountains I plan to ascend  - (Mt) Otowayama 593m, (Mt) Gyojagamori 440m, (Mt) Takatsukayama 485m and (Mt) Daigoyama 454m.
   Also, I am sure I will discover other shrines and temples, like Shimo-Daigo (Lower Daigo-ji) and Kami-Daigo (Upper Daigo-ji) and Shiraishi-jinja Shrine. And lets not forget the religious icons that, I am sure, will be dotted-within the territory.

   Of the two occasions I have been here, I get the impression the tracks are well signposted. In the image on the top left, this noticeboard, located at the base of the pilgrimage path to Ushiozanhougon, shows the tracks in the area. On the bottom left, is a sign giving directions for the Tokaido Road path - these are very distinctive signs and, wherever you come-across them, they are all the same. The image on the bottom right, are signs placed throughout by the 'Yamashina Hiking Club', they are located at the junctions and give excellent information as to there to go from that point but, a warning, they are very small and easily missed.

   So, without further ado, lets go hiking.


Sunday, December 17, 2017

Rural Kamo and Kizu Towns.

   It has been some time since my last 'Tiki-Tour' through the fabulous Japanese countryside,three months to be exact. With my other rides - commuting or exercise rides - I just get on my bike and go-for-it. Today's ride would allow me to relax, take-it-easy, take photos and sightsee. And the weather couldn't have been more perfect - clear, calm and warm. From home I made my way to the route-71 bridge that spans the Kuzu River then followed the cycle-way to Kizu Town. 

   The town is divided into two halves, the old and the modern. The old comprises of narrow lanes and wooden houses that, in some cases, date some hundred years or more. The modern is made-up of wide avenues and sparkling clean abodes. In recent years a lot of excavation has taken place in Kizu, and many of these lanes and houses have lost their character. A new bridge has been constructed over the Kizu River connecting with a new road giving a more direct access to Nara. My route skirted around the center of the town and took me to the hilly area on the outskirts, and the narrow lanes, like in the image on the left. Here, I stop to admire a Persimmon tree full of fruit. 

   Before long my environment changes and my sealed lane soon turns-into a leaf & branch strewn track. 

And, soon after, I find myself dismounting my bike so as to make my way through a quagmire that is too dangerous to attempt cycling through. At the other end I emerge overlooking the town of Kamo. From here I make my way along narrow lanes that allow farmers access to their rice-fields. 

   My next stop is at the Kanonji Abutment. This is a remnant of the Daibutsu Railway, which passed-through here from the late 19th and early 20th century before being closed and replaced with the Kansai Line. The new line can be seen in the rear of the image. From the Kamo Station, to this point, both lines shared the same route but, from here they took a different route into Nara City.
   From here my course takes me through the settlement of Kamocho Takata and . . . .

Map Location.

. . . . Yasaka-jinja Shrine. I have passed-through this area several times over the years but never realized there was a shrine tucked in amongst the trees. It was while researching 'Google Maps' for this trip, that I noticed the shrine marked on the map. 

   What was of interest to me, was the four Komainu, or Lion Dogs, standing guard at the entrance to the complex. Normally there are only two. What impressed me most about Yasaka-jinja, was the serenity and beauty encompassing the area - overlooking a pond and engulfed in trees.

   From here I cross over route-44, a road connecting Kamo Town with Nara City, and through more rice fields. A couple of months ago, these fields would have been a sea of green as the rice was approaching harvest time. These lanes are so narrow in places that, if I was to encounter a vehicle, I would need to alight my bike to allow them to pass.

   My course now takes me through dense bush before emerging at another rice growing area. My lane, again very narrow, is a popular walking course for local residents and their pets. Today was no exception, with many out taking advantage of the Autumn-like conditions. I reach a junction and cross a small bridge, where I encounter this collection of religious icons. Interesting finding a large collection, in such an isolated place. From this point my path is up a steep incline that tests my stamina, but I make it and continue on through the settlement of Kamocho Higashiokami, where I link-up with the trail knows as 'Touno Sekibutsu no Sato', or the Pilgrimage to Sekibutsu. 

   This 14km trail encompasses two famous temples - Gansen-ji and Joruri-ji - taking-in along the way a collection of carved religious icons, or Sekibutsu. My first encounter is here at Karasunotsubo, where I watch the owner of these three large hounds, and his attempt at getting them to pose long enough to take their photo.

   Nearby is this magnificent carving, simply titled - Warai (which is the Japanese translation for happy/laughing/smiling ) and is an image of Buddha sitting in the Lotus Position.

Map Location.

   I now make my way through another settlement - Kamocho Ohata - nestled in a valley surrounded by trees and my steepest ascent of the day. In all the times I have ridden this path, only once have I made it to the top without having to dismount and walk. This was not one of those days. By now the sun was emitting some heat and I was beginning to raise a sweat.

   As I made my way to my next destination, out of the corner of my eye I spotted this small Jizo almost camouflaged by leaves and moss. I am still fascinated at where one can come-across these stone icons.

   I pass through two more small settlements, before arriving at . . . .

 . . . .  Morihachimangu-jinja Shrine. Taking a look at the Torii and Shrine, I got the feeling they had recently been repainted. In the past I have used this site to take-a-break and have a bite-to-eat but, as it was sheltered by many tall trees & dense bush, it was too cold.

   So I took a quick look-around, before moving on. This Chozuya, or purification fountain impressed me as did this Sekibutsu.
   This being a Tiki-Tour, I forgo the sealed lane in favor of a muddy path, that takes me up a hill and behind the shrine. I descent, and weave my way through some very-narrow lanes that require me to exercise caution (map location). With the houses built so close to each other, I need to be on the lookout for anyone or anything that may be exiting their property. Any lapse in concentration could spell disaster

   I navigate my way successfully, and enter a narrow path, as can be seen in the above panorama, which heralds the halfway point of the days outing - 35km. The small Jizo, set-in the bank (image on the left) reminds me of the very first time I passed through this way: it was a hot day and I decided to break here and take on some water. Standing here I had the feeling someone, or something, was looking over my shoulder. When I turned, there it was. As I mentioned earlier, these fellas pop-up in some of the most isolated of places.
   My descent from here is through some tricky terrain and I need to watch my speed. With all the leaves strewn on the ground, it's difficult to know what the surface is like below. Like falling into a ditch when walking through deep snow. I re-emerge on the outskirts of Kamo Town and scoot-around the perimeter until I reach the Kizu River bridge. 

Map Location.

   Crossing the bridge, I then take a track along the top of a flood bank and descend, and make my way to Ebisu-jinja Shrine. This complex is situated amongst a crop-of-trees in the middle of farming country. A kilometer or so away is route-163, a very busy road at the best of times, that I take to the settlement of Kamikoma, part of Yamashiro Town. From here, it's back home, and a nice hot shower.

   As always, thank-you for reading this post, and - 

Until next time,