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.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Mount Kunimiyama, Tou-no Mori Forest and The Nanamagari Path.

Summit of Mt Kunimiyama.

   I was in this area in early November, In Search of Tsubakio-jo Castle, when, during my research for that post, I discovered more hiking tracks that appealed to my sense-of-adventure - I had seen some images via my Panoramio page and was keen to check more of this area out.
Map Location.
   Getting to the start of the track I needed to take the same route I took to Tsubakio-jo and, from there, to connect with route-186, which wasn't easy. My sealed mountain lane suddenly stopped, and I had to descend down a muddy bank, cross a stream, then bush-bash up the other side. Route-186 was just below me but, before I could access the road, I had to beat my way through some very dense shrubbery first. My track junction was a further 1.5km along the road. The sign suggested my ascent would take me 45-minutes so, as I wasn't in any particular hurry, I casually began my climb.
   A few minutes in, emerging from the forest, I found myself amongst a tea plantation and these interesting icons at the base of a tree. From here I was beginning to get my first views from where I had just come from - Mt Shiroyama to the northwest and the settlement of Yadawaracho to the northeast, with Mt Kunimiyama in front of me. During my ascent I experienced many junctions, with tracks branching-off in different directions. But, all credit to the wardens of the track, my track was well signposted.
Map Location.

Then, about 30-minutes later, I suddenly (and unexpectedly) arrived at the summit of Kunimiyama (680m). Perfect timing - it was about midday, I was hungry, the sun emerged. Unpacking my gear, I set about to have a bite-to-eat (the opening image is the picnic table at the summit) while checking-out the view. I was now above Mt Shiroyama and could see over the Nara City plains and Mt Ikoma in the far distance.
   After departing the summit I now entered the Tou-no Mori Forest, and my next destination - Hiyoshi-jinja Shrine ( I had seen images on my Panoramio page and was keen to check the complex out). 
Map Location.
   The forest track, like the approach to Mt Kunimiyama, was well signposted, like in the image on the right. Here I am at the junction of the track to Hiyoshi-jinja, behind me, and the descent into the settlement of Bessho (I return to this point, after visiting the shrine, as it takes me to the next segment of my hike - The Nanamagari Path).
Map Location.
   About 15-minutes from the junction I arrive at a clearing, with a dilapidated shed and, as I look down the track, I spy the unmistakable sight of a vermilion-colored Torii. I have arrived at Hiyoshi-jinja. This is an Inari Jinja and, typical of this type of shrine, the approach is marked by one or more Torii with two Kitsune standing guard.I spend the best part of 20-minutes taking-in the serenity & isolation of this complex, as-well-as taking photos, but I shall let this video do the talking.
Map Location.
   After returning to the junction, I descend into the settlement of Bessho and back onto route-186, albeit for a few-hundred meters, and the third and final segment of the day - The Nanamagari Path. Unfortunately, I don't have any details regarding the path to share with you, just that it's only about 700-meters long. A hundred or so meters in, I reach this set of Stone Pagodas, with a path leading to the....
                                 ....Shimonobo Eisho-ji Temple.
   The temple was founded in the year 712A.D. by the Japanese Buddhist Monk,  Roben, who was also clerical founder of the Todai-ji Temple in Nara. It is not a very large complex but, what makes it even more spectacular, is the 800-year old Japanese Cedar overhanging the grounds. As I did with Hiyoshi-jinja, I shall let this video do the talking.
   A bit  further down the path from the temple, nestled in amongst the forest, is this interesting collection of Buddhist Icons, maybe with some connection to Shimonobo Eisho-ji.

   From the icons, the path zigzag's down and connects with a stream and, after treading cautiously over a set of logs, resembling a bridge (image on the right), I come closer to the terminus of the path, and my return to civilization or, in this instance, route-24. Route-24 is a National Highway that commences it's journey in Osaka City, passes-through Nara, on it's way to Mie Prefecture. It's a very busy road, to say the least, and a rude awakening, after the past several hours of peace-and-quite and solitude of the forest.
   From here my return to the J.R.Obitoke Station commences, and along the way I pass through the settlements of Nakahatacho, Koryujicho and Takahicho, taking-in some of the local sights. Like this dilapidated old house on the left.
   As I had just missed my train, I had 40-minutes to wait for the next so, what better way to while-away my time, than with a hot cup of cafe au- lait. Just what the doctor ordered.
   Well, it's been another great outing, and a pleasure to have shared it with you. I am already planning my return to the area. Maybe on that occasion I will be on two wheels. Maybe I will extend or find new tracks to explore. Who knows. So, until next time, Sayonara.

   The links, to the "Map Location" throughout this post, may not be very accurate. I apologise for that. I am yet to master the updated "New Google Maps" 'site.

   Full video of the today's hike.

   Today's route, with images -


Friday, November 22, 2013

In Search of Tsubakio-jo Castle.

   There is very little I can tell you about the layout of Tsubakio-jo, just to say that it was a "Yamajiro", or "Mountaintop Castle", like "Iwakuni-jo" in the image above. 
   Tsubakio-jo was constructed between 1523-&-1555, during the Sengoku Period, by Tsutsui Jinkei (1549-to-1584). The castle was used as a refuge for Tsutsui while his main castle (Honjo) Tsutsui-jo, was under attack by forces loyal to Matsunaga Hisahide. The battle lasted for two years, from 1559 and, when it was all over, Tsutsui went on the become the Lord of Yamato Province, a position bestowed upon him by Oda Nobunaga. Tsutsui then constructed a new castle at Yamatokoriyama (Yamatokoriyama-jo) and Tsubakio-jo was abandoned and left to rack-and-ruin.

   My adventure commences and finishes here, at the J.R.Obitoke Station. I have been to this area many times over the years, both on foot and bike, and it is always a pleasure to return and check-out new destinations. The Yamanobe-no Michi Path, a leg of Japan's oldest road, passes through this area and my route joins it, albeit for a few hundred meters.
Map Location.
The sights & sounds of the busy roads are about to become a distant memory as I reach a junction that soon becomes a narrow rural lane..... 
....and I get my first taste of rural Japan, at it's very best. It is so easy to become attached to this scenery, along with the serenity. Maybe that is why I am so addicted to it.
Map Location.
   My narrow rural lane is about to become a narrower, and more hillier,  rural lane, as I arrive at this junction. I am now entering unfamiliar territory, and am becoming excited as to what lies ahead. The sign is directing travellers to Shoryaku-ji Temple, erected some 563-years before Tsubakio-jo was constructed.
   A few hundred meters on and I arrive at the settlement of Kitatsubao-cho. I often wonder what it would be like to live in an isolated environment like this, with the nearest convenience-store/supermarket some kilometers away and having to use land-line phone services because you are out of cellphone range. It sounds so tempting. From here I am on the lookout for, believe it or not, a more narrower lane that will eventually take me to Kasuga-jinja Shrine. Isolated shrines are a favorite of mine and, when researching my route, I pay attention to any shrines that may be in my vicinity. 
Map Location.
My turn-off soon appears and I ascend up the lane.... 

....into a quaint wee settlement nestled-amongst the hills and surrounded by trees. This has to be paradise at it's very best. Although that is easy to say on a nice warm, fine Autumn day. In winter it would be a very different story.
I reach a junction where four lanes converge and, as I am debating as to which I should take, a local, out walking his dog, stops and gives me instructions. As he can speak some English (in Japan, if someone can speak English, they love to stop and chat), we strike up a conversation - Where do you come from? How long have you lived in Japan? Do you like it here? - and I am invited to join him for a coffee or cup-of-tea. Sadly I decline his offer as I want to keep on the move. But I will return here and take-up his offer at a later date. As I take the path to the shrine I pass this collection of logs. These are used for the cultivation of  Shiitake and one can come-across these sites in some of the most isolated of places.
Map Location.
   I turn a bend and, without warning, I stumble-across this concrete lantern and, amongst the trees, the distinct vermilion-colored Torii,  signifying the entrance to Kasuga-jinja. The shrine has served the needs of the locals for some 400-years, which is young in comparison to other shrines I have visited. Some dating back 1,200-years and more.
As I ascend the steps into the complex proper, two locals are busy sweeping and tiding-up the grounds. As I wander the grounds I notice the absence of any Haiden, but there are a few Sessha/Massha
    The Chozuya is always of interest to me, in particular some designs of the fountain. In this instance it's just a common house tap. This is my video of Kazuga-jinja.
Map Location.

   My lane from the shrine takes me around the back of the settlement of Minamitsubao-cho. From this point I get a view of the Tenri City area of Nara Prefecture before I descend back onto my original lane....

....and some more picturesque rural scenery.
Map Location.

   I soon reach the end of the road, when the sealed lane becomes a dirt track. I am mindful, after studying my map, that my next junction, where I turn off to the castle, is about 1-kilometer away. As I walk through the forest, I can't help notice the many side-tracks, so I remind myself to be vigilant.

Map Location.

   As you can see in the image above, the track joins from a very sharp angle and can be easily missed. As I did, and found myself walking an extra few-hundred meters and had to u-turn. About 20-meters in and another junction. My instructions were to take the track on the left to the ruins. 

As I make my way deeper into the forest, I begin to notice a mound on my right. At this time I find some large stones that indicate that this may indeed be the foundation of Tsubakio-jo. My track takes me in a circular route around the mound.

Map Location.

   Partway around I notice this icon atop the mound. I investigate and, while up there, decide to take a look around. From where I am standing, I get an idea of the layout of the castle and what the view must have been like when Tsutsui resided here. Today, the site is shrouded in trees, no bad thing, but, back then, the view over the Yamato Province below must have been spectacular.
   Back onto the track, and onto my next destination - Mt Shiro (Shiroyama). 
    As I beat my way through the dense grass track, I am suddenly confronted by this (very new) Torii, and I immediately knew where I was.
Map Location.
   Directly behind the Torii, and other religious icons, was the summit of Shiroyama. I spend several minutes at the summit taking-in the surroundings, plus the obligatory photos and video, and am reminded that it has been some hours since I last ate. I was aware that I was about midway through my planned route and needed to restock my fuel supplies. So I set off in search of a suitable place to sit.

And I soon find it. A track, branching-off between the ruins and the summit, takes me to this small shrine where I dine on a flask of hot curry, bread, bananas and washed-down with a cup of cafe au lait. After checking-out other sites in the area, I begin my descent. 
Map Location.
   I have decided to be bold and descend down the other side of Shiroyama, where there is no formed track. On my way down I could hear the sound of a running stream and head for it. This requires some bush-bashing and, after a few hairy moments, I reach the stream. 
Map Location.
Trudging downstream I soon discover a dirt track and climb the bank and commence my exit from the area. With all the recent storms the area experienced, there was still plenty of debris lying about. 
Map Location.
   Two kilometers later I arrive at the junction, with the road I turned-off earlier in the day (the one that goes to Shoryaku-ji Temple). I know of another track from this road that takes me back in the direction of Obitoke Station. I am now back in familiar territory and am aware of what distance I have left to walk. I am also in need of another fix of cafe au lait and some fruit-loaf.
Map Location.
   After emerging from the forest I take a short detour to check-out this interesting site. This is a Tumulus Pond and, where the Torii are situated, is the Ookawaike Kofun, or burial mound. There are five located within this area.
   I soon rejoin my earlier route and, 2-kilometers later, arrive back at Obitoke Station, and in dire need of sustagen. But, as luck would have it, my train was only a few minutes away and I would have to wait until I got home. 
   Well, it's been another great outing and I am already planning my return. Maybe then I will be able to have that coffee with the resident of Kitatsubao-cho. I hope you have enjoyed this post. So,until next time, happy hiking.

   I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the guys at "JCastle" for the use of their image of Iwakuni-jo.

  This is the full Video of the hike.

   Course details and map -

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tiki Touring from Nara to Kizu.

Tiki Tour (New-Zealand Slang)
   1. a sightseeing journey with no particular destination in mind.
   2. to take the scenic route to a destination.
   3. to wander aimlessly.

Map Location.
   Nara Park, famous for it's Temples & Shrines, and the tame Deer that roam freely about the precincts of the park, is the starting point of what was to be one of the best bike-rides I have done in many years. I did have a plan, of sorts, and that was to keep-off any main thoroughfare, and travel via the narrow lanes & paths through the rural outback of Nara Prefecture. I didn't have a destination in mind (my final destination of the day would be home of course), that decision would come when I reached a certain junction and, after a bite-to-eat and an energy check, I would proceed.
   Exiting the park, and taking a narrow lane lined with quaint typical Japanese restaurants, I stop to admire (and photograph) some young deer grazing before heading-into a forest and my first hill-climb of the day. Although it wasn't a hot day, being amongst the trees provides a cool shelter from the sun as I wound my way up the hill to the junction with the Nara Okuyama Driveway (Map Location.)
Map Location.
   A few hundred meters before the summit though, I paused for a few minutes at the junction of four tracks, which I was soon to connect with. The track has three different names - the "Tokaido Road", which was created during the Edo Period (1603-to-1867) to enable people to migrate between Osaka and Tokyo. In the late 16th-century, when the settlement of Yagyu became the home of a sword-fighting school, the road also became known as "The Old Yagyu Road". Then, in the late 1960's, construction began to create a long distance hiking trail, and was given the name of "The Tokai Nature Walk".
Map Location.
   After reaching the summit, I now connect with the aforementioned road, albeit for about 2km, and these interesting collection of buildings. This is the Tagenochyuo Tea-House, and has been on this site for over 180-years. The present proprietor is the 6th generation of his family to run this establishment. The place is like a museum with a couple of flintlock rifles hanging on display, along with other weapons and assorted memorabilia dating-back many centuries.     
Map Location.

   I now exit the forest and emerge into the open rural outback of Nara, and enter the settlement of Setarin-cho. This is my kind of cycling environment and I am becoming excited as to what lies ahead. It has been a couple of weeks since the rice was harvested, but the ground is still a sea of green where the grass has taken over.
   Tucked-into an alcove, by the side of the road, 
is this "Hokora", or miniature Shinto Shrine. This, I am hoping, will be the first of many religious icons and sites I will experience on today's trip.
Map Location.

   As I leave the settlement of Setarin-cho, my narrow lane becomes a narrower lane and I enter another forested area. I emerge soon after into another settlement and from here my track takes me through some very dense and overgrown bush. I emerge onto a road where my immediate task is to remove the many spiders and their webs that have entangled themselves into my cycle-helmet. 
Map Location.
   Oyagyu-cho (not to be confused with the town of Yagyu mentioned earlier) is situated on the Tokaido/Old-Yagyu Road. I have passed-through here on a few occasions on one of my many hikes through this region. 
   As I pass through the town I arrive at a bridge (Map Location) and, as I cross it, my attention is drawn to a path that runs alongside the stream. Staying with my plan to keep off as many roads as possible, I take the lane and soon find myself entering another wooded area. Stopping to record more scenes for my video of this trip, I spot a small Sekibutsu (Stone Carving of Buddha) carved into a rock in the hill behind me. 
Map Location.
   I have a strong fascination with these carvings, especially their isolated locations. As you can see on the attached map link, this one is no different from the many others I have stumbled-across on my travels. Some years ago I wrote an article for a travel website covering a pilgrimage, with many such carvings located throughout an area of Nara Prefecture - "Touno Sekibutsu no Sato"
Map Location.
   A short while later I emerge into the settlement of Sakahara-cho and, as I wind my way through the narrow lanes, some only wide enough for one vehicle, I come-across the Nagao-jinja Shrine.
Nagao-jinja Shrine.

   I was able to recognize the name of the shrine by the Kanji characters embossed on this lantern. The complex was a hive of activity ( as seen on this video) with, what I presume, to be preparations for an upcoming festival.

   Nestled on the Kagura-den (a special stage) was this Mikoshi palanquin, used in a festival known as Matsuri , which is held throughout Japan to celebrate the shrine's deity.
   Time to move on, and down another narrow lane, past some more quaint houses and over another narrow bridge from Nagao-jinja, I reach another road that disappears into another forest.
Map Location.
   Route-173, as I later discovered it's name, was narrow, windy, pot-holed, wet and down-hill. Keeping any attempt to get carried-away and go-for-it, I changed into cruise mode, relaxed and enjoyed the experience. I emerged at a junction that I immediately recognized - route-33, a road that connects the town of Kasagi with Nara City - and a sheltered lunch-spot. By now I was in dire need of an energy top-up (in this instance bread-rolls, chocolate and banana) before deciding where to from here.
   A few meters away from where I was dining was a rocky outcrop with several Buddhist carvings engraved into the surface. In this instance they all appear to be Jizo, of one form or another. The full video of this trip will allow you a better view.

   Having topped-up my fuel tanks, I decided to continue with my tour. Unlike the first segment, from here I will be in familiar surroundings but still keeping to the back lanes & tracks, and isolated settlements.
Map Location.
   Another forest, another narrow rural lane, another settlement and, before I know it, I have arrived at the settlement of Kamocho Takasari. There is a dirt track that branches-off the lane that will eventually take me around the town of Kamo (the video will give you a better idea of the terrain) and onto my final destination.
Map Location.
   I arrive at a cut through the hill and, as I pass through it, carved into the clay earth, is this Jizo (again the video will give you a better view).
Map Location.

   After a few hairy moments during my descent, I arrive back on a sealed road and the opportunity to top-up my water bottles. There is nothing nicer than fresh spring water to satisfy your thirst and, if the need be, to take a rinse-off to cool your body on a hot day.
   From here I bypass Kamo Town and follow the Kizugawa River to Kizu, where I connect-up with the Kizugawa cycle/walk-way. A kilometer along and I arrive at a shelter/rest-stop (Map Location), popular with users of the path, and decide to bring this trip to a conclusion. While having the last of my bananas, I reflect on the past 7-hours and the 44km I covered over that time, and come to the conclusion that this has been one of my best rides since arriving in Japan. I will place this in my "must do again" folder.

   Thank-you for taking the time to view this post. I hope you have enjoyed it, as much as I have enjoyed sharing it with you. And, until next time, happy travels and Sayonnara.

   Full Video of this trip.

   The Course (distance,elevation,time &images) as recorded on my "Cateye     INOU" device.