Japan 1983 (Part 8)

November 11

Japan is the only country I know where a flower can bring an entire nation to a state of near-sexual excitement. ~ Karen Muller

Continuing our misadventures from 37 years ago, you’ve probably noted there seems to be no logical date breaks between the blog “parts.” And that would be because there isn’t. These photos were taken back in the magical days of film, so each “part” consists of an entire roll of film. And the end of a roll, requiring insertion of a new roll, can happen any time during a day. Thus, absent a written record, the photos are undated – the only thing I know for sure (I think) is that the trip occurred in November 1983 . . .

[With this post’s lead-in in mind, I believe this is at the Todaya Ryokan on Toba Bay, where we ended the last post . . . ]

In Japanese culture, there is a belief that God is everywhere – in mountains, trees, rocks, even in our sympathy for robots or Hello Kitty toys. ~ Ryuichi Sakamoto

There are so many more people in Tokyo than in New York, but it’s pristine. It’s so organized, and yet the address system is in complete chaos. ~ Nick Wooster

[And if this is not a view of the city of Toba from our ryokan, then I have no idea where we were . . . ]

Here in Tokyo they’re not just hard working but almost violently cheerful. Down at the Peacock, the change flows like tap water. The women behind the registers bow to you, and I don’t mean that they lower their heads a little, the way you might if passing someone on the street. These cashiers press their hands together and bend from the waist. Then they say what sounds to me like “We, the people of this store, worship you as we might a god. ~ David Sedaris

[Oh, and a rare beautiful sunny day accentuating the surrounding scenery . . . ]

The whole of Japan is a pure invention. There is no such country, there are no such people. The Japanese people are simply a mode of style, an exquisite fancy of art. ~ Oscar Wilde

What a strange thing! To be alive beneath cherry blossoms. ~ Kobayashi Issa

[And now, my most favorite experience of the entire trip . . . ]

[Presenting: Kumano Nachi Taisha]

[Kumano Nachi Taisha is a Shinto shrine and part of the UNESCO-designated World Heritage Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range. The Kumano Kodo route connects it to other sites under the same classification, which are primarily located in Wakayama Prefecture. The four sites on the route, classified as pilgrimage destinations and World Heritage Sites, are: 1) Nachi Taisha; 2) Hongu Taisha; 3) Hayatama Taisha; 4) Koya-san. This classification is based mostly in Japanese history, as pilgrims would travel to all three sites to complete their pilgrimage. Kumano Nachi Taisha is an example of Buddhist and Shinto syncretism (Shinbutsu shugo) nestled in the Kii Mountains, near Kii Katsuura. Cedar forests surround the site. The Nachi Waterfall, worshiped at the Hiryū Shrine near Kumano Nachi Taisha, is believed to be inhabited by a ‘kami’ called Hiryū Gongen.  Also, there is a sacred tree at this site, the Sacred Camphor Tree, located between the Nachi Shrine (heiden) and Seigantoji Temple. It is 850 years old and is said to have been planted by Taira-no-Shigemori (1138-1179). The straw rope (‘shimenawa’) and paper flags show that this tree has been sanctified as a ‘kami’. The tree is alive with moss and ferns and other small plants growing on its ancient limbs. It is possible to enter the tree, where there is a small altar for making offerings. Nachi-no-Hi Matsuri Fire Festival, performed on July 14, is the major festival of Kumano Nachi Taisha. It is a fire festival in which six-meter-high portable shrines symbolically representing the purification of the waterfall with the fires from oversized torches is laboriously carried by men dressed in white (Wikipedia).]

[Kumano Nachi Taisha is one of the three Kumano shrines, situated a few kilometers inland from the coastal hot spring resort of Katsuura. The shrine is part of a large complex of neighboring religious sites that exemplify the fusion of Buddhist and Shinto influences that is particular to the Kumano region. The site also boasts the tallest waterfall in Japan. The veneration of the Kumano shrines as holy sites of Shintoism predates Buddhism’s introduction to Japan in the mid 6th century. Once Buddhism arrived in Kumano it took root quickly, and rather than competing with the indigenous religion for religious authority, it began a long process of harmonious mixing. A product of this congenial relationship can be seen at Nachi Taisha. Directly beside the eminent shrine is the Buddhist temple Seigantoji. In fact, for most of their history the buildings were not even under separate control and functioned as one religious institution. The buildings of both the shrine and the temple are impressive, and among the buildings of Seigantoji there is a three-story pagoda (japan-guide.com).]

[A short distance from Seigantoji and Nachi Taisha is the 133 meter waterfall Nachi no Taki. The tallest (single-tiered) waterfall in Japan, it was the original religious site in the area. Before the development of organized religious doctrine, Nachi no Taki was venerated by the earliest Japanese people. Even today, visitors will be impressed by the natural power and beauty of the falls (japan-guide.com.]

[Like Hongu Taisha and Hayatama Taisha, Nachi Taisha was one of the main destinations of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage routes. For travelers who want to experience the trails but are impeded by time constraints, a hike up the Daimon-zaka is a good option. The route, paved with stone and lined with massive evergreens, leads 600 meters up to the gates of Nachi Taisha (japan-guide.com).]

[This whole place was just a wondrous assault on all the senses . . . ]

[You may even run into dazzled American tourists here . . . ]

[Yeah, like that one . . . ]

[In the Kii Mountains . . . ]

[The falls, from a distance . . . ]

[To this day, still one of my all-time favorite shots . . . ]

[Seiganto-ji is a Tendai Buddhist temple founded in the early 5th century. Legend holds that a Buddhist priest from India drifted ashore and experienced a revelation of Kannon, the Buddhist deity of mercy. Seiganto-ji Temple is also the first sacred place of “Saigokujunrei”, or pilgrimage to 33 Kannons which started in 1161 (tb-kumano.jp).]

There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it. ~ Edith Wharton

[This place is all about vertical . . . ]

[The Seigantoj three-story pagoda . . . ]

[The difference between Shintoism and Buddhism is simple; they are two very distinct religions. Shintoism means “the way of the gods”, and is a polytheistic system with thousands of ‘kami ‘deities. The kami are deities of nature, such as the sun, the sea, and even rice. Buddhism originated in India and is a religion based on the teaching of the Buddha and the hope of achieving enlightenment by breaking the cycle of reincarnations. It was imported to Japan from China in the sixth century (japan-experience.com).]

[Daimon-zaka (Kumano Nachi Taisha Area) is an excellent short walk on the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route. The actual staircase is about 600 meters long with 267 stairs. At the end of the slope is the impressive Meitosugi – “husband and wife cedar trees”, whose roots are entwined beneath the path (tb-kumano.jp/).]

[Roy coming down some of those stairs . . . ]

[Tourist commerce . . . ]

[Obviously, we came down out of the mountains – this area is called “the shore” . . . ]

[Roy appears to be venturing out at low tide . . . ]

It’s a total myth that good sashimi comes directly from sea to sushi counter. The reality is that raw fish, especially in the finest Japanese restaurants, are aged. ~ Johannes Pong

[The sashimi, close up . . . ]

[This appears to not be sashimi (yet) . . . ]

I know I’ll never find another ewe . . .

The method (of learning Japanese) recommended by experts is to be born as a Japanese baby and raised by a Japanese family, in Japan. And even then it’s not easy. ~ Dave Barry

Japan is not a Western democracy. The Japanese have kept their traditions, culture and heritage, but they have joined the community of free nations. ~ Natan Sharansky

[Overly fresh sashimi . . . ]

[Tourists – whadya gonna do?]

One night in Tokyo we watched two Japanese businessmen saying good-night to each other after what had clearly been a long night of drinking, a major participant sport in Japan. These men were totally snockered, having reached the stage of inebriation wherein every air molecule that struck caused them to wobble slightly, but they still managed to behave more formally than Americans do at funerals. ~ Dave Barry

Up Next: Part 9

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