Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Day tripp'n

15th August 2012

MP3 track of the day: To know my enemy – The last Samurai

Weather: cloudy, hot and dry.


My alarm was set for 6am and, only being half awake, I got on with my 'first task of the day'. Luckily for me my 'first task' didn't involve much; all I had to do was pull back the curtain, look up to the sky and see if it was raining. It was not; I therefore got ready and left home at 7:45am.

The reason why the weather had been such an important part of my morning routine, was because I'd actually planned this trip to commence yesterday; Tuesday 14th August. When I woke up at 6am that day, I pulled back the curtain to find copious amounts of water falling from the black clouds above. I checked the weather report – which said that rain would be falling all day, and that Wednesday would be bright and sunny – before heading back to bed. In actual fact, yesterdays weather had improved by 9am; so much so that I'd wished I'd set off regardless of the report.

Today I would be heading south–west, to a place called 'Tono' before heading east to a city called Kamaishi. After that I would be heading north back home, in time to do some much needed shopping and to play tennis.

As I had left thirty minutes later than I'd planned and, as the drive had taken thirty minutes longer than I thought it would, I arrived in Tono at around 9:30am – an hour later than I'd wanted. Still the drive had been cool, now that I'd swapped my car for one with an air-conditioning system that worked (though my petrol didn't last half as long as it did pre-aircon). Readers of my tour of Northern Honshu will know that the car, which had served me so well during those eight glorious days, had to be given back and swapped for a new one. My new car was the same make and model as my old – even the same colour – and yet I spent the morning trip working out how it liked to be treated.

As I'd said earlier, I'd arrived in the Tono valley at about 9:30am and, almost by mistake, I had stopped within the car park of one of Tono's best attractions; the Fukusen-ji (temple to you and me). As there were only three cars within the car park I went towards the temple, hoping that it would be almost empty. First of all thought, I had to proceed up a set of stone steps to an ancient Japanese outer-gate, flanked by two guarding lions. I took a few photos before following a concrete path, and crossing a small Japanese bridge, to another outer-gate; this one though housed two large wooden guards. It was through here that I met a monk, who was all too willing to take 300 Yen (£2.50) off me and, in return, I received an entry ticket and a leaflet (which was all in Japanese, though the map was useful).

I spent thirty seconds planning my circular route – making sure I saw everything which on offer – before heading up a steep road in front of me. Autumn had all ready fallen upon some trees, as their leaves had turned to a lovely golden-brown colour. I proceeded past some very well kept bonsai trees until I reached a small temple. Cars, tools and other modern items could be seen laying around beside this old wooden building; I left quickly hoping for better luck at the main temple complex.

The road continued forever upwards and soon I was quite hot and sticky. Fortunately a bench had been placed midway, where I took full liberty of it's facilities. The view couldn't have been more impressive; flanking my view – and creating a kind of portrait image – were two huge forests. In between was a small valley with a 'well kept' Japanese cemetery. Past the cemetery, and up another hill, loomed into view a Japanese stupa; finally past this stupa a view of Tono could be seen, which was basically a sea of pure-light green (the rice crop was in full bloom).

After catching my breathe I moved on and towards the main temple complex. The main temple was now in front of me, up some more stone steps with red banisters on either side. To the temples right was another stupa, partially hidden by the trees which consumed it. To the temples left was a beautiful small Japanese garden with a red Japanese bridge crossing it; the whole place was stunning and I was glad that I didn't have to share it with anyone else. Before photographing the area to death, I went inside to look at a seventeen meter tall Kannon statue. It was carved from a single tree and it took the creator twelve years to complete; it was a very impressive statue and it's surroundings – of rich cloth, golden objects and flowers – enhanced it greatly. I didn't stay long and soon I was outside photographing every angle of this magnificent complex.

After about thirty minutes I did eventually bump into other tourists; I took this as my queue to leave and followed a walking path almost all the way back to the ticket office. I past other smaller temples, stupas and statues but these were quite inferior to the ones which I'd left behind. I made it back to the gate, thanked the monk and left.

I sat within my car, with the air-conditioning on, reading my guidebook for quite a while. It wasn't that I didn't know what else to do, quite the contrary; it's just that there was so much stuff and it was spread out. Eventually I decided to complete all the sights within the area I found myself in, before heading to the west side of Tono to have a look around there. Finally I would check out the east side of Tono before heading off to Kamishi. Reading my guidebook again there was only one other thing here within the north-east, and I wasn't really that bothered about it. Still I went to have a look.

Driving another 3 kilometers north I eventually stumbled upon Furusato-mura; a traditional crafts village. My guidebook stated that :

...Furusato-mura represented a working village, with it's own rice fields, vegetables and duck ponds. There are five refurbished magariya (traditional 'L' shaped houses to you and me) on the hillside, where pensioners sit beside their smoking hearths busily making souvenirs...”

As I sat within the car park I ummed and arrred about whether to go in. It wasn't just the 500 Yen (£4.20) asking price which was putting me off; it was the time needed, plus I knew it wasn't something which would normally interest me. I looked around and saw that the car park was quite busy, even at 11am. In the end I decided to go for it; I walked into the ticket office and purchased a ticket. The ladies on the ticket counter seemed pretty happy to have a 'foreigner' at their attraction, and so they gave me their English guide (not before blowing the dust off first) and two very genuine smiles. I returned the smile and walked out into a small courtyard with two bridges crossing a small stream.

Once across said stream I ventured through a small wood until I came across a wooden gate. From here the village opened up and I saw the rice fields, beaming out that distinctive light-green colour. To my left was the first of the magariya buildings. Sure enough it was a 'L-shaped', one floor building with a thatched roof; it was surrounded by a small courtyard with other smaller buildings. The magariya was open to view and so I started off with the stables – which did hold a horse, plus some strange village crafts – before removing my shoes and entering the house. The house was rather large; the whole floor was either covered in wood or tatami; big wooden beams came down from the roof and, using those beams, sliding paper doors were erected to carve up this huge space into smaller rooms. The ceiling was high, but some supporting beams were low; I thought that the occupants would be grateful of the high ceiling in the summer, but no so much during the winter.

The whole village formed a kind of pattern; the rice fields where in the center with the buildings – always within their own secluded plots – along the outside. I walked around the village in a counter-clockwise direction, peering into every building and photographing every photogenic site. The best way in which I can describe this village, is that it reminded me of the village used for the film 'The Last Samurai'. The buildings, the layout and even some of the people looked familiar; all it needed was sixteen hunky Japanese men – dressed as Samurai – practicing in the middle of the rice fields with 'To know my enemy' (a piece from the films soundtrack) being playing within the background. It also held one other resemblance to the film set; it also felt fake. No matter how hard they tried – and remember that this is a working village; the rice is harvested etc – something about it felt fake (it didn't help that I could hear TV's within some buildings, and green 'exit signs' were all over the place). I had enjoyed my hour here and I was glad I'd visited, but now it was time to go; I said thank you to the, still smiling ladies at the ticket office, before purchasing a bottle of coke.

By now it was 11:30am; I wasn't that hungry and so I proceeded onto the attractions on the west side of town. My guidebook had stated that most of these sites followed the 'old 283 route'. I had no problems finding the new '283 route'; in fact, after driving down it for the sixth time I felt as though I knew it quite well. Eventually, after quite a bit of searching, I did manage to find one of the attractions my guidebook mentioned however, it being another – but certainly grander – magariya building I decided to take a photo of it from the car park and be on my way (it was 350 yen to get in).

Finally, heroically I found a tourist map of the Tono valley and I realised that I wasn't far from where I wanted to be. I hadn't begrudged the time I'd spent getting lost; in fact my guidebook states that it's Tono's scenery which is it's real attraction (I had certainly seen a lot of that). The best way to describe Tono, I would say, is it's like a rice bowl. Just like Lake Towado-ko, mountains circle the valley (forming the edges of the bowl) with huge rice fields in the center. Dotted in between the rice fields were dwellings – all of which seemed pretty well cared for – and one reasonable sized town. However it was the rice fields, the woods and the mountains which left a lasting impression within my mind.

Eventually I made it to the Unedori-jinja shrine. As I read my guidebook I was happy to find out that all three things, which I wanted to see on the west side of Tono, were all within walking distance of this shrine. I locked my car happy that I couldn't get lost, on the west side of town at least, again. The Unedori-jinja shrine will always hold a special place within my memory. It is neither flash nor grand; nor does it give a good photo. What it does, however, is have the god which is in-charge of matrimonial affairs. If you want to get married, you have to tie a red ribbon – of which there were lots – to a tree using your left hand only. As I approached the shrine a young Japanese couple, who looked very much in love, where standing around giggling. I could see that both parties were a little embarrassed however, I dawdled taking my photographs as I so wished to see them tie a ribbon to the tree. In the end they were getting more and more embarrassed; I decided that they deserved some privacy and so I left, heading along an un-kept path to a new attraction; the Gohyaku Rakan.

I hurried along this path until I met a 'forked junction'; there were signs however, with them being in Japanese they weren't much help. The path to my left look like it was last used by the designers of the Gohyaku Rakan, and so I took the path to my right, which didn't look much better. As I walked along sticks with pink ribbons attached were my only guide to tell me that I was still going in the right direction. As I ventured forth I heard a roar, which sounded like a bear; I shook my head and told myself that 'this was Japan; they would never allow someone to walk along a path if a bear was within the area'.

'caution bear', I think the sign read. I was sure I hadn't seen a sign when I started the walk but now, as I'd reached the other end of the path, a sign with a bear picture on stood out as bright as day. I found myself, a little shook up, at a car park. Across said car park was a small path which lead to the '500 Buddhas'. As there were people up there already I rushed to join them.

My guidebook stated that:

... Keep looking closely at these stones; at first you won't see anything, but gradually faint outlines appear, then full faces and round bodies, until you're seeing little figures everywhere...”

However, as the other people were leaving, I didn't have time to 'look closely'; instead I took a few photos and promised myself that I would 'look closely' later. I left with the group – anxious that 'Poo's big brother' shouldn't find me alone – and got back to the car park; the Japanese had all parked within this car park and so I had to follow the last part of the path back on my own. I heard the roar in exactly the same place as last time; funnily enough I didn't investigate and instead I hurried my step.

I made it down, back to the marriage temple (the couple had gone) in record time. There was one final temple, located up a large set of uneven stone steps, which I wanted to see. The temple wasn't anything special but it is one of the few remaining shrines dedicated to Konsei-sama, the local god of fertility. Not really fancying becoming pregnant I didn't stay long and I soon found myself within my air-conditioned car.

It was 2pm and I was hungry; however, with not much left to do within Tono, I decided to persevere. I drove through the town center of Tono – which looked quite nice; no time to stop though – and out onto it's eastern boarder. My first stop was the Joken-ji, which was full of tourists. I found one of the few remaining car parking spaces left, and walked the 500 meters to the temple using local grape and sunflower plants to shadow me from the ever present sun. The temple was much like any other temple however, at it's rear, there was a 'kappa pool' and a 'Kappa shrine'. The 'kappa' is a local legend taught to children; apparently one of his favorite past times is to pull young children into rivers and lakes (I guess this folklore was told to keep children well behaved) and many 'kappa' images can be seen throughout the town. The 'kappa' pool was just a small stream, and the shrine was tiny; however both had a huge group of tourists around and so I didn't stay long. I left the area to go and find a windmill – which my guidebook had mentioned – before heading into town to find something to eat. The time; 2:45pm.

I left the restaurant full, and at 3:15pm. I had completed all which I wanted to do in Tono – though there is plenty more for another couple of day trips – and so I drove along the 283 to Kamaishi City. Apart from one huuuuge tunnel, and some stunning mountain scenery, the journey was pretty uneventful. The reason I'd traveled to Kamaishi was solely to see a Japanese woman; 42 years old, and 44.5 meters high, the Kamaishi Daikannon (a very large statue) looked out over the pacific. After a number of wrong turns I eventually found the entrance to the statue. Once there I discovered that there were two car parks; one that was free and one which cost 300 Yen (but the 'pay' one was nearer to the statue). Now I would normally opt for the free car park however, the time was 4:30pm and I knew the statue would close soon. I therefore drove to the 'pay' car park which, actually, turned out to be located not that far from the free one. I paid 300 Yen to park, followed by 500 Yen to see the statue (£6.70!). Being felt as though 'I'd been done like a kipper', I gave a fake 'thank you' smile to the ticket lady and proceeded up a huge moving escalator (which went up the side of a hill). Once at the top I took a few photos of the buildings and statues, which surrounded the Daikannon, plus the view out to sea (which was stunning). I then proceeded inside the statue and went up the twelve floors - visiting two small exhibits on floors two and three, but not for very long – until I got to the viewing platform. I found myself being held by the statues arms looking out to see; I didn't stay long and I was out of the her as quickly as possible encase of closure (although another couple were just starting their assent as I left).

I took a few more photos, from the base of the statue, before leaving; I had spent thirty minutes at the statue and the time was now 5:30pm. I got back into my car, without thanking the staff, and drove away. As I drove north along the '45' I had a think about my day. Sure I'd packed in a lot (I mean; look how long this blog is!) but it did all feel rather rushed. In hindsight I think I should have split the trip into two days'; one-and-a-half days in Tono, and half a day in Kamaishi. Still Tono isn't too far from home, and so I will be visiting there again.

I got back to Miyako at around 6:30pm; I did my shopping, found out that tennis wasn't on and then collapsed on my bed. I have one more day trip which I want to do (Hachimanta National Park) however I'm not sure I'll get it done before I go back to work. Also, just before closing my eyes, I decided one other thing; I'll visit Tono again in the Autumn.

Toodle Pip!


  1. I saw your blog post through someone else on facebook and got really excited! I will let you know that the Unedori-sama shrine does have some truth to it, or at least I think so. I completed the left hand ordeal and was gifted some "luck" on my train ride to Morioka 2 weeks after. Supposedly it will also help guide you to your destined lover. 0_0

    Glad to see that foreigners are visiting Tono! It is very beautiful and the people are very friendly. The books at the Furasato village couldn't have been that dusty! I have been there 3 times over the past 4 1/2 months!

  2. What!!! If I'd have known the shrine guided you to your destined lover ... I'd have tied a red ribbon to the tree :) (though I am left handed; so I'm not sure if that counts as cheating).

    I was only joking about the dust; it's just the impresson I got from the staff seemed as though they didn't get many forigners.

    So are you from around Tono?