Sunday, August 05, 2012

road trip!

I sit here in my little Ryokan room in a town on the west coast of Japan called Tsuruoka. It's been a long, hot, tiring but rewarding day. 
Road trip! I left my little apartment in Ichinoseki just before 10am and was on the road navigating thanks to google maps -  not too bad but not great - my way through to Yamagata Prefecture. The mercury at one point in the mid to high thirties, my little car may struggle to get up hills but I was thankful for the quality air conditioning! The route across the country was simple enough, and after the first 30km or so the roads cleared up and despite only being one lane I was able to move at a decent, if not lightning-quick pace.
lake near where the car was parked.
I traveled on the smaller roads, but made good time. It was a pretty journey and interesting.The roads mostly sat in valleys next to rivers. The quality of the free roads here though is a bit poor to be honest. Lots of make-shift repair jobs and thus many roads were like patchwork quilts, and not so smooth. Naturally very windy, I could really appreciate that I was on one of the world's youngest countries. Extremely mountainous because everything had been pushed up from below without the time to flatten out. The roads had snow barriers alongside, far from needed in August, but essential in 6 months I'm sure. Every little bit of flat land is used for rice or corn. Or maybe wheat. I am still yet to see a farm animal like a cow or sheep in Japan. They are hiding somewhere.
It was time for a stop. One of the main plans for this trip was to see a couple (at least) of the three sacred peaks in Yamagata Prefecture known as 'Dewa Sanzan'. Today I thought I would get in the smallest - Harugo-san, at 414 metres. I came to a camping ground at its base, and then a sort of information centre. The signage was poor, but I followed a small sign at the rear of the camping ground (which I'd walked back to up and down a steep hill) and through the forest I went.
It's dense, almost jungle-like in these parts. Alive with insects of all types, the path was pretty average. I read about the path, there were supposed to be loads of people on it. Not a one. Oh Andrew, you did something wrong! Well, the sign said Mt Harugo.
And indeed I ended up in the right place. Seems I didn't START from the right place. I crossed a toll road and followed another path. I was hot and sweaty and it had been over an hour, but I was there. An interesting small museum, many temples, a functioning monastery,  souvenir shops and quite a few people. Very interesting place. Beautiful buildings. I found the correct path and decided to take it back down.
Shrines at Harugo-san
 It was darned steep, and still quite a few coming up. Well patronised, completely made out of stone - no good for the ol' legs. It went on and on and I soon realised - it must have gone down further than I hiked up! Near the end of the path was a beautiful bridge and a five-pillared pagoda - never go out of fashion those. I walked up a hill at the end, but it took a long time to get down, and I feared it was no where near I parked my car.
Main temple at Harugo-san
 I was right! Harugo village is where I found myself! That's where I should have started from. In fact I was told at the information centre I was now 10km from where I had parked my car! What? How was that possible? I thought I had walked 4-5km max. If I'd started there I could have got a decent map with English, but no I had to take the hard route!
Luckily, I was told by the very kind man at the information centre, there was a bus that went past the camping ground. I waited. The bus turned up but said 'end of the line'. Only in winter does it do that route in the afternoon! Woah! But instantly the INCREDIBLY kind man offered me a lift.
The path down (and up to) Harugo-san. 
 Wherever you go you will find kindness, that's one thing I've learnt from my travels. Back to the car, and onto Tsuruoka. This was a great day. Adventure, friendliness, a bit of exercise! Harugo is a bit of a pilgrimage. The three peaks each have their importance - Harugo represents birth, but most pilgrims only make it to Harugo, the other two are much harder to get to and can only be reached in the Summer months. Many pilgrims dress in white. It was a very interesting day. Tomorrow - well you can find out more about tomorrow, tomorrow!
another pagoda to the power of five

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