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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.

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,



Saturday, November 25, 2017

Atago-san (Mt Atago).

Mt Atago, 924m. On a misty winters morning.

   This is another area that is very popular with members of the hiking community, along with devotees of the Shinto religion. At any day of the year the mountain attracts many outdoor enthusiasts from all parts of the globe. Then, from 9pm of the evening of July 31st, for one night only,the mountain will witness a huge number of pilgrims making their way to the Atago-jinja Shrine, atop the summit, to celebrate Sennichi Mairi .

   There are many different routes accessing the summit - I counted six on my map - with the most popular commencing at the settlement of Kiyotaki. Another route, via the farming settlement of Mizuo, is more scenic and, in my opinion, less boring. For those who want a gut-busting route to the summit, then the track via Kuuya-taki Waterfalls and the Kamakurayama Tsukinowa Temple (Map Location)might satisfy your thirst for adventure.

Bridge over the Kiyotaki River.
   For this trip, I chose the course that took me past the junction to the Kuuya Falls & Kamakurayama Tsukinowa Temple, that I completed three months ago to the day, and around the back of Mt Atago, with the intention of reaching the summit from the north-west, then descending into the settlement of Mizuo, where I would check-out the Mausoleum of Emperor Seiwa, before making my way down the road to the J.R. Hozukyo Station, and home.To get to Kiyotaki by direct bus from Kyoto Station, I needed to be at the bus-stop in time for the 07:25am bus. An hour and ten minutes later, along with a dozen-or-so fellow outdoorholics, we arrived at the settlement of Kiyotaki, with perfect conditions for hiking - clear, calm & not-too-cold.

   I have passed-through Kiyotaki many times over the years, either coming or going and, on each occasion, having taken a different course. It's a lovely spot, and lies on the junction of many tracks. As I had been up since 04:30am, I didn't want to waste too much time checking-out the scenery, and wanted to get on my way without too much delay.

    Each of my fellow bus-passengers were possibly taking a different path, to a different destination. The gentleman in this image, after passing through this wooden Torii, was taking the direct route to the summit and shrine. One-or-two others I would pass as I made my way to my first photo break (One couple I would be reunited with later on. More about them later.)

Track to the Kuuya Waterfalls.
Track to Kamakurayama Tsukinowa Temple, and Mt Atago.

   Thirty minutes in and I arrived at the junctions of the Kuuya Waterfalls . . . .

. . . . the temple & mountain track and the path I intended on taking but, first, I wanted to check-out the waterfalls. Something I didn't do when passing-through the last time.

   Just as I set-off towards the waterfalls, I was confronted with these Racoon-dog statuettes, or Tanuki, nestled amongst the roots of a tree, just above the track. Normally found outside Bars and Restaurants, I couldn't hazard-a-guess as to why they would be located in such a spot.

   A 200m path of concrete-block steps, soon brought me to the first of two Torii, heralding my arrival at Kuuya-Taki. As I approached the site, the sound of the falls was clearly discernible. There were a few dilapidated buildings between to two Torii, with no sign of life that I could notice. 

   Then . . . . 

Map Location.

 . . . . there it was, the Kuuya-Taki Waterfalls (12m). And, like any waterfall, this was a sight-to-behold. This site is known to be the training ground of Kuuya Shonin. The practice of Takigyo - meditation of sitting or standing under a waterfall - is still practiced here.

   The waterfalls wasn't the only object that impressed me. Throughout there were a collection of religious icons. As can be seen in the above collage.

   I was soon back on my planned course, and my ascent of Mt Atago. As I made my way up the valley, evidence of the recent storms that passed over the area, were evident.
Map Location.

    Thirty minutes on, and I reached this rock monument that stood at the junction of two tracks. A quick perusal of my map, along with the map of the area posted on a post nearby, convinced me the track on the left was my track to the summit. It wasn't marked, but I could see evidence of a track of sorts.
   After making my way up the hill, I soon arrived at this well-beaten path. Just as I arrived an elderly couple appeared, the couple I had passed earlier in the morning, just out of Kiyotaki. My first thought was - "How the hell did they get here, and without passing me?" Once we recognized each other, I asked them where I was. So out came the map again and, before long, I realized my mistake -  I was on the Temple path, the one that commenced at the junction with the waterfalls. With Mt Atago not far away, I proceeded on and, while doing so, hatched another plan - I would descend from the summit, via my planned ascent route, and make my way to Mizuo from another direction.

Map Location.

       My time at the summit was brief - a prayer at the altar, a hot coffee & buns - as, having been here five times in the past, and knew what was here. Also I was unsure of my new route and how long it would take. It was just on 12pm and I was doing good time, but was wary of the shortening days.

   From the shrine I needed to backtrack a few hundred meters, passing the junction I had just ascended from, and passing this set of Torii,to my next junction.
                                                                                                                                                                       Which was highlighted by this collection of Jizo. While here, I had a quick perusal my my map and discovered that this was the junction I would have ascended to, if I had taken the correct course earlier. I was also joined by three other hikers, who were going in the same direction as I was. They kindly offered me some advice as to what track to take and wished me well.

   My next junction was highlighted by this interesting statue. The hikers I met earlier described this statue by slicing his finger across his throat and, once here, take the track on the left. I was somewhat confused by his actions but, upon closer look, the statue was headless. 

   My descent was steep, as was to be expected and, before long, I emerged onto route-50, with Mizuo just down the road. But, before I entered the settlement, a detour, to checkout the Mausoleum of Emperor Seiwa.
Map Location.
Emperor Seiwa (850-878) ascended the throne at the age of 9 but, after 18-years, he ceded the throne to his 5-year old son.Two years later he became a Buddhist Priest adopting the name of Soshin. During his time on the throne, in the early Heian Period, Emperor Seiwa decided to live in this town, after falling in love with this land, during his travels around Kinki. But sadly the Emperor passed-away at the Enkaku-ji Temple, in the village, after only living here for 4-years.

Map Location.
Nestled in the hills, overlooking the settlement,is a sacred place where the soul of Emperor Seiwa is enshrined. Seiwa-jinja Shrine was established here after his death. The Torii, the entrance to the shrine, is located almost next to Enkaku-ji, where Seiwa died.

                                                                     The settlement of Mizuo is also known as Yuzu Town, and is famous for it's local produce of Yuzu Citrus. As one wanders through the town, you can't help but notice the trees scattered all about.

   Mizuo is one of those settlements I enjoy experiencing, and is typical of many towns dotted throughout Japan. In many cases, like here in Mizuo, the houses are located very close to the road, as can be seen in the image on the right. That is route-50, a thoroughfare that links Kyoto City with the north-western area of Kyoto prefecture. And, on any given day, can be quite busy. And difficult to negotiate, especially if you are driving a large vehicle.

   My next destination from here is the J.R. Hozukyo Station, and I take a path that follows the river, passing through this avenue of Autumn colored trees. 

   The platform of the station spans the Hozukyo Gorge,where the Katsuragawa River flows under, on it's way through Arashiyama, and eventually ending-up in Osaka Bay.

   As I hadn't managed to stop for a decent lunch-break, I take shelter in this seating area - there is a cold, strong wind blowing across the platform - and pour myself a hot mug of coffee and devour my curry & buns. The shelter is so close to the rails that, when the Express Train passes, one can feel the slipstream. And the noise is quite deafening. 

   Lunch over, I board my train for Kyoto, then another train home. Although I didn't cover my planned course, my alternative was just as good and, over a good cold can-of-beer when I arrived home, I reflected on my day. I was contented.

So, until next time,


   I would like to acknowledge the guys at 'Trans-word+' for granting me access     to their website for information regarding this post.

   Video of the hike -

   Course details -