Mariah Carey Sumo Wrestling

All I want for Christmas is to hear Mariah Carey singing ‘All I Want for Christmas’ on auto-repeat. Today, my wish came true. The siren called us down to the second floor for our breakfast. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any. It wasn’t included with our (admittedly cheap) hotel room fee. Nor was there an option to eat breakfast and pay later. Another example of a misunderstanding from a badly translated website. Hotel, you ask? Yes, we’re in Fukuoka for few more days and sometimes you can’t book an Airbnb for the exact length of time you need. So, we’re slumming it a bit on the 8th floor. It’s a quiet room except you can hear every other toilet being flushed: I think their effluent runs through our bathroom via pipes that think they’re sound amplification units.

But I did take advantage of the public hot bath. Not a real onsen, a natural hot spring, but as close as you can get on the 14th floor of a mid-town hotel. The hot bath was indeed hot. The one in the room next door was hot too, and it was open to the outside world, so on a cold day, you can potentially be snowed upon while in the hot tub.

I’d still like to experience a genuine, natural onsen, but that might have to wait a couple of days.

Colourful welcome to the arena

Today was a day for sport. We walked a couple of miles to the Kokusai Center to witness nearly eight hours of Sumo Wrestling. It was Day 10 of a 15-day Grand Sumo Tournament. And Mariah Carey was still in my head, possibly the most persistent ear worm in the world.

During the day, we saw over fifty separate contests. Each one is very short, preceded by lots of ritual. As the day wore on, competitors with increasing skill levels took part. The final 20 matches were from the Senior Division.

Very small audience early in the day

The Dohyō, the ring in which the contest takes place, is built anew for each tournament. The playing surface is clay and covered in sand. The men wear only a loin cloth, or mawashi, which may be tied tightly or loosely. The idea is to force your opponent out of the ring or to make him touch the floor with a part of his body other than his feet. It’s a mix of strength, weight, balance and strategy.

Not supposed to grab that bit

One of the skills most useful is hard to see, though, so if you’re squeamish, jump to the next paragraph. To prevent injury and pain in that area, sumo wrestlers are able to reel in their testicles to the safety of the lower abdomen.

Ritual before the contest

They all have their hair tied up into a top-knot, but each is a s lightly different style. Part of the ritual is to throw salt onto the Dohyō. This seems to be more common with the more experienced combatants. We saw one chap pick up and throw a huge handful of salt!

Not quite ready to go

The referees, or gyōji, wear brightly coloured outfits. They too are ranked and the most senior ones wear a sword because if they make a bad decision, they are honour bound to do the right thing.

Not always an equal size match

Some of the Seniors had their own group of rowdy supporters but there were a lot of westerners here too, like us, just for the experience. It was a great day’s entertainment.

Some of these are very popular
Curling is not the only sport with broom-wielders
Introducing the Seniors

Yesterday we went to Marine World at Uminonakamichi. As the name suggests, the place was full of fish. And dolphins.

Spider crab
Cleaning the rocks with your toothbrush

The ear worm on this occasion was Marina, Aqua Marina, from the old TV series Stingray. Look it up on YouTube and it will be in your head for the rest of the day, too. Unless you prefer Mariah Carey of course.

Miyajima and Kyushu National Museum

After breakfast, I liberally coated my passport and my JR Pass with mustard.

Miyajima is a small island in Hiroshima Bay, known for its forests and ancient temples. The vermillion Great Torii Gate is visible from the mainland, but becomes much more impressive as you approach on the ferry.

O-torii Gate

There is such a gate at the entrance to all the shrines, but it seems a bit bizarre putting one in the sea. In fact, it’s partially submerged at high tide.

Although it’s a small island, it’s hilly (volcanic) and there is a lot to see. We restricted ourselves to just a gentle walk, mainly near sea-level. It was busy, far too many people in our space, but I suspect they thought the same about us, too.

The beach facing the Gate

The Itsukushima Shrine was first built in 593. Yes, 593 and then remodelled in 1168. There was a heron trying and failing to catch the little fishes that lived in the pools left behind by the ebbing tide. I don’t think this was menat to be the main entertainment. That honour goes to the wedding that we, and many, many other people witnessed as we walked by. The flute quartet played some interesting traditional Japanese music.

The hungry heron
The beautiful bride
Today’s selfie

Of course, you can’t visit a Shinto Shrine without visiting a nearby Buddhist Temple. As a bonus for us, this was a special day.The “Hiwatari-shiki” is sponsored by the Daisho-in Temple and takes place twice a year on April and November 15th. This is a religious rite performed by the Shingon Sect of Buddhism. We wondered what the queue was for, especially as most, not all, had taken their shoes off.

Up, up and away

It’s a long, complicated ceremony and culminates in the worshippers walking on fire: ignited cypress branches, to be precise.

Walking on embers

A lot of smoke was generated so it was hard to see how many steps each person took, but thankfully there were no screams of agony. Of course, if the queue had been shorter, we would have had a go, ourselves.

Lots of little Buddhas
Each one has his own sponsor/supporter
Looking back to the mainland

This five-storey pagoda is over 600 years old, combining Japanese, Indian and Chinese architectural features.

Five storey pagoda

Something else that I want to have a go at is pulling the rickshaw. It looks easy-peasy but suppose I can’t get it moving, even on the flat? So, regretfully, I didn’t offer my services. Oh, and of course, there’d be problems with insurance and health and safety, so maybe it was a wise move to walk on by.

Rickshaw

When we saw the deer eating that woman’s map, I was so grateful I’d spread something hot and spicy on my valuable paperwork.

Omnivorous deer

The deer here are wild, you’re not supposed to feed them, but they’ll try anything. We saw this one nearly get its head stuck inside a milk (beer?) crate.

A cup of coffee sounded like a good idea, but we weren’t inclined to visit this café. You can sit with dogs or cats or even owls.

Dog, cat, owl café
Artistic shot of the day, from the return ferry

We have moved on from Hatsukaichi to Fukuoka. The new Airbnb was hard to find, we were reminded again how different Japanese addresses are to those we’re used to. Getting off the bus a stop early doesn’t help. We followed the directions given by the host, left, right, left, right but the pictures didn’t look quite right. In the end, Liesel accosted a young lady who took us to our new front door. We’d been walking a route parallel to where we thought we were.

I went out for an extra walk to get some groceries and I found an actual Christian Church, St Martins. It looked so strange, up a slight hill, looking all plain ordinary, after seeing so many shrines and temples in their vermillion Sunday best.

St Martin’s Church, Fukuoka

It was a successful shopping expedition too. I found some apples that aren’t the size of melons. Apple-sized apples.

We haven’t been to a museum, yet. That just seems wrong, but the weather’s been so good, we haven’t felt the need to go indoors unnecessarily. The National Museums in Tokyo and Kyoto will have to wait for another visit, but today, we did go to Kyushu National Museum here in Fukuoka. A bus ride then a train ride.

Nishitetsu run the buses around here and it’s a wonderful service. Not so much if you get on a bus on the wrong side of the street. That way lies hilarity, excess fares and a big fight with Google Maps.

(Not really) Glow worms at Tenjin Station
If you gotta have drains, make ’em pretty

Still, we got to the museum eventually and spent a good few hours inside looking at some fascinating exhibits.

It’s good to see that it wasn’t just Brits who went around the world ‘collecting’ artefacts. There were two collections here from most of Asia: China, Korea, Myanmar, India and beyond.

Unfortunately, no cameras are allowed inside the museum itself, so you’ll just have to take our word for it: it was a well-organised series of displays. The captions were in several languages, including English, although with a few slight hiccups in translation.

I was particularly pleased to see the Beatles influence here in eastern Asia. The Northern Song dynasty in the 10th century produced some fab Kyodo bronzeware. Printing technology also underwent significant development at this time, although it’s thought to have begun during the Sui dynasty, that’s the 6th and 7th century. William Caxton and Johann Gutenberg were 900 years late to the party, yet those are the inventors of printing that we learned about at school.

The old maps and map-making tools were fascinating, too. Japan has changed its shape over the years and at one point, they thought Corea (sic) was an island.

Chinese Dragon promoting an event at Nagasaki

People were gathering outside and so we joined them.

The backdrop to our entertainment

We were pleased to witness a spellbinding performance by a dancer whose mask kept changing colour. I think the fan and his baggy sleeves helped hide the changes, but what a clever, energetic performance that was.

Several masks were revealed and removed
Mask Change by Chen Xiaotao
A bonus, bad selfie

Being hungry on the way home, we dined at the Tower Records Café. I know, I know: have we gone back to 1970s London or something? No, here we are.

Tower Records

We found our way home, despite it being dark and despite our internet connection dropping out at exactly the moment we most needed it for navigation purposes. Luckily, my little jaunt last night paid off as I recognised where we emerged from the underground station: just down the road from St Martins.

Himeji Castle

We’re staying in a cute little house in Hatsukaichi. Well, not as cute as some others, maybe. It’s a cuboid with a corrugated tin roof. It’s not made from paper, but we do think cardboard is involved.

It was really cold our first night here. The vents can’t be closed and they seem to let cold air in but keep the warm air out. Also, for the first time since we arrived in Japan, we’re having to use a toilet seat without a bottom heater. On the other hand, there aren’t several other buttons to cause mayhem with.

One thing I do like is the makeshift shelf unit installed above the toilet seat. This is a wonderful way to increase storage for such necessities as loo paper. I don’t think Liesel’s a big fan, though. I had similar ‘temporary’ shelves installed in our house in Chessington, in the main bedroom and on the landing… But when Liesel moved in, they had to go: they made her feel claustrophobic!

A toilet with a delightful home-made shelf

This was all in the future though when we stopped off at Himeji Castle. We programmed Google Maps to take us there, aware that there was a good chance we’d get lost. But no: as soon as we left the station, we could see the castle looking down on the town from a mile or so away. We would have to try very hard indeed not to find it today.

Himeji High Street (I’m sure that’s its real name) is a wide boulevard and decorated with a collection of sculptures.

She looks cold, but it really wasn’t

They are mostly young maidens but there are a couple of chaps too, one wearing a hat.

Let’s Walk Upon Wearing a Hat

But I think my favourite was Summer Hat Girl.

Summer Hat Girl

The first fort on the hill was built in 1333 and it’s been expanded, enhanced, rebuilt, augmented frequently ever since. It is an imposing building and hard to believe that wood forms the main structure.

I think every shrine, temple and castle that we’ve visited has at some point in its history been at least partially destroyed by fire and then rebuilt. Several times in a couple of cases.

But this castle should be safe from now on. A mythical being on the roof is protecting the castle against fire but, as the loud, young American boy wondered aloud, how does that work, then? The other thing in the castle’s favour is the ban on smoking.

The mythical fire-preventing fish on the roof

We took our shoes off before entering the castle as is the custom. Then, within a few paces, I also removed my socks: the shiny, slippery, wooden floor was just begging me to go A over T.

We walked up six (I think) flights of stairs to the top of the castle from where we had a great view of the surrounding countryside.

The first small steps

We confirmed our suspicions: a Stone Drop is the place from where you can drop stones onto your enemies’ heads.

Autumn colours
A view from the top

The last renovation was started in 1956 and completed in March 1964 – more or less the same day as Guildford Cathedral was finished. It never even crossed my 9-year old mind that building work was also taking place way over there in Japan. When they dismantled the old structure, they discarded old, rotting timber, of course. But they did find useful notes written by the original builders, and these helped enormously when they came to rebuild the castle.

Reconstruction

This year marks the 25th anniversary of it becoming a World Heritage Site. I don’t know if this is why the admission fee was waived today, or maybe they were just pleased to see us.

A selfie – not too bad, this one
An unencumbered view of the castle

Walking back down the main road, we passed a shop selling the most gorgeous wedding dresses.

Beautiful wedding dress

And just in case we were becoming homesick, we found this sign in a department store.

Not the real Oxford Street, obvs

We arrived at the aforementioned Airbnb and on the walk from the local railway station, we saw some cats in the street. We hadn’t seen real life cats for a long time, so this was a surprise.

Then, in our new house, we notice the clock has a cat theme too.

Cat o’clock

After dumping our bags, we went out for a quick walk, and we happened to stop at the restaurant right next door to the station. We had okonomiyaki which was a fantastic cabbage-based pancake. Bung some spuds in and it would become the world’s best bubble and squeak!

Okonomiyaki and Mick

None of the staff could speak more than a few words of English, we of course can’t speak more than one word of Japanese, but we had a good chat just the same, about visiting Hiroshima and Miyajima. As a bonus, we were each given a satsuma for dessert.

Hiroshima

Hiroshima.

The word itself is evocative. Visiting the town was difficult. Were we being intrusive? Invasive? Or were we visiting with good intentions in our hearts?

Yes: definitely the latter. What a moving experience. We spent some time being interviewed by several school children. We passed on messages of peace and love and they gave us origami cranes.

The Atom Bomb Dome
The A-Bomb Dome from the Peace Memorial Park
Before the war

After the bombing

From a survivor
A sentiment close to our hearts

The Museum was very crowded, hundreds of school students reading about the war and the bomb and there were some fairly graphic exhibits too.

140,000 of these small tiles, one for each victim
140,000 tiles make up the picture
The willow tree that survived the A-bomb
Hiroshima Castle
From the castle towards the town
The Peace Bell

The Peace Bell was made in 1949 to console the souls of the people who died from the A-bombing, and to hope for peace.

We sat and thought for a while beside Hiroshima Castle before heading for home. It’s a lovely city and the people, museum staff, passers-by, children were all very friendly.

But I suspect the story from that August morning in 1945 will probably be at the forefront of our minds for a long time to come when we hear the name Hiroshima.

The Tale of Genji

I think I’ve mentioned before that I am currently reading The Tale of Genji. It dates from 11th century Japan, a time and place with different moral values to ours. I’ve just got to the bit where Prince Genji has kidnapped a 10-year old girl mainly because she reminds him of an old flame. The museum dedicated to the book is at Uji, not too far from Kyoto and we spent a couple of interesting hours there.

A sign of things to come, on the pavement

It was a good walk from the station to the Museum on a bright, warm day. The gardens were very pretty too, more Autumnal colours.

Nice colours outside the museum

The exhibits were interesting: some old copies of the book, a wall displaying the story ‘in a nutshell’ and some items dating roughly from the period of the story.

Unfortunately for us, there were very few captions in English, so while we could admire the artistry of the paintings and the crafsmanship of the ox-drawn rickshaw, we didn’t learn much about them. Also: no photos.

We did watch a 30-minute film, in Japanese of course, but there was no way they could do justice to the novel in a mere half an hour. Still, it’s fascinating to see a museum dedicated to just one book.

We walked back through Uju, visiting a shrine and a temple. Are we shrined and templed out yet? Almost!

Ujigami Shrine is, of course, another World Heritage Site.

A gate
Young love by the Uji River
Liesel on the Asagini Bridge

We heard a steady drum beat and thought it sounded like the dragon boat races we used to watch in Kingston. After crossing the Asagin Bridge, we saw two small dragon boats in a short race. It had to be short because if they’d rowed much further, they would have gone over a weir.

Dragon boat
Selfie of the day
These phoenixes have risen

The recommended route around the Byodoin Temple gardens was followed by most people. The golden phoenixes on the roof are relatively newly restored, but the orginals are on display inside. These date from the early 11th century. Older, even, than the Tower of London.

A bridge and its reflection

The local café in Uji was, we agreed, the best we’d found so far. The coffee was delicious, as well as very pretty, and the egg salad sandwich was magnifico.

Coffee of the day

The next café, the following morning, was good too, very nice toast. I do miss decent bread, so it’s nice to find some twice in a row!

Kyoto Tower, near the railway station

We spent some time in old Kyoto, venturing up to the roof garden above the railway station. Then: we were up on the 11th floor watching the cruisers below. No, that’s not it, we were looking for breakfast there but ended up in the aforementioned café instead.

Roof garden and roof gardener with those special shoes
Beware low flying kites
A splash of colour on the roof

It was a short walk to Higashihonganji Temple, the biggest wooden structure in the world, it says. And it is a huge temple. No photos inside which is a shame, but the hall is huge. But it must be very cold in Winter, we thought.

There’s a large rope made from human hair as conventional rope at the time just wasn’t strong enough

A bad hair day: rope made from human hair, 1895

This temple is also famous for its bell, which was rung for us on the hour. The reverberations last as long as the final chord in the Beatles’ A Day in the Life.

A copy of the bell that was rungggggggggggg

We then started walking towards Fushimi Inara Taishi with Google Maps on our phones each giving different directions! Mine seemed to know best, so we followed its route, over the river, towards Inari. It started raining a bit so we caught a train for the last section. But what a shrine that is, well worth a visit. The place is full of foxes and gates.

Lots of gates
One of many foxes
More gates
Another fox
Another pretty garden
Another fox

Foxes and gates: yes, that sounds like it ought to be a board game. I’ll get onto my lawyers rightaway to patent the idea.

Nachi Falls

The rain overnight was torrential, really loud and every now and then, it became louder. There was a steady drip drip drip somewhere that could have been someone playing a bongo extremely rhythmically and loudly. It was still raining when it was time to get out of bed. When I say, get out of bed, I mean, get up off the tatami mats that we were sleeping on.

Tatami mats OK. Being on the floor, not so much!

I don’t know why it should be so much harder to get up off the floor, but it is. My theory is that Japanese people do this every day from a very young age, build up very strong thigh muscles and then become sumo wrestlers.

I was very glad that I spent much of my youth practicing the fine art of origami. A passing knowledge is required if you want to make filter coffee. The thin cardboard handles unfold so the filter bag hangs into the cup.

Making coffee in a Moomin mug

Our plans to visit Nachi Falls looked like they biting the dust. The rain finally petered out after 11.00. By this time, Liesel was engrossed in a TV show on her phone, and I was messing up Soduko puzzles again. I really seem to have lost the Soduko mojo lately.

In the end, I visited the waterfall on my own. Nachi Falls is 133 metres high, the tallest in Japan. It’s a train and a bus ride away.

At Nachi Station, I passed time waiting for the bus by going for a quick walk on the beach. The clouds looked adorable, so nice and cute: just fluffy children’s drawings of clouds, nothing like the big, black angry ones that had been precipitating all night.

Nice beach at Nachi plus clouds
More clouds

There’s a fine memorial at the station for the man who brought Association Bootball to Japan. Again, I think my translating app needs some tweaking.

Let’s remember Nakamura Yoshiyuki
You get the gist…

The bus ride to the falls was quite long, so it’s a good job we’d already decided not to walk it. The site, and sight, is stunning and greatly revered by the local people by the looks of it.

Nachi Falls
Not a bad time exposure with the phone

A lot of water comes down but only a small stream trickled by where the people gathered.

I started walking up the stone steps towards the Kumano Nachi Taisha Grand Shrine but I could see the clouds were coming down fast and it was getting dark, plus I really didn’t want to miss the bus back.

Shoe car? Bike? Skateboard? Segway? Rollerskates?
The clouds are coming down as I’m going up

The bus system is totally different from any other one I’ve been on. While people are paying the driver and getting off at the front, you get on at the back and take a ticket from the machine. If you don’t know what the fare is, it doesn’t matter, because it’s shown on the laser display unit at the front of the bus.

What’s the story….?

Your ticket has a number on it, such as 3 or maybe 6, and this number corresponds with the numbers on the displayed grid. Each number has an amount underneath which represents the fare you would pay if you were to get off at the next stop. But if you stay on the bus, you’ll see the amount increase underneath your number and thus, if you were counting out the money so that you could tender the exact fare, you would have to recalculate. It’s like watching the fare in a taxi go up and up at a ridiculous rate, only there are six such numbers. Well, six for a while, then, as the journey progresses, it turns into a 3×4 grid, that is to say, there are now 12 possible different fares for people to pay, if they each joined the bus at a different location and thus received a ticket with a different number from each other. And the fares don’t go up by fixed amounts, either, oh no, sometimes the increase is 30, sometimes 50 yen and occasionally there are other odd increments. Sometimes two adjacent numbers might incur the same fare for a short while. But there is plenty of time in which to count out the coins so that you can get rid of as many as possible, thus reducing the weight of money in your pocket. You want it to be correct. So when the time comes and you’ve arrived at your destination, you stand up, walk to the front, try to hand the driver the correct fare. But no. There’s a plastic box there into which you drop the coins along with the ticket. Inside this box, there is a slow-moving conveyor belt taking the takings to, presumably, some sort of counting and checking device. But that doesn’t matter because, as I said, the conveyor belt moves quite slowly, so by the time it’s sucked in your final coin and your ticket, you are well away from the bus.

Also, I don’t know if it’s because many of the roads here are quite narrow and so the buses have to be narrow too, but there are only three seats across rather than the expected four plus the aisle.

Ooh, I didn’t realise Martha was driving the bus
Three seats across

Liesel did some laundry, thank you, and then she washed some fish. Obviously, we couldn’t put fish in the tumble dryer, that’s a ridiculous thing to do, so where’s the best place to hang them up to dry? Oh I know: the railway station.

Fish hanging in Shingu Railway Station

The following day, we packed and moved on to Kyoto. And not just to get away from the fish at Shingu station.

I realised that the Sudoku puzzles I’d got wrong were designated ٭٭٭٭٭٭ which is very, incredibly, almost impossibly difficult. I completed a few ٭٭٭ ones to prove to myself that I still had some basic skills and then, finally in the evening, I conquered a ٭٭٭٭٭٭ puzzle and celebrated with a minor fist pump.

But one thing I never did conquer in Shingu was this:

More functions than a party planner

You think Google Translate is funny? What about Google Maps when it hasn’t a clue:

It’s a mystery

After dumping our stuff in the hotel room, we went for a quick walk. Yes: hotel. Something big must be going on here, all the Airbnbs are booked up and at Shin-Osaka Station, there were hundreds of students gathered, going somewhere. Another mystery, eh, Google?

Cycling by the Kamo River at sunset

Some Mighty Fine Shrines

We went on a pilgrimage today, visiting quite a few shrines. They’re all interesting, they’re all different, they’re all peaceful.

The names on the brochures don’t always exactly match the names on Google Maps, so sometimes, we couldn’t be sure exactly where we were. But that doesn’t matter: we had a very nice, strenuous walk.

As we set off towards the mountains, we were delighted to see a flock of birds of prey circling… we were curious but didn’t really need to see what they had their eyes on. Too small to be eagles, not fast enough to be falcons, maybe kites of some kind.

We are the birds of prey

Let us know if you can identify it from the silhouette!

Here’s an interesting sign that invited us to deviate from our course.

I wonder what this says?
Oh yes, we’ll go there

It was a very steep path, rocky but covered with moss and leaves. After a ridiculously short time, we realised that this path wasn’t for us: hard enough going up, never mind coming back down. We never even got as far as the back of a cow.

There’s a path there somewhere

We returned to the road, wondering what we’d missed seeing up the hill, but we needn’t have been concerned. Just round the corner, we came across a Buddhist Temple.

Sooji Buddhist Temple

There was nobody around, so I don’t think it was open for business nor for visitors.

A challenging wheelchair ramp?

Wheelchair users must be made of stronger stuff in Japan, if they have to contend with ramps like this one. It’s probably for bicycles to be pushed up and down, really. There are a lot of cyclists around here, partly because, I’m sure, the roads are so narrow. A typical car from Anchorage wouldn’t fit in here.

Away from the town centre, this is a typical road

We thought we’d walk up these stone steps, up the mountain. Only later did we learn that this was the path down which the gods came to Earth. It was steep, it was long, it was a challenge, we had to stop several times.

Up, up and away

Here’s a delightful little shrine that we came across: this wasn’t the main attraction. It looks like somebody just wanted a small place to worship halfway up the mountain: maybe they just couldn’t climb all the way.

A nice little shrine
Keep going, I’ll catch up in a minute….

After a long climb, 538 stone steps, to be precise, on this warm, humid morning, we reached our target: Sessha Kannokura Shrine, or Kamikura-jinja Shrine, depending on which source you trust. My translation program couldn’t read the signs at all, so that’s no help!

We’d passed and been passed by a Japanese lady on the way up and at last, we all caught up with her husband. He very kindly took this picture of us, so of course, I returned the compliment.

Photo taken by our new friends
The rock behind the shrine is where the gods first came down

The view over the city of Shingu towards the ocean was a fine reward for our exertions.

Shingu from the Shrine

Walking back down was in some ways much more of a challenge. For a while, it looked as if we would step off the edge of the world, the steps were that steep.

Going down… eek…

The palms were very sweaty, and not just because it was such a humid day.

The man playing the flute near the bottom of the climb had left by the time we returned. I was looking forward to sitting down, having a rest and listening to him for a while before proceeding.

Apropos of nothing at all: who wants to see a mole with boobs?

Holy Moley

And who wants to see a picture of a big spider? Huge, it was, with its several siblings, sitting there, overhead, waiting for flies or the opportunity to drop down somebody’s neck.

Holy spinnarets
Someone in Covent Garden’s been looking for this sign…
That’s our shrine near the top of the mountain

We walked around town for a while afterwards: it felt strangely reassuring to be back on a nice, flat, horizontal surface. A cute little café provided cute little cups of coffee and the cutest, titchiest little cream jugs in the world!

ᴬ ᵗᵉᵉⁿʸ⁻ʷᵉᵉⁿʸ ᶜʳᵉᵃᵐ ʲᵘᵍ

Watarigozen Shrine is just round the corner from where we’re staying and as well as being delighted by the small shed-sized shrine itself, our minds were blown by the bamboo growing behind: it certainly put our old beanpoles into perspective.

Watarigozen Shrine dwarfed by the bamboo

Kumano Hayatama Taisho Shrine is also very close. It’s on a much bigger scale, really impressive in its own right, and it was reassuring to see so many people paying respects and praying here.

Kumano Hayatama Taisho Shrine
If you’re not on the guest list, you’re not getting in
Kumano Hayatama Taisho Shrine
The ancient and revered Nagi-no-Ki tree

The Nagi-no-Ki tree is over 800 years old and well cared for.

I put money into the box and picked out my O-mikuji, a random fortune printed on a strip of paper. I was surprised at how much text was printed there but of course, I couldn’t read it. Later, in the comfort of the Airbnb house, I translated it as well as I could. Suffice to say, I was relieved not to see something really bad.

Yes, I will cherish my twinkle twinkle

We carried on walking and found ourselves by the Kumano River. By this point, the sky was getting darker, we wondered whether a thunderstorm was on its way a day early.

In one direction, more mountains and in the other, bridges over the river as it flows into the Pacific Ocean.

Towards the ocean
Towards the mountains
Looking ominous

We went home via the tourist information place where we picked up some info for tomorrow’s trip. Then at home where, several hours later, it still hasn’t rained, by the way, we chilled: read, typed, listened to the radio, cooked, ate, and eventually, we’ll walk up the wooden stairs to Bedfordshire.

Today’s tour was just a small subset of our original idea, to hike from shrine to shrine on the Kii peninsula, several miles each day, for a number of days. That was probably too ambitious, and I think we’ve got the balance right, now.