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.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Early Morning Ride Through Outback Kyoto.

    The Summer of 2018 will go down in Japanese history as being the severest on record, with temperatures being recorded in the high 30'sC - to - low 40'sC. To avoid problems associated with this heat, avid cyclists like myself have to either put-aside any plans for a ride, shorten their rides or head-out early to be home before the temperature reaches it's peak. As it's been some time since my last marathon bike-ride, which has left me chafing-at-the-bit to rectify, I decided on an early morning wake-up and ride.

   When I said 'early morning', I mean early morning. 2am to be exact. I have done these rides in the past, and they are great. Cycling in the dark can be dangerous, but, with the dawn appearing about 04:30am, it's not for long. I had devised a route that would take me through Kyoto City, along the Kamogawa River to it's source at the settlement of Kamogahara, then over the Mochikoshi-toge Pass to the settlement of Nakagawa, returning to Kyoto City along the old Tokaido Road. After a breakfast of bananas and muesli, washed-down with warm water, I was out the door at 03:15am. Without waking my wife. I hope.

   I made a beeline for the Yodogawa River Cycleway and then on to the Yawata-ohashi Bridge where, to my amazement, were a group of teenage cyclists waiting to head-off on a ride. From here I connected with the Katsuragawa River Cycleway that would take me into Kyoto City. By the time I reached the outskirts of the city, the dawn was already showing itself through light cloud. Much to my joy.

   I reached my first rest-stop at Demachiyanagi, at the confluence of the Kamo and Togano Rivers, and had the first of four bananas. It was 05:20am and by now it was full daylight. I spent a couple of minutes setting-up my G.P.S. so as to record the trip and, without much ado, I was off. 

    The route from Demachiyanage is a gradual climb and, 30-minutes after leaving, I was working-up a sweat. So, when I happened-across this fresh water spring, I had no hesitation but to stop and fill-up, and take a short break. My bike has three drink-bottle holders, and for this trip I loaded all three just in case there was no water supply along the way.In situations like this, whenever I encounter a water supply, I top-up my bottles.


   As I made my way up the valley, evidence of the recent typhoon & heavy rain was evident, with several very large landslides on both sides of the Kamogawa River. Throughout I was worrying if I would come-across a roadblock preventing me from proceeding but, in true Japanese style, the work crews had already been in and cleared the road. My next stop was at the Deaibashi Bridge, at the confluence of the Kamogawa & Nakatsugawa Rivers. To this point I hadn't encountered another soul. It was eerie, and very quiet.

   Further up, passing several houses, and Itsukushima-jinja Shrine, I got my first glimpse of the Mochikoshi-toge Pass, partially camouflaged by cloud. Before I made my ascent of the pass, I continued on up the valley to another area of Kumogahata, that is very picturesque. 

   It is at this juncture where the Kamogawa River nears it's source. There are a couple of hotels (not sure if they still operate) and an eatery and a shrine.

   Returning back down the valley I took another break to prepare for the ascent up to the summit of the pass. I still hadn't, to this point, encountered another person, but that was about to change. During the course of my ascent, I was overtaken by two vehicles, both, it appeared, maintenance crew checking-out the road.

   Although the ascent is short-and-steep (about 1km), it still takes the wind out of me. As I was setting-up my camera to take this shot, I could hear the sound of music nearby. Then another cyclists suddenly appeared, with a transistor radio blaring for all to hear. Thanks mate.


   On a clear day the view from the pass can be spectacular, as one looks down over the settlement of Kumogahata and the valley beyond, with the hills enveloping the area. This-mornings view was still spectacular, albeit in a misty sort of way. The sun was trying it's best to break through the cloud and commence it's heating-up of those below. It was still only 06:20am and, at this altitude, a little chilly.

   After another couple of bananas, while I posted the above image to my wife's 'Line' page who, I assume, was having her breakfast and preparing herself for work, I made my descent and onto my next destination - the settlement of Nakagawa. 

    The descent from the pass, route-107, is very windy in places, and can be dangerous if you aren't concentrating, especially if you encounter a vehicle coming the other way. Once reaching the junction with route-31, at the settlement of Sugisaka, a right turn here took me to route-162, the Kyoto to Obama National Highway.

   A narrow lane branches off route-162, just before a new tunnel, constructed about 10-years ago to detour traffic from passing through the settlement of Nakagawa. Nakagawa is a quaint town, comprising of several wood-working factories & stores. With the cedar forest surrounding the settlement, it is understandable why this is so.

                                                                                                                                          As I made my way down the main street, my attention was drawn to this concrete lantern and, behind it,a shrine. This is Nakagawahachimangu Shrine. But not the one I was on the look-out for.

   The site I was looking for was nestled-amid the surrounding forest, well off the main street. Access to Soren-ji Temple (map location) was via this very narrow lane where, at times, I needed to dismount my bike and carry it up several flights of steps. But, as I made my way, I was treated to some fine views overlooking the settlement.

   The houses here are build within close proximity to each other and, judging by the peacefulness of the area, I can't imagine any rowdy neighbours  surviving here for very long. But, there again, it was still early morning - 06:45am.

   My narrow lane soon merged with an access drive then, as I turned a bend, the entrance to Soren-ji Temple. 

   This temple was founded at the end of the Muromachi Period, after the Onin War (1477). The temple belongs to the Jodo Sect, and has been beloved by villagers for generations as their parish temple.

    As I made my way up the concrete steps to the main entrance, I got this feeling I was about to experience something very beautiful and serene, a feeling I always experience when visiting a complex of this type. But Soren-ji felt different.

   As I entered through the main gate I was greeted by a small pond and the very distinct sound of a Shishi-odoshi, or   bamboo water feature, as it tapped onto a rock. It's interesting that the purpose of these devices is to frighten-away animals.

   It wasn't a very large pond, as ponds go, about the size of a full-size snooker table. The pond was adorned with several small religious icons, the most distinctive being one of Fudo, the God of Waterfalls. Albeit there being no waterfalls in sight. The pond was home to several large Carp.

   Scanning the surroundings, I noticed that this wasn't a large complex, everything was sited within close proximity or, as we say back home, a stone's throw from each other. To my left was another flight of concrete steps that took me to . . . .

  . . . . . this small shrine. Like all the other buildings here, it too was camouflaged by the forest.

   At the entrance to the shrine I was able to look back down to the pond and other buildings. The temple is known as the "Flower Temple", with Mountain Cherries in Spring, as well as Rhododendrons, Calanthe flowers, and Japanese primrose blooming in the garden.

   To my left of the shrine were three avenues of small shed-like structures each containing a collection of various religious icons.

   From here I returned to ground level and continued my wandering. Looking up to where I had just come from, I spotted the Belfry, it too hidden by the trees. This experience was getting better-and-better as my exploration proceeded, and it wasn't over yet. 

                                                                                                                Behind where I was standing was another gate that led down another flight of concrete steps to, what I was to discover, the lane I had cycled along earlier.

   At the base was a small Chozuya, or purification fountain. Nestled in amid the trees was a small shelter, which was my cue for where to have my next break.

   With this thought in mind, I returned through the complex to where I parked my bike, and made for the shelter and an intake of sustenance. In this instance Onigeri, or Rice-Balls. 
   I wasn't alone though. Nearby was this small statue of Ebisu, one of the Seven Gods of Fortune.

   From Soren-ji my lane soon connected with the Bodai Road, which was once the only route leading to the capital during the Heian Period (794-1185), and my next stop . . . .

   . . . . the appropriately named, Bodai-no Taki Waterfalls. The fine sand at the basin beneath the falls was used to finely polish debarked Kitayama logs.
   An interesting story goes that a high-ranking priest once fell ill on a journey here. He said "If you sell your Cedar logs polished with sand from the Bodai falls basin, the area will prosper". So, from then on, the area began to produce polished logs, and the priest is considered the founder of the famous Kitayama polished log industry. 
   After leaning my bike against a road-barrier, I set-off down the path. Like my earlier experience, the area was showing signs of the recent storms and, as I made my way, I had to weave my way over fallen branches and, at one point, wading through the stream.

   On a previous visit to the waterfalls, on a very hot day, the water looked so tempting, I decided to cool-down in it. Stripping-off all my clothes, I waded-into the pool and, to my horror, a medium size snake swam past me. From where I was standing, to where I landed, took me the best part of 1-second. 

   Returning to my bike, I continued along the Bodai Road, weaving my way around the fallen debris that was littering my route. My sealed lane soon became an unsealed path, which soon deteriorated to become a rutted track, which required me to carry my bike. A couple-of-hundred meters along I arrived at this junction. It is at this point where the 'Tokaido Road' and tracks associated with the 'Kyoto Trail', a 70+km trail that partly circumnavigates Kyoto City, converge.

   If I thought the previous section was difficult, the next was worse. My path was only about 1-meter wide, with a deep rut in the middle, leaving me with a 200mm path on each side to navigate. And, to add to my woes, there were steps to contend with. But it was only a short stint. My path soon emerged at this collection of buildings, where some very kind person(s) had erected several benches. Just what I needed - another break, another rice-ball, more water. It was hard to believe, while sitting here, that Kyoto City was just on the other side of the hills and, within 15-minutes, I would return to a city that was still waking-up. 07:50am. Ten kilometers after leaving my serene rest-stop, I had arrived back at the start-point, Demachiyanage.

    As always, it has been a pleasure sharing my experiences with you, and thank-you for reading my blog.

So, until next time,


   Trip details -     

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

No plan, getting lost in Hino-no Satoyama.

   It was this noticeboard that alerted me to the area known as Hino-no Satoyama, and, since that day three months ago, I have ventured into the area some seven times. Three of those times were a reconnaissance expedition, two were a planned hike, and once when I was invited to join the couple responsible for erecting the noticeboard.

   The options available are quite extensive, as can be seen in this map. Some of the tracks are well marked and beaten, others, like the ones I experienced with the couple I joined, are almost nonexistent, where an amount of patience is required.

   This 'No Plan - Getting Lost' outing was an opportunity for me to check-out some of the tracks not covered on my previous trips, and hopefully see some sights I had also missed. 

   My starting-point was an athletic park (map location), where a junction of three tracks converged. One of which I had taken on my first hike. 

   Little did I know, when I set-off, that I would return to this point 2-hours later, albeit by the (almost) same route. Which left me with the third track to take. 

   With these types of outings you can never be sure what you will experience. In some instances I have found myself returning and spending up to a year exploring the many tracks that area. Then there is the scenery, and hazards, as can be seen in the above images.

   According to my map, the track I took had the promise of a waterfall so, after crossing a small stream, I headed-into the bush. For the first few hundred meters my track was well defined, and followed the stream I had just crossed. I reached this waterfall and felt confident I was on course. But that was soon to change. Either I veered off course, or the track became non-existent, so, from this point, I was on-my-own and decided to press-on and continue uphill to, what I hoped, would be the main track at the plateau of the hills.
   As I made my way up the hill the calling of a wild deer caught my attention and I decided to see if I could catch a glimpse of the animal. But to no avail. So it was back to my ascent. By now I was working-up a sweat and needed to find a spot to take-a-break and store my jacket. I was relieved when I stumbled across this outcrop of rocks. While I was taking on some well deserved water, I took the opportunity to check my map to see if I could ascertain my location, which wasn't easy - my map is only lines drawn on a sheet of paper and has no contour lines. But, little did I know, the plateau and main track were just a few meters from where I was sitting and, to my delight, when I emerged, there was a sign pointing me in the direction from where I had just come from. So I wasn't lost.

    To confirm where I was, a small sign directed me to (Mt)Hinoyama (373m), and my third visit to this site. I knew that on the other side of the summit was a junction which would lead me to my first descent of the day, to the settlement of Sumiyama (map location).

   I have an envy for those that live in these settlements. With only the one road in and out, there isn't much transport passing through, plus there is the serenity and beauty that surrounds you.

   In preparation for this hike, I did a reconnaissance bike-ride into the valley the week before, to check there was a track up the hill. My map didn't show any tracks on this side of the hills, so I needed to be sure, that way I wouldn't be wandering up-and-down the lane looking for something that was quite possibly not there.

   If this track was the one I thought it was, I would arrive at the junction of the Yuurei-touge Pass, and from there to my next destination. Wherever that was. 

   From where I was standing the track looked steep, so I braced myself for a tough climb, and the day was beginning to heat-up. A few minutes in and I would (literally) stumble-across this collection of small religious icons. Always on the lookout for these, I was impressed with their location plus, on closer inspection, one of them resembled  'Fudo, the God of Waterfalls' (bottom left corner, image on the right).
   I was pleasantly surprised when my track began to level-out but, also at this stage, the track & markings petered-out and I was left scratching my head, again.

    I proceeded on up when, like my earlier ascent, I arrived at the plateau. A couple-of-hundred meters along I arrived at this junction, and the Yuurie-touge Pass. It was during the war, when the American bombers were bombing-the-hell out of Osaka & Kobe, the Japanese Defense Forces  erected a searchlight at this location.

   To the left I would return to (Mt)Hinoyama, to my right, Kami-Daigo Temple. I went straight ahead. If my map information was correct, I would return to where I commenced my hike. Which it did but, much to my consternation, it connected with the track I hiked-up at the beginning of the day. Oh well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. It was now time to take the third track, and to see where it led me to. Little did I know, at that point, that this track would merge with the first track and  back into familiar terrain. 

   I knew up ahead was this building, with many Sekibutsu located nearby. It would also make an ideal site for a lunch-break, and a rest. With all the bush-bashing and climbing & descending, I was beginning to tire. Or, more precisely, I was showing my age.

   On my first visit here, I was overwhelmed by what I was confronted with and, to this day, I still haven't been able to gather any information as to the name and reason of the location.

   During the course of my rest here, I decided to take a more thorough look around and, in a secluded corner of the site, obscured behind a Setsumatsusha (small shrine), was this collection of Fudo Statues. In a gap in the rock was a small stream of water flowing-into a concrete bowl. Someone had kindly placed a mug there which was my cue to refresh my thirst and, let me tell you, it was refreshing & pure. 

   During my lunch-break I perused my map for my next destination - do I go on ahead into familiar territory, or do I look for another track, one that I hadn't used before? On my way to this point I remember espying, what I thought was, another track (actually I noticed a couple). So I decided to u-turn and head back down towards where I had just come from. Five minutes along I reached the junction and proceeded in my new direction. A little further along was this fallen tree, with a large fungi attached, that lay over the track. Just around the corner from this tree was another junction, and a familiar site . . . .

   Nine days ago, while hiking in the area with my hosts, we passed this site from the other direction. The rock was enormous, and I was informed that locals worshiped here, as the rock was considered to have had some connection with  a God. The building was constructed as a shrine, which has become dilapidated over the years. But, judging by the many empty shochu bottles lying-about, I got the impression the site was still frequented.


                       From this point my hosts followed the stream that meandered through the valley and, eventually, leading us back into civilization. Although it was still quite early - it was only 12:30pm - I was beginning to tire, and so I decided to call-it-a-day.


   I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge my hosts, Toshiyuki & Noriko Sawai, for giving me a guided tour through these hills and enlightening me on the history and beauty that lies within Hino-no Satoyama.
   Toshiyuki & Noriko have lived here all their lives and know the area like the back of their hands, and have frequented the area many times, guiding others like myself. Domoarigatoogozaimasu.

   In 1592 construction began on, what was to become, Momoyama-jo. The castle was being build for Toyotomi Hideyoshi who, just the previous year, had retired from the Regency. Some 20,000-to-30,000 workers were provided, from twenty provinces, to construct the castle. The rocks required for the foundation were gathered in this area and, to this day, evidence of their labors can still be seen. What amazed me, and to put this into perspective, is that back then, they didn't have the convenience of heavy machinery to assist them. 

   As always, thank-you for reading this post, and I look forward to sharing my next experience with you. So, until then,